This assignment was the first in a course I took called “Rhetorical Theory and Practice”. In this assignment we were instructed to define rhetoric in about 2 pages. This is what I came up with, relying on my knowledge from high school AP classes.
Defining the concept of rhetoric is about as easy as defining terrorism or defining beauty. Each mind has its own idea of what it is and is not. Therefore, it is difficult to compose a standardized definition of rhetoric. The most commonly used definition comes from Greek philosopher Aristotle. He stated that rhetoric is “the ability to see all means of persuasion in any given situation”. To me this sounds similar to when you hear someone say “take a walk in someone else’s shoes”. It is important to have the ability to be able to look at any situation from many different viewpoints, not just your own. In my opinion this is where rhetoric and rhetorical strategies come in. You have to have the ability to explain your position in a situation so that others who don’t see things the way that you do will be able to understand it.
Aristotle is credited with crafting and explain the three most prominent modes of persuasion; ethos, logos, and pathos. These rhetorical strategies allow a rhetor to persuade others to understand their point-of-view. Ethos refers to the appeal to credentials and character. This strategy focuses on establishing a trustworthy reputation or character. The basis of this mode of persuasion is that an audience isn’t going to listen to or trust what one says if they don’t trust them. If a rhetor has no background in a topic and has no valuable knowledge, their argument won’t be very effective. Establishing ethos allows a rhetor to be able to gain the trust of their audience. Once you have someone’s trust, they will be more likely to believe or buy into what you’re saying.
Logos refers to the appeal to logic. With this rhetorical strategy, the rhetor focuses on using facts and rationality to gain the audience’s confidence and attention. If what the rhetor is saying doesn’t make any logical sense, the audience is not likely to understand or buy their argument. That is unless the rhetor has a well-established ethos. People listen to and believe the facts because like the old saying says, “numbers never lie”. When a rhetor uses facts and truths that have been proven it does nothing but strengthen their argument. When what you are arguing has facts to back it up, your audience will be more apt to believe you. An argument without any logical reasoning is purely opinionated.
The last of the three modes of persuasion is pathos. Pathos focuses on the appeal to the audience’s emotions. Humans are beings with complex emotions. That is what separates us from other species. If a rhetor can “pull at the heartstrings” of their audience, they will be more likely to gain support or get their point across. To me, this mode of persuasion could be described as the “last resort” of the three. On its own, it may not carry a great amount of weight, depending upon the situation and the argument at hand. Ethos and logos are the strongest of the three. These two appeals could win an argument or gain the support of an audience without any need for another mode of persuasion. But again, depending on the severity and nature of the situation at hand, an appeal to an audience’s emotions could be enough to get the job done.