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Rhetorical analysis and logical fallacies

By Paul T. Shipale
Rather than engaging in gutter politics and tabloid analysis, writing a rhetorical analysis can be more challenging than it seems.

Just because an idea was trot about by some messengers and praise singers writing from the comfort of their homes under the guise of being 'analyst' or armchair critics, while in actual fact they are acting as campaign managers who consider it to be holy writ, it does not mean that we should accept it without independent evidence. Similarly, calling someone all sorts of names does not mean that the labeling is correct because such terms may be deployed as a put down and a device for not responding to something that challenges an orthodox dogma and unsettles its adherents. As such, hurling insults, which seems to be the most potent weapon in the polemical arsenal of some people or their magic bullet for intimidating and silencing debate, will not do it, according to Chinweizu.

For this reason, we write about what appears in our daily newspapers in order to make sure that the other side of the coin is heard, as Udo W. Froese says. Of course, some are not happy when the ball is in their court while they are distinctly delighted whenever you write something pleasant about them. Well, we are not some kind of black African intelligentsia that abdicated its responsibility and left it to the politicians to decree which idea is correct or valid on the basis of political expediency and opportunism.

We put every idea to the test of a contest in an open debate and feed the result into society instead of just accepting hook, line and sinker some obsolete dogmas and steadfastly parroted obsolete doctrines or chanted slogans and highfaluting jargon like wanting to be wheel barrowed without a single drop of sweat with this entitlement mentality, and we get emotional and impulsive when questioned.

Writing a rhetorical analysis is thus not simply about synthesizing or criticizing the arguments of one or several articles. Instead, generally speaking, rhetorical analysis makes use of rhetorical concepts (ethos, logos, kairos, mediation, etc.) to describe the social or epistemological functions of the object of study.

When the object of study happens to be some type of discourse (a speech or a newspaper article), the aim of rhetorical analysis is not just to describe the claims and arguments advanced within the discourse, but (more importantly) to identify the specific semiotic strategies employed by the speaker to accomplish specific persuasive goals. Individuals engage in the rhetorical process anytime they speak or produce meaning.

Even in the field of science, the practices of which were once viewed as being merely the objective testing and reporting of knowledge, scientists must persuade their audience to accept their findings by sufficiently demonstrating that their study or experiment was conducted reliably and resulted in sufficient evidence to support their conclusions.

In modern terms, what can be considered rhetoric includes, but it is not limited to speeches, scientific discourse, pamphlets, literary work, works of art, and pictures. The vast scope of rhetoric is difficult to define; however, political discourse remains, in many ways, the paradigmatic example for studying and theorizing specific techniques and conceptions of persuasion, considered by many a synonym for "rhetoric." The contemporary stereotype of rhetoric as "empty speech" or "empty words" reflects a radical division of rhetoric from knowledge, a division that has had influential adherents within the rhetorical tradition.

Over the 20th century, with the influence of social constructionism and pragmatism, this tradition began to change. Robert L. Scott states that rhetoric is, in fact, epistemic. His argument is based on the belief that truth is not a central, objective set of facts but that truth is based on the situation at hand. Scott goes as far as stating that if a man believes in an ultimate truth and argues it, he is only fooling himself by convincing himself of one argument among many possible options. Ultimately, truth is relative to situated experiences, and rhetoric is necessary to give meaning to individual circumstances. Modern rhetorical criticism explores the relationship between text and context; that is, how an instance of rhetoric relates to circumstances. In his Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method, scholar Edwin Black states, "It is the task of criticism not to measure... discourses dogmatically against some parochial standard of rationality but, allowing for the immeasurable wide range of human experience, to see them as they really are." While the language "as they really are" is debatable, rhetorical critics explain texts and speeches by investigating their rhetorical situation, typically placing them in a framework of speaker/audience exchange.

Historically, rhetoric was viewed as a civic art by several of the ancient philosophers. Aristotle and Isocrates were two of the first to see rhetoric in this light. Aristotle, writing several years after Isocrates, supported many of his arguments and continued to make arguments for rhetoric as a civic art. In the words of Aristotle, in his essay Rhetoric, rhetoric is "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion". According to Aristotle again, this art of persuasion could be used in public settings in three different ways. He writes in Book I, Chapter III, "A member of the assembly decides about future events, a juryman about past events while those who merely decide on the orator's skill are observers. From this it follows that there are three divisions of oratory or genres of rhetoric; which are (1) political or deliberative (2) judicial or forensic, and (3) the ceremonial oratory of display or epideictic" Each of Aristotle's divisions plays a role in civic life and can be used in a different way to impact citizens. Rhetoric, in Plato's opinion, is merely a form of flattery and functions similarly to cookery, which masks the undesirability of unhealthy food by making it taste good. Aristotle both redeemed rhetoric from Plato, his teacher and narrowed its focus.

Yet, even as he provided order to existing rhetorical theories, Aristotle extended the definition of rhetoric, calling it the ability to identify the appropriate means of persuasion in a given situation, thereby making rhetoric applicable to all fields, and not just politic. Aristotle's treatise on rhetoric is an attempt to systematically describe civic rhetoric as a human art or skill (techne). He thus identifies three steps of rhetoric-invention, arrangement, and style-and three different types of rhetorical proof or persuasive strategies, used in arguments to support claims and respond to opposing arguments.

Logos often depends on the use of inductive or deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning takes a specific representative case or facts and then draws generalizations or conclusions from them. Inductive reasoning must be based on a sufficient amount of reliable evidence. In other words, the facts you draw on must fairly represent the larger situation or population. Deductive reasoning on the other hand, begins with a generalization and then applies it to a specific case. The generalization you start with must have been based on a sufficient amount of reliable evidence.

Ethos or the ethical appeal is the second appeal and is based on the character, credibility, or reliability of the writer. There are many ways to establish good character and credibility as an author such as using only credible, reliable sources to build your argument and citing those sources properly. Respect the reader by stating the opposing position accurately. Establish common ground with your audience. Most of the time, this can be done by acknowledging values and beliefs shared by those on both sides of the argument. If appropriate, disclose why you are interested in this topic or what personal experiences you have had with the topic. Organize your argument in a logical, easy to follow manner. Pathos or emotional appeal is directed to an audience's needs, values, and emotional sensibilities. Argument emphasizes reason, but used properly there is often a place for emotion as well.

Nevertheless, one should avoid Logical Fallacies. These are some common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. These include Slippery slope which is a conclusion based on the premise that if A happens, then eventually through a series of small steps, B, C,...X, Y, Z will happen too, basically equating A and Z. So, if we don't want Z to occur A must not be allowed to occur either. Hasty Generalization is a conclusion based on insufficient or biased evidence. In other words, you are rushing to a conclusion before you have all the relevant facts.

Genetic Fallacy is about a conclusion based on an argument that the origins of a person, idea, institute, or theory determine its character, nature, or worth. Example: The Volkswagen Beetle is an evil car because it was originally designed by Hitler's army. In this example the author is equating the character of a car with the character of the people who built the car.

Begging the Claim is a conclusion that the writer's proof is validated within the claim. Example: Filthy and polluting coal should be banned. Arguing that coal pollutes the earth and thus should be banned would be logical. But the very conclusion that should be proved, that coal causes enough pollution to warrant banning its use, is already assumed in the claim by referring to it as "filthy and polluting." Circular Argument restates the argument rather than actually proving it.

Example: President Obama is a good communicator because he speaks eloquently. In this example the conclusion that Obama is a "good communicator" and the evidence used to prove it "he speaks eloquently" are basically the same idea. Specific evidence would be needed to prove that. Either/ or is a conclusion that oversimplifies the argument by reducing it to only two sides or choices while the author ignores a range of choices in between.

While Ad hominem is an attack on the character of a person rather than their opinions or arguments, on the other hand, Ad populum is an emotional appeal that speaks to positive (such as patriotism, religion, democracy) or negative (such as terrorism or fascism) concepts rather than the real issue at hand and Red Herring is a diversionary tactic that avoids the key issues, often by avoiding opposing arguments rather than addressing them. Against this background, next time you read some articles and opinion pieces, watch out for these logical fallacies.

Our writing is not directed against individuals per se but what they say, how and why they say it. In this regard, theoretical analysis helps educate audiences or readers and develops them into better judges of rhetorical situations. Rhetorical criticism and analysis can thus contribute to the audience's or the readers' understanding of themselves and society as a whole.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


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