The Feeling of Persuasion: A Cognitive Rhetorical Account of the Emotional Appeal
MetadataShow full item record
Emotion often takes the back seat in contemporary rhetorical investigation, as emotions are treated as subjective reactions rather than the result of deliberate forms of argumentation. In classical antiquity, rhetorical training for emotional persuasion required students not only to learn what sorts of arguments could move their audiences but, more importantly, how that movement was composed linguistically and psychologically. Yet as history progressed and disciplines branched, the formal study of language and cognition separated from the study of rhetoric, resulting in a conceptually stunted understanding of the emotional appeal. This dissertation returns to classical questions and theories of emotional persuasion but does so with insights from contemporary emotion science and cognitive linguistics. Emotion is understood as neither purely physiological nor purely conceptual but rather as embodied conceptualizations grounded in culture-specific scripts. The dissertation lays out a model for understanding how non-emotive language links up to emotion activation through the introduction of the theater of the mind model, an expansion on the stage model of Cognitive Grammar. It then traces three strategies for arousing and controlling audiences’ emotions from classical rhetorical theory: the enthymematic activation of emotion concepts, the enargeiac amplification of emotion events, and the mitigation of potential threats so as not to excite emotions. Analyzing discourse from politics, fundraising letters, and college student writing, this project argues, contrary to popular opinion, that emotional appeals are not antithetical to reason but instead very much dependent on reason, in that they act as grounds for arousing and guiding inferences in predictable ways for rhetorical purposes.