I am looking forward to our rhetorical assignment in 6000 class. The timing is perfect as we are up against an important election this fall and the rhetoric is flying everywhere. I am thinking I want to take an op-ed piece that I totally disagree with and find the rhetorical fallacies.
I have found an additional source on rhetoric. Professor Michael Drout has the unusual skill of making boring English topics and making them lively and practical.
The Modern Scholar is a series of online downloadable course with audio, a free PDF and even a test. Drout has a lively and fresh way of discussing everything English – grammar, literature and rhetoric.
His points are clear and easy to follow. In the book, A Way With Words: Writing, Rhetoric, and the Art of Persuasion, Drout provides an easy way to understand rhetoric and how it applies to real life.
Michael D.C. Drout is an associate professor of English at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. He teachers Old and Middle English, medieval literature, Chaucer, Fantasy, and science fiction. Drout says:
“We tend to think of “rhetoric” either as something bad and manipulative (when we discount speech as “just a bunch of rhetoric”) or as something elevated and perhaps overblown, but in fact rhetoric is simply (and complexly)the art of using words to change the world.
The word “rhetor” means “orator” or “teacher,”and the art of rhetoric was taught in ancient Greece for public purposes: convincing and inspiring one’s peers so that they would take courses of action you believed to be wise.
Don’t be a Cassandra
Drout further encourages us not to be a “Cassandra”.
In ancient Greek literature, Cassandra tricked the god Apollo into giving her the gift of prophesy. But as a punishment, Apollo cursed Cassandra to beright always but never to have anyone believe her. Cassandra thus exemplifies the rhetorically deficient person: She knows what is right, but she is unable to convince anyone to do anything about it.
I do not want to be a Cassandra. How about you?
Drout gives us a good way to remember the important rhetoric elements of logos, ethos, and pathos.
You can think of the three pieces, logos, ethos,and pathos, as logic, ethics, and sympathy (the root words are recognizable).
Fallacies to Play within Political Analysis
My son, who agrees with me about most things political made a comment that kind of made me feel good, but also made me say, “Hmmm.” We were discussion political issues when he said,
” Mom, you should have a talk show about politics.”
Maybe I should. I know for certain, I need to understand and identify some of the Logical Fallacies. Some of the examples of these logical fallacies are mine and may contain rhetorical errors and thus another kind of logical fallacy. Please do not automatically assign Argumentum ad Hominem to me!
- Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. This is a fallacy somewhat related to asserting the consequent. This is a hard one to avoid. This is assuming that the converse of a true statement is automatically true. “The economy is failing, it must be George Bush’s fault. The war in Iran was a victor, it must be Obama’s presidency.”
- Denying the Antecedent. People incorrectly assume the invese is true. Inverse takes a true statement and puts NOT on both sides. “If the economy is not failing, it must not be George Bush’s fault. The war in Iran was not a victor, it must not be Obama’s fault.”
- Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. This fallacy is when a writer assumes that because something came after something else, the first thing caused the second thing. “Gore was in office during the birth of the internet, thus Gore invented the internet”.
- Petitio Principii (Begging the Question). This fallacy is abused by newspaper columnists according to Professor Drout. This means you have asked the other side to concede the main point in the argument. A simple example:
If we are arguing about what to eat for dinner, you say, “just to speed things up, can’t you at least agree that we won’t eat seafood?” so that we can move on. But if I wanted to eat seafood, asking me to concede, for the sake of argument, that we won’t eat seafood, is begging the question: asking for me to give in preemptively.
To be fair and balanced...
An red flag for this fallacy:the use of an adjective or adverb to perform all the logical work in the sentence. When politicians campaign on the platform of eliminating “wasteful spending,” they are in fact begging the question. Everyone is against wasteful spending; there is no need to have an argument about it. The real question (which has been begged here) is which spending is wasteful and which is not. Therefore the word “wasteful” begs the question by trying to get you to agree that whatever spending the politician is against, you’re against too. You’ll see that this fallacy is related to the enthymeme: It assumes that you share the enthymeme with the speaker even when you don’t.
- Attacking the Messenger: Argumentum ad Hominem
Argumentum ad hominem is probably most commonly used today in attacks on people’s intelligence: Candidate X is stupid; therefore his policies must be bad. Note that “candidate X is stupid, therefore we should not elect him” is a reasonable syllogism (with the enthymeme of “we should not elect stupid people”), but this says nothing about the policies the candidate is advocating.
An example would be “famous actor X says that population control is a good idea, but he has eleven children.” Famous actor X may be a hypocrite, but that does not address the merits of the idea of population control, whatever they may be. The tu quoque fallacy is probably the most common in all of political discourse.
Red Herring (Ignoratio Elenchi—Irrelevant Thesis). Because tu quoque focuses on the hypocrisy of the speaker, it distracts the hearer or reader from the real issues. That is the same general idea of the red herring, which is an attempt to change the subject from one in which the speaker is losing to one in which he is likely to win.
Other Logical Fallacies
- Sweeping Generalization (Dicto Simpliciter).
- Appeal to Ignorance (Argumentum ad Ignorantiam).
- Plurium Interrogationum (Too Many Questions).
- and many more…