The Importance And Principles Of Rhetoric

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The act of persuasion is an ancient and delicate balance of art and science. Persuasion, in simple terms, is to coax someone through subtle techniques in order to change their beliefs, intentions or decisions. To persuade someone is to convince them to act, think or believe in a certain way that you think is best. Persuasion is not only universal disregarding all forms of gender, age, linguistic and cultural barriers, but also omnipresent. Examples of persuasion can be seen from an infant trying to express their needs to its caretaker to a presidential candidate persuading the citizens during an election campaign. The need for persuasion and it’s indisputable power were so promising that it evolved into a set of principles of applicable theology known as rhetoric.

Rhetoric, also known as the art of persuasion, is defined as ‘the principles of training communicators—those seeking to persuade or inform.’ (Britannica). The origin of rhetoric dates back to 2500 years ago in Ancient Greece where this conscientious art was of paramount importance and was closely linked to the public, private and political lives of the people- both powerful and ordinary. Rhetoric emerged at a time where philosophy and politics were deeply intertwined and soon became the linchpin of classical education. It was not only considered as an effective tool but also a necessary skill that needed to be studied and taught by the wealthy and the powerful to be used in courts and public speaking to sway the common people.

Rhetoric soon manifested itself into various forms of literature such as poetry, speeches, plays, etc. Perhaps, one the earliest and most significant treatise of the fundamental doctrines of rhetorics was Aristotle’s Ars Rhetorica which explains persuading techniques in comprehensive detail. At the very beginning of his treatise, Aristotle states that rhetoric and dialectic (logic) share a connection, in the sense that they are both within the awareness of all men and do not require any special knowledge to grasp its principles and functions. It is interesting to point out that, throughout his books, Aristotle seemed to always address the ‘men’ of his period. This was because it was generally the men that dominated the political and legal spheres of life and bore the privilege of making important decisions that affected the general public such as having the right to vote.

Nonetheless, Ars Rhetoria was and continues to be an important compilation and classification of the art of persuasion. Moreover, it is divided into three books delving into matters about the methods of persuasion, in-depth analysis of each of the aforementioned methods and lexis and presentation. In his books, he identifies three main techniques of persuasion that still prove to be the leading strategies: logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos is a technique dealing with matters based on reason and sound judgment. It demands evidence over emotions, information over insight and appeals to the ethics of knowledge, integrity and, reliability. In other words, the power of logos is in its speech itself, devoid of any external influence on the content of the argument. Moreover, it assumes that its audiences have a good intellectual capability and moral capacity to be able to come to a logical conclusion if they were to be presented with all the facts and reasons clearly and impartially. This can be achieved through analogies, examples, enthymeme and, syllogism. Analogies and examples are similarities drawn from real-life situations while enthymeme and syllogism are based on apparent facts that are globally accepted.

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Aristotle further solidifies the previously mentioned connection between rhetoric and dialectic by claiming that example and enthymeme is the rhetorical version of dialectic’s induction and syllogism. Examples of logos are found in literature such as Shakespeare’s Othello and in present-day circumstances like a business organization improving its quality and quantity based statistics, data and modern research. Pathos, however, appeals to human emotions and sentimentality. This strategy requires an acute awareness of the audience’s emotional intelligence so that various techniques can be deployed to skillfully manipulate them into a desired emotional state. It aims to influence the listeners emotionally, often giving little importance to, or completely disregarding factual evidence.

Aristotle also explains when and how to spark the desired emotions by paying attention to factors like the emotional state of the audience, specific people and circumstances that trigger these emotional responses. Literary examples include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice while modern-day examples include advertisements that appeal to emotions of pity and love such as orphanages and adoption centers encouraging people to adopt children. Ethos draws its persuasive quality from the charisma or the character of the speaker. When the public holds a good opinion of the speaker in terms of honor, integrity, prestige, and position, they are more willing to listen and easily persuaded by the speaker’s judgment.

Literary examples include Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mocking Bird while modern-day use of the strategy includes involvement of professionals and experts with a credible background by scientific or historical documentaries to endorse the authenticity of their information. Persuasive types and strategies have evolved over the years, branching into wider and more nuanced forms such as repetition, cause, and effect, comparing and contrasting, imagery, antithesis, rhetorical question, anacoluthon, chiasmus, metaphor, hyperbole, metonymy and much more.

In addition to the strategies, Aristotle also lays out three different types of persuasive speeches and the appropriate time to use them namely: forensic, epideictic and deliberative. Forensic speeches seek to blame or defend a case and are mainly seen in courtrooms. This kind of speech deals with past behaviors and actions. Epideictic rhetoric is ceremonial, often involving a display of oratory skill with the intent to raise someone’s honor through excessive praise or tarnish it through exaggerated criticism and the best time to use it is at the present. Deliberative speaks of the future and involves the speaker either persuading the public or dissuading them with a goal in mind. It is, therefore, evident that along with strategies and techniques, one often has to be aware of the kind of language and type of oratory is in accordance with the situation and time.

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The Importance And Principles Of Rhetoric. (2021, September 22). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-importance-and-principles-of-rhetoric/
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The Importance And Principles Of Rhetoric [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 22 [cited 2022 May 20]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-importance-and-principles-of-rhetoric/
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