Lecture 3: Rhetoric & Persuasion


Meaning. Messages. Audiences

  1. Meaning is not simply fixed or determined by the sender.

Communication is an active process that involves encoding & decoding.

2. The message is never transparent.

3. The audience is not a passive recipient of meaning. There are 3 ways to decode a message —

  • Dominant-Hegemonic Position
  • Negotiated Position
  • Oppositional Position

Choices in Rhetorical Situation

Each Rhetorical Situation includes choices about —

\checkmark  Writer/Speaker

\checkmark  Purpose

\checkmark  Genre

\checkmark  Audience

\checkmark  Topic

\checkmark  Context

\checkmark  Voice

We'll be looking at how you can persuade people through speech.


"Rhetoric is the art of discerning, in any given situation, the available means of persuasion"

- Aristotle

Q - Who's Aristotle?

A - Studied at Plato's Academy in Athens, Greece and was eventually the tutor of Alexander the Great. His ideas have influenced Jewish, Islamic and Christian theology. His empiricism has influenced the development of natural sciences up until the enlightenment. His ideas formed the basic of Western Philosophy and they still continue to be influential and widely studied.

Plato vs Aristotle

Plato was Aristotle's mentor, thought otherwise — that rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, in the wrong hands was dangerous and likely to be abused to appeal to people's base motives. He foresaw the unethical, dishonest uses that a skilled, but immoral speaker could not put his persuasive powers to, with credulous people eager to believe or buy whatever he was selling.

Aristotle's Modes of Persuasion

  1. Logos ("words" or " reason") — logical appeal + message
  2. Pathos ("suffering" or "emotion") — emotional appeal + audience
  3. Ethos ("character" or "ethos") — appeal to authority + speaker

While these appeals operate on different registers, they are not always mutually exclusive.


"...persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question."

- Aristotle

  • Based on fact, logic, and reason
  • Appeal to critical faculties of the given audience
  • Often hard facts & figures (statistics, evidence, formal proofs) that support speaker's argument
  • Often built around cause and effect or the illustration of a causal relationship

Exaggerated Use of Logos (Logical Fallacies)

Q - What Aristotle can teach us about Trump's rhetoric?

CLASS DISCUSSION - Trump's Tweets Analysis


"persuasion comes through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile"

- Aristotle

  • Made to audience's emotions and feelings;
  • Attempt to connect to an audience through their values, sympathies or imagination;
  • Fashioned to the specific audience

Such appeals are to be fashioned to specific audience. It can be done through the use of

  • metaphor
  • narrative
  • story telling
  • passionate delivery

Exaggerated Uses of Pathos (Pathetical Fallacies)

"Pathos is an emotional speaker always makes his audience feel with him, even when there is nothing in his arguments; which is why many speakers try to overwhelm their audience by mere noise"

- Aristotle


"...persuasion should be achieved by what the speaker says and by what people think of his character before he begins to speak."

- Aristotle

  • based on the character of the argument maker.
  • speaker/writer/artist appeals to audience to demonstrate why they qualified to speak on the given subject.
  • speaker/writer/artist have to establish themselves as trustworthy, ethical, credible. or honest.

The speaker/writer/artist can establish legitimate ability to speak on the subject through the following ways —

\maltese By being a recognized expert or professional in the field or subject in question

\maltese By being directly affected, or having, a vested interest in, the subject being discussed

\maltese By being able to use the specialized logic (logos) inherent to the subject being discussed

\maltese By appealing to a person's ethics or character

Exaggerated Uses of Ethos (Ethical Fallacies)


  • Choices in a Rhetorical Situation
  • Aristotle

Aristotle's 3 Modes of Persuasion


  • Logical Fallacies
  • Post Hoc Fallacy
  • Hasty Generalization
  • Either-or Argument
  • Straw Man Argument


  • Pathetical Fallacies
  • Over-sentimentalization
  • Scare tactics
  • False need
  • The Slippery Slope


  • Ethical Fallacies
  • Authority-Over-Evidence
  • Ad Hominem

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