Unit #1: Rhetoric


PURPOSE: For our warm-up assignment, we examined some rhetorical principles and techniques to compose an essay that investigated several topics contextual to the rise of rhetorical study. We went through a simple composing cycle to see how we can use some of those rhetorical principles ourselves, in our own writing process. This next assignment asks you to recursively run through the composing cycle with a much more challenging topic: you will be using your rhetoric to talk about rhetoric. (Ha.) Essays should be 5-6 pages, double-spaced, in MLA format.

READINGS: Gorgias, Encomium of Helen * Isocrates, Against the Sophists * Plato, The Gorgias Dialogue * Aristotle, On Rhetoric

TOPIC: In our essay on the relationship between knowledge, belief, and action, we talked about how the simple question of how to know the best course of action is more complicated than simply asking for and receiving the best answer. One of the ways we might think of rhetorical analysis is that it helps us know who to listen to, in order to figure out what to believe.  In the context of the historical origins of rhetoric, philosophy, and democracy, we’ve talked about it as much more: helping those who listen decipher good and bad arguments, helping those who have valuable expertise or ideas share it with others in a way that achieves public consensus, or for the sake of collaboratively pursuing new knowledge.

Gorgias of Leontini argues that it is proper to use language to praise the praiseworthy and blame those who deserve it, and that furthermore rhetoric can have such power that it acts like a drug that can engender false belief. The Athenian Isocrates cautions against attributing to rhetoric more than it can possibly provide, but does insist that, more than any other discipline, it is capable of prompting honesty of character. In Plato’s Gorgias dialogue, Socrates describes rhetoric as (potentially dangerous) flattery, even as other characters argue for its social power. Aristotle later argues that we might all consider rhetoric to be the ability to see all available means of persuasion in a given situation, which might aid greatly in choosing true and false belief.

Most of us believe that a democracy is a decent form of government, or at least the lesser of other evils; we also believe that in order for democracy to function well, the majority will choose to believe in the most reasonable option, and vote accordingly. Yet, as our sampling of ancient thinkers shows, the connection between belief and how we receive or put forward ideas is complicated and contentious.

PROMPT: Using at least two ancient thinkers,* compose an argument for what you feel is the connection between rhetoric and belief.

Monday, 2/19 – Thesis and Points to Make

Monday, 2/26– Full Rough Draft Due.

Wednesday, 2/28 – Final Draft Due.

*You may choose any two thinkers, but you shouldn’t feel limited to these sources. It might be fun to bring in a contemporary politician’s claims about democracy, or refer to the ideas espoused by some of the founding figures in U.S. history, etc.