Rhetoric, which dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, in its most primitive form can be found in the the Akkadian writings of the princess and priestess Enheduanna (ca. 2285-2250 BC). In ancient Greece, the earliest mention of oratorical skill occurs in Homer's Iliad, where heroes such as Achilles, Hektor, and Odysseus were honored for their ability to advise and exhort their peers and followers (the Laos or army) in wise and appropriate action. With the rise of the democratic polis, speaking skill was adapted to public needs and political life in cities, which revolved around oral appeals for making political and judicial decisions, as well as presenting philosophical ideas.
In Western societies, rhetoric has played a pivotal role in civic participation and the art of discourse. As a writer, the primary focus should be on the strength and delivery of the argument. Careful rhetoric – the art of crafting arguments that use tone and evidence to improve the capability of writers or speakers can help inform, persuade, and motivate audiences.
When to Use Rhetoric
Rhetoric works when writers choose a strategy best suited to persuading their audience. The three main strategies in classical rhetoric are logos, pathos, and ethos. Introduced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, logos, pathos, and ethos comprise the three persuasive audience appeals used to build a compelling argument.
Rhetorical analysis makes use of logos, pathos, and ethos to describe the social or epistemological functions of the paper or speech. When a speech, a poem, a joke, or a newspaper article happens to be discourse, the aim of rhetorical analysis is not simply to describe the claims and arguments presented, but more importantly, to identify the specific semiotic strategies employed by the speaker to accomplish specific persuasive goals.
Using Rhetorical Analysis
A rhetorical analysis calls upon readers to closely read a text and determine several characteristics about it including author, context, purpose, and emotional appeal and/or effects. In other words, readers must take a look at the famous philosopher Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos.
Logos relies on the rigorous use of logic and reason. Arguments based on logos usually employ deductive and/or inductive reasoning. Deductive, or top-down, reasoning applies a premise or rule that is known to be true to draw a conclusion about a specific case or cases; on the other hand, inductive, or bottom-up, reasoning constructs a premise or rule by generalizing and extrapolating from a specific case or cases.
In contrast to logos, pathos relies on evoking an emotional reaction from the audience. The evidence in a pathos argument is more likely to be personal or anecdotal. Moreover, the success of the argument depends on the author understanding the audience's values and beliefs, and manipulating them.
Ethos, the final persuasive appeal, works by giving the author credibility. By building credibility with the audience, the speaker or writer also builds trust with his or her audience. Ethos can be used to stress the personal credentials and reputation of the speaker/writer, or cite reliable authors or sources. Writer and speakers who employ ethos to strengthen their argument should avoid attacking or insulting an opponent, or opposing viewpoint. The most effective ethos develops from what is stated, whether it is in spoken or written form.
Good writing employs primarily one, rather than two or all of these appeals. However, writers can pull elements from any of these strategies as needed. For some topics, a logical (logos) appeal will be more convincing to a reader than a pathetic (pathos) appeal if he or she is dealing with a rational and reserved audience.