Rhetorical devices

Lately I have been thinking of argumentative devices that can sometimes be used to rhetorical effect; of course, when I say ‘argumentative devies’, that is not necessarily to give such strategies credence. Here are some once that have been going through my head of late:

Appeal to ‘defining terms’

This one is actually not terribly bad, but it is all too often used as a rhetorical, or a delaying device. The longer you can delay someone in a discussion, the more you may distract them from a point that you are afraid they may raise. Distract someone and you might get away with a criticism that you deserve.

One good way to do this is by appeal to definition. We might say, for instance:

i. But this depends on our terms
ii. It all depends on how we define x

Actually I don’t think that this is too bad, making definitions, clarifications and distinctions are very important so as to ensure that one is addressing the same concept, operator or referent. It is, however, an interesting strategy for use by a rhetorician towards one who may be afraid of expanding notions or addressing definitions. Some people try to give the iceburg illusion to others, that there is more depth towards what they might say, as a way to provoke or suggest the embarassment of the other, as if to suggest ‘I know more than you, don’t even try it’; it may be an interesting intimidation strategy, but is pretty bad to use in a bullying way.

That said, the ‘iceburg’ analogy can also ve very useful; simplify ideas for an audience, and do not let on everything either because it is unnecessary, too long, or simply, to provoke others to do their own independent research. Now to consider another rhetorical device…

Appeal to vocabulary (unnecessary jargon)

In a way, this is a twin principle to the first appeal to definition. If you throw in words without defining them, that is worthy of invoking an appeal to definition (this, I say, is a very legitimate use of such an appeal). Examples:

1. The problem with the current economy situation is the general problem of the subject becoming and object unto himself and others and engaging in the commodity fetishism of the capitalist economy (Marxism)

2. It is because of feminine values that women are discriminated; masculine values permeate the workplace (appeal to patriarchy)

If you impose terminology, we may impute it without assent to agreement; who is to say that these terms we may accept, who is to say that the vocabulary is properly defined, or if it is relevant? it is for this reason that in the presentation of an argument or any such case, definitions and initial terms beyond the common language, and even (nay, especially) terms of common language which have a very technical meaning (objective, representation, ‘if’-terms, ‘is’-terms) must be addressed.


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