Moral Rhetoric Notes and Thoughts

This is just a bunch of notes to use for a future paper that I want to write.

Moral Rhetoric: Using the power of language to speak out against and confront injustice. Moral and ethical rhetoric promotes truth. Those who engage in morally virtuous rhetoric recognize the great responsibility that comes with their ability to use their power of language.

Is it morally right to arouse and provoke emotions through your speech?

“Everyone is entitled to their own views, but they’re not entitled to their own facts.” Patrick Moynihan

Immoral Rhetoric: (aka extremist rhetoric) Using the power of language to justify injustice and to promote egotism. Immoral rhetoric seeks to oppress and oppressive language is violence. Oppressive language limits knowledge. Immoral rhetoric is, as David Gergen put it, “weaponizing words.”

“Serious extremist rhetoric has two defining features. First, it tends toward single-mindedness on any given issue. Second, it passionately expresses certainty about the supremacy of its perspective on the issue without submitting itself either to a reasonable test of truth or to a reasoned public debate.” Amy Gutmann

The Lure & Dangers of Extremist Rhetoric

In a democracy, controversy is healthy. Complex issues as far-ranging as immigration, health care, military interventions, taxation, and education seldom lend themselves to simple, consensual solutions. The public interest is well served by robust public argument. But when disagreements are so driven and distorted by extremist rhetoric that citizens and public officials fail to engage with one another reasonably or respectfully on substantive issues of public importance, the debate degenerates, blocking constructive compromises that would benefit all sides more than the status quo would

Amy Gutmann

Aristotle’s Template for Rhetoric

Ethos: Why should I listen to you?

Logos: The logic of the message.

Pathos: Appealing to the emotions.

First: what makes it alluring at all? Second: how can it imperil democratic discourse in spite of the constitutional protections of free speech to which it is entitled? Third: is there any potentially effective way of responding to the prevalence of extremist rhetoric in our political culture other than trying to beat one kind of extremism with another?

Amy Gutmann
  • What makes it alluring at all?
  • Is there any potentially effective way of responding to extremist rhetoric other than trying to beat one kind of extremism with another?