eLearning Instructional Sample
ENGL-733-OL History of Rhetoric at Savannah College of Art and Design
By Jonathan Wagner
1. How do the rhetoricians in this section teach or exhibit ways in which we are “good” citizens or treat others courteously?
In this section, the rhetoricians employ varying approaches to exhibit ways in which we are “good” citizens. One method uses goodness or honor selfishly—i.e., enhancing his or her own character in order to become a more persuasive person. In his work Antidosis, Isocrates imparts that people are intrinsically good citizens, whether they are intrinsically good or intrinsically selfish and intelligent. (However, one person’s “good” may not equate to another’s.) Isocrates asserts:
Furthermore, mark you, the man who wishes to persuade people will not be negligent as to the matter of character; no, on the contrary, he will apply himself above all to establish a most honorable name among his fellow-citizens; for who does not know that words carry greater conviction when spoken by men of good repute than when spoken by men who live under a cloud. (77)
In essence, Isocrates relates that how we act is all about building the type of character by which we wish to be known.
Consider Elder Scrolls, an open-world video game where doing good deeds builds gamer popularity throughout the land, increasing the player’s persuasion skill. Isocrates theorizes this game’s premise in that:
Whereas an honorable reputation not only lends greater persuasiveness to the words of the man who possesses it, but adds greater luster to his deeds, and is, therefore, more zealously to be sought after by men of intelligence than anything else in the world. (78)
The act of persuasion, then, assists people in getting their needs met. In Elder Scrolls, I may do good deeds just to increase my ethos in order to persuade an NPC (non-playable character) to give me what I want, rather than force the player to submit. But is that bad in itself? Possibly—it all depends on the end goal. But either way, those deeds, no matter how selfish their true nature, shine a positive light on the doer, making them appear as a “good” citizen.
2. How do you think the rhetoricians affected their audiences?
Rhetoricians affect their audiences by using words and language to create an atmosphere that affects listeners’ minds, instilling the speaker’s intention. In his work Rhetoric, Aristotle states:
If the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind. (81)
To illustrate, during his “Inaugural Address” JFK’s character was not in question, at least not by the majority of Americans. He had just won the presidential election, after all. With his character and his position, he instilled a grand sense of patriotism in his audience. However, his (perceived) intent was not just to incite patriotism in Americans, but also a sense of loyalty and camaraderie for all humanity. Kennedy declares to the poor of the world that America will “pledge [her] best efforts to help them help themselves. . . not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right” (8). And with that, Kennedy instilled a sense of hope for humanity within his audience, whether they were Americans or other nationalities belonging to the human race.
Jesus Christ also had a profound affect on His audience by employing words and language to create an atmosphere that spoke to the people where they were, at any stage in life. In the Lukan narrative “The Parable of the Good Samaritan,” Jesus must answer the lawyer’s trick question (10:25): “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” His answer requires the lawyer to search the Law, leading him to reply that he should love God and love his neighbor. The lawyer then asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’s answer requires the lawyer to search again; this time he must search his own heart in regards to how he should treat other human beings in need. This question is one that has been asked through the ages with varying degrees of altruism. While some follow these ways in order to achieve the afterlife, others seek more secular means of finding Paradise: the Fountain of Youth, the Holy Grail, or even the Lazarus Pit. Many of these narratives have lasted centuries and are constantly reinvented for new audiences through entertainment—DC’s villain, Ra’s Al Ghul (The Demon’s Head) uses the Lazarus Pit to sustain his life and position as the leader of The League of Assassins. Afterlife discourse always receives attention due to its metaphysical subject matter; it is here where Jesus’s use of words, language, and rhetoric draws in followers, allowing the seeds of religious belief and enlightenment to grow.
3. How do you see civility in relation to what the rhetoricians put forth?
Civility is a mixture of the honorable and selfish. I can be honorable only to persuade by audience with the end goal of advancing my own personal position. In Antidosis, Isocrates says, “therefore, the stronger a man’s desire to persuade his hearers, the more zealously will he strive to be honorable and to have the esteem of his fellow-citizens” (77). Or, like the example from JFK’s “Inaugural Address” I can seek to be a good, civil citizen because it’s the right thing to do. Those two can overlap, of course. In theory, JFK—and any other president or noble individual—could have hoped not only to strengthen America and all of humanity, but also to strengthen his own character in our eyes, insuring himself a long-lived, distinguished legacy.
In Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau seems to believe that we do not need to seek out and right the wrongs of the world at all: “it’s not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him” (367). He rightly explains that it is not our “duty” to “devote” ourselves, but it is our duty to contribute, however so small, to the correcting of enormous wrongs and injustices like prejudice and slavery or other such ailments like cancer, world hunger and global warming. Sure, people must prioritize between choices such as putting food on the table, raising children, and solving world hunger. The world is full of grays. And what about the world’s evils? There are many ways to assist in the eradication of wrongdoing. People do not need to “devote” their entire life: writing a science fiction novel with an underlying idea that will focus readers’ eyes on a new way of seeing (like I wish to accomplish); donating $2 a month to a child in a Third World country; helping someone on a positive course of action; or, by simply treating others with respect on a daily basis.
People must be conscious and careful of intent. Thoreau warns us, “He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist” (365). Here, Thoreau suggests that civility is perceived paradoxically. I do not completely buy into this notion, though. I think someone should be able to completely give himself over to a cause and not appear selfish. Mahatma Gandhi did so, and I do not consider him a selfish man. Sure, some may think wanting basic human rights for a group of people is selfish, but not I. It is important to realize, though, that Thoreau does not say those who give themselves over entirely are selfish, just that they will appear that way, hence the rhetorical trickery—appearance doesn’t always equal actuality. But one thing is for certain: civility can be a means to an end or a means to a beginning of rhetorical intent. With their true intent being selfish, individuals can use their own civil perception to only get what they selfishly want and nothing more, ending any earlier attempts of civility at the achievement of their goal. With their true intent being admirable, individuals can find a calling in the continuous search for universal civility, renewing their pursuit at the completion of each interval along that path.
Peer Response 1
Dear [Student’s name],
You are definitely right that “actions speak louder than words.” Unfortunately, we do not always know if someone is or is not practicing what s/he preaches until that person is exposed (positively or negatively). Undoubtedly, that is something often eventually discovered, especially in the digital age with social media and hacking.
Isocrates is both right and wrong. Yes, absolutely “the man who wishes to persuade people will not be negligent as to the matter of character” (77). And he is correct that civility is the cornerstone that sets us apart from mere beasts. But rhetoric itself does not necessarily make it that way. I disagree that we have “escaped the life of wild beasts” because we have the power to persuade (77). It has helped, yes. But as a race, the power or rhetoric (with wars, massacres) has been used repeatedly to bring out some of the more animalistic qualities in us. However, that same rhetorical power has also been used to keep those animalistic qualities in check. So, in essence, rhetoric is a two way street—it can make us civil or bring out the true animal within.
Peer Response 2
Dear [Student’s Name]:
You chose a particularly strong JFK quote. Civility is most definitely not a sign of weakness. In fact, I agree that it is a sign of the utmost strength. But where the JFK quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” seems timeless (25). I am not sure if it should be. The essence should, of course. But I think the words need a bit of tweaking: “Ask not what humanity can do for you, but what you can do for the betterment of humanity.”
Jesus Christ’s discourse confirms my desire to make an adjustment to Kennedy’s timeless quote in “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” Jesus preaches to love “your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Yes, our literal neighbors are most likely within our own country. However, those are not our only neighbors. In the story, Jesus asks, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:36). None of the passersby were actually the victim’s neighbor. By seeing “love your neighbor as yourself” as a figure of speech, we should understand our neighbor as not just a literal neighbor, but also as our fellow human beings. We should presume that all in this universe are all neighbors, and therefore should seek to treat each other in kind.
I really like your ending point that in every account, the audience had to be taken into consideration. Similarly, in the Graphic Design and Advertising fields that I am use to, understanding the target audience is always of the utmost importance. Very thoughtful analysis—it sparked some good thinking.