Notes Mitch Vollhaber

Context pg 48
In an article called “The Rhetorical Situation,” Lloyd Bitzer argues
that there are three parts to understanding the context of a rhetorical
moment: exigence, audience and constraints. Exigence is the circumstance
or condition that invites a response; “imperfection marked by
urgency; it is a defect, an obstacle, something waiting to be done, a
thing which is other than it should be” (Bitzer 304). In other words,
rhetorical discourse is usually responding to some kind of problem.
Exigence pg 49
The exigence can be extremely complex, like the need for a new
Supreme Court justice, or it can be much simpler, like receiving an
email that asks you where you and your friends should go for your road
trip this weekend. Understanding the exigence is important because it
helps you begin to discover the purpose of the rhetoric. It helps you
understand what the discourse is trying to accomplish.
Audience pg 49
Another part of the rhetorical context is audience, those who are
the (intended or unintended) recipients of the rhetorical message. The
audience should be able to respond to the exigence. In other words,
Constraints pg 49
The last piece of the rhetorical situation is the constraints. The
constraints of the rhetorical situation are those things that have the
power to “constrain decision and action needed to modify the exigence”
(Bitzer 306). Constraints have a lot to do with how the rhetoric
is presented. Constraints can be “beliefs, attitudes, documents, facts,
traditions, images, interests, motives” (Bitzer 306). Constraints limit
the way the discourse is delivered or communicated. Constraints may
be something as simple as your instructor limiting your proposal to
one thousand words, or they may be far more complex like the kinds
of language you need to use to persuade a certain community.
the audience should be able to help address the problem.
Argument pg 52
Aristotle articulated three “artistic appeals” that a
rhetor could draw on to make a case—logos, pathos, and ethos.
Logos page 52
Logos is commonly defined as argument from reason, and it usually
appeals to an audience’s intellectual side. As audiences we want to
know the “facts of the matter,” and logos helps present these—statistics,
data, and logical statements. For example, on our Homer ad for
the arts, the text tells parents that the arts will “build their capacity to
learn more. In fact, the more art kids get, the smarter they become in
subjects like math and science” (“Why”). You might notice that there
aren’t numbers or charts here, but giving this information appeals to
the audience’s intellectual side.
Pathos pg 53
Few of us are persuaded only with our mind, though. Even if we
intellectually agree with something, it is difficult to get us to act unless
we are also persuaded in our heart. This kind of appeal to emotion
is called pathos. Pathetic appeals (as rhetoric that draws on pathos is
called) used alone without logos and ethos can come across as emotionally
manipulative or overly sentimental, but are very powerful
when used in conjunction with the other two appeals.
Ethos pg 54
Ethos refers to the credibility of the rhetor—which can be
a person or an organization. A rhetor can develop credibility in many
ways. The tone of the writing and whether that tone is appropriate for
the context helps build a writer’s ethos, as does the accuracy of the information
or the visual presentation of the rhetoric.

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