What Is Rhetoric

Rhetoric is the study of how humans use language (written or verbal) and other tools (such as images) to influence attitudes, beliefs, and actions. In ancient Greece, rhetoric was conceived as a central mechanism for democracy; it was a tool for decision-making and a means for arriving at solutions to complex problems. Rhetoric operated under the presumption that it's possible to arrive at a verbal resolution of differences, circumventing the need to use violence.

Aristotle famously defined rhetoric as the "faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion."
This and subsequent understandings of rhetoric make clear that every piece of rhetoric and every rhetorical analysis is necessarily partial. Rhetorical analysis does not get us, finally, to the "truth" of the issue. Rather, it allows us to see, from a specific perspective, the beliefs and assumptions that shape a persuasive text. Rhetorical analysis is analyzing what's at stake for the rhetor and the audience.

A primary goal of rhetorical analysis is to engage in responsible thinking and encourage informed citizenship. You learn to listen and acknowledge contrary views, resist too-early closure of thinking, and explore the personal effects of language acts.

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