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5.1.1: Introduction to Rhetoric

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    What is Rhetoric?

    Rhetoric is used to describe the overall effects of the emotional, logical, and authorial aspects of a piece of written or spoken media; most media does involve writing, and visual transitions can be considered narratives if they appear to connect a beginning, middle, and end of a story, even if it seems disjunctive—out of proper chronological order. As you will read about in the section of this book on narrative writing, compositions are arranged in only about three ways: time, significance, and space.

    Rhetoric and the Rhetorical Triangle

    Logos, Pathos, and Ethos are the Three Points of the Rhetorical Triangle

    Image courtesy of CSGriffel, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Logos, pathos, and ethos are the Greek words Aristotle used to describe what roughly translates to logic, emotion, and ethics. Each vertex of this equilateral triangle symbolizes a different appeal writers and speakers make to their audience in order to persuade or influence them.

    If you ever buy bottled water at Starbucks, you may notice it says this word on it. The reason is because the brand of bottled water they sell attempts to appeal to our sense of ethos, which can refer to integrity or ethical choices: what is proper or just. The bottled water brand called Ethos advertises that some of its profits go toward providing clean drinking water to people around the world who do not have consistent access. People find a company who would return some of its money to the community to have more integrity, or trustworthiness, than a company who may seemingly in comparison hoard money due to corporate greed. If a business is viable and profitable, it should return some its success to the people who helped make it a thing, right? If you think so, you're starting to consider the extension of ethos: ethics. In writing, we appeal to ethos by providing a fully-informed opinion with citations for our readers, choosing trusted sources to support our views, all of the while displaying impartiality or lack of bias. I think of ethos as professionalism or professional spirit.

    In a world of agreements and disagreements, celebrities and nobodies, influencers, streamers, charlatans, soul-redeemers, and you, there is a lot to be considered when tuning in to any one platform presenting media. If you've ever looked up to someone, you know the reasons you sought to emulate or mimic them in some way. From my grandmother I took laughter; from my sister I took introspection. I think of my grandfather when I lift weights or run, a man they nicknamed "Moose" in high school because he was a stalwart lineman. When you cite a researcher, author, or lecturer in college writing environments, think about the Aristotelian concept of Ethos, which translates roughly to nature or disposition from Greek. When we write a paper, especially with the purpose of persuading others, we must consider whom we include to substantiate--or back up--our opinions. Ask yourself the following:

    1. Is the person I am citing qualified in the field of research they are writing/speaking about? (vague)

    2. Does the person I am referring to in my paper have any publications, credentials, or professional credits that would indicate they are qualified to report on this topic? (more specific)

    3. Have I done a good job of cross-referencing, or getting a second opinion (double-checking) on, the material(s) I am citing from this person? How many other(s) could I find who supported this contributor's opinions/conclusions/theories/theses?

    The word that gives us empathy, sympathy, apathy, and pathetic refers to emotions. Writers may use description or narration to appeal to an audience's emotions, but often the juxtaposition of topics or the gravity or implications of testimony or evidence influences our emotions.
    The appeals made to rational thinking, such as premises and conclusions, proof and evidence. Items that we would categorize as logos would be what is presented in court as exhibits: facts, professional opinions, and statistics.
    Interactive Element

    Read the following political statement from candidate Chandra Lawson. How does each sentence appeal to you as a voter? Could you categorize each sentence as appealing to emotions, logic, or character?

    I am a longtime native of Leotardsville, and my grandma was the first to churn butter right behind Town Hall at my family dairy, Lawson's. We know that hard work makes good cheese, and I'll tell you right here and now that other than a whole keg of love, we pour a good amount of elbow grease into our products. I made Lawson's the number one dairy in the panhandle, and I mean we have expanded our operations to three plants and four cow mootels--you know we take care of our cows like they're family--and I am not stopping there. I am asking for your vote this November so I can get things moo-ving in this town. The other candidate in this race is a bachelor with a cruddy patch of asparagus he calls a farm. I am a happily married family woman with strong American values who loves and will defend my 19th amendment. Go Bluejays! Vote for Chandra or a kitten will be sad!

    Work Cited

    CSGriffel. Picture of the Rhetorical Triangle. Wikimedia Commons, 3 Feb. 2022, Accessed 20 Jan. 2023.