ERWC Leadership Event 2017: Speech

We have just completed our ERWC Leadership Conferences for 2017.  The Sacramento event was held at the Hilton Sacramento Arden West Hotel, June 20-21.  Unfortunately, the hotel’s air conditioning system failed at about 11:00 am, so the first day sessions were conducted under less than ideal conditions and the second day sessions were curtailed.  The Los Angeles event, at the Westin Los Angeles Airport June 27-28, ran much more smoothly.  I would like to thank the presenters, the support staff, and the participants for a wonderful event.

I will post on other aspects of the conferences and ERWC 3.0 in the next few days, but today I want to post the speech I gave at both events.


I am sorry I missed the leadership events last year. I had a scheduling conflict. I was in London. My wife and I had been invited to visit her brother, who is an executive in a large scientific instruments company, while he was temporarily stationed in the U.K. The company had rented a lovely home for him in Beaconsfield, an upscale suburb, where we were invited to stay. As it happened, we were in London just before the Brexit referendum and returned from the continent just after it.

The difference was palpable. The city we had left was a vibrant, optimistic, multicultural metropolis. The city we returned to was downcast, confused, stunned. My brother-in-law said he canceled several multi-million dollar deals the day after Brexit, and six months later he was working from Shanghai. The United Kingdom is still in turmoil and the future is difficult to predict.

How did this happen? I would say that it was largely a matter of rhetoric.

The city of London voted largely to remain in the European Union (though I did see “Leave” signs even in Beaconsfield) as did Scotland, Northern Ireland, and most young people, who saw the right to freely travel and live in Europe as a path toward adventure, education and jobs. The rest of England and Wales voted to leave.

I happened to talk to some Welsh soccer fans in Paris, who kept reminding me that they were Welsh, not English. They said that they had voted Leave because of immigrants, whom they felt were getting benefits they had not earned and did not deserve. Membership in the E.U. and the required free movement of people from any E.U. member country to any other has brought lots of Polish and Eastern European people to the U.K. to work in service jobs and to harvest agricultural products. Many British people feel that immigrants from elsewhere in the E.U. are taking away jobs, getting undeserved benefits, diluting British culture with foreign ways, and committing crimes. Sound familiar? So the solution is to exit the E.U. But that also means giving up free access to the European market, which is the foundation of most economic activity in the U.K.

The following image represents two of the main arguments that Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London and a leader of the “Leave” campaign, made to support Brexit:

3000

The slogan on the sign sounds like a simple way to improve the National Health Service, but it ignores all the other benefits that might accrue from E.U. membership. The url on the podium, voteleavetakecontrol.org, makes another simplistic argument that focuses on immigration, but simply ignores the issue of the free market. Johnson, a flamboyant and popular leader, also argued that the U.K. could “Have our cake and eat it,” implying that Britain could negotiate a deal to control immigration and still have access to the free market. He never explained why the E.U. would agree to that.

The arguments for “Remain,” on the other hand, were mostly economic, cast in terms of currency fluctuations, trade figures, economic forecasts. Many arguments sound like this paragraph from an article in the Business Insider:

If the pound is weak, again, it will make it more expensive for us to trade. Equities are already tumbling because extra costs will hurt not just Britain’s biggest companies’ pockets, but also how they can afford to pay staff. Morgan Stanley points out that a Brexit would devastate a number of markets within just six months.

From Here is an avalanche of reasons why Britain should stay in the EU, Business Insider Jun. 16, 2016

The average citizen without a corporate job or any investments in stocks would be unmoved by this rhetoric.

Aristotle says, “The duty of rhetoric is to deal with such matters as we deliberate upon without arts or systems to guide us, in the hearing of persons who cannot take in at a glance a complicated argument, or follow a long chain of reasoning.” In other words, rhetoric is for matters about which we cannot have certainty, and for audiences who would not understand the proofs we might give if we had them.

Boris Johnson and the rest of the Leave campaign were clearly more persuasive to the electorate in this regard, providing a simple, appealing logos for people who were disinclined to follow complicated arguments. And notice how this logos appeals to both a simple logic and a nationalistic pathos: “Let’s stop giving money to foreigners and spend it on our own health care! Let’s take control of our borders and keep the foreigners out!” On the other hand, the message from the Remain campaign is coldly logical: “If we do this, we will lose money.”

And here we come to my main point in discussing Brexit: the speaker who masters the art of understanding the audience and the rest of the rhetorical situation, and in crafting a message that moves both the emotions and the intellect of this audience in this context, is the one who will be most persuasive. Too often, we are tempted to see Aristotle’s three appeals as discreet elements that can be recognized and sorted into boxes. In fact, they work together seamlessly and harmoniously. Logos alone is rarely persuasive in a public forum.

In your packets you will find a new version of my rather ancient article “Three Ways to Persuade.” In this revision, I have attempted to connect the appeals together, mostly through the conduit of audience. In the updating and re-envisioning of ERWC that is currently ongoing, this is one of the main themes. We want to provide students and teachers with a more subtle, flexible, and useful set of rhetorical tools, for both analyzing and writing texts. Even after 14 years of growth and success, this is an exciting time to be involved in ERWC. And now I want to turn things over to my colleagues Meline Akashian and Nelson Graff for an introduction to more of these rhetorical tools.

 

Revisiting “Three Ways to Persuade”

My short article, “Three Ways to Persuade,” has been a part of ERWC since the early days.  It is included in my first ERWC module, “The Rhetoric of the Op-Ed Page,” but many teachers extracted it and used it earlier in the course.  It was designed to be a simple introduction to Aristotle’s three appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos.  It has been uploaded by teachers to various websites and many teaching websites link to it. It hasn’t exactly gone viral, but it is quite popular.

The earliest version of the article was written as a handout for a First Year Writing class I was teaching as a T.A. at the University of Southern California, probably in 1990.  At that time, the former Yugoslavia was breaking apart and I drew some of my examples of pathos from the conflict between Serbians and Croatians and the practice of “ethnic cleansing.”  Once the article became widely available on the internet, I started to receive complaints from Serbs that my otherwise very useful article was biased against them.  I considered their arguments and decided that I was not an expert on the former Yugoslavia, that my purpose was not to write about Yugoslavia, and that I did not need those specific examples.   I revised the piece.  One of my correspondents about this matter took it upon himself to contact every site that linked to the article and encourage them, quite persuasively I am sure, to upload the revised version.

As I have noted in other blog posts, a couple of years ago instructors in First Year Writing courses in colleges and universities began to complain about receiving large numbers of overly simplistic rhetorical analysis essays that combined ethos, logos, and pathos with the five-paragraph essay.   In a typical example, the writer claims in the introduction that the author of the text under analysis “uses” ethos, logos, and pathos, writes a body paragraph about each appeal with examples from the text showing the “use” of the appeal, and then writes a conclusion that repeats the claim about “using” ethos, logos, and pathos, as if that were an important thing to prove.  It is all quite neat and tidy.  It does show that the student writer has some understanding of the appeals and is able to recognize elements of the text that might function in this way.  However, such an analysis ignores more important concerns such as audience and purpose.  This is akin to naive birdwatching–identifying and checking off birds on a list without thinking about the whole ecosystem and why this bird is in this context at this moment.

I first heard about this problem on the Writing Program Administrators listserv, but when I asked instructors on my own campus about it, they agreed.   There are lots of potential causes for this, including the new emphasis on persuasion and argumentation in the Common Core standards, but I wondered if my semi-viral article was in part responsible.  I started thinking about revising it again.

This issue resulted in lots of discussion in the ERWC committees about the utility of the three appeals, whether we should present Aristotle as Aristotle or try to modernize him, and whether the problems created by this simplistic use of the appeals were inherent in the appeals or a matter of instruction.  One point of contention was Aristotle’s conception of logos.  Aristotle favors arguments from probability, which he calls “artistic proofs,” and distrusts “inartistic proofs,” arguments based on eye witnesses, documents, and other elements that we would call “evidence,” because he thinks witnesses can be bribed and documents can be forged. I think this is why textbooks that are very much based in classical rhetoric, such as Andrea Lunsford’s Everything’s an Argument, bring in Stephen Toulmin’s system when they get to logos.

After all of this discussion, I created a revised version of the piece, which is now called, “Three Ways to Persuade: Integrating the Three Appeals.”  I decided to remain true to Aristotle, but connect Aristotle to more modern rhetorical concepts.  This version makes it clear that the three appeals work in concert together. I reordered the appeals so that I could use Kenneth Burke’s concept of “identification” as a bridge between ethos and pathos and use the psychological concept of “desire,” and the rationalization of desire, as a bridge between pathos and logos.  I have also included a paragraph describing the difference between Aristotle’s syllogistic arguments from probability and evidence-based arguments such as one gets from Toulmin.

It is still only four pages long.  I hope that the additional conceptual material does not confuse students, but helps them use these concepts in a more productive and useful way.  See what you think.  Please post a comment if you have responses or suggestions.

Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response

I first met Jennifer Fletcher when she joined our ERWC Task Force as a high school representative. At the time she was Chair of English at Buena Park High School, but she was working on a Ph.D. at UC Riverside (and raising two kids!). Soon she surprised us by taking an English Education position at CSU Monterey Bay. Jennifer has an amazing resume: high school teaching, chairing a department, scholarship, and publications. She is quite agile in moving from theory to practice. And she lives and breathes ERWC.

So it was no surprise to me when she published this wonderful and timely book, Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response.

teachingargumentscover

The book synthesizes concepts from classical rhetoric, modern rhetoric, Common Core State Standards, and Jennifer’s teaching experience and wisdom. It manages to be both academic and personal, with practical teaching strategies on every page. As Jennifer herself says in the introduction:

This book is about opening doors to deeper learning for all our students through a rhetorical approach to arguments—an approach based on situational awareness and responsiveness instead of rules and formulas. Throughout the chapters, you’ll find detailed examples of activities, such as the rhetorical précis, descriptive outlining, and the doubting and believing game, that show students how to move beyond a superficial response to texts (xiv).

A bit later she offers a justification for teaching rhetorically:

Rhetoric targets the conventions and processes of high academic literacy, including the sophisticated responsiveness to context that characterizes college and workplace writing. Writing rhetorically means writing with attention to argument, purpose, audience, authority, and style demanded by academic texts (xv).

The first chapter is about “open-minded” inquiry. It begins with activities for closely attending to the features of a text, even a visual text such as a painting. Then Peter Elbow’s “believing game” is introduced (the “doubting game” will appear in the next chapter) along with checklist questions for facilitating the activity. This is demonstrated through a detailed analysis of an op-ed by David Brooks, followed by a section on “Discovering the Question at Issue” which is built around the Ciceronian concept of stasis. Stasis theory is presented with lots of examples and sample questions, making it clear how it might be used with students. Though the theories deployed span centuries, everything is tied together by the focus on the classroom and the students and by the author’s personal experience.

Subsequent chapters discuss critical approaches to text, modern application of the ancient Greek concept of Kairos (timeliness and appropriateness), audience, purpose, and the three appeals–ethos, pathos and logos. The chapter on the appeals is especially useful because it goes deep into each appeal rather than engaging in the checklist sort of approach that many teachers fall into. Every rhetorical concept is described, contextualized, demonstrated, and explained, often with charts, handouts and other activities that can be used directly in class, with more available in the appendix.

The final chapter is called “Aristotle’s Guide to Becoming a ‘Good’ Student,” but it is really Jennifer’s guide. It focuses on habit, identity, confidence, self-perception, performance, insiders versus outsiders, modeling, mentoring, teachable moments, imitation, and flow. Obviously these concepts go far beyond Aristotle. Reading this book is like accompanying the author on a personal intellectual journey through rhetoric and teaching, a journey on which you learn, grow, and pick up handouts that you can use on Monday morning. I recommend it highly.

Fletcher, Jennifer. Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse, 2015.

Enthymemes!

Aristotle begins his work on rhetoric by noting that the framers of previous treatises on rhetoric “say nothing about enthymemes, which are the substance of rhetorical persuasion,” but instead deal mostly with with non-essentials, “such as what must be the contents of the ‘introduction’ or the ‘narration’ or any of the other divisions of a speech.” For Aristotle, arrangement is not the essence of persuasion. The big new concept in his rhetoric is the enthymeme.

Aristotle considers rhetoric to be a counterpart of dialectic, which is the art of discovering what is true through syllogisms and inductive arguments.
Rhetoric is a parallel art which deals with the “apparently true” through enthymemes and examples. He defines the enthymeme as “a sort of syllogism,” but perhaps with fewer propositions because

If any of these propositions is a familiar fact, there is no need even to mention it; the hearer adds it himself. Thus, to show that Dorieus has been victor in a contest for which the prize is a crown, it is enough to say ‘For he has been victor in the Olympic games’, without adding ‘And in the Olympic games the prize is a crown’, a fact which everybody knows.

The most famous example of a syllogism is this

  • All men are mortal.
  • Socrates is a man.
  • Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

However, the premise, “All men are mortal” is known by all, and could be omitted, bringing this syllogism closer to the status of an enthymeme.

Enthymemes are based on probable truths, not certain ones, because we are usually deliberating about future actions, the outcome of which is never certain. Thus rhetoric is the art of speaking logically about probabilities and uncertainties.

Aristotle’s observation that in an enthymeme (which he also calls a rhetorical syllogism) we can leave out a premise that everyone knows has lead to some controversy and confusion. Sometimes we leave it out because people will assume it, even if it is unexpressed. However, Aristotle also connects this practice to audience. He says

Before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.

To summarize:

  • Enthymemes are based on probable truths or contingencies.
  • Enthymemes may have assumed or omitted premises that everyone already knows.
  • Enthymemes may also leave out premises because an audience is either incapable or unwilling to be instructed.

Could a devious rhetor leave out premises that would be uncomfortable or disagreeable to an audience if expressed? Do different audiences make different assumptions and believe different things to be probably true? Do shared but hidden assumptions make an argument more persuasive to the audience? Aristotle does not deal with these possibilities directly, but the answer to all three questions is clearly yes, though one does not have to be devious in order to use enthymemes. That means that an important part of a rhetorical analysis is ferreting out and evaluating hidden assumptions. Let’s look at some examples.

Here is President George W. Bush, in a White House statement delivered on Feb. 24, 2004

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Eight years ago, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for purposes of federal law as the legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.

The Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 342 to 67, and the Senate by a vote of 85 to 14. Those congressional votes and the passage of similar defensive marriage laws in 38 states express an overwhelming consensus in our country for protecting the institution of marriage.

In recent months, however, some activist judges and local officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage. . . . Unless action is taken, we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more litigation, more defiance of the law by local officials, all of which adds to uncertainty.

Often a single word implies an argument. The word “defense” implies an argument such as this:

  • The institution of marriage is in danger.
  • Re-defining marriage threatens marriage.
  • Therefore, marriage should not be re-defined.

The word “arbitrary” implies something like the following:

  • The majority view is that marriage is between a man and a woman.
  • Decisions that do not reflect the majority view are arbitrary.
  • Therefore, marriage needs to be defended from arbitrary decisions.

Lets look at another example.  Earlier this month (August 4, 2016), President Barack Obama published an essay about feminism in Glamour magazine. He writes

Growing up without a dad, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was, how the world perceived me, and what kind of man I wanted to be. It’s easy to absorb all kinds of messages from society about masculinity and come to believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a man. But as I got older, I realized that my ideas about being a tough guy or cool guy just weren’t me. They were a manifestation of my youth and insecurity. Life became a lot easier when I simply started being myself.

There are lots of assumptions operating here. First

  • Dads are role models for young men.
  • Without a dad, young men learn how to be men from social messages.
  • Society teaches men to be tough and cool.
  • Therefore, Obama tried to be tough and cool.

But a more subtle assumption is present too. It’s called “being yourself.”

  • Every person has a a true self.
  • Society pressures us to be different from our true selves.
  • Youth and insecurity cause us to succumb to social pressure.
  • Being your true self is better than succumbing to pressure.
  • Therefore we should reject society’s norms and be ourselves.

Imagine a world in which everyone simply did their own thing without adapting to any social norms. Would you want to live in it? Most of us would prefer to live in a society that balanced the needs of the individual and the needs of the group. But there I go making assumptions about my audience!

However, as Aristotle notes, it is not wrong to use enthymemes. They are necessary. It is just that it is sometimes instructive, even necessary, to make the assumptions explicit in order to understand the whole argument.

(Quotations from Aristotle’s Rhetoric are all from Book I available online in the the Internet Classics Archive at M.I.T.)

The Roman Six-Part Speech as an Essay

In a previous post, I discussed the problem that can be created when students combine a rudimentary understanding of Aristotle’s three appeals–ethos, logos, and pathos–with the five-paragraph essay format. Instead of rhetorical analysis it is easy for students to fall into a pattern of a paragraph about ethos, a paragraph about logos and a paragraph about pathos. I think the solution is to teach more rhetoric! However, we might also provide an alternative to the five-paragraph essay.

I mentioned this in a previous post, but I will go into more detail in this one. The ancient Romans had a six-part format for persuasive speeches that is still used by orators today and which can easily be adapted to essay writing. In fact, most editorials and op-ed pieces follow a similar pattern today. The format is organized by rhetorical purpose and can be expanded or contracted to fit different kinds of content.

SixPartSpeech

If the five-paragraph essay seems too constraining, this pattern is a good alternative. It has several advantages. The “narratio” section provides more background and context for the reader, so that when we finally get to the thesis in the “divisio,” we feel like we are well-informed about the nature of the issue and why it is important at this particular moment. Then we have arguments in favor of the position in the “confirmatio” and arguments against in the following “refutatio.” The result is that when we get to the conclusion, we feel both informed and persuaded, and that the issue has been viewed from more than one perspective.

In a short paper, the first three categories might be combined into a one-paragraph introduction, but if the issue is complicated, the “narrative” section might take two or more paragraphs. The “confirmatio” and “refutatio” form the “body” of the paper, and the “peroratio” the conclusion. Each of these sections might be one or more paragraphs.

This pattern can be taught as a series of questions:

  1. What is my paper about? How can a make my reader interested in it?
  2. What background information does the reader need to know to understand the issue I am writing about? What is the story behind the issue? How did things get this way?
  3. What are the possible positions someone could take on this issue? What position will I take and why?
  4. What are the arguments in favor of my position? How can I support them?
  5. What will people who disagree with me say? What are the arguments against my position? How can I refute them?
  6. What do I want my reader to believe or do after they finish reading my essay? How do I want them to feel?

These are good prewriting questions even if the student ends up writing a five-paragraph essay. They also work well in collaborative activities. Students can help each other brainstorm arguments for and against the writer’s position, and explore different possible positions on the issue.

This pattern can also be used to analyze published editorials and op-ed pieces. We can ask:

  1. What is this piece about? Why is the issue or topic important, according to the writer? What kind of impression does the writer create?
  2. What background information does the author give us? What is the story behind the issue? Does the writer do a good job of putting the issue in context?
  3. What are the possible positions on this issue? Does the writer do a good job of laying them out? What position does the writer take? Is it clear and well-defined, or a little vague?
  4. What arguments does the writer make in favor of his or her position? How are they supported? Do they make sense?
  5. What arguments against the position does the writer describe? Does he or she do a good job of refuting them? Can you think of other arguments against the position that the writer does not deal with?
  6. How do you feel at the end of the piece? Are you persuaded? Why or why not?

These questions, and the Roman pattern from which they derive (Cic. De Inv. 1.7; Cic. De Or. 1.31.143), are useful for organizing discussions of persuasive texts. They can help the student think about the pros and cons of multiple positions rather than simply taking one position and supporting it with one-sided arguments and cherry-picked examples. They also might reveal gaps or problems with a published writer’s position or arguments, allowing the student to see that just because something is in print, it doesn’t mean it is well-argued.

This post is also available as a handout for teachers in .pdf format. I have also included two analyses of op-ed pieces, one about reconsidering the use of QR Codes in mediating between real and online worlds and one by Stanley Fish about whether history professors should speak out politically as history professors.  (For copyright reasons I have only quoted the first few words of each section.  It is best to go to the URL I have provided to see the full article.)  The QR codes article fits the pattern quite well.  The Fish piece less so, but then I find his arguments unconvincing as well.  Doing the analysis reinforced my opinion that he was less than persuasive.  Picking apart the organizational structure leads to insights about the arguments as well.

A Problem with the Aristotelian Appeals

Recently there was a thread on the Writing Program Administrator’s discussion board (WPA-L) in which first year writing instructors at the college level were complaining about receiving large numbers of essays that used ethos, logos, and pathos in ineffective ways. One respondent said that “it seems to have become the new five paragraph essay.” In ERWC, we offer these concepts as a set of analytical tools that allow students to become aware of the claims made on them by the writers of the documents they read. Instead, for some students, the Aristotelian appeals seem to have become a new essay formula.

I asked tutors and instructors on my campus if they were also seeing large numbers of ineffective essays that were framed by ethos, logos, and pathos. They confirmed that they were. One instructor told me that he now routinely says to students “Less pathos! More logos!” This is a recent phenomenon.

In a sense, this is success. Students are acquiring concepts and transferring them to other situations. However, from these reports, some of the transfer is negative and inappropriate. This is a big problem.

The Aristotelian appeals are only a part of a rhetorical approach. Aristotle says that rhetoric is “the art of finding the available means of persuasion.” The most important factors in any rhetorical analysis are audience and purpose. The first questions the student should ask are “Who is the audience?” and “What is the writer trying to accomplish?” not “Where is the ethos?” “Where is the pathos?” and “Where is the logos?”

After audience and purpose, the student needs to explore the issue. How is the issue defined? Who are the parties involved? What is the writer’s position? What are the arguments in favor of it? What are the arguments against it? What are other possible positions? What are the possible consequences? These questions all can be seen as coming under the heading of logos, but the answers may not all be in the text under study. To come up with counter-arguments and alternative positions, the student may have to think outside the text.

Ethos and pathos are also modes of persuasion, not necessary ingredients. Is the text more persuasive because of the way that the writer has constructed his or her ethos? Then we might look at the elements that construct that ethos. Does the writer make moves that invoke the reader’s emotions? We might want to look at how that is done and why the writer did it. However, a writer, such as a scientist, may choose to persuade entirely through facts and arguments and leave character and emotion behind.

In a future post I will explore how the Roman concept of stasis theory might be helpful in analyzing issues. Remember, “Less pathos! More logos!”

The Organization of a Roman Speech

In the Module Writing Institute today we were talking about a metalanguage for commencement addresses. I suggested that it was worth looking at the six-part organization of a classical Roman speech as described by Cicero in De Inventione and De Oratore. This pattern has lasted for thousands of years.

  • Exordium–An introduction in which the speaker states the subject and purpose of the discourse and establishes his or her ethos.
  • Narratio–A narrative of the facts of the case.
  • Partitio or Divisio–A statement of what is to come, consistent with the point at issue.
  • Confirmatio–Arguments in favor of the case. Oriented toward logos.
  • Refutatio–A refutation of the arguments against the case.
  • Peroratio–A conclusion, often oriented toward pathos.

I argued that if we were still teaching this pattern, instead of the five-paragraph essay, our society would be much more advanced. All of the requirements of good logical argumentation are built into this pattern, though it also addresses ethical and pathetic appeals. And it is still in use in sermons and other ceremonial discourse.

More can be found at the Silva Rhetoricae site.  Click on “Canons of Rhetoric/Arrangement” in the column on the left side.