Archive for appeals

The first paragraph of my first draft of my first research-grant proposal

Although we might normally associate emotion with the personal realm, our public lives are actually dependent upon emotive functions of discourse. A public that is comprised of shared spaces and texts also shares ready-made rhetorical meanings that are constantly used for communication. These ready-made rhetorical meanings link together certain discourses and emotions, creating an archive of rhetorical figures that members of the public draw upon. For example, discourses about urban issues are often linked with images of crime, race, youth, and danger. In turn, this complex of discourses is further linked to emotions such as fear, anger, and depression. So familiar is this particular public rhetoric, in fact, that one element (urban crime or racial youth) might be invoked in order to suggest the others (fear or anger). Politicians seem to understand this public archive when they speak about “our children” as a way of invoking feelings of protection or anxiety among their audiences. Likewise, discourse about urban sprawl and land development is often linked to feelings of anger, disgust, and suspicion. For many people, the term “land development” contains an inherently negative ring. Through public archives of pathos, meaningful rhetorics are shared among participants.


spatial field

Ethos has been conceptually located in the body of the rhetor, logos in the body of language or reasoning, and pathos in the body of the audience. Or, as Craig R. Smith describes, pathos can also be described as language that brings objects of emotion into a listener’s temporal/spatial field of perception (83).

In fact, rhetoric itself has been at times conflated with logos, or rational reasoning, which is supported and extended by the other two appeals. Just as a hammer is helped by a good measuring tape in the course of building a bookshelf, rhetorical discourse has been painted as a matter of logos helped out by emotional appeals. Even without emotional appeals, rhetoric can still exist through logos alone. It may be dry, dull, or non-compelling, but the discourse is still rhetorical in character. Some theorists refuse to even grant non-rational discourse the status of rhetoric. Donald Bryant made such a refusal in his 1953 essay “Rhetoric: Its Function and Its Scope,” where he offers a working definition of rhetoric as “the rationale of informative and suasory discourse” (18). Other theorists simply reaffirm the secondary nature of emotional appeals.  So argues Corbett when he writes, “It is argument (the appeal to the understanding) that produces conviction about the conduciveness of the means to the desired end; it is the appeal to the emotions that makes the end seem desirable” (87).

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