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Rhetorical Patterns - Persuasion and Argument
The Rhetorical Patterns - Organizing Essays for Different Rhetorical Situations
The following pages will provide you with several effective ways of organizing information in your essays. Oftentimes, when you know who your audience is and what your purpose is for writing (which is called your rhetorical situation), you can begin to consider the organization of what is going to be in your paper, how you will introduce your paper, and what to write for your conclusion. The following rhetorical patterns will help you answer these questions.
Persuasion and Argument
What is persuasion and argument?Traditionally, people have called argument any attempt that uses logic to incite a person to take action or to change an opinion or belief. Persuasion is considered to be the same call to action or to change an opinion or belief; but persuasion is a call to action that is based on appealing to emotion and feeling. So the difference between argument and persuasion is the difference between using logic and using emotion. Since most debates involve subjects that are conducive to logic and emotion, most real-life debates contain elements of both logic and emotion.
How do I consider problems with logic? Some people use faulty logic when they argue. Others will use fairly effective logic, but will ignore the implications of their logic, or they will exclude from consideration certain logical conclusions. Other people may create arguments that seem almost perfect. No matter how an argument is constructed logically or illogically, by understanding the following problems with logic, which are called fallacies, you often will be able to see how people arrive at their proposition, which is the logical conclusion of their argument.
Before we consider the terms of a debate, let’s consider the logical problems, or fallacies, that might be involved in an argument.
Ad hominem: “To the person”: this means that someone ignores the argument itself and verbally attacks the person personally who is making the argument. For example, if someone disagreed with the president’s decision to raise tuition because of a state budget cut, and said, “She’s only raising tuition because she is not smart enough to think of an alternative,” then that person is using an ad hominem attack. Many politicians and commentators on politics favor this kind of fallacy, because it is easier to attack a persona’s credibility than to contend with a person’s ideas.
Ad misericordiam: This fallacy means that someone makes an argument that offers two scenarios, and one of them is inconceivably bad. For example, if someone said that, “Everyone should agree with the idea of war because otherwise this country will fall apart,” then that person is offering a proposition that seems to have as its opposite something that almost everyone would want to avoid. But the idea of the country falling apart is only one alternative to disagreeing with going to war. Weak arguments often use ad misericordiam fallacies because the arguments are hastily constructed of conceived of with an excess of emotions.
Ad populem: This fallacy assumes that if you like a person you will agree with the person’s logic. For example, if someone told you that he had always been a good friend and that was why you should lend him your new car for the weekend, then this person is relying on the relationship, rather than the logic, for you to offer him your car. If he said that he had always taken good care of your car before and you should lend it to him now, he would not be making an ad populem fallacy, though. This fallacy is also closely related to the often-heard parents’ cliché: “Just because everyone jumped off a cliff, you would too, right?”
Argument of the beard: This fallacy is used when a division between two conditions can be ignored or a division between two states is difficult to establish. It’s called the argument of the beard because you could conceivably pluck one hair after another from a beard and never arrive at a specific, perfect point when the beard stopped being a beard, by definition. For example, if someone told you that since even one glass of beer will impair your thinking, you might as well drink a case, then the person would be making an argument of the beard. Since there is no exact point for every single person being impaired by alcohol, and since we have not defined impairment, per se, the point of impairment could be one beer or it could be three beers or it could be a case of beer. The fallacy is here because clearly a case of beer would cause impairment, no matter how it was defined.
Begging the question: This fallacy occurs when evidence supporting the logic of the argument or the proposition creates alternatives to the proposition. For example, if someone tells you that she has a great deal for you, which could make you a two hundred percent return on your investment, and that because the return on your investment is so high you should not even question making the investment, she would be begging the question what risks there were to your investment. Just because the deal she is offering sounds so good, this does not mean that your decision to participate in the deal should be based on the possible two hundred percent return. What she is asking you to do and why she is saying that you should do it are literally begging the question of why you should go along with her. The proposition (that you should go along with her) is not premised on how safe the investment is or how many times she has returned a two hundred percent return to investors; instead the proposition (that you should invest) is premised on what might happen.
A similar fallacy is called ignoring the question, which is slightly different from begging the question by the degree of information offered. If a person tells you that you should make an investment that will probably return two hundred percent profit, then the person is ignoring the question of what other kinds of returns on the investment (or profits) other investments have made, and the person is ignoring what other kinds of profit or loss scenarios exist in the deal.
Circular argument: This fallacy happens when the proposition is based on the premise and/or vice versa. For example, if you are told that the Toyota Corolla is the most popular car in America because so many Americans drive it, then you are not being given any reason or evidence, aside from the proposition (that the Corolla is popular because people drive it) that goes along with the proposition. This fallacy is often easy to locate because everything seems logical enough, but there is no relationship to any external factors.
Generalizations: This fallacy happens often enough because the evidence for an element of the argument is vague, weak, or superficial. For example, the proposition that “It’s a well known fact that democrats cannot be trusted,” is not based on any more evidence than “the well known fact.” Similarly, “He won’t eat it because he hates everything” is a proposition (i.e., he won’t eat it) premised on a vague assertion (i.e., just because he hates everything), which is as likely to be true as it is likely to be false.
New things are always better: This fallacy happens when someone says that something should be done differently because a new idea exists. For example, if a person tells you that he has found a new short cut and you should commute to school by way of his new short cut, then he is making this fallacy. Just because it is a new short-cut does not mean that it is faster than the old short-cut. There is no logical reason or other evidence offered that makes the fact that it is new any reason to change what you are already doing. If the person says that his new short-cut is two miles less than the old short-cut, then he is not making the fallacy. You can spot these fallacies fairly easily (but not all the time: sometimes the new idea seems seductive) because the evidence to do something is because the something is new.
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc (After something, because of something): This fallacy confuses the actual cause or causes for something in favor of a cause or causes that are more readily visible or evident. For example, suppose you came home one evening to find that your apartment or residence hall room had been vandalized and you saw your neighbor outside your door holding one of your possessions. Your neighbor may have well just come along after the vandalism and seen something of yours dropped on the floor outside your doorway and then walked over and found your apartment or residence hall door broken open. Just because something has happened does not mean that something that happened before it caused it, or is even related to it.
Reduce to a binary: This fallacy happens when an argument is offered and there are many options and alternatives available, but the argument is framed as having the proposition and one alternative, generally a really bad alternative. For example, if you say that marijuana should be legalized and your friend Paula counters by saying, “If you legalize marijuana, you might as well legalize heroin and crack,” then Paula is framing the argument as only having two alternatives: leave the law alone or risk chaos by going along with your alternative. When you can counter the alternative with something, generally more moderate, then you have spotted this fallacy.
Weak analogy: This fallacy happens when two things are said to be similar enough to merit their comparison; but the two things are not similar enough for the comparison. For example, if Will tells you that the cafeteria food is garbage, Will’s analogy, no matter how much you both might want to agree, is faulty: food becomes garbage when it is discarded. Food cannot be garbage, by definition. Even if Will says that the cafeteria food smells like garbage, Will is using a weak analogy: anyone who has been close to garbage knows that it smells a lot worse than virtually any cafeteria food. Saying that the cafeteria food smells like garbage, on the other hand, is logical, if the food smells like garbage.
What are some language problems when using arguments and persuasion?
The following problems with words language may help you to identify some kinds of language use in arguments:
- Abstractions are words or terms that have meanings that are created by multiple concepts. For example, the word “honor” is an abstraction created by other words like respect, loyal, devotion, moral/ethical and, depending on its use, other words and terms. When an argument is premised on an abstraction, the argument is built on a term that carries too many possible meanings. Nice, polite, support the troops, protect the family, cut taxes, appeasers, and so on are all abstractions; they carry multiple meanings. Unless abstractions are firmly and clearly defined, their use supporting evidence or the logic of an argument is questionable.
- Biased language consists of words or terms that are used to invalidate another person’s position, proposition, identity, or argument. For example, if someone tells you that young people who hang around somewhere in a group belong to a “gang,” then the biased language (i.e., gang) is likely to cause you to think pejoratively of the young people. Similarly, if someone tells you that students are “kids,” then the biased language reveals the speaker’s belief that students are not really adults, but are closer to children, since “kid” is a term used to indicate an age range between infancy and adulthood. Biased language is often used in conjunction with faulty logic, so as to cover the weaknesses of the logic. Biased language is also very much like ad hominem, ad misericordiam, and ad populem logical problems. All four ignore the argument’s proposition or logic and focus on attacking or weakening an element through dismissal, scorn, or elitism.
- Terms of art are phrases and words that have been used in so many different contexts that their core meanings have been shattered and the phrase or word means essentially whatever the speaker or writer wants it to mean. Listeners and readers, however, may interpret the term of art by the use of the term in their familiar context. Viable is a word that means many different things in different rhetorical environments—a fetus can be viable, a candidate can have a viable chance to win, and cable is a viable option to satellite television. Similarly, terms of art have similar problems as generalizations, except that terms of art actually have very precise meanings; it’s just that there are too many competing meanings.
- Opinions are fairly easy for most people to define. An opinion is an interpretation that can be rendered by an individual or a group. The problem for opinions in arguments is that occasionally opinions are presented as facts. Opinions sometimes arrive cloaked in certainties. For example, someone can say, “Everyone knows that killing is wrong,” when, in fact, killing during wartime is widely regarded as an essential component of warfare and is not considered to be wrong. Be cautious of truths and facts if they arrive with statements like, “Everyone knows…,” “It is an established fact…,” “Nobody would argue with the fact…” There are appropriate places for opinions in arguments; but only when they are presented as opinions or conjecture.
- Terms with no opposites or undesirable opposites are often common words, like patriotism, community, family, democracy. These words do not normally operate within a system of binaries. These words and terms tend to exclude opposing voices from the debate. Were you to propose that “Family values” creates “community,” you would be invoking two terms that are difficult to oppose. If someone were so inclined, that person could ask the question about people opposed to your proposition: “What kind of person is against family values and communities?” The implication that you could make (by using words that have no opposites or have undesirable opposites) is that this kind of person is immoral, monstrous, and barbaric. Terms such as democracy, freedom, rights, liberty, security are terms without any legitimate opposites or with opposites that are difficult to defend. Clearly, using terms like these as a basis for any argument is using language to exploit weak argument logic.
- Conflations of truths are uses of language that take liberties with the language. While you may think that someone who gave you the wrong change at a restaurant made a mistake, it would be a conflation of the truth to claim that the person who gave me the wrong change was the most ignorant person to ever breathe air. Although most conflations of the truth will be made with far less bombast than my example, be cautious of comparisons that cite everyday trivia and banality and compare them with outrageous events and things.
- Scientific facts would seem to be a safe use of language, one removed from the possible problems of language. However, there are many scientific facts that are contested, even when they seem to be obviously true. Scientists have used different models to predict what would happen in the event of a nuclear tragedy. One model definitively states that the survivors would have to contend with global warming on a massive scale; while another model just as equally proves that survivors would live in a frigid nuclear winter, which would span several decades. Without all the pertinent data, some scientific facts are simply assertions presented as science.
How do I develop a working thesis?
As you consider your argument so far, insure that you keep your focus on the rhetorical situation
A problematic working thesis normally does not take into account either of the previous elements. For example, let’s speculate that you were considering a call for lower tuition. A weak working thesis might look like this:
College tuition just doesn’t seem to get cheaper.
This working thesis does not contain the call to action, and its language is so imprecise and vague that decisions about what kinds of evidence to use will be difficult to make.
A more focused working thesis might look like this:
Although a college education is a valuable commodity in our society, rising costs are making it difficult for some families to afford to send their kids to college.
This working thesis would allow you to consider both how a college education is valuable (for example, gathering evidence of what it allows someone to do that another person without a college education might not be able to do), while you focus on the effects of rising tuition for working class and/or middle class families, who can be most effected by rising costs.
How do I narrow my working thesis?
Once you have gathered evidence and support for your working thesis and you have made decisions about how you will present the evidence and support for your intended audience, you will want to sharpen the focus of your working thesis, so that you have a specific thesis or clear main point.
How do I draft an argument thesis?
Remember that you are presenting your subject, your position, and what you want you audience to do in your thesis. While you probably will not articulate each of these three elements in detail, you will certainly want to provide an overview for each of these, since these are the major considerations of your argument.
What kinds of problems are there with an argument thesis?
Insure that your thesis does not:
- Just presents facts and/or analysis
- Neglect to get involved in the debate or argument
- Forget to cause some explicit action >
For example, an ineffective thesis would sound like this:
A college education is one of the most valuable commodities in our society, and, unfortunately, the costs of college keep rising and this harms some families.
This is a not an argument thesis statement, but is rather an expository thesis statement. A better thesis would sound like this:
Since a college education is a valuable commodity in our society and rising costs are making it difficult for some families to afford to send their kids to college, college tuition should be a deductible expense for working and middle class families.
This thesis now presents two premises—the value of college in society and the risks for society presented by the rising tuition prices—plus, the thesis ends with a call for action (make college tuition a deductible expense for certain taxpayer groups).
How do I organize my evidence and support?
This is a good opportunity to write down the actual steps, or the logic of your argument, so that you can literally see where you are starting your argument and where you are taking your readers. Show how one point leads to the next point. By seeing the logic of the argument, you can also anticipate problems with the logic (see fallacies) and problems with the language (see language problems). Are there implications that you have not considered or terms that need clarification?
Persuasion/Argument Structures: Induction, Deduction, Toulmin, Rogerian
What is an induction argument?
Induction offers information and evidence in such a way that your audience is drawn almost “naturally” and logically” to your proposition. Vital to the success of the induction argument is the strength of the logical connections between the points and premises and between the points and premises and the proposition. Normally an induction pattern uses the following organization:
- An introduction that provides enough information about the subject so that the audience understands where the debate is currently at
- A presentation of evidence that begins with the most easily understood and/or least objectionable points and moves toward the more contentious points and premises, conceding and refuting as necessary
- A conclusion that is the inevitable conclusion given your points and premises (Often the argument thesis, or proposition, is stated for the first time in the conclusion.)
What is a deduction argument?
Deduction relies on a logical statement, called a syllogism, to form its organization. A syllogism is a three-part statement that begins with a generalization, qualifies that generalization for a specific purpose, and reaches a conclusion by comparing the information given in the first two parts. Essentially, a syllogism uses valid statements from one scenario and uses them in other cases. An example of a syllogism would be:
- Generalization: Friends should not gossip about each other.
- Qualifier: You are my friend.
- Conclusion: Therefore, you should not gossip about me.
While the names of the three parts of the syllogism, and the word syllogism itself, may seem foreign to you; the use of syllogism to make decisions and arrive at conclusions is an everyday practice. You might say, I don’t like bananas, and that yogurt has bananas in it; therefore, I won’t like that yogurt. The main weakness of syllogisms can be found in the generalization. Let’s say that you actually tasted the banana yogurt and found that you enjoyed it. The problem with the syllogism, then, would be the problem with your not liking bananas. Because you are enjoying banana yogurt, you do, in fact, like bananas to a certain extent, and you cannot say definitively that you do not like bananas. Now this is a rather banal and mundane syllogism; but it can be made much more political and socially-relevant.
Normally, a deduction argument uses the elements of the syllogism to form an extended thesis statement at the end of the conclusion, and each of the three elements of the syllogism are then used as the paper’s topic sentences . Many writers return to the syllogism in the conclusion to emphasize its logic and relevance for the context and conditions of the writer’s argument.
What is a Toulmin argument?
The philosopher Stephen Toulmin invented an organizational system for using what he called informal or casual logic. Toulmin’s system relies on the normal uses of dialogue to create an effective argument. Toulmin’s argument structure considers what an audience is likely to accept, what emotions and feelings do to effect the argument, what that audience is likely to do if it accepts the premises and propositions of the argument, and what potential and chance and probability, as opposed to firm truth, will do to cause an audience to accept your proposition.
Normally, a Toulmin argument uses the following organization:
- A Claim for a proposition that is discussed as your belief. You will then explain why your belief is important for the particular audience to consider
- Supporting evidence for your claim
- Warrants or reasons why your audience should accept the supporting evidence, which are normally a part of each presentation of supporting evidence (i.e., the warrants are usually written after the supporting evidence is offered in the body paragraphs)
- Polite concessions and/or civil refutations that acknowledge other arguments but insist on the claim for your argument
What is a Rogerian argument?
You may have encountered debates that pit one side against another side, with little to no ground for any other position. For instance, the death penalty and abortion both have debates that are either/or debates. Other debates, such as Affirmative Action, which has many differing and conflicting aspects, values, facets, and definitions is clearly not an either/or debate. In either/or debates, resolution, victory, or progress often seem to be slowed by the fact that both sides are unwilling to yield any ground in the debate. Both sides have much at stake, whether it is social, financial, or moral, in achieving total victory. One of the problems with trying to join into these either/or debates is the lack of civility and, in some cases, humanity, that either sides practices within the debate. Sometimes the rudeness, hatefulness, and incivility problems involve debates that are not either/or debates.
Psychologist Carl Rogers created a system for joining these either/or debates, so that you can emphasize resolution, agreement, and civility. Rogers hoped that all the participants in debates could respect one another, agree on some basic issues, and all work productively toward a peaceful and harmonious resolution. Rogers was no blind optimist, though; he understood that some debates would never be solved or won, and he hoped that the two sides could live peaceably even though they fundamentally disagreed.
A Rogerian argument uses empathetic listening, which has listeners repeat back to the speakers what they just heard. Instead of disagreeing or agreeing with points or premises, the listener gets involved in a process of negotiation that searches for points and premises of agreement and disagreement; but a system of negotiation that causes no hurt feelings and no uncivil tones and attitudes. A Rogerian argument often has no obvious winner or loser in a debate. By searching for the disagreements and agreements, both parties usually gain an understanding of each other that enables them to appreciate the other party and, Rogers hoped, to negotiate a middle ground or moderate position that would be acceptable to both. At the least, Rogers hoped that even if nobody won, lost, or even negotiated a settlement in the debate, the participants would learn to value the people involved in the debate as equal human beings with the same core values of compassion and understanding.
A Rogerian argument is normally organized much like a Toulmin argument, except that when the Toulmin argument would anticipate and then concede and/or refute an opposing perspective, a Rogerian argument would acknowledge and make accommodations for these points and premises. A Rogerian argument normally is organized like this:
- A Claim, which is often articulated as your belief but is qualified as being a claim that many other people might not agree with. Any shared points and premises are normally articulated so that your readers will accept you as someone who will respect their opinions and propositions within the debate. As you discuss other opinions and propositions within the debate, be as honest, respectful, and objective as possible, using neutral and non-emotional language. (See the Problems with Language above for further guidance in what to avoid.)
- Supporting evidence for your claim that is presented in ways that avoid language problems. If needed, explain the context or background for your claim.
- Civil concessions for the existence and value of other points and premises that do not subordinate these points and premises.
- Concluding remarks that discuss in honest and respectful ways other propositions and conclusions. You must strive to make your audience feel as if their argument has a valid right to exist, even if you disagree with it. These remarks should also validate the presence of other people in the debate, no matter your difference with their opinions and feelings.