1 Rhetoric is a Method of Persuasion

Sarah Abrego

When I was in high school, I remember I was invited to go on a road trip with my boyfriend and two other friends. It was summer break, most of my summer reading was almost kind of done, and I had nothing else to do around the house. My mom is a loving woman, she wants what is best for all three of her kids. Being the youngest, that want she has is amplified times a hundred when it comes to me. All of these questions were definitely going to run through my mom’s mind when I asked about going on the trip. What if I get in an accident? Does she know these two other friends? Where will I be going? How long will I be gone? Am I sleeping in a separate room? But I was prepared. I knew what to say along with how and when to present it. And so, I spoke to my mom who of course asked, “What if you get in an accident?” I’ll update you every now and then with what is going on. “Do I know these two other friends?” You met them a few times, it’s the one you said had a nice car. “Where will you be going?” We planned on going to Gouldsboro in Pennsylvania. “How long will you be gone?” Just for the weekend starting on Friday. “Are you sleeping in separate rooms?” My female friend and I will be in one room while my boyfriend and our male friend will take another room. It took a lot of question answering and a confident tone, along with a talk with my dad, before my mom allowed me to go. This long process was rhetoric. Persuading my mother to allow me to go on a road trip with my boyfriend and two friends is a form of rhetoric.

Everyone uses rhetoric in one way or another whether it be convincing your mother to go on a road trip or simply writing a persuasive essay for an assignment. In the section “Rhetoric is Synonymous With Empty Speech” by Patricia Roberts-Miller in “Bad Ideas,” the author expresses that “For many people, the simpler, plainer version of the sentence is not just a stylistic choice, it’s a moral one. Many people believe that the addition of more complicated words obscures the meaning of the sentence.” Just because someone uses “more complicated words” does not necessarily mean the meaning of the sentence is changed. It helps in emphasizing the purpose behind the persuasive piece. Just because a student uses multiple sources or complicated words explaining why “getting enough hours of sleep is good for your health” does not mean it is not true. By writing or explaining more on a topic you are trying to persuade an individual on, you further get your point across. Simply stating “sleep is good for your health” may be understood by students dealing with health issues due to a lack of sleep, but others, like parents, may just put it all up against the idea that “it must be that damn phone you’re on all the time.” But, providing sources and further explaining the meaning of any quotes you use allows for the person to further digest and understand the information they are given. This, in turn, allows for someone to change their opinion on the topic.

Philosophers Opinion on Rhetoric

Rhetoric has been one of the most important forms of speech and writing with many philosophers trying to get a better understanding of it. A more commonly known philosopher, Plato, expressed that rhetoric was something people used in order to manipulate the public. Though Plato held his distaste for rhetoric and had a lot of issues with those who taught rhetoric, he changed his opinion on it. Sophists were wise teachers who were available to everyone but expensive. They taught rhetoric to those willing to learn and spend the money. During Plato’s time, it was understood that the ability to give speeches was something that the gods gifted man. If someone was skilled at speaking then it was thanks to the gods. Sophists went against this understanding and expressed that good speaking skills could be taught and learned by anyone. It went entirely against what Plato believed, so he disliked rhetoric. Plato pushed that rhetoric was used to manipulate the people which would disrupt society. However, over time, Plato expressed that rhetoric could be used for good when doing it a certain way. That if rhetoric focused on teaching virtue, it would lead to the truth which in turn would help in creating what can be considered a good society.

Another philosopher, a student under Socrates, Isocrates was a teacher and a writer, not a speaker. He was known mostly for being a speechwriter in political rhetoric. Isocrates believed that a logical style of rhetoric was more straightforward in conveying someone’s point of view. Though he did not teach rhetoric he believed it was something that would create effective leaders and that rhetoric was a useful art in Logos Politkos or “Political Logic.” Isocrates firmly believed that rhetoric acted like medicine for society and that without it, there would be no democracy which was what was established in Athens, Greece.

Aristotle defined rhetoric as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. He expressed that there are certain domains of rhetoric in which certain forms of rhetoric are present. Aristotle believed that rhetoric is a civic art and socially useful. The domains of rhetoric he stated included deliberative which was used in court and politics, epideictic which was more ceremonial, and forensic which was for judicial. He also came up with three types of rhetoric expressed as ethos, pathos, and logos. Each of these has its own style and initial professional use which are necessary to understand depending on how you intend to sway the opinions of others.

Three Types of Rhetoric

Ethos is based on the set speaker or writer who is trying to make some sort of point and is sharing it with a certain audience. It is based on whether or not the “speaker” is credible. If a speaker has a negative public reputation, then an audience is less likely to believe or go along with what that speaker is trying to convey. However, if a speaker has a positive public reputation, they are more likely to persuade their audience into understanding or believing their point of view. For example, if a person running for office is known to be greedy and rarely helps the people, they will be less likely to be elected compared to someone who constantly makes it a point to help those in need.

Logos is based on diction and syntax, or the style and arrangement of their persuasive speech, video, campaign, etc. If someone wants to persuade a group of people regarding any sort of topic, you need to have a nice flow of information. You cannot just randomly state facts and go back and forth between ideas or else the audience will be confused. For example, if you were to convince your friend to watch a movie you saw, you need to emphasize the interesting plotline or character diversity or how the ending was unexpected. You need to express in an understanding arrangement of words how the movie was amazing. You do not do so by jumbling your words and rambling on about random things that happen throughout the movie. It is important to gather your information together and recite the persuasive narrative in a way that flows in a pleasant way for the audience to understand.

Pathos, one of the more common concepts taught to students, is based on emotion. A speaker may use certain visuals or words to convey a certain message which will elicit a certain emotional response. These emotional responses may vary depending on the response the speaker is trying to bring about in the audience. This includes feelings of anger, pleasure, sadness, happiness, or any other emotion. For example, a commercial about a dog or cat pound will use visuals of miserable-looking dogs or cats in cages to convince an individual to adopt them or donate money to help improve their lifestyle.

Understanding Rhetoric

By understanding the different types or domains of rhetoric, one can understand the purpose an individual has when making their point. Rhetoric itself is more of a concept and process rather than a simple tool used to manipulate a person or group of people. It is a direct method used to persuade people of the speaker’s viewpoints. These methods include different approaches to how someone may want to persuade a group. You are elected Student Council President not only because you gave a nice speech, but you are friendly to everyone around you and you make sure to show up at all the school events— that is ethos. You convince your teacher to give you an extra day for an assignment you missed because you were dealing with some personal things at home, that is pathos. place billboards of fast food on highways so people know where to go when they are hungry after a long drive, that is pathos. You use logic and sources for an assignment based on the negative effects social media may have on an adolescent, that is logos. Patricia Roberts-Miller continues on in her chapter of “Bad Ideas” expressing that understanding rhetoric allows for the thought process of “Continually presenting and interpreting issues in that divided way will reinforce our sense that things really are divided into two.” This can allow you to further understand the process and procedure when trying to persuade someone. By understanding both sides to the point you are trying to make, you can drive your viewpoint through by knocking out all of the potential questions that go along with it. And, by understanding the different uses of persuasion, one can understand how to better formulate or persuade an individual. Rhetoric is not something used to manipulate, it is used as a way to persuade people to see the way you see things. Rhetoric does not need to be related to anything complex like a court ruling, it can simply be convincing your parents to let you go on a road trip.

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Good Ideas About Writing by Sarah Abrego is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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