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The logical appeals of dr martin luther king jr in the letter from birmingham jail

No comments yet 1. Rhetoric, Dialectic, and Appeals to Credibility As the field of argumentation has moved from a formal to an informal or dialectical perspective, it has also, often without conscious recognition, adopted some of the interests traditionally associated with rhetoric. So long as arguments were conceived on the formal deductive model, social and contextual considerations were regarded as irrelevant.

An argument was to be judged on the content and formal relationship of the propositions it contained and appeals to such contextual matters as the credibility of the arguer were regarded as fallacies.

  • She begins with the premise that an argument is something more than collections of premises and conclusions, because it is always also a social activity involving an arguer and an audience;
  • How could I do otherwise?
  • King challenges the clergy arguments with increasingly dramatic parallels and reveals the truths through calculated contradictions that poke holes in a morally flawed opposition Mott;
  • A rhetorical view of the ad hominem.

With the rise of informal logic, however, the essentialism of the formal deductive model gave way to a more practical conception of argumentation that recognized argument as a social practice and that encompassed consideration of the persons who engaged in it and the circumstances surrounding its conduct. Appeals to context that were once categorically dismissed as fallacies have been reconceived as strategies or schemes that can have legitimate uses, and informal logic or dialectic as some have called the new approach has addressed matters that fall squarely within the traditional domain of rhetoric, since circumstances such as time, place, occasion, persons, and the like have always been regarded as proper, if not necessary, considerations in rhetorical studies.

In order to illustrate this engagement with matters rhetorical and its limitsI want to refer to a recent paper by Trudy Govier 1999 that treats the problem of credibility from the perspective of current thought in informal logic.

She begins with the premise that an argument is something more than collections of premises and conclusions, because it is always also a social activity involving an arguer and an audience.

Consequently, the relationship between arguer and audience is relevant to an assessment of the quality of an argument. The word rhetoric never appears in this essay, but most rhetoricians, I believe, would find it interesting and relevant to their concerns, since the basic themes refer to such standard items in rhetorical lore as the credibility of the arguer, the role of the audience, the social relationship between arguer and audience, and the force of argument in relation to an audience.

At the same time, however, once this affinity is noted, we can also consider points at which two approaches diverge, and this exercise should serve as a useful guide to the work of translation between them.

In the first place, Govier displays a more focused and restricted interest in credibility than do rhetoricians. The rhetorician takes a different view, one that emphasizes credibility as a constructive element in argumentation, as a mode of arguing ethos coordinate with logical proof. From this rhetorical perspective, the dimensions of credibility are more numerous and complex than the two that Govier lists and finds sufficient for her purposes. As Alan Brinton has observed, the conception of ethos includes at the least the following elements: Rhetorical ethos, then, eventuates in the embodiment of cultural values, and this goal indicates an interest toward character that is not recognized in logic or dialectic.

Secondly, consistent with the orientation of informal logic, Govier studies credibility in relation to justified belief. By contrast, deliberative rhetoric, the genre where character plays the most prominent role, frequently adopts action rather belief as its end Brinton 1986: This teleological shift complicates the argumentative task since it adds important social and volitional dimensions to the task.

Deliberative rhetors often must negotiate the ambiguity and tension between the principles an audience accepts and its perception of the circumstances of a particular case. This capacity does not correspond to a fixed, abstract standard, but manifests itself as it is deployed and so it is expressed in the action of deliberative performance. Thus, insofar as the rhetor performs well as a deliberator, he or she enacts the kind of character appropriate for deliberative judgment, and enactment emerges as an important aspect of rhetorical ethos.

Deliberative rhetoric also typically engages problems that occur when belief and volition are misaligned, when an audience accepts certain principles but fails to act on them.

Here, in a situation that reverses the direction of the dialectical ad hominem, the audience, and not the arguer, is called to account for inconsistency. Normally, argumentation of this kind is delicate and difficult because audiences do not readily acknowledge inconsistencies, and if the arguer is to make this discrepancy apparent and salient to the audience, and he or she must effect a general reframing of the situation.

The rhetor, that is, must evoke a new perspective that brings to light suppressed or undetected inconsistencies, and opens ground for new argumentative possibilities. Evocation, then, is another distinctive aspect of rhetoric. I now want to explain these dimensions of argumentation so as to make the rhetorical sensibility and its apparatus more accessible to other students of argumentation, but to achieve this end, I will present a detailed case study rather than a direct exposition.

She is, of course, committed to understanding social context, and she is sensitive to particular cases and uses them as a source of evidence and as a test for her analysis.

In the rhetorical context, analysis remains much more closely connected with specific acts of arguing and the contexts in which they appear. Since rhetorical arguments are grounded in and directed toward the particular case, the force of an argument can hardly be understood or evaluated without reference to the case.

As Brinton has noted: The dialecticians who are now consciously appropriating the techniques and perspectives of the rhetorical tradition are becoming increasingly sensitive to this point. As the work of Walton, Tindale, and others reveals, they are less satisfied with simple, textbook examples and more inclined to undertake detailed analyses of real cases. Letter From Birmingham Jail: Such campaigns had been occurring for several years in the southern part of the United States, and they involved rallies, marches, boycotts, sit-in demonstrations and other similar tactics for the purpose of protesting and eventually eliminating racial segregation and other forms of discrimination.

Birmingham was an especially important target. The movement itself had not scored a major victory in some time, and so the Birmingham campaign represented a critical test of whether it could regain momentum and succeed in the logical appeals of dr martin luther king jr in the letter from birmingham jail one of the most powerful sources of opposition to it. Matters were further complicated by the internal political situation in Birmingham. The results, however, proved indecisive.

Bull Connor and the more moderate Albert Boutwell emerged as the two leading candidates, but neither won a majority, and so a second, run-off election had to be scheduled for April 2. Once again SCLC waited for the election. The campaign did not begin on an auspicious note. SCLC had planned to create a crisis by filling the jails beyond their capacity, but after eight days, fewer than 150 people had been arrested, and new volunteers were increasingly hard to find Branch, 1988: Press coverage also failed to meet expectations, and the reactions to the campaign were largely unfavorable.

The Washington Post maintained that direct action should not have occurred until the Boutwell administration had a reasonable opportunity to establish itself, and it judged that the demonstrations were of doubtful utility.

SCLC leaders generally had been reluctant to violate federal court orders, since they regarded the federal courts as a crucial ally. Refusing to post bail until the 19th, King remained in jail for eight days Branch 1988: On the morning after his arrest, the Birmingham News published a short open letter signed by eight prominent clergymen.

In this second letter, the clergymen also urged moderation and obedience to the law, but now their criticism was turned implicitly toward King and his program of non-violent direct action. The published version of the letter is dated April 16th, and though we have good reason to believe that the document was not actually completed until after King left jail, its tone and texture support the impression that the author composed it from within a prison-cell Bass 2001: The letter had little impact in the immediate context, but before the end of 1963, it had circulated widely both as a pamphlet and as reprinted in magazines.

It soon won a large and enthusiastic audience and eventually earned a place in the canon of American political rhetoric and in anthologies of American literature. First and most obviously, the text works through a series of opposing arguments. The following topical outline reveals this pattern clearly: That King is an outsider 2. That King and his supporters should negotiate rather than demonstrate 3. That the demonstrations are ill timed.

That non-violent direct action precipitates violence 5. That racial problems will work resolve themselves over time 6. The King and his supporters are extremists Second confession: That the Birmingham police deserve praise C.

Conclusion[i] On close reading, the structure of the text proves much more subtle than this schematic reduction indicates, but the outline does accurately represent the prominence of dialectically paired allegations and counterarguments. The text is also dialectical in the sense that its argument develops within a dialogic form. The paragraph ends with a clear articulation of this relationship: This mode of address continues throughout the letter, and it is especially notable in the sentences that mark a new section of the text.

Almost all of these sentences attribute a specific position to the clergymen that King expresses in the second person pronoun — e. At times this dialogic quality is heightened through the use of rhetorical questions: Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? The letter, then, has a strong dialogic orientation. Dialectic is also sometimes characterized by an expectation of reasonableness that interlocutors are supposed to fulfill, and King invokes this kind of standard both explicitly and implicitly.

In the passage I have just quoted from the opening paragraph, King commits himself to respond in a patient and reasonable fashion, and he consistently sets out his arguments in clear, logical form. Moreover, as I will soon explain, the text sustains this attitude implicitly through its scrupulously restrained and reasonable tone.

Narrative, Rhetoric, and Audience Awareness in the Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

In these respects, the letter has a dialectical character, and it invites, and should handsomely reward, the fine-grained argumentative analysis of contemporary dialecticians and informal logicians. The letter, however, also issues an appeal to action, and it powerfully illustrates the three special dimensions of rhetorical argumentation — embodiment, enactment, and evocation.

I now want to turn to these matters and study the text from a rhetorical perspective. The clergymen functioned as a synecdoche, as a representation of the larger audience King wanted to reach, and his decision to respond to their letter and his manner of doing so were both strategic.

The letter by the eight clergymen offered King an opportunity to embody this target audience and engage their concerns directly without appearing to manufacture either the occasion or the issues.

Moreover, as Richard Fulkerson 1979: King did not have to construct a synecdochic relationship between himself and the civil rights movement. Likewise, though in more fully realized expression, King also explicitly embeds himself within the Christian faith: But be assured that my tears have been tears of love… Yes, I love the church; I love her sacred walls.

How could I do otherwise? Christianity is made physical through the Church as a walled physical space; King, coming from a lineage connected with that space, embodies his identity within those walls, and from this inside position his disappointment with the Church can be materialized only as tears of love.

All of this figurative work presents King as someone who has the appropriate credentials to criticize the Church from within and to recall it to its own ideals. King also embodies his solidarity with mainstream American values through the use of ad verecundiam appeals. The text is peppered with references to authoritative figures from American history, Judeo-Christian lore, and the Western intellectual tradition.

Eliot, and King invokes these references to vindicate and explain his own actions. King is obviously concerned to dispel the perception that he is a literal outsider in Birmingham and an ideological outsider whose basic attitudes depart from respectable American opinion.

  1. Refusing to post bail until the 19th, King remained in jail for eight days Branch 1988. Thus anger and justice are connected.
  2. To further consider the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.
  3. It is impossible to remove pathos from the development of ethos or logos.
  4. In the first place, Govier displays a more focused and restricted interest in credibility than do rhetoricians.
  5. Writings and Speeches that Changed the World pp.

The ad verecundiam appeals do double service in countering this image. First, by citing icons of accepted belief and faith, King associates himself with authorities who command unquestioned respect from his target audience, and this suggests affiliation with that audience.

If Amos, Paul, Socrates, and even Jesus, behaved as agitators then it follows that agitation to expose and overcome injustice is no threat to the common tradition, but is instead something needed to renew and sustain its integrity. Rhetorical Enactment Embodiment and enactment are closely related rhetorical phenomena. In most texts, especially ones that are well made, they overlap, and it always requires careful interpretive work to distinguish them.

Nevertheless, as I now hope to show, the distinction is worth making. Embodiment arises from what the text says, from the assertions and appeals that it makes. Enactment arises from what the text does.

To understand this distinction, we need to think of an argumentative text not just as an inert product but also as a field of action that constructs representations and relationships as it unfolds — as a microcosm of the social world to which it is addressed. In this sense, texts construct a persona for the author, a persona for the audience, and a relationship or a set of relationships between the two.