Cause and Effect in Rhetoric (Part 6)


fragment of "WW1 Causes." (Harris Morgan 2007, Sep. 21, Wikimedia Commons)

This section of the blog article “Cause and effect in rhetoric” provides a typology of cause-effect arguments found in rhetorical scholarship.

It answers the question, “when scholars of rhetoric publish criticism, rhetorical histories, or textbooks and educational literature, how do they make use of cause and effect arguments?”

Below, I articulate parallels between rhetorical criticism, history, and pedagogy and the three classical genres of epideictic, forensic and deliberative rhetoric.

For the introduction to the article, go to Cause and Effect in Rhetoric Part 1.

Links to other sections of this article:

Part 1: Introduction, Causal Reasoning, Social Constructionism

Part 2: Speech Act Theory and Contemporary Rhetorical Theory

Part 3: Rhetorical Criticism

Part 4: Rhetorical History

Part 5: Rhetorical Praxis and Pedagogy

Part 6: A Typology of Cause-Effect Arguments in Rhetoric

part 7: Social Biases and Disciplinary Power Implications

A typology of cause-effect arguments in Rhetoric

Arguments about cause and effect in rhetorical scholarship differ according to the scope,  purpose and situation of inquiry.

Each can roughly be mapped onto the three classical genres of rhetoric identified by Aristotle:

Rhetorical criticism — this entails epideictic (ceremonial) arguments that praise or blame the strategies of the text or speech within its local context.  Its focus is on the “present” features of the performance as they are experienced by the rhetor and audience.  Rhetorical performances, when recorded in text or other means, become always available as present objects of study.
Rhetorical history — this entails forensic arguments about what happened in rhetorical situations in the past.  It defines and characterizes rhetorical acts using rhetorical theories and taxonomies, much as a prosecuting lawyer argues that the accused person’s act was of a certain criminal nature, as defined in laws.  It calls witnesses to the stand, obtains exhibits, and certain kinds of evidence are deemed admissible or relevant based on their ability to persuade judges that 1) the rhetorical act occurred in a certain way 2) the rhetorical act can be defined as a certain type, and 3) the degree to which certain people or other factors were actually responsible for the act (the rhetor’s intention, motivation, ability, access to rhetorical forums and audiences are considered)
Rhetorical praxis and pedagogy — entails deliberative arguments about what can, should, or must be done in certain rhetorical situations, based on persuasion about the future possible effects of such actions.  The current rhetorical situation might even be the completion of an assignment within a formal course of study.  In rhetoric textbooks, one usually finds a section which argues “Why study rhetoric?  Because…”  The formation of the individual rhetor him/herself, or of many rhetors in a community,  is a major focus of this inquiry. Arguments about rhetorical effects in this mode often focus on the practical and ethical duties of a rhetor (professional competence, civic responsibility) by which the rhetor’s performance has an effect on society as a whole.  Arguments that motivate learning also come from the possibility of personal gain through more effective rhetoric (reputation, grades, self-actualization and self-esteem).  The enhancement of the technical skill and knowledge of rhetors is seen as means to these ends.

Go to part 7: Social Biases and Disciplinary Power Implications


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