Rhetorical Argument

Modern Applications of Ancient Rhetoric
3 tasks for students:
1. Analysis— a close examination of texts, with the
awareness of a writer’s purpose and the techniques
the writer uses to achieve it
2. Argument—a discourse intended to persuade an audience
through reasons and/or evidence
3. Synthesis—a bringing together of several texts, both
written and visual, to form a coherent essay
Five Canons of Rhetoric
• Invention
• Arrangement
• Style
• Memory*
• Delivery*
*memory and delivery primarily focus on
oral/spoken rhetoric (our focus is oral/written)
I. Invention-process of coming up
with ideas for speaking or writing
• 3 artistic “proofs” or appeals under
the speaker/writer’s control:
Ethos- character or credibility of the s/w
Logos- content of the s/w’s message
Pathos- emotional appeal to the audience
by the s/w
Ethos- How does King establish his credibility, his character?
• Instead of the impersonal “Dear Sir” or “To Whom it May Concern”
(“My Dear Fellow Clergymen”—it is warm and a reminder that they
are in the same profession, equals—people use their hearts as
well as minds in making decisions)
• He seldom responds to criticism but they are “men of genuine
good will” and their “criticisms are sincerely set forth”
• Acting as president of SCLC, not an individual; local chapter
invited him to “engage in a nonviolent direct-action campaign”
• He says he goes wherever there is injustice, like the prophets of
OT and NT
• Claims there is no sense in talking of an “outside agitator” b/c “We
are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single
garment of destiny.”
What he is establishing. . .
• He is one of them, not an outsider—so his words should be
• Establish his character for his audience—pointing out he is a
man of nonviolent campaign
• Not being impulsive—results of 4 step process
“collection of facts to determine whether injustice exists”
“negotiation” 3. “self-purification” 4. “direct action”
• Wants his audience to see him as a person who carefully
weighs all options before taking action.
• Closing—apologizes for taking so much of audience’s precious
time—ironically noting he has lots of time in jail; hopes the
letter finds them “strong in faith,” again establishing shared
profession, common ground, and implying character
Logos-(logical argumentation) How does King answer each of
the clergymen’s arguments pragmatically and ethically?
(Their objections)
• “outsiders” should not be leading local protests (major
• King is an “outsider” (minor premise)
• Therefore, King should not be protesting (conclusion)
– arranged this way, this is a logical syllogism—a chain of
reasoning moving from general, universal principles to specific
– King is establishing that he was invited by the local chapter AND is president of
the SCLC—hence, not an “outsider”
– He addresses argument “Outsiders” should not be leading local protests
• apostles/prophets went where there was a need
• all communities in the modern world are interrelated (“Whatever affects one
directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with narrow,
provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea.”
Aristotle states that under logos (content of the message), the two most
powerful tools are the enthymeme and the example. (Enthymeme—a
shortened syllogism; more practical and expedient way to argue)
• Example of syllogism turned enthymeme:
– All people are mortal (major premise)
– Aristotle was a person (minor premise)
– Therefore Aristotle was mortal (conclusion)
Soooo. . . .Aristotle was mortal because he was a person.
(left out of the enthymeme is the major premise, all people are mortal)
In an argument, the s/w can leave out the universal principle b/c everyone
would agree all people are mortal. The principle doesn’t need to be
stated; it’s shared by everyone. Therefore, enthymemes have great
practical value in argumentation.
However, an argument might be vulnerable IF the audience does not accept
the unstated principle that supports the argument.
Enthymeme (shortened syllogism—if major premise is generally
accepted as a universal principle)
• Clergymen argue
– Always wrong to break the law
– King broke the law
– Therefore, king is wrong
(enthymeme= King is wrong b/c he broke the law)
King’s tactic--attack unstated principle (always wrong)
Just law is a man-made code that squares w moral law or law
of God (unjust law is out of harmony)
Unjust law—majority group compels on minority but is not
self-binding (cites Biblical/historical; Germans, RomansChristians)
Unjust if inflicted on minority that had no part in enacting or
devising the law
(conclusion= segregation laws/pub dem. laws are unjust)
Clergymen’s enthymeme:
King is wrong b/c his actions are those of an extremist.
• (assumption: extremism is wrong)
– King attacks this by citing Jesus, the apostle
Paul, Martin Luther, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson—
pretty good company if you’re an extremist)
appeals to the emotions—follow hearts
more than their minds
• King speaks more logically and ethically—but presents with passion; key
paragraph (piles emotional examples of civil rights abuses)
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters
and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black
brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering
in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue
twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she
can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears
welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous
clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her
personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct
an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so
mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the
uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated
day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes
"nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John,"
and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and
haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite
knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are
forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult
to wait.
II. Arrangement—order in which you present ideas
• Traditional, classical oration (credit Cicero)
– Exordium-introduction; writer gains audience’s attention
– Narratio-background info; w gives facts of the case
– Propositio-proposition; w presents his/her thesis/main
– Partitio-main headings/topics; w outlines what will follow
– Confirmatio-arguments supporting proposition; w gives
evidence to prop up thesis/main idea
– Refutatio-anticipation and refutation of counterarguments; w answers in advance any objections
opponents may raise
– Peroratio-conclusion; w summarizes chief arguments, calls
for specific response, & makes a final, emotional appeal
 Exordium- “My Dear Fellow Clergymen” establish ethos, build common
ground, set a warm tone, gain acceptance of his ideas by audience
 Narratio-addresses current situation & attempts to explain why he is
writing now, continues to build ethos [If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk,
my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I
would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your
criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable
 Propositio-he has gone through 4 steps of prep for nonviolent protest
(collection of facts, negotiation, self-purification, direct action)
[“We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action.”]
 Confirmatio/Refutatio-K combines main argument and counterargument by listing clergymen’s objections to his activities & showing how
they are wrong; longest section of the letter and presents the logos. He
discusses just and unjust laws, justifies his actions on moral and ethical
grounds, and responds to accusations that he is an extremist—anticipating
audience’s arguments and deals with them.
 Peroratio-expresses confidence in future—destinies of black and white
people tied together, common goal of freedom; adds a personal touch,
coming full circle—ending with “”strong in faith” and “fellow clergymen”
III. Style—
how a w expresses ideas; contributes to ethos, character,
make the content (logos) more memorable and artistic,
enhance emotional (pathos) appeal of the message
1. Periodic sentence—not grammatically
complete until the end of the sentence; delaying
tactic to build anticipation, suspense, and excitement
•Delays the predicate until the end
•Delays the predicate AND the subject until the end (King’s
is 331 words and it is pathos-packed—see pathos slide)
2. Figurative language—K uses metaphor,
antithesis, alliteration, and anaphora (among others)
•Metaphor—”airtight cage of poverty” (6)—imagery of imprisonment;
“ominous clouds of inferiority” that appear “in her little mental sky” (11-12)—
crying because she cannot go the amusement park because of her race
•Antithesis—juxtaposition of opposites, often in parallel structure; “harried by
day and haunted by night” (24)—life as a black person in America at that time;
“inner fears and outer resentments” (26)—contrast internal feelings with
external realities of racism
•Alliteration—repetition of initial, identical sounds; “…curse, kick, …and
even kill your black brothers…” (3-4); “…tongue twisted and your speech
stammering…” (7)
I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force
•Anaphora—use of
if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes.
I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen
repeated words at the
if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in
beginning of phrases,
the city jail;
clauses, sentences; “when if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro
you” (9 times in his periodic girls;
if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys;
sentence); another pathos- if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us
food because we wanted to sing our grace together.
laden passage