Avoiding the "ergo"
June 6, 2012 4:42 AM   Subscribe

I want to learn more about the basics of discourse and rhetoric – to understand more formally the nature of constructing arguments and interpreting them. But I'm not huge on the classics, so I feel like going directly to Aristotle would make me lose interest right away. That said, I totally love intricate or intellectual examinations of ideas, so it's not like I need a dumbed-down text, just one that's not quite so stuffily written. Can you recommend me a book that'll help me learn what I want to learn?
posted by Rory Marinich to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Think A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy.
posted by adamvasco at 5:27 AM on June 6, 2012

The only resource I can remember is Silva Rhetoricae, which is a reference for terms used in classical rhetoric, not a book. Be warned though: the site uses frames, which means the web design may predate the content.
posted by fonetik at 5:30 AM on June 6, 2012

I think what might be helpful is a collection of analyses of texts that provide insight in the construction of an idea(whether it be in written form, speech, a drawing, etc). This means the original source of the idea needs to have existed a while for people to have examined it. If you're not into classics, I'd suggest more of a historical approach. Pick a period of your choice, post-civil war American history, or European, or even Asian, and seek either a literary analysis or comparative analysis on various texts. Read the original then read the analyses and practice that way. Hope this helped.
posted by icollectpurses at 5:37 AM on June 6, 2012

I like Nicholas Capaldi's The Art of Deception: An Introduction to Critical Thinking
posted by rhartong at 5:40 AM on June 6, 2012

Argh. Messed up the link for Capaldi's book
posted by rhartong at 5:41 AM on June 6, 2012

I can provide you with a linguistics-heavy side of that equation (from the perspective of discourse analysis (DA) and pragmatics, rather than rhetoric).

I'd start with the seminal work "Discourse Strategies" by John Gumperz. It's a short book and fairly easy to read.

If you want to go more into language structure and philosophy (but not so deep as to be Aristotelian, one of my favorite reads of all time is Roman Jakobson's "Linguistics and Poetics", which may or may not provide the type of insight you're looking for. At the very worst, it's absolutely brilliant.

In the other direction, Sacks and Schegloff founded the sub-field of linguistics (but part of DA) called Conversation Analysis (CA), with many articles and books to follow. This gets into turn-taking, holding the floor, opening up closings, etc...all the sorts of things that facilitate or block communication and argumentation.

For framing, politics and cognitive-analytic metaphor (especially in stance-taking and argumentation), I'd look into Lakoff and Foucault.

For speech acts and pragmatics (the types of statements we say and what we're *really* doing with them), go with Austin and Searle and Grice.

I could keep going, but I think that's a nice start for the discourse side of things. Perhaps others could recommend more on the rhetoric side.

Ooh, that reminds me of MeFite Quinn Warnick's dissertation about the concept of ethos as it applies to MetaFilter. It is from the perspective of rhetoric, and while his dissertation is heavily skewed into the Aristotle territory that you don't want to venture into, it is a very good read and well-sourced...which will lead you to lots of other material that *will* be what you want to delve into.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:09 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is not a book, but I really enjoyed Daniel Coffeen's Introduction to Rhetoric class at Berkeley. Not that I went to Berkeley; I listened to it via the lectures on iTunes (Rhetoric 10, lectures 1-31). He's a really engaging speaker, and while there are some discussions of the classics (Plato, Nietzsche), he tries to make it very accessible. They're free.
posted by permiechickie at 7:15 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the very best ways I expanded my critical thinking was to study for the LSAT. Learning and understanding the arguments sections of those books will really make you good spotting flaws in arguments
posted by tylerfulltilt at 7:54 AM on June 6, 2012

One way we used to examine this type of thing in college was through symbolic logic. That may not be exactly what you're looking for, but basically what you can do is take certain arguments - arguments constructed in language - and translate them into their basic logical constructs. It really gives you a deep understanding of how logic in argument works and it's pretty fun to boot. Of course, there are nuances in rhetoric that can't be adequately captured in predicate calculus, but it's a good place to start and allows you to see how certain arguments can be 'quantitatively' validated or not.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:12 AM on June 6, 2012

Start with this then try this.
posted by 5Q7 at 10:58 AM on June 6, 2012

I love the Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies website
posted by mon-ma-tron at 3:42 PM on June 6, 2012

Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement is a quick read and looks at how we communicate through the arrangement of objects. The author splices in nice little recaps of rhetorical theory.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 7:15 PM on June 6, 2012

I'm not sure if this one is as formal as you want, but I liked Thank You For Arguing by Jay Heinrichs.
posted by simongsmith at 11:30 AM on June 8, 2012

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