Monday, November 20, 2006

Rhetorical Questions


Rhetorical Questions
1.) A question asked solely to produce an effect or to make an assertion and not to elicit a reply
2.) A question, to which no answer is expected, often used for rhetorical effect.
3.) A question asked without expecting an answer but for the sake of emphasis or effect.
4.) A statement that is formulated as a question but that is not supposed to be answered

1.) (in writing or speech) the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast.
2.) The art or science of all specialized literary uses of language in prose or verse, including the figures of speech.
3.) The art of making persuasive speeches; oratory.
4.)(in classical oratory) the art of influencing the thought and conduct of an audience.

It should only be after thorough reading and comprehension of the above terms and definitions that one should continue to the rest of this reply. I would however like to further define a "Rhetorical Question" as that which has no answer, as this definition is what is commonly taught and verbalized. In response to boisterous laughter last night to my comment, "They are rhetorical questions," I will explore one such question purposed to me, so as to help clarify what it is I obviously wasn't able to articulate.

Example: "Why do you always feel the need to destroy things that aren't yours"

Reasoning: As to why such a comment is rhetorical we must break down the question in such a way that the fallacious thinking is exposed and demonstrated.

1.)"Why do you always":
The word always is a "universal". By which I mean to say that it implies that x is ALWAYS the case. Uses of such words are fallacies because they almost all universal statements are wrong. You most probably will not be able to substantiate such a claim as "x always happens" hence making such a claim is improper because their will most likely be an exception to the universal statement.

2.) "you always feel the need":
This statement is, using Neuro-Linguistical terminology, considered an example of "mind reading". It is improper for one individual to make a comment as to the motivations, desires, thoughts, etc of another individual, unless that person is able to conclusively express how it is they came to possess that knowledge. Hence this statement is also a presupposition in that it implies that the action I was exhibiting was due to me feeling a "need" towards doing it.

3.) "need":
This word is a nominalization. It is an emotion or feeling and hence has no quantifiable quality. Therefore in the context of a discussion, or argument as the case may of been, it has to legitimate use because it is purely a subjective idea.

Similar to the case of "need", the word, "destroy" has no specific reference to the severity of such destruction. Hence is the destruction a micro fissure caused through metal fatigue, or is it burning down the house (it is unknown because it is undefined through the question).

5.) "Things": Again, what “things” are you specifically referencing to. It is presumptuous to assume that a person treats all things in the exact same manner, all the time.

6.) "aren't yours":
Then whose are they? You can't mean to say that a person treats all things that aren't his, even things which he's never come into contact with (such as the Dali Lama's Relics, or perhaps a mountain goat's territory) in the exact same way. Again there is no reference to what the person is speaking of.

In response to the 'obvious' question to the above discussion, context, I argue that such presumptuous ideas on my part lead to miscommunications for both parties. This trend has consistently been shown in history were minor or subjective interpretations have led to wars or other grave consequences. Hence sentences such as the one above are completely subjective leaving no possible purpose beyond me reiterating, for myself, my own subjective interpretation, which could be very different from what the questioner was attempting to infer due to the inherent inspecificity of the sentence.

Therefore in reference to my personal definition of rhetorical questions (a question with no answer), such a question as above qualifies because their is no significant (to the argument) nor truly correct answer (in light that because their are so many right answers, even answers that contradict themselves, that their is no true answer). I will then reference you to the definition of rhetorical questions, 1.) and 3.), whereby the purpose of such a question is purely for emotive response. In this situation the question was most likely used as an intellectual trap, where upon being answered another fallacious analogy or example not encompassed in the answer would be used to 'sufficiently' show the answerer to be wrong. However, again, the lack of specific references makes such an answer impossible, therefore it would be more pertinent for a questioner to qualify his or her statements before making them.

Furthermore in reference to the definitions of Rhetoric, 1.), 2.), 3.), and 4.) the above statement meets all four definitions in that it:
1.) Was exaggeratory by lack of reference, "oh why do you ALWAYS do this";
2.) Used significant forms of sophistry and fallacious thinking (refer to above break down);
3.) Was persuasive in that such a question cannot be answered, leaving in the mind of the questioner and others that the answerer has no answer, hence he or she is wrong;
4.) It sufficiently influenced the group enough such that they themselves did not critically analyze the question.

In conclusion, I hope that was a sufficient summary and definition of "Rhetorical Questions". If you happen to have any questions on which you would like to clarify then I would be happy to discuss it with you in the appropriate setting. Thank you for reading.


Geoffrey said...

If you were unable to understand the question within the context it was given, then how about the following question, which is less ambiguous.

Why did you choose on Sunday, November 19th, 2006, to disregard a request made by the owner of the spoon, your mother, to not use her spoon to scoop ice cream?

8:08 AM  

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