An Introduction to the Strategic Introduction

In the Ad Herrenium, the author explains how to come up with an opening (exordium) first. He tells us that an exordium is the first part of a speech and by it the mind of the listener is constituted to listen.

How then do we achieve this end?

Being ancient, he thinks in terms of causes. Given a cause, he says, for the suitable exordium, we must consider the kind of cause. Then he practically gives us a flow chart:

There are four kinds of cause:

  1. Honorable (honestum)
  2. Discreditable (turpe)
  3. Doubtful (dubium)
  4. Petty (humile)

Now that we have identified the kinds of causes, we need to apply the theory of exordia to those causes. To do so, we first note that there are two kinds of exordium.

  1. The direct opening (Principium in Latin, Prooimion in Greek)
  2. the subtle approach (insinuatio in Latin, Ephodos in Greek)

I’m going to ignore the confusion of language that I come across when I compare texts and that you dont’ care about unless you are into the technical side of this matter and just turn to the practical path that I have found helpful.

Remember that our speech (or as I use it, essay) will be driven by one of four causes as listed above. Therefore, we should ask: how do I apply these two kinds of opening to each cause?

To that end, let’s look first at the direct opening. What is its purpose? Our author tells us: “The Direct Opening straightway prepares the hearer to attend to our speech. It’s purpose is to enable us to have hearers who are attentive, receptive, and well-disposed”

Let me interject how much more useful this is than the common approach these days of telling students they need a “hook.” I want the reader to be attentive, receptive, and well-disposed to my speech.

OK, let’s apply that:

  1. If my speech is doubtful, then I will build my exordium on achieving the good will of my listener so that when I get to the part he is less likely to accept I will have won his favorable disposition.
  2. If my speech is petty, then I need to get his attention.
  3. If my speech is discreditable, I’m going to have to use the indirect approach unless I can earn the listeners good will by attacking my opponent.
  4. If my speech is honorable, then I can use the direct opening if I want, but I don’t need to.

I’m a bit puzzled by this, because he doesn’t talk about when you need to make the audience receptive. I will assume that he doesn’t do so because you always need a receptive audience.

In any case, we now have four kinds of cause and three states of mind we need in our audience. We have applied at least two of those states to the four causes and noted that some causes require particular attention to certain states.

The question now becomes, how do I achieve each state?

First, how we do make them receptive? He presents us with a deceptively simple approach: “we can have receptive hearers,” he tells us, “if we briefly summarize our cause and make them attentive; for the receptive hearer is the one who is willing to listen attentively.”

That sounds simple enough, and it would seem open to argument. But remember that this is a direct opening, which implies that the speech is either honorable (you are preaching to the choir), petty (they just want you to get it over with), or doubtful (you need their goodwill). He’ll come back in a moment to how we can earn their goodwill.

Meanwhile, now that he has told us that we make them receptive by getting their attention, or rather, by making them attentive, he proceeds to advise us how to make them attentive, giving us three basic options:

  1. Make a promise (I’ll come back to this)
  2. Tell them to pay attention (think Marc Antony: Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears)
  3. Enumerate your points, which means, as I understand, simply tell them how many you have. At first this seems trivial, but I find this makes it much easier for an audience to listen for the simple reason that the first question any audience has is “How long is this going to take?” If you say, “I want to make three points,” you have given them bearings. It makes it much easier to pay attention.

So let’s talk about the first option, making a promise. The promise, of course, is about what you are going to talk about. You can promise that you will discuss one of the following:

  • Something important
  • Something new
  • Something unusual
  • Something concerning the commonwealth (the city, state, country, etc.)
  • Something concerning the hearers themselves
  • Something concerning religion and the immortal gods

For example, you might say, “I want to talk to you tonight about something that concerns you personally,” or “Our topic tonight is [education and freedom], a topic that touches deeply on the well being of our country itself,”¬†or “This morning we are going to discuss something a bizarre,” etc.

Now we come to the real challenge. You can make them receptive and attentive by standing on your head, but earning their good will is something altogether more difficult. That is why, if our cause is discreditable, we have to turn to the indirect or subtle approach.

Nevertheless, we cannot assume our audience’s good will. We must earn it, and our handbook gives us four options to help us do so:

  1. We can talk about ourselves
  2. We can talk about the person of our adversaries
  3. We can talk about our listeners
  4. we can talk about the facts themselves

We can talk about ourselves either positively or negatively. Positively, we can discuss the services we have rendered and our past conduct toward

  • The Republic
  • Our parents
  • Our friends
  • The audience

Negatively, we can plead for the aid of the audience while we present our

  • Disabilities
  • Need
  • Loneliness
  • Misfortune

Simultaneously, we confess that we have no other hope than those who hear us.

Second, we can discuss our adversary with the intention of bringing them into odium, unpopularity, and contempt. As you read this section, notice how much of the blogosphere and current news follows this pattern.

You can make them odious by showing that some act of theirs was

  • Base
  • High-handed (subperbe – think Tarquinius Superbus)
  • Treacherous (perfidiose)
  • Cruel (crudeliter)
  • Impudent (confidenter)
  • Malicious (malitiose)
  • Shameful (flagitiose)

You can make them unpopular (invidiam) by presenting their (some of this is kind of funny)

  • Violent behavior
  • Dominance (potentiam)
  • Factiousness
  • Wealth
  • Incontinence (lack of self-restraint)
  • High-birth
  • Clients (yikes!)
  • Hospitality (huh?)
  • “Club allegiance” (sodalitatem)
  • Marriage alliances

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of these in and of themselves. What you have to show is that they rely more on any of these supports than they do on the truth.

The third way you can win the good will of your audience is to discuss the person of your your audience. Here you should talk about three things:

  1. Judgments they have already rendered
  2. The esteem they enjoy
  3. “with what interest their decision is awaited.”

The second and third are pretty straightforward. On the first, you should mention how their earlier decisions demonstrated

  • Courage
  • Wisdom
  • Humanity
  • Nobility

Finally, you can earn the good will of your audience by talking about the cause itself. If you take this course, then you will extol your cause with praise and disparage the cause of your opponent with disparagement.

So much for the direct approach. First, determine the kind of cause you are defending. Then determine to use the direct approach (or else read a later blog post). Then follow the guidelines above to make your audience receptive, to secure their attention, and to earn their favor.

We are discussing rhetoric, not math, so there are no guarantees that your strategy will work. But if you are aware of these options, you will both present a better case for your own cause and be better able to anticipate the strategy of your opponent.

In Level II of the Lost Tools of Writing, we introduce the strategic introduction in lesson 3.

An Introduction to the History of Classical Rhetoric

I find it fascinating to read the development of rhetorical practices from the time of, say, Homer to the time of, say, Basil the Great or St. Augustine.

This period gives us the pre-historic Greeks, like Odysseus; the philosophical Greeks of the Pre-Socratic period, like the Sophists; the Socratic/Platonic response to the Sophists; Aristotle; the Stoics and Epicureans and other minor schools that preceded Christ, the Romans who adopted the Greek traditions and created both schools and handbooks to teach it; and the Christian response to the Roman practices adopted and adapted from the Greeks.

You cover pretty much the whole spectrum of possible approaches to rhetoric in that 15oo year span, which is one of the great benefits of a classical education.

Lately I’ve been quite intrigued by the handbook tradition. It developed in Rome after they were converted to the Greek conviction that you master an art when you come to know its nature and align yourself to the nature of the thing you want to do.

The Greeks were speculators and the Romans were practical people, or so goes the bromide, and it is not without validity.

The Greeks thought about the nature of language and rhetoric. But they thought about it in action. Thus, Aristotle’s Rhetoric is the seminal work in what became the handbook tradition.

The Romans had no Aristotle, Cicero being perhaps their best attempt. But they had plenty of public speakers. In fact, if you wanted to matter in Rome, you pretty much had to master the art of speaking.

As a result, the Romans adopted and developed the handbook tradition and we have benefited enormously as a result.

From what I can tell, the purpose of a handbook was to lay out first principles and basic practices for a given art. Thus, Dionysius of Thrax wrote a grammar handbook that was the first to lay out the eight parts of speech.

During the first century BC, Rome was in a state of continual turmoil at the top. Generals had begun to pay their own armies, which freed them from the Senate and put them in conflict with each other.

From 135 BC to 31 BC, they experienced a continual stream of revolutions and civil wars, finally ending when Augustus Caesar defeated Marc Antony and established what we now call the Roman Empire.

I mention this because I want to talk about a rhetoric handbook and because rhetoric handbook are effected by politics. It was during this 100 year period that the perhaps best works of rhetoric were developed by Roman teachers (the exception is Quintilian).

The rhetoric handbook I want to talk about is called Ad Herrenium, De Ratione Dicendi, or To Herrenius, On the Theory of Public Speaking.

Nobody knows who wrote it, though for a long time it was thought to be a work of Cicero. While it is written to Herrenius, it is a popular book and was intended to be used by anybody who wanted to speak in public.

While it’s debt to the Greeks is obvious¬†by its very existence, nevertheless its populist tone is revealed on the first page, where he scoffs at unidentified “Greek writers” who, “from fear of appearing to know too little, have gone in quest of notions irrelevant to the art, in order that the art might seem more difficult to understand.”

And yet, he is on to something, for it is not uncommon for teachers and theorists, especially those who are quite impressed that they have begun to study an art but have not yet mastered it, to want that art to appear mysterious and difficult.

“I, on the other hand,” he continues, “have treated those topics which seemed pertinent to the theory of public speaking.”

Totally irrelevant aside: I love this Latin word that seems to mean “seemed to be”: sumpsimus. We have to Anglicize that word somehow.

He further demonstrates his populism with this hollow claim: “I have not been moved by hope of gain or desire for glory, as the rest have been, in undertaking to write, but have done so in order that, by my painstaking work, I may gratify your wish.”

OK, let’s get on with it then, shall we?

“I shall now begin my subject, as soon as I have given you this one injunction: Theory without continuous practice in speaking is of little avail; from this you may understand that the precepts of theory here offered ought to be applied in practice.”

From this point forward, he offers some quite sound advice on pubic speaking, much of which I have applied to writing.

Having identified three kinds of causes (epideictic or ceremonial, deliberative, and judicial), he explains that a speaker needs to master five faculties to successfully deliver any public speech: Invention (coming up with something to say), Arrangement (ordering your thoughts), Elocution (adapting expression to the matter), Memory, and Delivery (“the graceful regulation of voice, countenance, and gesture”).

We master these faculties through three means: theory (rules and method (certam viam)), imitation, and practice.

He then lays out the parts of a speech and explains that each of the parts has its own invention. Then he explains how to invent an introduction.

Which is why I started writing this blog and is the point at which I must pause with this note.

I started public speaking very young and was generally well-received when I did it. However, my talent was raw and undisciplined. Some people consider these handbooks to be overly formal and even restrictive. I agree, if they are studied without practice and imitation.

But it was not until I studied classical rhetoric that I came to understand how to speak and found the tools by which I could bring the art under control.

This is the theory. It is essential. It is not enough. But it is essential.

“How Andrew Pudewa Teaches Writing” and other matters

Andrew Pudewa and I have had so much fun doing writing workshops together that we are at it again.

On January 18, we’ll be in St. Augustine, Fl.
On January 19, Berean Academy is hosting us in Lutz (near Tampa)
On January 20, The Calssical School is hosting us in Orlando.

Andrew Pudewa will be¬†leading a high school essay intensive at Evangelical Free Church in Ft. Myers on Thursday, and I’ll be going to Lakeland to meet with my old friends at The¬†Geneva¬†Classical Academy¬†in Lakeland.

Then we get back together again on January 22, when Evangelical Free Church Will be hosting us in Fort Myers.
We end our grand tour of FL on January 23, when First Christian Church will host us in Boca Raton.

I hope you can make it. I have learned a ton traveling around with Andrew.

He opens the workshop with a talk on The Four Language Arts, which lays out something so essential I find I need to hear it and be frequently reminded of it.

Everything arises from and revolves around and depends on our ability to use language.  That ability grows when we practice four language arts:

  • listening!
  • reading
  • speaking
  • writing

That sets the stage. Then Andrew Major hands it off to Andrew Minor (me) and I explore the five paths to writing greatness and the distinctives of classical rhetoric.

In the latter, I explain the three universal problems of writing and how to solve them using the tools that Aristotle and the great classical educators mastered.

You can probably see that each session is a bit more specific than the last. 

This is when Andrew Major presents his natural approach to Developing the Essayist, in which he explains a very effective strategy for moving children, one step at a time, from simply reporting facts to supporting an opinion of their own.

Then we address the major headache of all writing teachers: Assessment!

How should it be done? What does our mode of assessment mean? How¬†can we asses students’ work¬†without¬†distracting or¬†demoralizing¬†them?

When we were in TX in November, Andrew and I spent more time discussing this while driving from city to city than any other matter. I know I grew in my understanding through the discussion, and we intend to pass on the fruit of our learning through these FL workshops.

We close by addressing some common teaching problems and offering counsel on where to go next.

Specifically we address the frequently asked question, “How do IEW and LTW¬†work together?”

If you are in Florida, please come Рand please invite your friends and enemies to come. We guarantee that you will leave the workshop refreshed and inspired AND better able to teach writing AND better understanding writing.

For information or to register, please visit the CiRCE website at www.circeinstitute.org and/or the IEW website HERE. (Scroll down to the nearest city and click for details).

Richard Weaver on Logic and Rhetoric, with a few applications to Debate

I’ve been posting quite a bit on the necessity for formal grammar instruction lately, and I will continue to do so in the days to come, God willing.

Grammar is a language study, one of the three liberal arts. The first.

Then comes logic or dialectic.

And then rhetoric.

For Grammar I have urged people to read The War Against Grammar by David Mulroy.

For Rhetoric I may have a book even more profound and important to recommend. The book is The Ethics of Rhetoric by Richard Weaver.

I can’t recommend it yet because I haven’t read enough of it, but what I have been able to read in my two minute time-thefts has been compelling.

You can perhaps imagine how tempting the first chapter was for me just by its title: “The Phaedrus [a dialogue by Plato] and the Nature of Rhetoric.”

But I was only flipping through, so I went to the second chapter. He begins by asserting that dialectic and rhetoric are two stages of argumentation. Now be patient with me because this next bit bears thoughtful response.

Dialectic is that stage which defines the subject satisfactorily with regard to the logos, or the set of propositions making up some coherent universe of discourse; and we can therefore say that a dialectical position is established when its relation to an opposite has been made clear and it is thus rationally rather than empirically sustained.

He’s only warming up. He has clarified for us what a logos is, at least when the word is applied to an argument. It is the face of the argument – the essence, if you like.

In addition, he has introduced this important idea of a “dialectical position” which is established “when its relation to an opposite has been made clear.” Here is the value of formal debate and its relation to dialectics or logic.

Next he raises the ante just a little bit:

We shall say that facts are never dialectically determined… and that the urgency of facts is never a dialectical concern.

If I were to reduce this to a practical lesson on debate (which it is not, but putting it in these terms may help us understand what he is getting at), I might say, “In a debate, the facts don’t determine who wins. The winner in a debate is the one who gets the logic of the thing down most effectively.”

I put it in that perhaps overstated way to draw out the necessary tension in what Weaver is saying.

But we have to remember that debates are not the place to study physics or history. They are, so far as they are logical/dialectical, the place to practice using logic.

Underlying these statements are two or more assumptions. First, logic is formal. Second, logic is so useful that students should practice using it in contests against each other.

Dialectic, in other words, is not about the way things are or even the way things should be. Perhaps the best way to say it is that dialectic is about the way things might be.

Weaver says

What a successful dialectic secures for any position therefore,… is not actuality but possibility; and what rhetoric thereafter accomplishes is to take any dialectically secured position… and show its relationship to the world of prudential conduct.

I may not be reading amiss to see the trivium placed before us in a rather tidy manner: Grammar, what is actual; Logic, what is possible, Rhetoric what is prudent or desirable.

To apply a stricter interpretation to my argument above, I acknowledge that a debate is not exactly a “dialectical position.” What it shares with the dialectical position is that it defines its position in its relation to an opposite. In other words, every debate debates two sides of an issue, side A and its opposite, side B.

Debate, however, goes further and makes an appeal to prudential conduct. Weaver has shown us that this is the rhetorical element of the debate.

We pass our lives debating issues, not usually consciously. To enter into a debating competition can make a young man or lady more aware of what is always going on in his unconscious mind, thereby giving him more control over it.

These paragraphs from Weaver can help any debater better understand the grammar, logic, and rhetoric of a debate.

The debater would do well, then, to define clearly and carefully the relationship of his position to the other position. It is obvious that they are opposites, and that is a very good place to start (I love the obvious). But if he can demonstrate the particularities of that opposition, he will earn the favor of his judges and make them receptive to his argument.

Once you have secured your dialectic position, then you are able to “show its relationship to the world of prudential conduct,” i.e. tell people why they ought (would be prudent) to do what he is arguing for.

In LTW, we teach students division so they attend to the particularities of the opposition. We frequently argue about things about which we agree or focus on details that do not define the disagreement.

Establishing your dialectical position frees you from that failing.

It also frees you to make your case for the action you contend to be prudent. That’s rhetoric.

So reading Weaver provides practical insight into effective debating.

But there’s more to it than that. Weaver is writing about the ethics of rhetoric, not the pragmatics of debate.

I’m anxious to see where he takes me, because his framework seems to correspond comfortably with reality.

Interestingly, the chapter is entitled Dialectic and Rhetoric at Dayton, Tenn.

Plutarch on Mark Antony

…he left Italy and travelled into Greece, where he spent his time in military exercises and in the study of eloquence. He took most to what was called the Asiatic taste in speaking, which was then at its height, and was, in many ways, suitable to his ostentatious, vaunting temper, full of empty flourishes and unsteady efforts for glory.

Nice summary of both a character and the moral side of rhetoric.

This is from the Dryden Translation, The Modern Library Classics, volume 2, the chapter on Antony.

Two Andrews On Writing and Teaching Writing

I just finished a four city tour with Andrew Pudewa of Institute for Excellence in Writing and what a trip it was!

We divided up six talks between us as follows:

  1. Andrew P talked about the four arts of language: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. This laid the foundation for the day.
  2. Then I talked about the five paths to writing greatness:
    1. The linguistic
    2. The literary
    3. The critical
    4. The theoretical
    5. The practical
  3. Then I discussed the three canons of classical composition and, briefly, how classical compostion went out with the rejection of the Christian classical tradition at the end of the 19th century.
  4. Andrew P talked about the four stages to lead a student from report writing to essay writing (Developing the essayist: A natural approach)
    1. Reports (facts) about animals, states, and countries
    2. Reports about people, things, and events, selecting topics based on your opionions
    3. Thesis on literature, using topics selected to support the thesis
    4. Strategic persuasive essay about an issue that matters
  5. Andrew and I discussed assessment. This talk was the one in which I learned the most over our four days and by the time we got to Dallas (echoes of Glenn Campbell?) we had combined and permutated our ideas into something really useful.
  6. Panel discussion, different in each location and always fascinating.

Keep your eyes open because the Dallas presentation was videotaped by the IEW folks and I anticipate it being available in the not too distant future.

I can’t say enough how grateful I am to Andrew Pudewa for mentoring me and bringing me into his orbit. What a fine and good man.

Thank you Andrew.

    Your theory of writing

    People of a more practical bent will sometimes suggest they don’t have a theory. Others argue that theory is a distraction or isn’t important.

    Those positions (each a caricature in itself) hold a view of theory that arises from a reaction to the overly academic approach we take to writing. The great temptation for any teacher or school is to isolate what happens in the school or classroom from the rest of life and then to exalt it over things outside the school or classroom.

    When schools do that, people outside the schools can overreact the other way and deny the importance of what happens in the school. And to the extent that the school overvalued itself, the anti-school people will be right.

    The only value of education is what it actually accomplishes in the soul and for the life of the student.

    All of which is preamble to indicate the unnecessary tension between theory and practice that I pointed to in my previous post.

    My thesis here is simple: since, as we have perhaps already established, we all have a writing theory, that theory forms our expectations and practices as writers and teachers. 

    The cosequence of my thesis is that the theory we hold, therefore, effects the quality of our instruction and the degree of our mastery of the art.

    For example, if a student thinks that writing is a great mystery, a gift descending from the gods, he will practice accordingly. He may pray a lot if he wants to write well, but he won’t try to exercise a discipline he doesn’t believe exists.

    Put in that caricature, that position might seem absurd, but that caricature expresses rather nicely the unconscious presupposition I held as a high school student. It’s easy to see why, because to this day the achievements of the great poets leave me breathless and, to be perfectly honest, often envious.

    How was Shakespeare able to write the way he did? How could Chaucer so continually throw out lines with such grace and subtlety? How could John Donne hide so many, many layers of meaning in the 14 lines of a sonnet.

    It’s no wonder that Homer begins his epics with the words “Sing goddess…” and Milton, “Sing heavenly muse.”

    And both were, I’m certain, quite genuine in their appeal. Their theory of poetry led them to call for divine help.

    So does mine.

    Shakespeare seems not to have held such a theory. He was, one might say, a more secular poet, certainly than Homer or Milton, if not Virgil (Arms and the man I sing).

    Behind those prayers lay a theology and a cosmology and an anthropology that inform every line of the poets’ work.

    The absence of such lines in contemporary poetry indicate a different theology, cosmology, and anthropology.

    When a person writes, he comes to the task with beliefs about how important writing is, the source of the power to do it, and how one practices it. Writing workshops and classes are not the place to teach such things. They already embody them in their modes and structures.

    For example, the typical school class assumes that writing is taught by a text book through exercises and that pretty well anybody can teach it with the right text book. Administrative structures and assessment expectations pretty well demand this theory, if it isn’t in place ahead of time.

    What I mean is that, given how we run our schools and hold them accountable, we need to believe that writing, like everything else in school, simply needs to be administered to the student in the right dosage. Then a standardized test can take our temperature – it can tell us whether we succeeded.

    A workshop, on the other hand, will recognize the need for judgment and direct feedback.

    At CiRCE, for example, we believe that writing can be learned only through an apprenticeship. Writing is a craft, and a craft can only be learned through coaching by a master. That is why we put so much emphasis on the need for the teacher to understand the ideas taught in our Lost Tools of Writing program.

    Writing, like every art, requires judgment. That is why people often say, “There are no rules.”

    They are almost right. The one rule is propriety. This directs the teacher’s and students’ attention away from rules to purpose and nature, because propriety is determined by the nature and the purpose of the act, the actor, and the other participants in the act.

    And propriety requires judgment.

    And judgment takes awareness of principles, understanding of the nature of the act, process, and artifact, knowledge of the thing represented in the writing, wisdom, and clarity of purpose.

    Writing needs to be taught practically – it’s a craft.

    And you can never develop the judgment writing requires if you don’t thoroughly understand the rules of normal writing.

    Practical writing, therefore, is always taught within a theoretical framework, a paradigm if you like. The failure to teach children spelling, grammar, and usage in the contemporary school arises from a theory of human nature, of education, and of writing that undercuts all three, as reflected in the growing inability and unwillingness of the people to communicate with any care or depth over the past few generations.

    So to become a great writer or to help your students become one, you’ll want to do what you can to clarify your theory. The good news is that that clarification begins with common sense observations.

    More good news: there are plenty of sources available to develop your theory of writing in dialogue with others. But be careful. If you read what other people say, you might not be looking at what writers do and how children learn. The value of what others say comes in the rather obvious fact that they’ll see things you can’t see and if they’ve written something it almost certainly has been thought about for a while. But if the theory is bad, the thought will only make it worse.

    Some sources:

    • Aristotle: Poetics (short read, worth reading a lot over the years. This still drives most movie writing)
    • Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Read his comments to the players in Acts 2 and 3 (if my memory is on)
    • Wendell Berry: Standing By Words (simply incredible)
    • Anything about theory by Ezra Pound. Watch out for his politics.
    • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biologia Literaria (probably the hardest of these to read – don’t start with this)
    • Louis Markos, Teaching Company series on the History of literary criticism. Very nice introduction to theories over time, (though I think he misunderstood Plato’s point in the Republic).

    I’ll leave it there for now. Those will do for one or two lifetimes anyway.