Rhetorical Studies

Rhetorical Studies

1. Introduction to Rhetorical Studies

Consider, if you will, an artist confronted with an enormous palette of all imaginable colors and shades. How should he go about choosing which particular ones to use? And once he has chosen them, how should he mix them and in what manner put them on the canvas for optimal effect? This analogy can be used to explain how man, having painted himself into a life of action, uses various symbolic strategies in order to induce cooperation from his fellows. These strategies can be subtle and common, mechanical or artistic, and they can be more or less effective. Whatever the case, analysis of art and artistic communication must begin with the stated purpose of discovering the most effective employments of various strategies. This is the general concern of rhetorical studies.

Everyone speaks. Everybody listens. And everybody has feelings about what they see and hear. Indeed, questions about the nature of communication and the ability of language to affect people can be found at the center of life. Rhetorical questions, like the ones given in the previous sentence, always presuppose an answer, usually not verbal, and express an attitude about the answer, an attitude either to the content of the question or the way in which it is being asked. Generally, in asking a question we are looking for a change in the present situation. Either we are dissatisfied and would like to be satisfied (this may also be a desire for further information), or we are satisfied and wish to remain so, or we are satisfied and wish to be dissatisfied. This asking, expressing, and desiring represent the three modes of language and the three symbolic attitudes through which men can interact with one another. This is the domain of rhetorical studies.

2. Theoretical Frameworks in Rhetorical Studies

Thus, future efforts to develop theory specific to health communication can significantly enhance understanding of the nature of health-related discourse and the most effective strategies for influencing health attitudes and behaviors. The book’s advocacy of theory building and empirical research in more areas of communication and its sponsorship of more dialogue among differing views can only serve to enrich rhetorical perspectives and continue the evolution of rhetorical studies.

Any theory of rhetoric involves viewing it from some specific perspective that highlights certain aspects and minimizes others. Different theories of rhetoric result from abstracting different features of symbolic action and characterizing them in different ways. Rhetorical theories guide researchers to study specific dimensions or types of symbolic influence, and they enable researchers to form specific research questions and hypotheses. To date, rhetorical studies have not reached a consensus on theoretical matters, but it is quite productive to the extent that different studies employ and test specific theoretical frameworks.

As a discipline, rhetorical studies thrives on this diversity; students and scholars of rhetoric appreciate the value of differing perspectives and the knowledge to be gained through dialogue among differing views. And through its diversity, rhetorical studies offer a rich, complex framework for the study of symbolic influence and symbolic processes. Given the diversity and richness of rhetorical perspectives today, an accurate appreciation of rhetorical activity requires theory building and empirical work that it may draw from and contribute back to this complex set of perspectives.

Contemporary rhetorical theory and criticism encompasses a cluster of views, but no single theory or conceptual framework predominates and no single time-tested method rules the day. Rhetorical studies builds on the insights of ancient and modern rhetorical theory into the nature and functioning of rhetoric, and yet it draws on a larger, rich variety of perspectives about the nature of symbolic expression, human symbol use, and language behavior. These perspectives are often very sophisticated and theoretical, and at the same time, they are frequently drawn from disciplines outside speech communication and outside the social sciences. Thus, no simple, unified view of what rhetoric is, and no single all-encompassing theory of rhetorical activity can capture the range of views that informs rhetorical studies today.

3. Analysis of Rhetorical Strategies

Ethos, the appeal to character, is frequently the most powerful of the three appeals. This is because the true power of an argument is the belief of the speaker in the argument he is putting forward. When the speaker has a stake in the truth of the matter, or goodwill, for the person he is trying to persuade, an argument will have more force, either because the audience believes that the person will not lie with respect to the matter in hand, or because the audience does not want to let the person down. Moreover, it will be perceived that arguments made by someone with intelligence on a certain issue are more compelling than others. This is the starting point for all tactical argument; the LESS, or heuristics to increase the probability of the argument’s reception, is an attempt to create a more advantageous persuading situation.

Pathos, the appeal to emotion, has been the target of a great deal of modern criticism, since emotional arguments are, in general, less verifiable and are often used to sway an audience in the absence of a better argument. It has been noted that given the general decline in education, modern audiences are more susceptible to emotional arguments than in the past. This has led some analysts to suggest that the pathos approach is now more effective than it has ever been. In modern media, pathos often has equal status with the other rhetorical appeals. An effective modern example of pathos is a cartoon published in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks depicting a solitary crouching fireman at the site of the World Trade Center, overwhelmed by the enormous task ahead of him. The image and the accompanying caption “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance” required no further explanation. In certain media situations, pathos may be the most efficient means of promoting a certain agenda. Pathos arguments can also form an aid to memory, since it is often the case that a picture (in the broad sense) can in itself provide a sum of the argument presented with it.

Logos, the appeal to reason, is marked by one’s willingness to argue a point, seeking agreement. It is largely an attempt to persuade, promoting a certain course of action or a belief with the promise of a desired outcome. Logos has two main types, “artistic” and “inartistic.” The former refers to argument where the speaker himself has devised the proof, i.e. the writer has created the argument, whereas the latter refers to arguments where the proof is provided by the situation, i.e. the writer merely delivers an argument not of his own making. Artistic proof is perceived as more persuasive because there is greater opportunity for audience agreement given the nature of the argument’s creation. This is because when an argument is created it can be changed, and the writer can create more than one argument on the same issue. Inartistic arguments restrict the possibility of rebuttal.

Classical rhetoricians believed that one should first persuade an audience to a certain conclusion, then endeavor to increase their belief in that conclusion. This is the distinction between πίστις (persuasion) and διάνοια (increased belief). The following schema is intended as an analytical tool for sorting writing strategies into either persuasion or διάνοια.

Analysis of rhetorical strategy involves separating a text into its constitutive elements and using knowledge of the structure of the text, and in particular the writing strategies used, to understand its meanings. Below is a list of some of the most influential strategies for analyzing written argument, organized in terms of the general distinction between “persuasion” and “conviction.”

4. Rhetoric in Historical Contexts

The introduction presents a grand overview of the cultural contexts and uses of rhetoric. The first essay explores a specific historical incidence of the term’s redefinition, focusing on Charles Taylor’s research on the advent of “self” in the Enlightenment. Carr’s essay examines a scholarly attempt to deepen humanity’s understanding of itself and finds a peculiar and dangerous notion of rhetoric as destruction in the pursuit of pure power. The third essay examines a specific cultural form, Lawrence Green’s research on African American slave narratives between 1865-1919. This work investigates the past of a culture through history and through the historical development of its different stories about itself. The next three essays take on the rhetorical aspects of three important historical thinkers. Quentin Skinner delivers an analysis of Hobbes’s redefinition of the State and the historical methods through which it can be understood. This essay is important to restoring the practice of history as a cultural science. Those inspired by Nietzsche’s decidedly un-modern method and (anti)system will want to turn to Richard Rorty’s essay. Rorty charts the development of an ironic self and contextualist epistemology in modernity that has led to a disqualification of an entire form of serious and systematic philosophy. His conclusion suggests that philosophy becomes a kind of culture vulturism, and his inquiry has established the possibilities of a post-Nietzschean reappropriation of the older forms. The essay by JGA Pocock is an exemplar of Cambridge school intellectual history and connects well with the ancients section at the essay’s beginning. Pocock analyses the intuitive science of Sorel and its influence on Gramsci’s study of political science and Renaissance historiography, making comparisons with the discourse on republicanism between Machiavelli and Guicciardini.


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