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Logos: The Power of Rhetoric, pt 2

Good morning, writing minions! It’s time for more lessons from a dead white dude.

In my last post, I discussed the power of pathos as one of three primary rhetorical techniques Aristotle developed to persuade an audience—techniques that still work today, whether for campaign speeches, college essays, or talking Mom and Dad into a later curfew.

Today, it’s time to talk about logos, or the logical argument. And to explain it well, allow one of my favorite television characters of all time take the stage: Abed Nadir, of Dan Harmon’s Community.

Abed, a socially awkward young man in community college, offers a piece of chocolate to the female members of his study group whenever they become agitated. This goes unnoticed until his agenda book is opened and the study group sees the calendar marked on certain dates with the female members’ names. It’s alarmingly obvious that he’s been charting the women’s menstrual cycles.

Horrified, they ask Abedwhy he would do such a thing. Pay attention to his answer:

“You know how I have trouble reading people and I say the wrong thing sometimes, and I noticed it was happening more often with you three [ladies] than it was with the others. And then I noticed fluctuating patterns and I started graphing them. By the time I realized what I was actually measuring, it had started to yield really positive results for everybody so I kept doing it.”
                                                                                                             (from Community’s “Cooperative Calligraphy”)

Abed has just used logos to justify his actions. Let’s break down his thought process:
  • He made an observation that he was getting into socially hot water with the women, and that it seemed to be reoccurring in a regular pattern.
  • To predict the next time it would happen, he graphed the recurrences to record the data.
  • He discovered that it was the women’s periods which were making them terribly difficult to be around.

Notice the scientific language and process here! Science is deeply connected with logos argument.  And so, Abed used a very logical method and thought process to discover the source of the problem and arrive at a practical solution: offering chocolate to soothe scary, hormonal woman-ness. (I wish my boyfriend would do this occasionally!)

That’s the appeal of logos: you can use a series of rational observations, examples, and empirical data to convince your audience that your solution/method/point of view is correct. Abed connected seemingly unrelated observations to come to the correct solution to his “women are crazy and I can’t read them” problem; similarly, you use logos to sew together an argument from the pieces of available information. But when is logos effective?

Abed’s discussion with the girls is made up, but let’s look at a real-world example of logos in action: global warming. There are two generally accepted views: man-induced global warming is happening, and global warming is a natural cycle (and thus nothing to be worried about). After some quick (and extremely reliable!) Wikipedia/Google browsing, here’s what I’ve found:

The one side—man is causing the earth to warm from greenhouse gasses—offers the following points as proof:
  • The arctic ice decreases by more than 10% every decade
  • Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are at their highest point in 650,000 years
  • There’s been a 1.5 degree (F) rise in global temperatures since the 1800s. It’s worth noting that manmade greenhouse gases were introduced in the late 1800s during the Industrial Revolution with its factories and trains.

…and so on.

The other side—global warming is a natural cycle—points out:
  • We can’t accurately predict weather a week from now, so how can we possibly project into the future? (Along with this point is that we’ve only been collecting official, standardized weather measurements for 150 years. When the planet’s millions and millions of years old, that’s nothing!)
  • Global temperatures decreased between 1998 & 2007, even though CO2 levels increased by 4%. Not only that, but the Northern Hemisphere has cooled while the Southern has become warmer. (Isn’t it supposed to be global warming?)
  • Global cycles of warming and cooling have been observed in the centuries (and even millennia!) before the introduction of man-caused greenhouse gases, such as the Little Ice Age and the slightly less-known Medieval Warm Period immediately preceding. Ice cores drawn from arctic ice show similar fluxes in CO2 levels before humans even existed.

Both sides use recordable, salient facts, figures, dates, and events—logos—to back their side and undermine the other. In fact, both sides argue their points so well, that the debate is still going on!

Logos works in this case; pathos doesn’t. Example? Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. This film is presented as a ‘documentary’ of real research done on global warming and the impact on the biosphere. This is the movie that got everybody worked up about the polar bears, which are, as it turns out, almost as good as pandas at getting everyone’s dander up. (Sound familiar?)

But it just so happens that almost every ‘scientific’ fact in the movie was false, or at the very least a gross exaggeration. Sure, the polar bears were cute, but when the science presented turned out to be falsified for dramatic effect—check out this English court’s ruling here at http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/monckton/goreerrors.html/ —Al Gore and his fake-umentary got thrown out of every decent biology teacher’s rainy day movie cabinet.

Never underestimate the power of the truth, my friend.

Al Gore provides an excellent launching point for our last (but not least!) tool in our persuasion kit: ethos. But that’s for next time. Stay tuned! :)