The Art of Persuasion

In Rhetoric, Aristotle outlines the three modes of persuasion one can employ: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos appeals to an audiences’ character. Pathos appeals to emotion. Logos employs logic to win over people. Recent posts on this blog have caused me to revisit Aristotle and question the value of a recent dialogue in this blog.
In my post “Serf Ready” I unintentionally walked into an argument over adjunct pay. I intended to post on student exploitation and my readers quickly moved to a discussion of adjuncts. While not my intent, I was open to persuasion. This community (loosely defined as those who care enough to read this blog) has an opportunity to educate, and yes, persuade me. The adjunct issue presented one such opportunity. 
On my blog, an adjunct named Xavier, and in a separate post on the Harold Lounge by PhiloDave (some day I will come up with some cool pseudonym) engaged in a discussion regarding my post. I found their comments enlightening and yes, persuasive. I found PhiloDave’s fact-based discussion of his recent difficulties on finding quality adjuncts particularly persuasive. Perhaps Dave has figured out that logos is a mode that appeals to me. 
In contrast, a poster named “City Colleges of Chicago Reinvention: The Truth” wrote a sarcastic response. I chose not to respond in the comments, but Mr. Truth’s (not quite as catchy as PhiloDave, but I hope the abbreviated appellation is interpreted as a sign of respect; further, I assume a gender for Mr. Truth as a convenience. If Mr. Truth reveals himself to be herself, I will readily amend this post to reflect this gender clarification. If Mr. Truth would prefer just The Truth, I can make that correction as well. As they say, the truth will out) sarcasm stuck with me. 
Aristotle, as I read him, would categorize sarcasm as a method appealing to emotion, or pathos. Sarcasm demonstrates the disdain the writer has for the audience. In this case, Mr. Truth’s disdain for my apparently naive or dismissive attitude toward adjuncts is apparent. Yet I find the argument less than persuasive. Sarcasm provokes defensiveness. It places the writer (in this case, Mr. Truth) in the role of a judge who has passed sentence without right of appeal. How does one respond to sarcasm without appearing defensive, weak, or worse, responding in kind? Are we locked into a mutually destructive war of words, or does the audience (in this case, me) slink off to lick his metaphorical wounds and question his intelligence?


It comes down to, in my view, intent. If the intent is to truly persuade, illuminate, enlighten, and ultimately to cause me to take some action in alignment with the arguments presented, I find logos and ethos highly persuasive. Pathos has its place, but is much harder to use effectively. I would argue that sarcasm is not an appropriate pathetic device. I would like this blog to be a forum for ideas and argument, as well as a showcase for the wonderful accomplishments of the faculty, staff and students of our school. I welcome dissent and disagreement. I welcome praise even more, although only if earned and honest. Disgust, though, fails to persuade me. You will not find me responding to sarcasm, unless someone persuades me of its rhetorical value. Further, sarcasm can have the opposite effect of the apparent intent, unless the intent is to insult the writer and move on. I won’t censor the sarcastic, but I will not engage them, either.

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