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:

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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.

 

Aristotle’s Three Appeals

Some of my colleagues have indicated that my previous post on this subject, “Argument Versus Persuasion: A False Dichotomy,” might not have been entirely persuasive to my audience of teachers.  Too many terms!  Dialectic, argument, rhetoric, and persuasion all mixed up!  What the heck is dialectic anyway?  How did that get in there?  What does an argument between Aristotle and Plato have to do with teaching students today?

Oh my!  I’d better try again.

I will assert again that argument, in the form of logos, is a part of rhetoric and one of the strategies of persuasion.  Aristotle defines the three modes of persuasion as follows:

  • Ethos: the personal character of the speaker.
  • Pathos: putting the audience into a certain frame of mind.
  • Logos: the proof, or apparent proof, of the words themselves.

It is tempting when doing rhetorical analysis to go through a text labeling the parts of it that construct an ethos, the parts that create emotional effects, and the parts that function as part of a logical argument.  However, it is not so simple.  A single element can function in more than one way, and the relationships between the terms can be complex.

For example, a website called “Defenders of Wildlife” has a “Fact Sheet” about the endangered San Joaquin kit fox that features a cute picture of a young fox with the caption, “The San Joaquin kit fox is declining or has become locally extinct in much of the species historic range.  You can help save them.  Adopt a kit fox.”  The name “Defenders of Wildlife” creates a strong, heroic ethos for the writers of the website.  The web page is full of facts about the kit fox and its life, which function both to create the impression that the writers are knowledgeable about the fox (ethos) and to make the argument (logos) that the cute little fox (pathos) is endangered.  Finally, the reader is asked to help save the kit fox by adopting one, a call for action that is based more on pathos than logos, but involves both.

Here is a slightly more complex example.  Rhetoric scholar Sharon Crowley, in a very academic essay calling for a change in the way writing is taught in schools, wants to argue that there are two basic ways to learn a new skill: by doing it (practice) or by learning principles about it (theory).

The Greek word from which theory is derived originally designated a spectator who sat in the furthermost rows of the theater, literally “observing from afar.”  When a teacher sets out to teach any practice, if she chooses not to demonstrate it, her other alternative is to stand back from it and generalize about it.  As Aristotle notes in the beginning of his Rhetoric, people can pick up skill in any practice simply by doing it; but it is also the case that the causes of success in any art can be investigated and reduced to principles.  These principles can then be transmitted to other learners.

When I was growing up in the sandhills of Nebraska, my mother devoted nearly every Saturday afternoon to making cinnamon rolls.  One Saturday, when I was old enough to be interested in such things, I asked my mother to teach me how to make cinnamon rolls.  She obliged me by talking through the procedure while demonstrating it. You take a pinch of this, she said, and add it to a couple of palmfuls of that, knead the result until you’re satisfied that its consistency is about right, let it set until it smells as though the yeast has finished working, and so on.  (Crowley 330) 

Crowley was not successful in learning to make cinnamon rolls in this way.  She needed precise measurements and procedures that did not depend on years of experience to make judgments about such things as when the yeast has finished working.  She concludes that the problem with teaching by example is that when the teacher is absent, the student is on his or her own, but that if the student knows the theory, he or she can re-create the practice.  Fortunately, her sister had written down some measurements and other information, so together they were able to re-create the cinnamon rolls.  They needed both theory and practice.

Crowley is making a logical argument about teaching.  She cites the authority of Aristotle as support for her argument, implying that she is with Aristotle on this point, thus enhancing her ethos.  Then suddenly, she launches into the example of the cinnamon rolls.  This example illustrates her argument, so it functions as part of logos, but it is also a story about working in the kitchen with her mother, and later her sister.  It’s a homey story about family memories, and thus might seem to some readers to be too personal and emotional to fit in as part of an argument in an article in an academic journal.

In addition to supporting the point about two different kinds of learning, the cinnamon roll story creates emotional effects that are clearly designed to affect the reader.  However, different readers will have different sorts of emotions.  Some will remember their own cooking experiences with their mothers and identify with the author.  Some will think that it is a brilliant illustration of a difficult concept.  Others may react in surprise, maybe even disgust.  “Cinnamon rolls!  My word! What kind of scholarly article is this?”  Some readers might even become hungry and start thinking about lunch.  Conflicting reactions from the audience are part of the risk of using pathos as a persuasive strategy.

However, it is also clear that both the type of ethos that will be effective and the type of emotional response that the writer will get from the audience both depend on the type of audience the writer has.  Ethos and pathos are not static categories, but are in a relationship.  They affect one another.

Let’s say that ethos refers to the perspective of the writer, including all of the strategies he or she uses to construct a particular impression of his or her character and abilities, as well as the persona that is created by these strategies.  Pathos refers to the perspective of the reader, to all the effects the text has on the reader, especially emotional responses, and the strategies used to create those effects. However, the reader may experience an emotional response—suspicion, distrust, admiration, hatred, or even love—that is created in part by the ethos constructed by the writer.   It is also possible that a writer like Crowley might use the effects of pathos to select or reject certain kinds of readers.  She may want the kind of reader who appreciates a connection between the classroom and the kitchen, and not want the reader who thinks cinnamon rolls don’t belong in a serious article.

The writer and the reader have a strong relationship that is “mediated” by the text.  The text is in the middle, so it “mediates” the relationship, creating it, channeling it, controlling it.  The writer has an audience, a group of readers, in mind, and a purpose for writing.  He or she writes a text that serves that purpose and meets the needs of that audience.  However, the writer cannot anticipate every reader or every response.  Readers are individuals who question and talk back to a text.  The relationship is not a one-way street.

Now what about logos?  It is tempting to limit logos to logical arguments.  After all, the Greek word logos, which actually means “word” or “words,” is the root of our word “logic.”  However, even Aristotle thought that rhetorical arguments were different from the kinds of arguments you find in science.  He called rhetorical arguments “enthymemes,” and noted that they contained unstated premises or assumptions that were generally accepted by both the speaker and the audience.   These assumptions were rooted in the world view of the culture, shared beliefs and values that generally went unquestioned unless someone like Socrates was around to question them, or when the society encountered people from a different culture.  For example when a U.S. President talks to the American people about “freedom” there are shared assumptions that the sources of freedom are in certain forms of democracy and a capitalist economic system.  Similarly, an advertisement for a particular car will probably not present arguments about the advantages of car ownership.  Everyone already knows what they are.  These arguments do not need to be spelled out.

We all live in both a physical world and a social world, which is a world of values, beliefs and practices.    The arguments of logos can be seen as representations of the nature of the physical or social world and the relationships between things or individuals in those worlds.   The writer and the reader live in a shared world, but they may see it differently.  One of the main purposes for writing is to get the reader to see the world in the same way the writer does.

The three terms can thus be seen as positions in a three way relationship between the writer, the reader, and the world, mediated by the text.   Rhetorician James Kinneavy places the terms in what he calls the “communication triangle” and updates Aristotle’s language with terms from information theory.  He says, “Basic to all uses of language are a person who encodes a message, the signal (language) which carries the message, the reality to which the message refers, and the decoder (receiver of the message)” (Kinneavy 19).  From this point of view, Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion become a larger more abstract model of the communication process itself.  Combining Aristotle’s terms with Kinneavy’s insight, we might draw the communications triangle something like this:

communicationa triangle

Click the image to enlarge

From this model we can see that every act of communication contains all three appeals. Some texts, from the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) for example, emphasize logos and minimize ethos and pathos.  However, every text has a writer and a reader and refers to a world.  All texts have all three appeals, to varying degrees.

Works Cited

“Fact Sheet: San Joaquin Kit Fox.” Defenders of Wildlife. Web. 22 Dec. 2012. Web.

<http://www.defenders.org/san-joaquin-kit-fox/basic-facts>

Crowley, Sharon. “A Plea for the Revival of Sophistry.” Rhetoric Review, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1989), pp. 318-334.

Kinneavy, James L. A Theory of Discourse. New York: Norton, 1971. Print.

Argument Versus Persuasion: A False Dichotomy

The first Common Core Anchor Standard for Text Types and Purposes states that students should be able to “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.”  Although Aristotle’s three persuasive appeals–ethos, logos, and pathos— have been part of English Language Arts standards for some time, and while persuasive techniques are mentioned elsewhere in the Common Core documents, this statement has been interpreted by many to emphasize the teaching of argument at the expense of persuasion. Let me make this clear from the start: Argument is not opposed to persuasion.  Argument (logos) is a part of persuasion.

In part, this issue goes all the way back to a disagreement between Plato and his student Aristotle about the nature of truth and the role of rhetoric.  In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates gets the sophist Gorgias to agree that rhetoric persuades to belief, not knowledge.  Socrates argues that there is truth, and that one arrives at the truth through the question and answer method called “dialectic,” demonstrated by Socrates in the Platonic dialogs.  He goes so far as to argue that rhetoric is akin to “cookery,” in that just as a cook can make unhealthy ingredients taste good, rhetoric can make unwise ideas seem appealing.  For Socrates, at least in the Gorgias, dialectic is the true art and rhetoric is no art at all.

However, Aristotle disagrees.  He responds in his work on rhetoric by stating that  rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic, defining rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” Plato is the idealist.  Aristotle is more practical.  It is also important to note that Plato did not win this argument.  Philosophers may still argue about whether there is absolute truth or not, but life, and rhetoric, go on.

In response to Plato’s argument that rhetoric persuades to belief, but not knowledge, Aristotle says that “argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.”  Aristotle also says that “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 people who cannot take in at a glance a complicated argument or a long chain of reasoning.”  In other words, the rigor and certainty of dialectic is appropriate for science, for an expert audience, and for particular narrow purposes.  The persuasive techniques of rhetoric are for almost everyone and everything else.

While Aristotle favors logos and logical argument, he admits that appeals to the character of the speaker (ethos) and appeals to the emotions of the audience (pathos) are legitimate and necessary aspects of persuasion.   Ethos and pathos should not be classified as logical fallacies or artifices of deception.

Because most audiences lack the knowledge or inclination to sit through or follow long chains of reasoning such as one might find in a scientific paper, in most speeches and written texts the arguments used are truncated and based on assumed premises or premises based on probability rather than proof.  Aristotle calls arguments of this nature “enthymemes.”  Such arguments are clearly part of the techniques of persuasion.  They are the bread and butter of nearly all reasoned discourse.  This is the kind of discourse the writers of the Common Core are thinking of when they ask that students be able to  “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.”  We want students to be able to write for all audiences, not just scientific ones.

Thus those who advise teachers trying to implement the Common Core standards to “teach argument, not persuasion,” or classify ethos and pathos as persuasion, but logos as argument, are promulgating fundamental misunderstandings of the nature of both rhetoric and the Common Core.  They are also not helping students learn to write and succeed in college.  Although most students will write a few scientific lab reports in which logos dominates, they will also have to write essays, application letters, proposals, case studies, research papers, emails, and many other types of documents that require the full range of rhetorical ability.  They will also be subjected to advertising, propaganda, partisan political pieces, and other discourse in which they are subject to rhetorical appeals.

Here is a thought experiment demonstrating an inappropriate use of purely logos-driven discourse. Imagine a political leader trying to manage a serious, complicated crisis without using all aspects of rhetoric.  Let’s take as an example the near meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan following a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.  Let’s imagine that Prime Minster Naoto Kan appeared on television after the accident and said the following:

Analyses performed as of 1 June 2011 indicate that at unit 1, the loss of cooling caused the temperature of the uranium dioxide fuel pellets to reach melting point (2 800°C) very shortly after the loss of all electrical power. When this occurred, the analyses have predicted that the molten fuel relocated from the core region to the lower reactor pressure vessel (RPV) head early on 12 March. The molten fuel then caused damage (small leaks) to the lower head. When cooling was later resumed, the temperature of the molten fuel dropped and further damage to the lower head of the RPV was prevented. However, the small leaks in the unit 1 lower RPV head require that water continue to be injected into the RPV at a rate higher than otherwise necessary to remove decay heat and to keep the fuel cooled. Updated analyses performed for units 2 and 3 indicate that significant fuel damage occurred, with the possibility that much of the fuel in these units also melted.     (5)

Imagine that he continued on in this fashion to deliver a complete nine-page engineering report on the state of the six nuclear reactors at the plant.  This is the discourse of a nuclear engineer.  It is logos-driven, objective, neutral, and very useful in its place.  However, it is entirely inappropriate for the rhetorical situation we are imagining.  The people of Japan are afraid and perhaps angry.  They want to know that something is being done, that their leaders care and are competent to take care of the situation.  Ignoring ethos and pathos would be a political and social disaster.

Fortunately, the Prime Minister did not give this speech.  This paragraph came from a report on Fukushima by the Nuclear Energy Association (NEA).

The new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, also has to deal with the Fukushima situation.  In a speech given to the Japanese Diet on October 15, 2013, he says:

Every day at the Prime Minister’s Office, I eat rice grown in Fukushima. It has a flavor that is acclaimed by all. It is my hope that consumers taste Fukushima’s safe and delicious agricultural and fishery products for themselves, without being confused due to radiation-related rumors.

This is clearly an ethos-related move.  He is establishing solidarity with the people of Fukushima, and demonstrating to one and all that he is not afraid of radiation in their products.  Later in the speech he makes a move toward pathos:

I received a letter from a young mother who is from Fukushima. Her letter conveys her love for her child that was born in the year the earthquake disaster happened, as well as her inner thoughts as she anguishes over whether or not to return to her home community of Fukushima. She ended her letter by saying, “My husband and I are now thinking that we will return to Fukushima. We intend to live on that land as a family, the three of us. We decided this because we thought that Fukushima has no future unless the younger generation lives there as we will.”

Can any politician avoid making these rhetorical moves?  Do we really want a generation of students who can only write like engineers?  However, we don’t have to choose between teaching argument and persuasion.  They are not in opposition.

Here is a link to a short article, “Three Ways to Persuade” that can be used to help students understand ethos, logos, and pathos.