Elements of Argument
Ancient Rhetorics by Sharon
Crowley and Debra Hawhee
For teachers like Aristotle or practitioners
like the Roman statesman Cicero, rhetoric
helped people to choose the best course
of action when they disagreed about
important political, religious, or social
In fact, the study of rhetoric was equivalent
to the study of citizenship.
The fact that rhetoric originates in
disagreement is ultimately a good thing,
since its use allows people to make
important choices without resorting to less
peaceful means of persuasion such as
coercion or violence.
Can someone give an example in
contemporary American politics that
demonstrates Crowley and Hawhee’s
point that without effective rhetoric, one
resorts to violence.
It seems to us that Americans do not value
disagreement as highly as ancient
rhetoricians did. Our culture does not look
at disagreement as a way of uncovering
alternative courses of action. Americans
often refuse to debate each other about
important matters like religion or politics.
Argument is an essential element of a civic
What is a civic discourse?
To understand how important civic
discourse is to a nation and its people,
let’s analyze what Socrates says in Plato’s
“Since the power of speech is a guidance
of the soul, he who proposes to become
an orator must know what forms the soul
Why the soul?
The axiom “sticks and stones may break
my bones, but names will never hurt me”
is not true to ancient rhetoricians and, well,
to most individuals who have a gentle
soul. Words do hurt. Therefore, Socrates
is telling Phaedrus that he must be careful
how he uses his words. As a rhetorician,
he has an ethical role to inform, not harm.
Ann Coulter: Embraces Socrates’
She called Al Gore and John Edwards “a
total fag” and recommended that US
should bomb Afghanistan back to its stone
age to take care of the Talibans.
Funny? Satirical? Or simply sloppy and
irresponsible with words?
How do the words of Coulter, Bill O’Reilly,
and Don Imus impact “the soul”?
How is civic discourse shaped by these
Jon Stewart on Crossfire:
"Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting
On October 15, Jon Stewart, host of
Comedy Central's The Daily Show with
Jon Stewart appeared on CNN's Crossfire.
JON STEWART: ... And I made a special effort to
come on the show today, because I have
privately, amongst my friends and also in
occasional newspapers and television shows,
mentioned this show as being bad. .
STEWART: And I wanted to -- I felt that that wasn't
fair and I should come here and tell you that I
don't -- it's not so much that it's bad, as it's
STEWART: So I wanted to come here today and
STEWART: Here's just what I wanted to tell you
STEWART: Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.
STEWART: No, no, no, but what I'm saying is this. I'm
not. I'm here to confront you, because we need help
from the media and they're hurting us. And it's -- the
BEGALA: Well, it's because, see, we're a debate show.
STEWART: No, no, no, no, that would be great. To do a
debate would be great. But that's like saying pro
wrestling is a show about athletic competition.
STEWART: Now, this is theater. It's obvious.
STEWART: Yes. You go to spin alley, the place called
spin alley. Now, don't you think that, for people
watching at home, that's kind of a drag, that you're
literally walking to a place called deception lane?
1. Doxa and Commonplaces
(handout pgs. 9-11)
2. Language as Power
(handout pgs. 13-15)
Kairos and the Rhetorical Situation
Ancient rhetoricians divided their art into
five canons or divisions:
Invention is the part of the art of rhetoric
that helps rhetors to find arguments.
Arrangements had to do with the
appropriate ordering of proofs within a
Style dealt with sentence composition.
Memory consisted of memorization of a
completed discourse or a series of
Delivery dealt with appropriate
management of the voice, gestures, and
Rhetoric cannot be reduced to a handy list
of rules on writing or speaking, because
each rhetorical situation presents its own
unique set of challenges. One way to
think about a particular rhetorical situation
is to consider its kairos. A multi-
dimensional and flexible term, kairos
suggests a notion of space and/or time.
Let’s think of kairotic moments:
For business majors, a kairotic moment
refers to when to buy or sell.
Naom Chomsky argues that 9/11 provided
a kairotic moment for US to build dialogue
with the East.
What are other kairotic moments in
contemporary American society?
By privileging kairos, sophist thinker
Gorgias’ rhetorical theory acknowledged
the contingencies of issues and situations.
He chose to rely on his awareness of the
particularities of each situation to help him
come up with compelling things to say.
Kairos points to the situatedness of
arguments and the ways in which different
arguments depend on many different
forces: the rhetor’s political views, past
experiences, particular stance on the issue
at the time a discourse is composed, and
the views of the audience at that time and
A kairos-based discourse does not seek
certainty prior to writing, but rather views
writing and speaking themselves as
opportunities for exploring issues and
making knowledge. In short, the rhetor
must be aware of the issue’s immediate
relevance to the time, the place, and the
community in which it arises.
1. Stasis Theory: Asking the Right
(handout pgs. 44-45)
(handout pgs. 76-79)
What is an ideology?
What are American ideologies?
A rhetor’s persuasive use of topics is
affected by the ideologies or networks of
interpretation through which they are
filtered and received. Ideologies vary
because people are differently located in
terms of gender, age, ethnicity, class,
economic situation, religious beliefs,
education, and the political or cultural
power they possess.
A rhetor who uses the topics as a means
of invention should take careful account of
whether or not her discourse will be well
received by an audience whose
ideological affiliations may prescribe very
different versions of commonplaces that
are espoused by the rhetor.
An Ideological Spectrum
(handout pg. 90)