The course provides an introduction to rhetoric, the study of persuasion. We look at how the field was conceived in classical Greece and Rome, how it figured in English and Western European learning through the Renaissance, and we consider some enduring questions about its nature as we look at examples of essays and speeches designed to sway their listeners. Is rhetoric a discrete art? How does it stand in relation to philosophy and to poetry? How have thinkers imagined the value and risks of eloquence? After touching on these theoretical and historical matters, we will move to a more specific topic within rhetoric and examine texts that address what it means to lie, whether lying can ever be justified, and gradations of truth-telling. We will then look at reflections on poetry as a discourse that has been accused of being constituted by lies and defended as a repository of truth.
- theories of persuasion
- history of rhetoric
- lying and degrees of truthfulness
- poetry and rhetoric
The course introduces students to the subject of rhetoric, helps them to understand and critique persuasive texts in different modes and genres, and develops their skills of argumentation.
This is a lecture course that features discussion sections with teaching assistants.
Contribution to discussion: 15%
Midterm paper: 35%
Final paper: 50%
Readings include works from Plato, Cicero, Augustine, Kant, Shakespeare, Wilde, Shelley, and Keats.
You may find the following texts useful as background:
Timothy A. Borchers, Persuasion in the Media Age 2002
Sean Brierley, The Advertising Handbook 2nd edition 2002
Deborah Cameron, Good to talk? Living and working in a communication culture 2000
Robert Cockcroft and Susan M. Cockcroft, Persuading People 1992
William A. Covino, The Elements of Persuasion 1997
Carl Dennis, Poetry as Persuasion 2001
Stanley Fish, “Rhetoric”, Critical Terms for Literary Study, 2nd edition, Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin eds. 1995
Richard Lanham, “The Rhetorical Ideal of Life,” in The Motives of Eloquence 1976
Dick Leith and George Myerson, The Power of Address: Explorations in Rhetoric 1989
Sam Leith, You Talkin’ to Me?: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama 2012
Greg Myers, Adworlds: Brands, Media, Audiences 1999
Walter Nash, Rhetoric 1989
Brian Vickers, In Defence of Rhetoric 1988
Michael Wilkinson, Advocacy and the Litigation Process in Hong Kong 1991