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Rhetoric

Aristotle defines the purpose of rhetoric as “discovering all possible means of persuasion.” (Griffin, 2009) Rhetoric is the use of words, in the form of logical and compelling arguments. Aristotle identifies three classifications of public speaking: forensic, epideictic, and deliberative. Forensic arguments take place in the courtroom and attempt to gain justice over past actions. Epideictic or ceremonial speaking is “heaps praise or blame on another for the benefit of the present-day audience. (Griffin, 2009) Political speeches that attempt to sway legislation or rather, the individuals who influence legislation i.e. voters, are deliberative. In addition to speech classification, Aristotle defined persuasive proof. Inartistic is external proof the speaker does not create. An example of inartistic would be an individual’s testimony or reliable quotable sources. Facts or findings form scholarly journals would be a form of inartistic proof. Artistic proof is precisely that: artistic. It is type of proof that gives rhetorician’s their reputations for wordsmithing. There are three kings of artistic proof: logical (logos), ethical (ethos) and emotional (pathos).

Currently, we are in the midst the Republican Presidential Debates and are witness to the most basic levels of rhetoric at work. On September 12th Tampa debate, Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann shocked the nation as she presented us with the negative side of rhetoric. Bachmann attacked on opponent Governor Rick Perry on his 2007 Texas mandate the female children would receive the Guardasil vaccine upon entering the sixth grade. The Minnesota congressman argued that vaccinations were “potentially dangerous” and that they could cause mental retardation in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org) issued an immediate news release the following day countering Bachmann’s claims in which the organization stated, “The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation. There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record.” (Washington Post, 13 Sept 2011). A week later, Dr. Rodney E. Willoughby, professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin gave an interview in which he explained the detrimental effects false claims by a trust, public figure can have on an audience. Willoughby told the New York Times, “These things [false medical claims] always set you back about three years, which is exactly what we can’t afford.” Bachmann public speaking flub left only one of the three rhetorical proofs intact. On logical front, she began her arguments very well by leading the public to deduce that they should be more skeptical about the vaccine, even using inartistic proof to insinuate that Rick Perry supported the mandate out of person gain when revealing his ties to the drug company. She also did a great deal to play on the audience’s emotional apprehension for the safety of their children and appealed to their senses of fear about new policies that may potentially harm their loved ones. However, Congresswoman Bachmann only achieved that emotional response by presenting the audience with false information. As a result her ethos has taking a beating as she has been committed multiple public gaffes in which she has been found to be relying on things she has heard and seen on the internet rather than 

While rhetoric is more prescriptive than measurable, it still is a solid ideal. Rhetoric has stood the test of time of public speaking, being taught in every college around the country. My critique of this non-theory comes from its inability to predict the audience’s response. This reminds me of the same underlying issues of the Social Judgment Theory. Both “theories” are rooted in persuasion, but fail to take in account situations in which charismatic speaking while not change a person’s deeply rooted and heavily biased opinion. Rather, the theory serves to provide a format for effective public speaking that will help the speaker arrive a little closer to their goal.

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