Using rhetoric to persuade

A potter's workshop. Side B from a Corinthian black-figure pinax, ca. 575–550 BC. Found in Penteskouphia.
Photo by Jastrow
The ancient Greeks invented and perfected the art of rhetoric, which is simply the use of language to persuade. In days past, a classical European-style education included an in-depth study of rhetoric. Three men who used rhetorical devices with confidence and authority are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Winston Churchill. Their speeches are textbooks of rhetoric.

The last formal pose of Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Gardner

MLK by Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer
W. Churchill from United Nations Information Office, New York
Rhetorical devices are not difficult to identify. Here is an example of the use of contrast:

"The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds."~John Maynard Keynes, economist.

John Maynard Keynes (antes de 1913)
Keynes contrasts new and old ideas, but with a bit of a twist. Instead of applauding the power of new ideas, which you might expect from an influential economist whose ideas shaped the study of economics for decades, Keynes points out the immense power of old ideas, which are so embedded in people's minds that they impede progress. It's a bit of a whine, but said so skillfully that it sinks into the mind through the art of rhetoric.


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