Week 1 Commentary

A key component of any successful rhetoric is the ability to acknowledge the opponent. This is something I learned back in 8th grade when I had to give a Pro/Con speech. If you want to seem knowledgeable, be convincing, and get the opposition on your side, you need to recognize what it consists of. You also need to be able to strike a chord in your audience, be interesting; engage them. I found it interesting that in all of the readings for this week, the audience and the opposition both play an important part in the framing of the rhetoric used.

Socrates has a clever way of using the words of those he is debating with to his own advantage. There are points when he not only restates the ideas of those he is speaking with, but in some instances, uses those same ideas to prove his own point and persuade his audience. This can especially be seen in his debate with Polus over whether suffering or committing injustice is worse. He restates Polus’ ideas and then manipulates them so that they work to defend his own; he backs Polus into a corner giving him no choice but to agree with his own words.

While it may be subtle, this can be seen in something as simple as a waitress repeating an order back to a customer while throwing in a particular wine suggestion to compliment it, or a salesperson parroting what a customer has said they’re interested in when finding a specific piece of merchandise. It’s difficult to disagree when your own words are being used to convince you.

Not only using words, but simply making a connection is an important part of successful rhetoric. In Phaedrus, Socrates suggests that being familiar with the audience is a crucial technique. While the language and methods may be in the hands of the rhetorician, the ultimate decision is in the hands of the audience. In identifying with the audience, Socrates believes that a sort of trust and friendship develops, one in which it’s much easier to persuade them because of the level of familiarity and comfort they feel.

I believe that Gorgias, Phaedrus, and Antidosis all demonstrate techniques implemented by people using rhetoric in a subtle manner. The friendly furniture salesman who tells you about how his kids spill stuff all over the same couch you’re eyeing and it wipes right off, or the clothing stores that have suddenly created “skinny” style jeans in all sizes. They’re identifying with their audience, recognizing what is appealing and using that to their advantage. Like Isocrates’ techniques in Antidosis, the hair stylist who tries to convince you to change from your current hair products to his doesn’t directly say that your shampoo makes your hair look like straw, but instead says that his shampoo will make your hair silky smooth with a healthy sheen; the insults are hidden by the benefits. The successful rhetorician uses the audience’s ideas, feelings, and words to convince them.

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