Rhetoric and Research 02a: Argumentation 2

The Rhetorical Appeals


When we talked about the stases, we talked about the types or classifications of arguments or disagreements that characterize a debate.  But how are specific arguments created?  How does a writer (or speaker) reach out to his or her audience and create an effective argument in a given stasis?  How does a writer convince his audience on a point of fact?  On the validity of a particular course of action? 


Many arguments are built around what the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle called the three primary types of rhetorical appeals:  ethos, pathos, and logos.   Roughly translated, these terms mean the following:


Ethos:  an appeal based on the person of the arguer, on credibility and likeability

Pathos:  an appeal to the emotions of the audience

Logos:  an appeal to the intelligence or sense of logic in the audience.    


Each of these three methods of reaching out to an audience has its strengths and weaknesses, and good, sophisticated arguments often make use of more than one type of appeal at once. 




Ethos-based, or “ethical” arguments draw their power from the credibility and likeability of the person doing the arguing.  Arguments based in this appeal seek to build a relationship of trust between the writer and reader, or the speaker and his audience.   We are generally more likely to be persuaded by a person who seems trustworthy and likeable, rather than someone who, while “correct,” might come off as sneaky, angry, or not inviting.  


Consider the following problem:  when buying a car, what kind of salesperson do you best respond to?  Are you more likely to respond to someone who seems genuinely concerned about you and with what you want out of your automobile?  How effective would this person be compared to someone who is rude, cold, or “shifty,” if he offers the same product at the same price?  Which salesman are you more likely to believe when he tells you about the features, benefits, and durability of the car he’s selling?


Politics often revolves around questions of ethos.  Many people vote for politicians with whom they might disagree on policy matters (if indeed they understand or follow such things) because the candidate “seems like a nice guy” or that he’s “someone [they’d] like to have a beer with.”   The candidate’s image is everything:  George W. Bush projected an image of down-home friendliness; Barack Obama projects one of hopeful optimism and youth.  And both politicians use that image to get what they want in the political arena.  


Advertising often works on the same principles:  many ads (which are, after all, simply very short arguments to buy a product) use a spokesperson that is meant to be likeable, respectable, reasonable, or even funny.  Apple computer, for example, uses two different spokespeople to represent “Mac” people—a hip young actor—and “PC” people, a frumpy, middle-aged management type.  Each spokesperson carries with them a certain projection of their personality, which helps sell the product. 


Two Types of Ethos:  Extrinsic and Intrinsic


Ethos can be divided into two main types:  extrinsic and intrinsic.  Extrinsic ethos means ethos “outside” the speaker; this can be considered the speaker’s reputation or the audience’s pre-existing knowledge of or disposition toward the speaker.    An arguer’s extrinsic ethos can vary, though, depending on what the subject is; one might be a very credible speaker, with very high / positive extrinsic ethos on one subject, but have very low credibility or ethos on another.  Here are some examples:


Barack Obama:  More needs to be done by western democracies such as the United States and Great Britain to stabilize governments in Iraq and Afghanistan before the U.S. can withdraw its forces.  


What kind of expertise does Obama have in this subject matter?  What does his reputation suggest he knows about this? How does the fact that Obama is the President of the United States affect the credibility of his statement?  To see the concept of extrinsic ethos in action, let’s put the same statement in the mouths of some other speakers: 


NBC News anchorperson Savannah Guthrie 

YouTube Personality Logan Paul

Donald Trump

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan

Peter Griffin, of Family Guy


How does our perception of the speaker alter our understanding of the argument that he or she is making?  What do we look for in a commentator on serious matters of foreign policy?  What are the qualities that define a “credible” speaker on this subject?

Similarly, our perception of a writer / arguer’s extrinsic ethos is also dependent on the particular subject matter.   Peter Griffin, the oafish dad from Family Guy might have little credibility when talking about national security issues, but would have much more credibility when evaluating the qualities of certain brands of beer, the best buffet dinners available in Quahog, Rhode Island, or the benefits of having a family dog.   This can also cut the other way:  former president Bill Clinton, for example, is a recognized leader in foreign policy circles, but has extremely low believability / credibility in his personal life.  While we might believe him when he is talking about the need for economic incentives for development in the Balkans, we are far less likely to find his words credible if he is denying an extramarital affair or giving advice on how to have a good marriage.


Ethos is not always a “fair” process:  sometimes one’s reputation—or even a stereotype or prejudice—can bias his or her audience against what he or she may be arguing / reporting.  Lawyers, for example, often select witnesses to testify in certain cases based on not only what they saw or heard, but on how believable their story might be to a jury.  How might a prosecutor approach an assault case if his sole witness was a prostitute who happened to be working in the area when the assault happened?  Or if his witness had a history of drug problems?  Or was homeless?  Would it be different for the prosecutor if his witness was a suburban soccer mom?  A member of the clergy?  Audience perception matters here.  The testimony of these people might be valid and truthful, but their audience might be biased for or against them because of their extrinsic ethos.    


Advertisers also make use of ethos: they choose famous people who have credibility in subjects related to their product to serve as endorsers and spokespeople.  Basketball players, like Michael Jordan or LeBron James, are used to endorse basketball shoes; respected or likeable actors sell life insurance or low-fat margarine; Jersey Shore cast members pour exotic shots at popular nightspots; NASCAR drivers appear in commercials singing the praises of particular automotive products.  The very act of endorsement plays upon what the audience knows about the spokesperson, and is invited to “trust” that their judgment is valid.        


Publications also have extrinsic ethos: the fact that a piece of writing appears in a particular publication may affect how readers respond to it—and again, the subject matter counts.   What would be the extrinsic ethos of the following publications?  On what subjects would they be most likely to feature credible material?  Look up the publications on the internet if you are unfamiliar with them.  In making your determinations, you should consider things such as the audience of the publication, the subject matter the publication covers, the writers who contribute material to the publication, and the level of education required to understand the articles in the publication. 



The New England Journal of Medicine

General Impression: 


 Areas in which writing appearing in it would have positive extrinsic ethos  





General Impression: 


Areas in which writing appearing in it would have positive extrinsic ethos  




The Washington Post

General Impression: 


Areas in which writing appearing in it would have positive extrinsic ethos  





Dog Fancy Magazine

General Impression: 


Areas in which writing appearing in it would have positive extrinsic ethos  






General Impression: 


Areas in which writing appearing in it would have positive extrinsic ethos  



Highlights for Children Magazine

General Impression: 


Areas in which writing appearing in it would have positive extrinsic ethos  



The Weekly World News

General Impression: 


Areas in which writing appearing in it would have positive extrinsic ethos  



 Critical Studies in Television

General Impression: 


Areas in which writing appearing in it would have positive extrinsic ethos  




Intrinsic Ethos


While “extrinsic” ethos is the ethos that comes from an arguer’s reputation—factors “outside” the arguer’s writing, internal ethos is, as one might guess, ethos that comes from “inside” the argument.  What this means is the impression of the writer’s credibility as demonstrated in the tone, approach, organization, logic, and reasonability of the writing itself.   To be effective, writers need not only be “right” in what they say, but they must present a vision of themselves as credible sources on their subject matter.   Audiences are persuaded most effectively by writers with whom they feel a sense of connection, respect, and trust. 


But how does one present a positive image of oneself through writing?  In short, one does this by writing well and respecting both the audience’s values and the views of other people, even the opposing sides in the debate.  


Writing Well:  Ethos and Grammar, Logic, and Style  


This is, of course, more difficult than it sounds.  To “write well” means to use a language, style, and tone appropriate for the rhetorical situation, and also to present one’s ideas clearly, logically, and directly.  


In the section on “audience” we covered the importance of understanding what expectations your audience would have for a piece of writing, and how those expectations might differ under different circumstances.  A quick text message to a friend, for example, is governed by far different rules of language and grammar than is a formal letter to one’s employer or an academic paper.  An essay for one’s political science class, for example, may say the “right” things and may have valid points.  If that essay, however, is riddled with grammatical problems, such as misused verb tenses, or with typographical errors, it is far less effective in presenting a positive image of the writer.  Instead of a thoughtful and “correct” analysis of the subject, the writing seems to be produced by someone too lazy to use spell-checker or to proofread properly.  Or, even worse yet, the writing conveys a sense to the reader that the writer doesn’t grasp basic grammatical concepts, which is catastrophically damaging to the writer’s credibility.   Here’s a real-world example, from a resume’ submitted to an employer.   What does this resume’ suggest about the writer who composed it?  What could be changed here to present a more positive image of Ms. Greengarden?

Estella Greengarden

2144 East View Terrace

Baltimore, MD 21235




To get a office job that pay me money for college educataiton



Millard Fillmore Highschool,  Lakewood, MN, 1994


Job experience

2005-present:  Customer servic representative, George’s Meat

Assist with input customer orders in computer, update system with delivery schedule, talk drivers and supervise warehouse people


1995-2004:  Customer service Assistant, Welltown Food Distributors

Do boring data entry, help customer with orders on phone, work wharehouse when they need me


1994-1995:  Front end worker, McDonagle’s Restaurant

Take order from customers, put food on trays, clean up at end of shift




Or, consider the email sent to the professor earlier:


Hey Prof:


My computer is on the blink again and I can’t submit ur Engl101 paper on time.  You think it would be ok if I brought it to you printed out?  I have it on my flashdrive and can print from the school’s comp lab on Tues.   Bye! 


Student X


What is the impression of the writer that such a piece of writing conveys? What does the lax, casual tone and the “texting” language say about a.) who the writer is and b.) how they are approaching this particular writing task?


But presenting writing using the appropriate language and grammar is not enough to present the audience with a positive vision of the writer.  The writing must be clear, logical, and well-organized—as all good writing is—and maintain a respectful tone toward the subject matter, and even toward those within the debate with whom the writer might disagree.   Writers build effective intrinsic ethos by showing a mastery of their own views—and a respect for the others involved in the debate.   Consider the following example, one that is in the right language and uses the right language for the situation, but has a tone and respect problem: 


Handguns should be banned in Baltimore immediately.  These things are responsible for our kids dying at a truly frightening rate.  The FBI Violent Crimes Index for this year shows that murders and assaults with handguns are at their highest level in twenty years!  Last week, a twelve-year old boy was struck and killed by a bullet fired by one of the lowlifes that sees the streets of this city as the OK Corral.  It’s got to stop, and the lunatics from the National Rifle Association and their allied special interests just don’t get it:  they would rather keep assault rifles in the hands of criminals and scumbags than do anything about the violence problems in our inner cities.  Nelson Cruk, president of the National Rifle Association said, in particularly idiotic statement, that “The 2nd Amendment is absolute on this point—the government can’t regulate guns” (Cruk 234).  


The above passage has some things to commend it—the writer has constructed some good sentences, and the point is very clear.  BUT, the tone lapses into the casual and even insulting (“lowlifes,” “scumbags,” “lunatics”), which undermines the things the writer is trying to accomplish.  Here the writer comes off as committed, but also angry, and overly ready to turn the argument into a personal attack on her opponents.    Consider a similar passage that doesn’t take a turn for the personal: 


Handguns should be banned in Baltimore immediately.  According to the FBI Violent Crimes Index, this year was one of the most violent we have had here, in terms of handgun-related murders and assaults.  Just last week, a twelve year old boy was killed by a stray bullet, most likely fired by an illegal handgun.  While Nelson Cruk, president of the National Rifle Association is well within his rights to argue that “the 2nd Amendment is absolute on this point—the government can’t regulate guns” (Cruk 234), I respectfully disagree.  The actual text of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution is a bit more vague—it connects the people’s right to keep and bear arms to service in “a well-regulated militia.”  As there are no “well-regulated militias” in Baltimore City, it seems that the law allows for some regulation of weapons.  Given the crisis we are in as a city, we desperately need to get some of these guns off the streets. 


What are some of the major differences between how these two arguments are made?  What has the writer done in the revised version that conveys a more reasonable, measured, likeable persona?   How does the writer treat those with whom she disagrees? 


Both passages above are “correct” in their use of grammar, a basic requirement for almost any formal writing task.  But the second passage is far more respectful to the views of the NRA president; the passage refrains from calling him “idiotic” and implying that her opponents are stupid or misinformed.  Instead, the writer notes, and accurately assesses the NRA position, but points out where it diverges with her own.  It also omits the language that casts criminals as “lowlifes” who treat the city as a firing range or a shootout scene from a Western movie. 





Arguments based in pathos, or “pathetic” appeals, are appeals to the emotions of the audience.  Emotions here, however, is a broad term.  It refers to not just the innate feelings that the audience has, but also to that audience’s sense of self-interest, values, identity, and even their biases and predispositions.   Arguments to these elements in our human nature are extremely powerful—they are at times explicitly not rational:  they often speak to the things that we feel or believe in our core, but do not say out loud.  Because of their intense power—power based on feeling rather than thought—“pathetic” arguments have often been decried (sometimes justly) throughout history as “cheating” one’s way out of an argument. 


When one’s younger sibling, for example, pleads with his older brother to have mercy and not to tell mom and dad on him for breaking a picture frame, he uses pathos, appealing to his brother’s sense of mercy.   Similarly, when a student asks a professor, in tears, for an extension on a paper because her house was broken into and all her possessions stolen, she appeals to the professors sense of fairness and sympathy.  


Examples often come up in personal relationships:  when a boyfriend wants something from his significant other, he might say “I love you” in order to get it; conversely, one might hear “If you love me, you’ll do X or get X for me . .  .”   These are pathos-based appeals. 


Guilt is also a pathetic appeal, and often a very effective one.  When a parent asks for a child to do something, he might play up the emotional importance of it for the child’s own welfare, or mention how much the parent wanted the task done, or even all he has done for the child in the past.   The audience’s sense of guilt and responsibility is in play here. 

But pathos also has a darker connotation: arguments targeting or eliciting hatred of a specific racial or ethnic group are often based in an extremely powerful emotion—fear.   Hitler’s devastating propaganda campaign against the Jews in Europe, which of course led to the extermination of millions, played on the European fear of “the Jew.”  Likewise, segregationists and racists in the American South used fear, usually sexualized, of Black men to garner support for racist policies and Jim Crow laws.  We can see the same discourses operating now, when people campaign against homosexual rights as “unnatural” or a product of Satan’s handiwork: often these people propagate myths about gay people being perverts or sexual predators.  

But the ease of misuse of pathos does not disqualify it from being a useful rhetorical tool.  Strategically appealing to the feelings one’s audience has about a certain subject, paired with good writing and solid evidence, can enhance the effectiveness of one’s writing exponentially. 


Consider the following passage from a speech given by the famous General George S. Patton to his troops just before a major battle in World War II: 

Men, this stuff that some sources sling around about America wanting out of this war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bullshit. Americans love to fight, traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle.

You are here today for three reasons. First, because you are here to defend your homes and your loved ones. Second, you are here for your own self-respect, because you would not want to be anywhere else. Third, you are here because you are real men and all real men like to fight. When you, here, every one of you, were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big league ball players, and the All-American football players. Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.



You can see here that the General appeals to a couple of key feelings that the audience—American soldiers getting ready to go into battle—might have.  He appeals to their sense of identity and patriotism:  Americans like this, Americans are like that.  He also appeals to their sense of male ego:  real men, he argues, like to fight.  Who wants to be a “fake” or feminized man?  


Likewise, consider this key passage from Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” where he argues to Alabama clergymen about the need for immediate action for Civil Rights in the South:


We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.


King here plays upon some key emotions present in his audience—where does he do this?  Identify in the space below at least three places in which King attempts to generate an emotional response from the people to whom his argument is directed, and which emotions to which he appeals.  Remember:  this letter was written to those members of the clergy who criticized King’s nonviolent campaign in Birmingham, telling him that he should wait for the Birmingham government to take action on issues of Civil Rights.   


Emotional Appeal 1:



Emotional Appeal 2:


Emotional Appeal 3: 







Exercise: Pathetic / Emotional Appeals


For each of the following passages, identify which emotions the author is attempting to elicit in his or her audience:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.   It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.   We are, and always will be, the United States of America.    (Barack Obama, 2008)


No, I'm not an American. I'm one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I'm not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver -- no, not I. I'm speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don't see any American dream; I see an American nightmare. (Malcolm X, 1964)


Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization -- black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.   For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with -- be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.   But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.   (Robert F. Kennedy, “Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” 1968)


Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.   I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?  Sure I’m lucky.     When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies -- that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter -- that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body -- it’s a blessing.  When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed -- that’s the finest I know.  So, I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for.   (New York Yankees First Baseman Lou Gehrig, after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, “Farewell to Baseball Address,” 1939)






Logos refers to the strategy of appealing to the audience’s intelligence or intellect, using logic and evidence.    In many ways, what people usually consider an “argument” is usually a set of claims and evidence based on logos.   When we cite definitions, establish causal relationships, suggest parallels, comparisons, or analogies, or use testimony or other evidence, we are appealing to their audience’s sense of logic.  

When a scientist, for example, uses chemical data to make the claim that the presence of a particular chemical is harming the fish in a local lake, she is arguing logically.  When a judge asserts that a defendant’s actions fit the definition of a certain crime, he argues via logic.  Similarly, when a student cites an expert on the causes of adolescent crime in an English 101 paper, she makes use of logos.   There are many logical lines of argument; some of these are called the Common Topics, which we will discuss in the next section. 


Lines of Argument:  Aristotle’s Common Topics


Logical arguments often follow particular patterns or templates; these patterns, which are very old, even dating back to ancient Greece, provide a strategy for arguers to build persuasive arguments.  There are four basic Common Topics, according to the philosopher Aristotle; these Common Topics are “starting places” for arguments.   The four Common Topics are as follows:  Argument by Definition, Argument by Cause and Consequence, Argument by Comparison or Analogy, and Argument by Testimony and Authority. 


Argument by Definition


When people argue using the Common Topic of Definition, they assert that something — an idea, a thing, an action — fits or does not fit into a particular category or classification.  It essentially “labels” the subject as has having certain qualities associated with that classification.   Here is an example:


Marriage is not a full-contact sport. 


Here, the writer claims that there is a class called “full-contact sports”— violent, competitive sports like football and hockey, and that the concept of “marriage” should be excluded from that class.   The overall argument is that marriage should not be violent or competitive, but rather governed by other rules, such as sensitivity and cooperation.   The argument could be further developed here by citing reasons and evidence why this definition should apply.  


A slightly different example might be something like the following:


The Saw franchise is a perfect example of the “torture porn” genre of horror movies. 


The writer in this statement has established the class of “torture porn”--with all its associated meanings (which are presumably negative)--and fits the Saw movies into it.  In developing this argument, the writer may establish all the qualities of a “torture porn” film and discuss how Saw features them. 


Political writing often makes use of the Argument by Definition.  Here are some simple examples:


A vote for Abraham Johnson is a vote for lower taxes and smaller government. 

To support my opponent is to support terrorists. 

Senator Kelly’s vote against the Ohio Farm Subsidy bill is a shameless and cynical political stunt. 



Argument by Cause and Consequence


The tactic of establishing a causal relationship in an argument is one of the most popular and effective means of argumentation available.   Arguments citing the cause or consequences of something are common in many forms of discourse.   These can range from relatively simple arguments:


Smoking cigarettes leads to an increased risk of lung and throat cancer.  


To far more sophisticated formulations:


The consequences of procrastination for college students can be devastating:  a lower rate of academic success, a higher dropout rate, and less retention of learned material. 


Foreclosure is caused by several determining factors:  the terms of the original loan, the employment status of the borrower, and the aggressiveness of the financial institution in pursuing the property.  


Rampant speculation, extreme levels of bank leveraging, and unregulated trading in complex financial instruments led to the near-depression of 2008. 


Much advertising also relies on implied cause and consequence arguments.  Advertisements for body lotions, beauty products, and weight-loss supplements imply that using their product will enhance the quality of the user’s life.  Similarly, advertisements for athletic gear—particularly shoes—often promise to improve the purchaser’s performance in their chosen sport.  


To develop these arguments effectively, one must describe the relationships that the argument sets up: if the writer claims that smoking causes cancer, he must provide evidence, like facts, expert opinions, or other evidence (like credible statistics) to ensure that the audience sees the connection.   Lots of description of the elements of cause (or the consequences) and the reasoning linking the two needs to be provided to the audience in order to make the argument work. 




Argument by Comparison or Analogy


This strategy of argumentation is when the arguer uses a parallel situation or idea to persuade his audience of the validity of his claim, i.e., that his point is like something else, building a connection between the two ideas in the mind of the reader.  This tactic can work in many ways and in support of many kinds of arguments (i.e., in many of the stases).   


Analogies can provide clarity for definitions or descriptions: 


The smallpox virus is like a shapeshifter, rapidly adapting to and consuming any organism it comes in contact with. 


[Investment bank] Goldman Sachs: a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money    (Matt Taibbi, 2009). 


Films like Saw and Hostel are like pornography for those obsessed with violence rather than sex. 


They can also describe causes and predictions:


Heroin is like an epidemic causing the disintegration of American inner cities. 


Education works like a magic bullet to improve the lives of disadvantaged youth. 


The United States will most likely fail to achieve its military objectives in Afghanistan, just as the Soviets and British failed before. 


Clarify evaluative statements:


Like all the horrible summer movies before it, Transformers 5 is all spectacle and no substance. 


The new album by Bright Sky Singers is an instant classic, reminding this reviewer of the best recordings of Bob Dylan. 


And validate or support particular courses of action:   


Homeowners should not put fertilizer on their lawn; it over-saturates it with nutrients, like putting sugar on candy.  


Cutting taxes during wartime is like emptying a car’s gas tank before a big trip. 


Not going to class is like paying for groceries and then throwing them away. 




Arguments by Testimony and Authority


Arguments using Testimony and Authority are based on the credibility or the ethos of others:  experts, witnesses, authorities, organizations, publications, groups, or even popular opinion.   When writers appeal to audiences using testimony or authority, they use the judgments or perspectives of others to provide evidence for their argument. 


A writer might cite a famous philosopher or politician when advocating for a certain policy position, or may quote from a respected text (like the Bible, the Koran, or the Declaration of Independence) or publication (like the New York Times or Journal of the American Medical Association) to lend credence to his opinion on a particular controversy:  all of these tactics use others to make the case.   


Think of this as analogous to a lawyer calling a witness in a trial:  the lawyer will present to the jury people whose comments will support her case.  She might call a biologist to either confirm or dispute DNA evidence, a psychologist to discuss the defendant’s state of mind, and witnesses to confirm that the defendant was elsewhere when the crime was committed.   Similarly, the other side may call eyewitnesses or their own scientific experts to dispute the lawyer’s arguments. 


Likewise, advertisers use this idea all the time:  by borrowing the credibility of respected voices in their fields, companies can persuade their audience to use their product.   They might argue that 9 out of 10 dentists agree that Brand X toothpaste is the most effective, or that Dr. X, a respected authority from a weekday talk show, really believes in PainAway for everyday aches and pains.   Celebrity endorsements work the same way:  Reebok, Nike, and the other major shoe manufacturers are always looking for famous athletes to certify their shoes as the best in the world.   


When arguing by testimony and authority, however, it is important to realize that this tactic demands far more than simply “finding a source” that agrees with or supports your point.  Arguers must look for the most appropriate sources for their audience, and remind that audience of the source’s ethos.  It does no good to quote Bertrand Russell to an audience without reminding them who Bertrand Russell is and why they should care;  it does no good to quote a respected foreign policy analyst writing in Foreign Affairs magazine without attributing the quote to that analyst and using her credibility to support one’s argument. 


There are many variations of Testimony and Authority-based arguments.  Some use the authority of popular opinion to make a case:


Fifty million Jay-Z fans can’t be wrong:  the man is phenomenal.   [Quality]


Las Vegas, Nevada welcomes millions of tourists each year:  come see why! [Action]


Three-quarters of adults in Washington, DC support same-sex marriage legalization; we should pass this now.   [Action] 


Others use expert or academic opinions: 


Dr. Willis Ostendarp of the Extra-Terrestrial Research Alliance (EXTRA) argues in his book Star Thinking that there “is a high probability of intelligent life on other planets . . . but it is equally unlikely that we will ever come into contact with it.”  [Fact & Definition]


Psychologist Baron Kalzinsky suggests that there are four distinct motivators for entrepreneurial activity:  economic gain, desire for public recognition, social necessity, and idealism.  [Causation]


Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times and a Nobel Prize winner, suggests that U.S. government deficits are far less of a pressing problem than the sluggish pace of growth in the domestic economy.  [Quality & Evaluation]


Most climatologists agree that the earth is getting progressively warmer.  [Fact & Definition]


Sometimes the “authority” being quoted is a text or book:


The Bible says that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.  [Fact & Definition]


The ancient Hindu holy text the Bhagavad-Gita suggests that it is a soldier’s duty to fight in a righteous war.  [Action]