More on “Pathos as Inquiry”

Several people emailed me about my previous post on pathos asking “What if the audience is not angry? How should we deal with other emotions?”

Anger is where Aristotle starts his analysis of the emotions in Book 2 of the Rhetoric, which George Kennedy notes in his translation is “the earliest systematic discussion of human psychology” (122). In his discussion of anger Aristotle lays out his basic three-step strategy for dealing with emotions: 1) discover the state of mind of the audience, 2) discover the people toward whom the emotion is directed, and 3) discover the grounds or causes of the emotion. With this knowledge, the speaker can work to create the particular emotional state that is conducive to his or her case.

Aristotle’s List

Aristotle’s list of emotions and definitions is very Greek and not quite what we would produce. In addition to anger and calm, he analyzes “friendly feeling” versus enmity, fear versus confidence, shame versus shamelessness, kindliness versus unkindliness, pity (which he notes could be paired with either indignation or envy as opposites), “being indignant” (which is related to a number of other emotions), and finally envy, which is seen as desiring the good that others have, contrasted with “emulation,” which is also a state of desiring what others have but working to acquire these goods. Thus “envy” is negative and unproductive and “emulation” is a positive striving.

There is quite a bit of overlap and things don’t fit together neatly in the way that Aristotle usually attempts. However, these emotions are all rhetorically useful. Kennedy notes that Aristotle saw the emotions as moods or temporary states that “arise in large part from perception of what is publicly due to or from oneself at a given time” and thus affect judgment (124).

Social Standing and Emotions

The root cause of negative emotions according to Aristotle is disparities in social standing. We are angry if we are insulted by someone we consider a social inferior. We are envious of someone who possesses goods that we think we deserve. We have enmity or hatred toward a person who is from an unrespectable group, such as criminals or beggars. All of these emotions are about a disturbance in the social calculus. Aristotle doesn’t include emotions such as love or sadness, or grief, because unlike Plato, who sees rhetoric as the “art of leading the soul to truth by means of words,” he sees rhetoric mainly as a one-to-many enterprise for persuading groups. Thus emotions that are essentially individual mental states are not rhetorically useful.

Even fear has a social dimension. Aristotle says “If fear is accompanied by an expectation of experiencing some destructive misfortune, it is evident that no one is afraid if he is one of those who thinks he will suffer nothing; people fear neither things they do not think they will suffer nor other people by whom they do not think they will be harmed” (141). Fear is often fear of others, but if social relationships are in order, we have nothing to fear.  Aristotle acknowledges that it may help the speaker’s case to make the audience fearful.

Some who emailed me mentioned states of mind such as indifference or apathy. “Apathy” is literally the absence of emotion. If the audience is in this state, the rhetorical move is likely to be to make them feel something.

A Revised List of Questions

So, how can we help students navigate the range of possible emotions beyond anger? Robby Ching suggested modifying my questions a bit:

Analysis Questions

  • Who is my audience? How do they define themselves?
  • What do they already believe about my topic?
  • What do they value?
  • What do they desire?
  • What is their state of mind? What emotions do they feel?
  • What makes them feel that way?
  • Who makes them feel that way?
  • What are their reasons (arguments) for feeling that way?

Strategy Questions

  • How can I find common ground with this audience?
  • How can I present myself as someone they will listen to? (ethos)
  • If they feel negatively about my argument, how can I make them feel more positively?
  • What emotion would put them in a better state of mind for my purposes? (This is where Aristotle’s threefold analysis comes to bear: state of mind, target of emotion, and grounds for emotion )
  • How can I present my arguments in a way that will make them more receptive?
  • How can I make sure I don’t make them feel even more negatively?
  • How can I be persuasive with this audience without compromising my own beliefs and values?

My analysis here goes a bit beyond Aristotle. Aristotle is basically talking about creating emotional states that are conducive to the speaker’s argument. I am expanding on this idea to include an analysis of the audience’s present state of mind.  The whole process looks like this:

  • What does my audience feel now?
  • Is this emotion conducive or not conducive to the reception of my argument?
  • What emotional state would be more conducive?
  • How can I create that emotional state?

The most important feature of all this analysis, however, is to help students think more deeply about their audiences. In many ways, the audience is an important writing partner that helps us know what to say and how to say it. The audience is an essential part of the creative process.

2 thoughts on “More on “Pathos as Inquiry”

  1. Pingback: Pathos as Inquiry and Strategy – Teaching Text Rhetorically

  2. Pingback: Pathos as Inquiry: A Mini-Module – Teaching Text Rhetorically

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