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Almost 2500 years ago Aristotle was born, he was born into a wealthy educated family in Greece. He was a student of the famed Plato (another Greek philosopher) and went on to make many great discoveries and theories. One of Aristotle’s greatest teachings was in the art of rhetoric. Aristotle said that to be persuasive in ones arguments that one must establish credibility (ethos) use logical argument (logos), and appeal to the audience on an emotional level (pathos). Twenty two hundred years later a young statesman named Patrick Henry would exemplify these three techniques to near perfect use, in his speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
Henry starts the speech out with a series of declaratory sentences, one of the most notable being “different men often see the same subjects in different lights” His word choice is especially important because he is establishing his credibility by using the word “lights” she is making a reference to the Devine spiritual illumination.
He uses this method of establishing credibility through the speech. By placing god in the speech he creates the allusion that he is doing the work of the Devine. He next talks about listening to the sound of the siren till it transforms us into beasts. This also creates an appeal to ethos by using a mythological allusion to homers Oddesy. These are a few of the examples of appeals to ethos that Henry uses in his speech to the Virginia convention.
More examples of his appeal to the ethos are not what Henry states directly but what how he says the things that he does.
The word choice and structure of the sentences is adds to the already persuasive content of the speech. This is also categorized as an appeal to the ethos because it is establishing credibility that the speaker has vast knowledge and command of the language.
As some philosophers say it is dangerous to try and rationalize emotions. Henry speaks with great emotion but also makes logical arguments, legitimizing the points that he is making through his emotions. Examples of his effective appeal to the logos include statements such as the statement about all of the British troops coming to the colonies. He says ” they are meant for us; they can be meant for no other” this is putting logic into play refuting what the parliament had been saying about the reason behind the troop shipments. Later on in Henrys speech he asks questions to the audience. This is an extremely effective rhetorical technique because it is making the audience ask themselves if they believe his logic. By supporting his intensely emotional speech with an appeal to the audiences sense of logic Henry makes his arguments even more persuasive.
As far as which appeal is the most effective to the average listener to any persuasive work, most will agree that the appeal to the emotional senses is the most effective and the most widely felt. Through the speech Henry uses numerous appeals to sway his listeners that he is correct in believing that declaring independence is imperative to the success of the colony of Virginia. In the opening paragraph Henry states, ” I consider it nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery.” By it he is referring to declaring independence, and thus creating an appeal to the emotions by saying that fight for independence, or be subjected to slavery. In the concluding sentence Henry talks about the troops that have been sent over. He goes on to make a metaphor about how these troops are the chains that have been sent over to bind us. This creates an appeal because it again conjures the image of slavery.
Finally in henrys closing statement he states, “I do not know what course other men will take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death,” Henry not only typifies the then current national movement of literary nationalism, but also creates a massive appeal to the emotions. The movement of literary nationalism was a movement that stirred up the patriotic feelings in America during a time of great upheaval and turmoil. Henrys final statement typifies this because of his appeal to the pathos using death (something all humans have a fear of) and using a modified chiasmus to increase the effectiveness of his argument.
Through the test of time Aristotle’s virtues of argument have stood tall, and Henrys speech to VA convention will serve as modern examples of how to use Aristotle’s teachings to near perfection. Throughout henrys speech he appealed to the three senses effectively creating one of the most persuasive arguments ever written. Given the situation of the day back then it also furthered the cause of independence from Britain by moving along the literary nationalism movement. Given today’s political climate, if someone could give a speech that appealed to the emotions even close to the effectiveness of Henry, he or she would no doubt become a national icon.
Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes : The American Experience. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall PTR, 2000.
Danzer, Gerald A., J. J. Klor De Alva, and Larry S. Krieger. The Americans : With Atlas by Rand Mcnally. Evanston: McDougal Littell Incorporated, 2006.
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