Learning Objectives Self-Check
Read through the following statements/questions. You should be able to answer all of these after reading through the content on this page. I suggest writing or typing out your answers, but if nothing else, say them out loud to yourself.
Please read the following sentences, and think about the message(s) each one is giving you. Imagine that you don't know anything about the person who is making the statements other than what you read. Treat each example separately.
- I think solar panels are a wonderful technology, don't you?
- I have been in the energy business for almost 40 years, including 30 in the oil and gas industry. But like you, I'm a cost-conscious homeowner with bills to pay. I've never seen a technology as potentially game-changing as solar panels. Those things are going to change the world, and better yet they will save you money.
- Did you know that Tesla Energy will install and maintain solar panels on your roof for no extra cost? You don't have to lift a finger, and you will end up paying less for electricity than you do now. You can save money and get inexpensive, clean electricity. And all of it is guaranteed by contract! I had them install panels on my house, and couldn't be happier. They'll do the same for you.
- You know, every time I see that old coal-fired power plant I think of all of the innocent children living nearby that are probably having asthma attacks because of the pollution. That's why I added solar panels to my roof.
Each of these statements exhibit an attempt to convince you that solar panels are a good idea, but each in a different way. Think about the language devices employed in each of the sentences. What part of your psyche does it attempt to address? Is it logic, emotion, or something else? Are they obvious attempts to gain your agreement, or do they seem reasonable?
Each of these sentences uses a different rhetorical strategy. Rhetorical strategies are the subject of this lesson, specifically the rhetorical triangle. At the root of all of this is rhetoric, so let's start there. This is just a quick video introduction - no need to take any notes (3:24 minutes).
To Watch Now
Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL) provides a lot of publicly available resources that are designed to help students and others become better writers. We will be watching some videos and reading some of their material in this lesson. They do not allow embedded videos, so please click on the link below to watch.
- "Introduction to Rhetoric." Purdue OWL.
Rhetoric/rhetorical arguments are designed to convince an audience of whatever the speaker is trying to say, or as Purdue OWL notes, it is "about using language in the most effective way." You most often hear this when referring to a politician, or at least someone acting politically or disingenuously, for example: "That speech was all rhetoric." When you hear or read this phrase, it is meant in a negative way and implies that the speaker was using language to trick the audience into believing the argument they were presenting. As noted in the video above, this negative connotation goes back centuries. But rhetoric has a few connotations, not all of them negative. It can refer to "the art of speaking or writing effectively," and "the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion." These two definitions do not necessarily connote deceit. But it can also mean "insincere or grandiloquent language" (Source: Merriam-Webster).
So, contrary to popular belief, rhetorical arguments are not always "insincere." Using rhetoric effectively can help convince the audience of your message. This is an important part of effective communication, including communicating information about sustainability. That stated, understanding rhetorical strategies can help you "see through" insincere arguments that are presented to you.
One final note: Rhetorical strategies can also be deployed visually - for example in images, photos, and video - and audibly. Advertisers do this all the time, as do movies, politicians, and even college professors!
Ethos, Pathos, and Logos
Rhetoric is used to persuade people, and there are three general strategies used to do this: ethos, pathos, and logos. Please watch the following 5:40 minute video and read the readings below as an introduction to these strategies. We will then go into more detail in each in the following lessons.
To Read Now
The following provides a good, succinct explanation of the three strategies, as well as some examples.
Good to Know
Ethos, pathos, and logos are rhetorical strategies, but these are not rhetorical devices. Rhetorical devices are specific methods that can be deployed to make a persuasive argument, whereas rhetorical strategies are general strategies. You have likely picked up on many of these devices when listening, reading, or speaking. Politicians are particularly fond of them. The "Mental Floss" website goes over some of them. If you Google around, you will find more.
Optional (But Strongly Suggested)
Now that you have completed the content, I suggest going through the Learning Objectives Self-Check list at the top of the page.