We’ve talked quite a bit about the 5 Common Topics of Invention (a great dialectic tool) this past year. [The Question] It’s time to learn something new. Let’s move up a rung on the ladder and chat about rhetoric. [The Conversation]
A year or two ago, I had the privilege of speaking on the topic of Rhetoric at a couple Classical Conversations Parent Practicums. As is always the case, I’ve learned so much more about the topic after the fact.
Now I’m itching to lead a Socratic discussion on the topic of Rhetoric using only two videos.
I’m not the person with answers, I’m the person with questions. Will you join me?
I’d like to introduce you to the very basics of formal rhetoric, and then we’ll practice identifying the elements of rhetoric after watching a[n entertaining] persuasive speech.
Come on—it’ll be fun!
Rhetoric is persuasion aimed at the truth. According to Plato, it is the art of soul-leading by means of words.
As Scott Crider writes in The Office of Assertion:
The study of rhetoric educates one in a particular liberty, the ‘liberty to handle the world, to remake it, if only a little, and to hand it to others in a shape with may influence their actions.’ Through this ‘office of assertion,’ the writer is a leader of souls… Rhetoric is ‘the care of words and things’; that care is associative, a practice one learns—and never stops learning—in the presence of others, the ones you lead and are led by. Such soul-leading is a liberal power, one which in its finest and fullest manifestation is a form of love; the finest rhetorician not only loves wisdom, but also loves others who do so. The finest rhetor, then, is a friend.Let’s cover the basics briefly. [The Art of Manliness has an excellent introduction to rhetoric, if you’re interested in reading just a smidge more.]
Canons of Rhetoric
Invention (inventio): [This is where Aristotle’s 5 Common Topics of Invention belong.] The content of an argument (gathering information and ideas)
Arrangement (dispositio): The structure of an argument (arranging the content)
Elocution (elocutio): The style of an argument (discovering the best style and words in which to express the ideas)
Memory (memoria): The memorization of an argument (including the memorization of general knowledge to be used in conversation and debate)
Delivery (pronuntiato): The presentation of an argument (formatting writing or delivering a speech with effective body language and voice)
Writing in particular focuses on the first three canons.
“Invention is what you argue, organization [arrangement], in what order you argue, and style [elocution], how you argue.” (Scott Crider)
The Institute for Excellence in Writing program, used by Classical Conversations students in 4th-6th grades, focuses on structure (arrangement) and style (elocution).
The Lost Tools of Writing program, used by CC students in 7th grade and up, places more emphasis on the invention process with the 5 Common Topics and slowly guides students through the arrangement of a formal persuasive essay while adding elocution elements one at a time.
I’ve covered invention (the 5 Common Topics) frequently here on the blog, so let’s move on to a brief introduction of arrangement.
What is arrangement? It is the ordering of your thoughts.
Basic Arrangement of a Persuasive Argument
I. Introduction—Exordium [Draw in your audience with a joke, question, quote, statistic, anecdote, or challenge.]
II. Background Information—Narratio(n) [Give your audience context for your argument along with any background information they will need (time, place, characters, causes).]
III. Proof of the case—Confirmatio(n) [State your thesis, state the number of proofs you will using, and briefly state each proof (reason to support your thesis), then detail each proof with supporting information.]
IV. Address Opposition—Refutatio(n) [Refute the opposition by stating the counter position’s possible proofs and explaining why these proofs are not persuasive.]
V. Conclusion/Amplification—Peroratio(n) [Restate your thesis and proofs. Tell the audience to whom the issue matters and why. Inspire enthusiasm!]
In order to be a soul-leader, you must consider your audience as you are preparing and delivering your argument.
This is where the modes of persuasion come in to play.
Modes of Persuasion
Ethos is an appeal based on the speaker’s credibility.
Logos is an appeal based on reason and logic.
Pathos is an appeal to the audience’s emotions.
Wes Callihan introduces the modes of persuasion in the following video from his Western Culture DVD series.
Cicero on Rhetoric: Ethos, Pathos, Logos (Old Western Culture)
Now that you have a basic idea of the canons of formal rhetoric, the arrangement of an argument, and the modes of persuasion, let’s watch an unlikely example of rhetoric and identify these elements.
[Heads up: the speaker uses the word “crap” and “sexy” in this video if you are watching with kids and that concerns you.]
And now a few questions for you.
Who is Ashton Kutcher’s audience?
Does his audience need to be persuaded of something?
How does he initially connect with that audience? How does he get their attention? [Exordium]
Is his delivery (voice, body language) appropriate to the audience? [Pronuntiato]
Is his style and word choice appropriate to the audience? Is the length of the speech appropriate to the occasion? [Elocution]
Does he give any background or context for his argument? [Narratio]
Is the order of his speech clear? [Dispositio]
Is the purpose of his speech clear? Does he state a thesis or subject for his speech? Does he state the number of ideas (proofs) and introduce them briefly? Does he flesh out each idea with supporting information? [Confirmatio]
Is he familiar with his topic? Does he have enough information gathered? [Inventio]
Is his speech memorized? [Memorio]
Is his speech logical and reasonable? [Logos]
How does he establish his credibility for his argument? Is his credibility strong or weak? In what ways? Is his credibility weaker for any of his arguments? [Ethos]
Does he appeal to the audience’s emotions? How? [Pathos]
Does he restate his ideas in conclusion? Does he identify his audience and tell them why his speech matters to them? Does he inspire them to action? [Peroratio]
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Part 2 is coming up. I can see you on the edge of your seat! [grin]