Monday, September 6, 2010

Response to Reading Three

In reading Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students chapter three, I was most interested in the section titled "The Four Questions." This particular section described the four key questions devised by ancient rhetoricians that would help them to better define their arguments. These four questions can be grouped together as "staseis."
  1. Conjecture asks: Is there an act to be considered?
  2. Definition asks: How can the act be defined?
  3. Quality asks: How serious is the act?
  4. Policy asks: Should this act be submitted to some formal procedure?
In order for the point to be grasped, each of the questions must be answered in order. If the answer to conjecture -- does a problem exist -- is "yes," then the stasis moves to a question of definition. Likewise, if all parties agree that a definition -- what kind of event is it -- can be established, then quality becomes the issue at hand. When quality -- whether the event is right or wrong -- is justified, then policy is tackled. Policy describes what should be done about a particular issue at-hand. This is the final question to answer.

Upon agreement of all questions, rhetoric can take place. Without an understanding of each of the above terms, there is no basis for argument; without an actual problem, understanding of the problem, or agreement on the seriousness of the problem, then there is no justification to try to solve it through policy. Rhetoric, to generalize, is the attempt to persuade an audience of what should be done about an issue.

The interesting thing about these ancient rhetorical questions is that they are absolutely true for modern rhetoric as well. No matter the topic, there must be an understanding of the basic principles of the problem. In a sense, devising answers to these questions is the most fundamental step to creating a rhetorical argument; it is a brainstorming process, of sorts.

In addition to understanding conjecture, definition, quality, and policy, one can also delve deeper into these issues. There are important questions to be considered within the initial questions.
  1. Conjecture: Where did it come from? What is its cause? Can it be changed?
  2. Definition: To what larger class does it belong? What are its parts and how are they related?
  3. Quality: Is it good or bad? Is it better or worse than something else?
  4. Policy: What actions are possible or desirable? How will proposed actions change the current state of affairs? How will the proposed changes make things better or worse? How and in what ways?

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