Given that Public Forum heavily emphasizes persuasion, it makes sense to discuss some classical viewpoints on how audiences are persuaded. The Greek philosopher Aristotle is famous for his three rhetorical modes of persuasion--ethos, logos, and pathos. These terms may have been heard before. If not, do not worry. Time will be spent defining and describing each one, and then we will discuss how to apply them to Public Forum. This article will deal with logos.

What Is Logos?

From an Aristotelian point of view of, logos is defined as follows:

In rhetoric, logos is an appeal to the audience formulated from logic and reason. According to Aristotle, it is used to demonstrate an argument “insofar as it proves or seems to prove.”

Logos is the simplest and most direct form of rhetoric because it involves the use of logic; something that is inherent to debate. It is insufficient to present the facts of a case. For something to be persuasive it has to make logical sense. Arguments that appeal to reason, rather than to emotion or authority, require the audience to set aside any personal biases in order to evaluate an argument on its own merits. Logos challenges the audience to think critically as a competitor demonstrate a particular point. Forcing the audience to think can be very persuasive. Especially when able to trigger an “Aha!” moment that earns audience support.

Logos can be direct, in which case it takes the form of concise explanations. It can also be indirect, in which case tools like analogies and anecdotes are used to draw logical parallels to a similar argument. Both can be used extensively in Public Forum.

How to Apply Logos to Public Forum

Logos is the most important element of rhetoric in debate. Even if a debater possess a strong sense of ethos and is a masterful user of pathos, they will not win very many rounds if their arguments do not make sense. In other words, the role of logos in debate is essentially to reinforce and strengthen the most important arguments that comprise the case. As mentioned above, there are two ways to go about this. First, logos in a direct sense is clash. It is simply the art of referencing the opponent’s arguments and refuting them accordingly. Since this does not break any new ground, focus will be given on how to embed logos within clash.

One of the strongest methods available in presenting logos is the analogy. Analogies should not be overused, but when composed correctly and explained thoroughly they can be extremely persuasive. This will be demonstrated with an example. Let us consider a debate on global warming, with the pro advocating action to combat and the con advocating (more or less) the status quo. The con goes first, arguing that we cannot actually be sure that global warming is occurring:

It may all just be a coincidence, and even though the data might appear at first glance to back up their story, it is all anecdotal and it is impossible to conclude that a disaster is in the making. We cannot afford to waste limited resources planning for an event that may never occur.

How should a debater respond to that?

Bill McKibben, an author who is noted for being the first popular science author to write about global warming, presented this interesting analogy in The End of Nature: ‘To declare, as some editorialists have done, that the warming has not yet appeared and therefore the theory is wrong is like arguing that a woman hasn’t yet given birth and therefore isn’t pregnant’ (25). The comparison here really drives home a point. If a woman stopped menstruating, began experiencing morning sickness, and exhibited a noticeable bulge on her stomach, any rational individual would be crazy to deny the logical conclusion. How can a person ignore empirically proven symptoms of pregnancy? They cannot. In a similar vein, global warming has empirically been linked to carbon dioxide levels. The earth is experiencing artificially elevated levels of CO2, so it doesn’t make sense to dismiss this proven correlation.

This is a perfect example of using logos to prove an argument. Rather than just repeat the same old tired statistics, McKibben chooses to pose a rational quandary that forces the reader to think more carefully about the arguments in question. His analogy makes sense of the confusing muddle of claims and demonstrates to the reader why the other side’s position is logically flawed.

By making good use of logos in debate, a debater can instantly add sense and credibility to their arguments. Even skeptical judges who personally disagree with a position may be inclined to take a more sympathetic stance. Unfortunately, logos is not terribly persuasive with critics who are unfairly closed-minded--the type who will vote against a competitor simply for being on the “wrong” side of the resolution. (They are the worst of every judging pool; there is really not much that can be done to win them over anyway.)

If a debater can achieve a balance of ethos, pathos, and logos in all their speeches, they will have a rhetorically superior presentation that caters to the needs and expectations of the average Public Forum audience. Remember, the goal is simplicity. If rhetoric can be used to transform information meant for a technical audience into a general and sensible presentation, then many rounds will be won.