While reading Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students, I was most drawn to a subsection in chapter ten called "Figures of Thought." I found this particular section of interest because it describes how certain figures of thought are applied. Essentially, it made the point quite clear as to how I could use figures of thought in my own writing. It is one thing to understand a concept, but another point entirely to understand usability. I appreciated that this subsection showed how figures of thought can be used according to very specific situations. As a very analytical person, I do not like ambiguity, which this subsection had none of.
Figures of thought are "the most rhetorical of the ornaments of style" (Crowley and Hawhee 348). Basically, this means that figures of thought can function as proofs (called sententia) and that they can establish ethos or pathos. For the purposes of Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students, they focused entirely on the sententia element.
As I was most interested in the applicability of various figures of thought, I would like to focus my own analysis on three of these components:
1. Figures of Thought That Enhance Ethos
Figures of thought that enhance ethos are a particular group of figures that allow rhetoricians to draw attention to a manipulation in the flow of dialogue. Hesitations, interruptions, attack from opponents, and apologetic comments are all styles of figures that enhance ethos. In drawing attention to these, rhetors help to relate to their audience; natural human behaviors make an audience feel more comfortable with the lecturer.
The rhetorical question is, in fact, part of this group. Rhetorical questions are incredibly dominant on today's rhetorical platform. Asking a question to get an answer is not a figure; instead, the rhetor wants the audience to internalize the question. Rhetors like to ask these questions as they inspire unconscious audience participation. Rhetorical questions are only valid if the answer is blatant to everyone in the audience; otherwise, a certain degree of uncomfortableness may occur as people do not want to feel out of the loop. "The only effective rhetorical question, after all, is one to which the answer is so obvious that everyone, including the audience, can supply its answer. This figure depends for its effect on an audience's feeling that it is participating in the construction of the argument" (Crowley and Hawhee 349).
2. Figures of Thought That Involve Audience
Figures of thought that involve audience participation include suspension, paradox, oxymoron, and litotes or understatements. Suspension is when the rhetor raises expectations that something bad will be discussed, then mentions something entirely worse. In this way, the argument is sensationalized and thereby easily remembered. Paradox, the opposite of suspension, is when the rhetor raises expectations and then trivializes it. The next figure in this group is oxymoron, a common theme in everyday conversations. An oxymoron is the use of contradictory terms, usually an adjective and noun. Finally, litotes are figures in which the rhetor diminishes some feature of the situation that is quite obvious to the audience. Essentially, neglecting an important component.
3. Figures of Thought That Arouse Emotion
Figures of thought that arouse emotion require the most innovation on behalf of the rhetor. "This group of figures requires more inventiveness from a rhetor than any other, since their persuasive quality depends upon skill in creating convincing fictions" (Crowley and Hawhee 352). Figures of thought that arouse emotion include personification, irony, and ethopoeia. Many of these terms seem more remnant of a creative writing class than rhetoric, though they are, in fact, story-like figures. Just as sensationalizing or neglectfulness can ignite audience interest, so can vivid, imaginative stories. Rhetors use these figures to draw attention to their arguments through sensory descriptions; they want to audience to feel as if they are part of the story.