Foundations of Rhetoric: Logos

This is highly illogical, captian. -Cmd. Spock, Science Officer and XO

The last rhetorical appeal that I’d like to talk about in this blog series is that of Logos. To me, this has alway been the driest one to talk about with students. Pathos is exciting because of the different ways that we can bring it into the classroom—eveything from TV commercials, to print ads, to product placements. Ethos has recently gained new energy for me, as I can see it being something that can also be tied to authorial voice. Logos, however, remains a place where I can personally improve. So, how can we talk to our students about logos in a way that moves beyond merely introducing and identifying logical fallacies?

Well, recently, I led a workshop for our Academic Resource Center (ARC) at NYU Shanghai. The ARC is the one-stop shop for academic support on our campus offering tutoring in everything from physics to calculus to business and writing. The workshop that I was overseeing was to prepare our academic fellows to work with new genres of scientific writing. During that workshop, one activity was met with the most enthusiasm by the participants and was later deemed the most useful—a comparative vivisection of texts.

Now, a vivisection sounds gruesome. It referes to digging into live beings to see how they work, to uncover some truth about life and biology. Now, when it’s done with writing it’s far less bloody, especially if you tell people to leave the red pens at home. I want to argue that the comparative vivisection is a potentially useful tool for teaching students about logos, and there are two ways of doing that I think would be potentially interesting for students. They are promising because they allow us to deploy different kinds of texts for the students to examine, and they enable us to scaffold our students’ engagement in working with ethos.

In the first vivisection, it may be useful to introduce students to logic and its role in persuasion before discussing logical fallacies. Once this foundation is set, it’s time to roll out the “texts” for the vivisection. When I do this work with my students in a few weeks, I plan on starting with video texts from related areas. The first text will be a short snippet of a sales pitch for health and wellness products on a TV sales network like QVC or HSN. Then, I would move on to a video that discusses health and wellness that has been put out by the university health and wellness office. We would then work to compare how these different sources appeal to our sense of reasoning and where, if anywhere, logical fallacies have crept into these texts. To scaffold their understanding, this work will focus on identification and coming to understand better how these appeals influence our reading of a text and its persuasive power.

In the next day’s session, we would build on that knowledge by moving on to more traditional texts from popular media, looking at opinion articles from two moderate news sources on the same issue. This time, however, we would focus on identifying and correcting potential logical fallacies. This way, the students can progress from identifying logos appeals and understanding how they work, to identifying places where logos appeals break down and how to repair the issue.

This is my plan. I’m curious about how other educators make teaching logos more interesting. What novel approaches do all of you have? Get in touch and let me know. I’d like to follow this up in a future post with some of your ideas!

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