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October 5, 2012 - Stephen Browne
I watched the presidential debates on Wednesday and was pleasantly surprised that it neither infuriated me or put me to sleep.
I have an opinion on how each candidate performed of course. But what really struck me was more the advice Romney's partisans were practically shouting to him during the run up to the debate, and what Obama's partisans were shouting at him afterward.
So this is as good a time as any to again recommend one of my favorite Internet sites, the Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric. See here: http://rhetoric.byu.edu/
Rhetoric is one of the three subjects that make up the Trivium, which is the first division of the Seven Liberal Arts, composed of grammar, dialectic (logic,) and rhetoric. The Trivium is followed by the Quadrivium: astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, and music.
Trivium is the origin of the word "trivial" by the way. Not in the sense of "unimportant" but in the sense of basic stuff you were expected to know before you could proceed with the intellectual heavy lifting.
Logic/dialectic is the study of the formal principles of reasoning. There is a really neat definition given by my Greek logic teacher in college (it was very cool to study logic from a teacher who came from where it was invented.) An argument is a set of statements, one of which, the conclusion, is claimed to necessarily follow from the others (the premises.)
So, logic is the study of the proposition "follows from."
In other words, logic is about what is said. Rhetoric is about how you say it as convincingly as possible.
Rhetoric is first divided into content and form, i.e. what is said, and how you say it.
If you are at all interested in the debate Wednesday, and the debates to come, I urge you to take a walk through this forest. Start at the left-hand column called the "Trees."
Look at Persuasive Appeals:
1) logos, the appeal to reason, 2) pathos, the appeal to emotion, 3) ethos, the persuasive appeal of one's character.
Then have a look at the Canons of Rhetoric:
1. Invention 2. Arrangement 3. Style 4. Memory 5. Delivery
Have you noticed how much of the commentary has been about Style, Memory, and Delivery?
Whoever your preference is, whether you are shouting at the TV screen "Yeah, do that some more!" or "No, no! Do this instead!" a little familiarity with the terms and concepts of rhetoric will give you some insight into what's going on and might even make watching the next debate more enjoyable.
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