Thursday, May 12, 2016

Up to Our Eyeballs in Enthymemes

Enthymemes. We're up to our eyeballs in them.

An enthymeme, first described by Aristotle in Rhetoric is an incomplete logical construct. It's based on an unspoken premise shared between a speaker and her audience.

Here's a familiar enthymeme:

"Make America Great Again."

The unspoken shared premise:

"America used to be great."

An enthymeme's power comes not from what's spoken, but what's unspoken, Aristotle says. When a premise is left unspoken, the audience supplies it, completing the circle. So, instead of the speaker persuading us, we persuade ourselves.

For Aristotle, self-persuasion is especially effective because we take pleasure in participating in the exchange. We're tickled with our ability to connect the dots—to "get it" without handholding.

But self-persuasion is also self-absorption, Aristotle warns.

An enthymeme helps us see a resemblance—a likeness—and we like most what is like ourselves. "All are more or less lovers of themselves," Aristotle says.

The effective speaker exploits this self-love.

She knows that—when the audience completes the circle—it chooses to hear what it wants to hear.
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