A Note On Argument And Rhetoric

From Mauk and Metz, Inventing Argument: Argument is the act of asserting, supporting, and defending a claim and the art of discovering and defending what should be thought and what should be done.

According to Schick and Schubert (the writers of your text), argument helps us explain what we think and why we think it. They can influence our audience, but also clarify or enhance our own thinking (13). We are surrounded by argument, both informal and formal. While our daily life may not be full of explicit debate, it is full of underlying values and unstated assumptions. Argument is everywhere.


Academic Argument

Academic or formal argument involves making a debatable position appear reasonable or acceptable. This is the primary motive behind academic argument: to make others see the wisdom of a position or perspective. Scholarly, or academic argument is not about winning. As your text notes, "scholars use arguments to seek truth and justify discoveries, rather than merely to 'win' (14). It is not any means necessary, and the audience is not your enemy.

The problem with opinions

To say that people are entitled to their own opinions greatly oversimplifies the human consciousness, which is actually a complex process of building, transforming, and trading opinions. It ignores how people really work in the world of ideas, and it ignores the power of language to shape our perspectives on the world around us.

“People are entitled to their own opinions.” Yes, indeed they are. However, this statement is often used to dismiss another point of view. It is used to stop exploration and end a debate. In a democracy, in a community, what others think does matter.

So what is Rhetoric?

According to your text, rhetoric is "the investigation of how persuasion and communication work” (14). And this investigation has been going on for over 2,000 years. The Greek philosopher Aristotle asserted that rhetoric is the ability to determine the available means of persuasion for each particular argument. The study of rhetoric is not just studying how to change people’s minds, but also the study of how language works to persuade.

For example, in most cases a child learns early on that adding “please” to her request for a cookie is more effective than just screaming “COOKIE!”

This is what we will be working on in this class.

Students of rhetoric ask questions about particular situations:

  • What is happening? Why should someone speak out?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What are the audience’s values and beliefs?
  • What kind of language or strategy would best appeal to those beliefs?

As Mauk and Metz write: The goal of studying rhetoric is to examine the nuances of persuasive language as it appears in essays, reports, literature, slogans, advertisements, speeches, memos, policies, art, entertainment, and even actions. Rhetoric is key to the study of argument. In a sense, there can be no argument without rhetoric.

For Tuesday, Jan. 20

  • Read chapter 1 of So What? The Writer's Argument. Take notes on a new page entitled 'Notes' followed by your name or initials (example: Notes Hamann). Make sure this is linked on your name page in a Class Work section. This Notes page will be part of your process work. If you need information about how to start a new page, check out the First Time User page.
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