Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Hierarchy of Appeals, From Aristotle

This is from Aristotle's Rhetoric (some translations of the book are called The Art of Rhetoric). You can pick up any copy of the Rhetoric and find this passage at 1356a. It's a bit lengthy, but well, it's worth it.
This is where Aristotle introduces ethos, pathos, and logos in Chapter 2 of Book 1:
"Of the means of persuasion provided by way of speech, there are three forms, for some are in the character of the speaker [ethos], some consist in putting the hearer into a certain disposition [emotion, pathos], and some are present in the speech itself by showing or appearing to show something [logos]. Persuasion is by means of character [ethos] whenever the speech is spoken in such a way as to make the speaker trustworthy; for we are more persuaded, and more quickly, by decent people, about all matters without exception, and . . . character, one might say, has in it just about the most decisive means of persuasion. Persuasion is by means of the hearers whenever they are led on into passion [pathos] by the speech, for we do not render our judgments the same way when grieved as when delighted, or when friendly as when hostile . . . And persuasion is by means of speech whenever we show something that is true, or appears so, from things that are persuasive on each subject."
Now, after typing all that out, I feel a sort of desire to say a bit about it.
One of the things that Aristotle implies here is that there is a sort of hierarchy of the three rhetorical appeals: ethos is at the top, pathos is next, and logos is at the bottom. The reason for this is because when we hear a logical argument, we believe it, but our brains actually reason differently depending on the emotional state that they--we--are in (hence Aristotle's statement, "we do not render our judgments the same way when grieved as when delighted, or when friendly as when hostile"). New studies in Embodied Cognitive Science will actually confirm this idea that, at least to some degree, we reason from emotional states of mind (see, for example, Mark Johnson's The Meaning of the Body). Crazy, right? But there is an appeal that's even higher than pathos, and that's ethos. Ethos is at the top of the hierarchy because ethos is character--what and who a person is--and the emotions strong as they are, are in the body, both the body of the speaker and the listener, and the body is an essential part of who and what a person is. Additionally, when a speaker makes an emotional appeal on an audience, if the audience trusts that speaker, then the audience will transfer that trust to the emotions that they are now having! "[F]or we are more persuaded, and more quickly, by decent people, about all matters without exception." Another translation of the same passage reads, "We believe good men more fully and more readily than others." When it comes to ethos, trust is the key word.

So here's the question. To what degree is trust an emotion?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Just Some Thoughts about Rhetoric

[I wrote the following post on Thursday, May 12, 2011. I am reposting it here because it is easier to access on this blog.]

I'm writing this because I need an audience, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to read it. Then again, if you do read it, I'd certainly be interested in your thoughts.

In the renaissance, students were educated in what was called the trivium--logic, grammar, and rhetoric. Rhetoric tended to focus on the study of formal patterns that we use in our speech. One example of a formal pattern, antimetabole, is the ABBA form in Kennedy's statement, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" (the "your country" is the A and the "you" is the B).

Renaissance philosophers believed that the rhetoricians studied and taught these formal patterns because you can throw a bunch of them in a speech and result in having an "eloquent" or "flowery" piece of work. But the rhetoricians themselves disagreed. For them, formal patterns like tropes and figures were not just ways of speaking, but they were also ways of thinking and ways of acting. In other words, they were ways of being.

Let me give a classic example: repetitio. Repetitio means to repeat something (a word, an idea, or a syllable). Here's an example: I came, I saw, I conquered (some translations say "I overcame" instead of "I conquered"). Notice how the "I" is repeated. That's repetitio. Simple enough. And by the way, since the "I" is repeated at the beginning of successive clauses, this case of repetitio is also an anaphora. An anaphora is a certain kind of repetitio that repeats something at the beginning of successive clauses. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Repeating something is an action, and by repeating, emphasis is placed on the thing that is repeated. The more something is repeated, the more it sticks in our minds. By repeating the "I," in "I came, I saw, I conquered," the speaker--remember, this is Caesar--is emphasizes his own actions. He is in every clause, and the emphasis is places on him as the conqueror. Furthermore--this is from Lanham--the "I came, I saw, I conquered" are all statements of similar length, as if Caesar means that conquering was as easy as coming and seeing. From this statement, Caesar reveals, somewhat, his self-pride. The focus of his statement is on him and his accomplishments.

Anyway, that's why students in the Renaissance were taught tropes and figures. They believed that speaking was acting. Speaking reveals and betrays who we are. They believed, like Quintillian, that since "No man can speak well who is not good himself" (Institutio Oratorio II.xv.34), instruction in tropes and figures was also instruction in how to act well.
But wait. Can you really do this? Can you analyze someone's speech patterns--or someone's rhetoric--and discover something about their character? Renaissance rhetoricians would say yes, definitely. And I think Kenneth Burke would say yes, too.

For Kenneth Burke, we're using rhetoric whenever we use symbols to "induce cooperation in beings that . . . respond to symbols" (A Rhetoric of Motives 43). Probably the most apparent way in which we use symbols is in language. Language is a system of symbols. The words, the sounds, the syntax and sentence patterns all have meaning for beings that speak the same language. We use symbols to communicate, and these symbols also have patterns. Some of these patterns happen because our languages have rules that other speakers of our language will expect us to follow. Other patterns we can create or mimic because we like the sound of them. There are still other forms that Burke says

we might call innate forms of the mind. These forms are the 'potentiality for being interested by certain processes or arrangements,' or the 'feeling for such arrangements of subject-matter as produce crescendo, contrast, comparison, balance, repetition, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion, magnification, series, and so on. (Counter-Statement 46)

In other words, there's something within us human beings that craves a variety of patterns, and all forms of art--music, literature, paintings, movies--manifest these kinds of forms in some way. There are also many different kinds of crescendo, contrast, repetition, etc.

One reason why we watch the same movies over and over is because they have a variety of the kinds of patterns that we like. The same thing goes with our favorite music. Perhaps this can even explain why we spend time around certain kinds of people. Yes, we like them. But my question is, to what degree can we explain ourselves in terms of balance, repetition, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion, magnification, series, and so on"? Language, after all, isn't the only symbol system we use. We also use things like body language, gestures, tonality, and attitude, personality, style, the list goes on.

We can use formal patterns strategically or subconsciously, but however we use them, do they really reveal--and betray--who we are? We use our symbols strategically or subconsciously to communicate to others what we want and what we are. Can't we, then, also analyze the ways in which others use symbols to learn something about their character?

At least, that's what I'm wondering about right now.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Sibling: Subject to Revision

I'm working on another blog that is related to this one. It is called Subject to Revision, and you can check out the post here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why the Principle of Faith Should be a First Principle of Philosophy (Including, of Course, Epistemology and Metaphysics)

By typing this sentence, I am acting, even though I cannot see what the sentence looks like until it is finished. I cannot touch it or hear it or smell it or taste it. And I cannot see it until it appears on the screen. But I type anyway, trusting that by moving my fingers, I will hit certain keys, keys that correspond to certain letters that I need to spell out words and sentences. I trust that when each key is pressed, some kind of electrical signals will—somehow—be sent from the keyboard and into the computer’s memory. Somehow, though I don't quite understand how the whole process works, the letters will appear on the computer screen so that I can see what I am typing. But even though I don’t understand how the entire process works, I really don't need to understand it. All I know is that it works. I can type sentences if I try it, if I work at it, if I act.

Typing sentences: an act of faith?
But the process of typing sentences doesn't just include having my fingers hit certain keys. There's also something that has to happen in order for my fingers to move at all. I'm not a neuroscientist, but I do know that when I will my fingers to move, they move. I think about them shifting from key to key, and they hit the keys that I want them to hit.

(At least, most of the time they do--when I'm typing on a laptop keyboard, my hands are a bit too big for the keyboard, and sometimes I end up hitting more than one key at the same time. But that doesn't mean that my fingers weren't headed in the right direction, nor does it mean that they wouldn't have hit the right key and no other key if I had been typing on a keyboard that I had been more used to typing on.)

I don't understand how the message moves from my brain to my fingers and makes my fingers hit certain keys. I also don't understand how, when I press a key on the keyboard, the message of a key getting pressed eventually shows up on the monitor and I can finally see the fruit of my acts. I don't understand these things. But I still act even though I don't know exactly how the entire process works. I don't know how it works, but I trust in the fact that it does work. My act of trusting is knowledge. My act of trusting is an act of faith.

And yet, I could find out, if I wanted to. I could study how the brain works and how it sends messages. I could find out how fingers move or how a keyboard and memory and monitor all work together to produce evidence of my fingers having moved across certain keys. But I do not have to know how they work in order to make them work. And even if I did know how they worked, I wouldn't be able to efficiently type sentences if I was always thinking about how these things worked while I made them work. "A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing," philosopher Kenneth Burke once wrote, and "a focus on object A involves a neglect of object B" (Permanence and Change 50).

The same is true for all of our acts. I can talk about making letters and words and sentences appear on a computer screen, or about I can talk about the electrical impulses that are somehow sent from my brain to my different body parts. I can talk about driving or swimming or playing the piano or tying my shoes. I may or I may not know how everything works within each of these processes. But if I am going to drive well, I have to forget about what's going on under the hood and pay attention to what's happening on the other side of the windshield.

We can't always be aware of everything that's going on. If we are to do something well, we choose to focus on doing that thing. We forget about the feeling of the chair that we're sitting on. We forget about breathing, though the chair continues to hold us up and our respiratory system continues to take in air.

To have faith is to act without a perfect knowledge. If a perfect knowledge is based on whatever we get through our five senses, then we are constantly acting on faith. There are some things that we know that don't come through our five senses, and even for the stuff that we do, we're not always aware of how things come to us through our five senses. If, on the other hand, a perfect knowledge isn't based on whatever we get through our five senses but is instead based on what we learn from reasoning, then we still act on faith because we have to forget about what we've learned through reasoning in order to really do anything. Either way, our actions are based on the principle of faith--we don't know what is happening or what does happen until after we finish acting.

Typically, the history of philosophy (both in the western and the eastern traditions) has started in the wrong place. I believe that the right place to start is with faith. Joseph Smith once said that "If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong we may go wrong, and it will be a hard matter to get right" (History of the Church 6:303). Philosophies often contradict themselves because they have started wrong. But if we start right, we may go right all the time.

Faith, of course, must be grounded in something. In this post and in all subsequent posts, I claim that the right place to begin is with faith, and the object of faith ought to be God. And if we define philosophy as "the love of wisdom," as some of the ancient Greeks defined it, then what we're really doing when we do philosophy is what Paul Woodruff called reverence (cf. Woodruff's book, Reverence: A Forgotten Virtue).

Book Review: The Rhetoric of American Civil Religion

I've recently received word from Taylor & Frances Online that a book review I wrote was published in the Journal of Religious and Th...