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Humanities Libertexts

9.1: An Argument Implies a Relationship

  • Page ID
    56603
  • Audio Version: Click to stream recording of page (June 2020):

    As we saw in Chapter 8, arguments attempt to affect our emotions, but their success depends on how well writers have gauged their readers' values and cultural associations. Now we can back up and look at readers' responses through a different lens: that of trust. Trust provides an underlying foundation for the success of emotional and logical appeals. If we don't have a certain degree of trust in the writer, we will be less willing to let an argument affect us. We may not allow even a skillfully worded emotional appeal to move us, and we may not be ready to agree even with a well-supported claim.

    How does a writer build trust if they never come face to face with the reader? This chapter will look at various approaches to creating trust in written argument, including establishing the writer's authority on the subject, convincing readers of the writer's moral character, showing respect and goodwill, and creating a sense of closeness or shared identity. To understand each of these approaches to trust, it will help to think of an argument not as words blared through a loudspeaker into the void, but as an offering within the context of a relationship. Even as the writer explains their ideas, they are also consciously or unconsciously implying a particular relation between reader and writer.

    What do I mean by relationship here? Each relationship implies expected ways people interact, and it often involves a shared identity, whether a family connection, an ethnic similarity, a job they need to complete together, or a situation they are concerned in. A relationship can be casual or formal, intimate or distanced. The writer draws the reader close, beckons the reader to their side, or holds the reader at arm's length. They choose a style typical of the role they imagine, whether of a friend, confidante, preacher, doctor, or expert. The way they address us affects how we warm to their words. When we analyze an argument, we can ask ourselves what kind of roles and interactions the words imply. Is the writer talking to us as if we were buddies? As if we were students in a lecture hall? As if we were spiritual followers? As if we were professional colleagues working together? Or as if we were the jury at a trial?

    Focusing on trust and relationship allows us to see how nuanced argument can be and how varied its effects on different readers. An argument is not an equation. Not only does it affect our emotions, but, like a movie, a song, a novel, or a poem, it invites us into a lived experience. If we accept, we grapple with ideas in an imagined encounter with another human being.