How does rhetoric work?

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How Does Rhetoric Work?

One assumption implicit in the art of rhetoric is that people–even intelligent people–can disagree with each other. Sometimes they disagree with each other about deeply held beliefs. When such disagreements become pronounced, there are two typical results–either they begin to fight, or they engage in debate. The choice is up to every country and every citizen–do we solve our problems by using a bullet or by engaging in rational discourse? Mild ethos or a military invasion? Pathos or plastique? Rhetoric removes disagreement from the arena of violence and turns it into debate–a healthy and necessary step in any democracy. For any headway to occur in a debate, wise participants should begin through figuring out what assumptions drive each group. Usually, when two groups disagree, it is because they do not share certain assumptions. The rhetor must assess her audience and then figure out what assumptions operate in her own argument and then what assumptions operate in the arguments made by others.

Rhetoric also involves language as an art. We have all heard, at some point in our lives, a particularly eloquent speaker. That speaker had good rhetoric. Rhetoric also involves what are often called “The Flowers of Rhetoric.” These include inventio (the techniques for thinking up the points to discuss), schemes (rhetorical devices that involve artful patterns in sentence structure) and tropes (rhetorical devices involving shifts in the meaning or use of words).

How does rhetoric work? Let’s start with the three appeals.

See also: Common rhetorical mistakes.

For an excellent website about rhetoric, see The Forest of Rhetoric. Also see the list at Rhetorical Figures and Rhetorical Figures in Sound.