Introduction to Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasion
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Aristotle defined it as observing the available means to persuade. We use rhetoric to resolve conflicts, sway opinions, and take action. Reflect on a time when you used rhetoric to persuade someone to support your position.
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1. AN INTRODUCTION TO RHETORIC Using the “Available Means”
2. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) and Rhetoric Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” Those who understand the “available means” to appeal to an audience have the tools to resolve conflicts, to persuade someone to support your position, or to move someone to take action. Think of a time you attempted to persuade someone (a parent, a sibling, a friend, etc.) of allowing you something or that your point of view was the right one. What rhetoric did you use?
3. Texts Rhetoric is not just about speeches What “texts” are designed to convince you (the listener or consumer) of something? Texts are cultural products that can be “read,” not just consumed and comprehended, but investigated. What does it mean to investigate a “text?” Consider a documentary film… To investigate a text, we need to be able to read between the lines regardless of what we are reading. In a documentary film, every decision such as lighting used for an interview, what music to play, what to show and leave out, constitutes a rhetorical choice based on what the filmmaker thinks will be most persuasive.
4. How does this apply to a democratic society and us within it? We need to be informed so people do not take advantage of us We need to participate in the conversation We need to think critically about information being presented to us We need to question motives of those presenting the information We need to communicate honestly and effectively We need to appreciate the effective and civil communication
5. Consider the following speech by Lou Gehrig “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. “Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. “When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know. “So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”
7. What makes this an effective speech? Rhetoric is always situational—it has an occasion -- the time and place the text was written or spoken The occasion exists within a specific context —the circumstances, atmosphere, attitudes, and events surrounding the text Purpose is the goal the speaker wants to achieve
8. So…Lou Gehrig’s speech is effective because… The occasion is Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day—more specifically, at home plate between games of a doubleheader The context is Gehrig’s recent announcement of his illness and his subsequent retirement. The context is still more loaded: he held the record for most consecutive games played, and was one of the greatest sluggers of all time. The disease strips away a person’s strength and coordination His purpose is to thank his fans and teammates, but he also wanted to demonstrate that he remains positive: he emphasizes his past luck and present optimism and downplays his illness. There is no blame, no self-pity, no plea for sympathy.
9. The Rhetorical Triangle An important aspect of the rhetorical situation is the relationship among the speaker, audience, and subject . You can conceptualize the relationship among these elements through this Aristotelian Triangle because Aristotle used a triangle to illustrate how these elements are interrelated.
10. Rhetorical Triangle The speaker is the person or group who creates a text The speaker of the speech was not just Lou Gehrig, but baseball hero and ALS victim Lou Gehrig Sometimes there is a difference between who the speaker is in real life and the role the speaker plays when delivering a speech—this is a persona . Persona comes from the Greek word “mask;” the face or character a speaker shows to her audience. Gehrig is a famous baseball hero, but he presents himself as a common man who is modest and thankful for the opportunities he’s had
11. Rhetorical Triangle The audience is the listener, viewer, or reader of a text or performance, but there may be multiple audiences. When making rhetorical decisions, speakers ask what values their audiences hold, particularly whether the audience is hostile, friendly, or neutral and how informed on the topic at hand. Gehrig’s audience was his teammates and fans in the stadium that day, but also the teams he played against, the fans listening on the radio, and posterity—us.
12. Rhetorical Triangle The subject is the topic. It should not be confused with the purpose, which is the goal the speaker wants to achieve Gehrig’s subject is his illness, but is also a catalog of all the lucky breaks that preceded his diagnosis
13. SOAPS This is an acronym that will help you remember all the things we’ve been discussing Subject Occasion Audience Purpose Speaker This is a kind of checklist that will help you organize your ideas rhetorically.
14. Use SOAPS to look at the rhetorical situation in a letter written by Albert Einstein In 1936, Albert Einstein wrote the following letter to a sixth-grade student, Phyllis Wright, in response to her question as to whether scientists pray, and if so, what they pray for. January 24, 1936 Dear Phyllis, I have tried to respond to your question as simply as I could. Here is my answer. Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the actions of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e., by a wish addressed to a supernatural being. However, it must be admitted that our actual knowledge of these laws is only imperfect and fragmentary, so that, actually, the belief in the existence of basic all-embracing laws in Nature also rests on a sort of faith. All the same this faith has been largely justified so far by the success of scientific research. But, on the other hand, every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naïve. I hope this answers your question. Best wishes Yours, Albert Einstein
15. SOAPS Subject The explicit subject here is whether scientists pray and , if so, what they pray for. Implicitly, the subject is the nature of faith. Occasion The occasion is Einstein’s receipt of a letter from Phyllis Wright asking questions about science and religion. Audience The primary audience is Phyllis herself, though the formality of his response suggests that Einstein realized his letters would have a larger audience. (Note that he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, so by 1936 he was a world-renowned scientist.) Purpose Einstein’s purpose is probably the most complex element here. At its most straightforward, his purpose is to respond to a sincere schoolgirl’s question about science and religion. Beyond that, it seems Einstein’s purpose is to expand Phyllis’s horizons a bit, to help her understand that science and religion do not necessarily represent two antagonistic ways of thinking. Speaker The speaker, a scientist approaching age sixty, is responding to a girl who is likely twelve, so his purpose is intertwined with that speaker-audience relationship: the wise elder in dialogue with the younger generation.
16. Ethos, Pathos, and Logos Speakers appeal to ethos (Greek for “character”) to demonstrate that they are trustworthy and credible. Appeals to ethos often emphasize shared values between speaker and audience Speakers appeal to logos (Greek for “embodied thought”), or reason, by offering clear, rational ideas. It means thinking logically—having a clear main idea and using specific details, examples, facts, statistics, or expert testimony. Pathos is an appeal to emotions, values, desires, and hopes, on the one hand, and fears and prejudices, on the other. although an argument that appeals exclusively to emotions is by definition weak, an effective speaker or writer understands the power of evoking an audience’s emotions by using such tools as figurative language, personal anecdotes, and vivid images.