Rhetorical Theory and Practice Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Greek and Roman times, rhetoric and rhetoric theory has been one of the issues that were discussed and improved, appearing in almost every aspect of life. There was rhetoric in politics, but also in everyday life, in discussions or seminars. When declaiming something and sustaining your point-of-view, you were actually exercising rhetoric.

This constant evolution of rhetoric theory gave way today to a new theoretical description. According to our source, "the new rhetoric is a theory of argumentation." The theory of argumentation, as part of the new rhetoric theory, comes as a completion to the theory of demonstration and he two are closely linked. Indeed, even instinctively, we argument something in order to demonstrate our conclusion, in order to prove our interlocutory our point-of-view. Argumentation and demonstration are such complementary.

As follows, as in any rhetoric theory, the argumentation, as an act of rhetoric, is given by the orator, in speech or writing, to a group of people called the audience. The orator not only passes on a message to his audience, but he sustains an idea, a thesis, indeed, he arguments his credo. As our source mentions, "the new rhetoric, like the old one, seeks to persuade or convince." As such, it is not mere exposition of a train of thought or a group of ideas. These may be considered as the means by which the orator seeks to gain the audience over to his side and make them adopt and believe in his thesis and the truthfulness of his ideas.

The source mentions that the main difference between argumentation and demonstration is the fact that argumentation is a "meeting of the minds," with one part ready to deliver a set of arguments and the other ready to adopt them. In my opinion, the main difference between the two is related to the audience's position. In the case of a demonstration, the audience is already convinced that the thesis of the orator is true. His job is not to convince them that it is true, but simply to prove it, as an intellectual exercise. On the other hand, in an argumentation, the audience is at most neutral and the orator needs to present a set of viable arguments so as to bring the audience over to his side and prove his thesis correct.

I have already mentioned several important components of an argumentation. These are the orator the audience receiving the argumentation and the arguments that are transmitted. Another important issue that one may not leave out are the rules that define the environment in which the argumentation takes place. These are the variables that characterize the argumentation framework.

Indeed, the argumentation is generally performed in society according to several rules and according to a certain code that the orator and the audience need to respect and abide by. This code generally changes according to the activity in which the argumentation takes place (I will refer later on to this aspect when dealing with practical aspects of argumentation) and to the people that actually participate in the argumentation. However, there are ground, generic rules that are true in almost any condition: moderation in asserting ideas, respecting your interlocutory, etc.

Nevertheless, it is clear for us, just as the source mentions, that present-day rhetoric has less limitations that ancient Greek or Roman rhetoric. Aristotle and Plato held to similarities between rhetoric and dialectic, with a plus for the latter as a true encounter between philosophers. Nowadays, on the other hand, rhetoric has become more than a simple presentation of one's point-of-view, but it has come much closer to the idea of dialectics.

One important similarity between present rhetoric and ancient one is the scope of the argumentation. In both cases, this is something (an idea, a fact, a reasoning, a conclusion, etc.) that one cannot actually reach directly and mathematically, "by means of calculation, measuring or weighing," that is by primary demonstration, but has to take to secondary forms of demonstration, closely related to the actual goal or point-of-view that one holds.

In this sense, one would be using related issues that have been proven and are known to be correct in order to convince the audience or their argumentation partner that truth is on their side. For example, the existence of life in the outer space cannot actually be measures or weighed or proven with actual indisputable facts. If it had been so, then we would have had no subject for discussion, since all parties would have agreed on the point-of-view according to which there is life in the outer space.

However, as we cannot bring an alien form of life and present it to the public, if we were to sustain this point-of-view, we would turn to less obvious arguments, but, nevertheless, ones that may convince someone that there is indeed life in the outer space. Such examples of arguments may relate to the sheer dimension of the Universe, where mathematical probabilities may simply state that it is almost impossible not to have other forms of life. They may also relate to the fact that meteorites and comets bring organic substances from outer space to Earth, which may lead us to believe that this actually comes from a planet that has life forms on it. These examples can continue in the same manner, sustaining a truth that cannot, beyond any doubt, be otherwise proven by measuring or mathematical demonstration.

We have referred to the rules governing a demonstration and to methodologies that are used to argument a point-of-view. We should also briefly refer to the receptor of an argumentation, the audience. This "displays an infinite variety in both extension and competence." In my opinion, the level of competence that an audience has depends mostly on the debatable argument.

This would mean that a specific, punctual argument would have higher chances of being debated by a specialized audience, one that has spent a certain period of time learning about a particular subject. This may be, for example, a scientific debate, one where the discussion and argumentation relies on general principles that everyone in the audience is familiar with and is not contesting. Discussing the existence of life forms in the Universe will take as true Einstein's Relativity Theory, for example.

On the other hand, the orator should only be relying on generally and universally admitted facts and truth. As our source mentions, if one starts the argumentation using something that he does not have the audience's adherence for, then his chances of obtaining an adhesion later on are much lower.

Besides the facts that one uses, we have to admit that an argumentation does abide, in many cases, by the human law. In this sense, we should believe that many arguments, even some which do not necessarily have a strong fact or the right argumentative approach, are excellent in an argumentation because they simply move or touch our audience's sensibility. As a human being, you are much more likely to believe something that you know, in your heart, to be true, than a clear, strong fact.

Perhaps the best example in this sense may be the recent White House presidential campaign. George W. Bush won not necessarily because he presented a better governance program, but simply because he was liked more than his contestant. Indeed, many perceived George W. Bush to be one of their own. This was true both for the way he acted and the way he talked or walked. For people in the Midwest or in Southern states, this guy, who had perhaps been their governor in Texas, was the best choice because he best represented them. People believed in him not because of his sophisticated and clear way in which he presented arguments for his point-of-view, using clear facts and examples, but because their sensibility saw in him a better ruler for the United States.

If we look at John Kerry, on the other hand, he used the type of campaign and argumentation that made him lose precious points in some of the states. First of all, part of it was a negative campaign, one where he used every opportunity to address Bush's military experience or the fact that his wife had never worked (she had actually, both as a teacher and as a librarian).

This negative campaign created a revolved negative impression on the undecided part of the American voters, because their spirit and their heart simply didn't like it. Because of this, they were more likely to turn away from the positive part of Kerry's argumentation and from the hard facts about economy and national security that he presented.

Of course, the arguments we present need something else besides appealing to the audience's sensibility. First of all, they need to clearly state and defend the orator's point-of-view. Indeed, we need to believe from the very beginning that the audience is making a clear effort to pay attention and understand our line of thought and argumentation. The more complicated we present the…

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