Quick Links: Tocq Home | Tocq Philosophy | Tocq Archives | Tocq Gets Letters | For Writers

The Tocq Philosophy
Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.- Alexis DeTocqueville

Sign up for a free Tocq Update subscription, and be notified when the newest issue is released!
Be Informed!


Search The Tocquevillian Magazine:

Search The News

Search the headlines from over 2000 news sources

Word(s) to search for:

Orational Numbers: the parts of an oration


W.C. Green is from good Republican stock--her grandmother used to render them down for soup. Since she can't grow up to be Cato the Elder, she takes out her disappointment on modern orators.

by Rhetorix - March 11th, 2001

If one were building an oration (read this to mean the modern column or speech), how many parts would one need?

Answer: Two, four, or six

Not wanting this to be my shortest column, I now shall elaborate.

Aristotle, who, among other deeds, tutored Alexander the Great when he was merely Alexander the Teen, wrote that a speech required only two parts: a brief statement presenting the topic and an argument supporting or denying the validity of the statement. Aristotle did concede that the oration might require an introduction and an epilogue, but these were used to sway the audience's emotions, not to address the topic of the speech.

Thus, the framework of an Aristotlian oration is:

  1. Ingratiate yourself to the audience (optional)
  2. State your case
  3. Prove your case
  4. 4Conclude by inclining the audience to support the case (optional)

Other teachers of oration tinkered with this framework until the classical structure of an oration became:

  1. Exordium-designed to grab an audience's attention
  2. Narration-the statement of the facts
  3. Division-gives the points about which both sides of the case agree and about which they disagree
  4. Proof-states the arguments that support the orator's side of the case
  5. Refutation-sinks the arguments offered by the other side of the case
  6. Peroration-concludes the oration and wins the audience's support

To demonstrate this framework using a modern column, Rhetorix will use Mark Lane's February 23rd, 2001 column from the Daytona Beach News-Journal.*

For a columnist, the headline, column name, byline, photo (if provided by the newspaper) and often the opening paragraph comprise the exordium. When properly designed and crafted, they attract the reader's attention, introduce the columnist, and announce the day's topic:

Headline: Voucher fever may not stop at schools
Column name: FOOTNOTE

The Florida House has a plan to make public school overcrowding go away. The House Committee on Education Innovation wants to pay the kids to just go away and learn somewhere else.

The above exordium catches the attention of voucher proponents, voucher opponents, readers of Mr. Lane's column, and anyone interested in Florida politics and Florida schools.

In a classical oration, this would be followed by the narration, a statement of facts about Florida school vouchers. In this column, we must pass over eleven sentences of extended exordium (also known as "filler") to reach the narration:

The House committee gave initial approval Tuesday to a plan that would give $3,000 a year for Florida students to go to private schools instead of overcrowded public schools. About 200,000 students would be eligible.

Has Mr. Lane stated clearly in this paragraph on which side of this issue he stands? No-he does not mention it at all. Where is a statement of his stance? It appears in his exordium, where he should be enticing everyone to read his column. A pro-voucher person would not describe the use of vouchers as "paying kids to go away to learn somewhere else" nor would one describe public school students as "ungrateful". Thus, Mr. Lane's inappropriate choice of descriptive words in the introduction to his column acts as his narration.

Next should come the division, in which Mr. Lane presents the common ground of the voucher discussion and the points about which the two sides disagree.

Voucher supporters in the Legislature say it's wrong to leave kids in overcrowded Florida public schools and therefore public money should be put into private schools.

They are able to say this as though the Legislature had nothing to do with the problem. As though refusing to face up to the state's explosive growth were not so ingrained with legislators that underfunding public education is practically written into their oath of office.

I will faithfully uphold the Florida Constitution and make sure Florida doesn't spoil its teachers or overspend on educating our ungrateful students, so help me God.

The idea of paying the kids to just go away -- instead of, oh, I don't know, building new schools? -- has great appeal because there are a few legislators who don't seem to wholly accept the idea that everybody should get together to pay for a common educational system. One everyone attends for free. This common-good stuff, it sounds too much like socialism.

So, instead of helping the locals build more schools, voucher advocates want to throw money at the private sector and hope they'll build the classrooms instead.

The first paragraph meets the strictures of division, i.e., it states in a straightforward manner what the opposition believes. The second paragraph, however, appears to leap straight to the refutation-it argues that the state legislature is responsible for the problem of overcrowded schools and also is legally responsible for fixing the problem by building more schools.

After three more paragraphs akin to the ones quoted above, Mr. Lane gives us his version of a peroration:

If only all of Florida's growth problems could be solved the same way. And, hey, maybe they can! And does all this library, park, free roads and public-safety funding really square with a free-market world? Is there really any limit to the magic of vouchers, if you're prepared to accept minor inequities here and there?

I suspect there are a few in the Legislature who don't think so.

This is not an attempt to entice unconvinced readers or the opposition to join Mr. Lane's side of this argument. To Rhetorix's eyes, it appears that Mr. Lane's inspiration well went dry (although she is prepared to grant that space considerations and editors may have caused the deletion of a better-crafted conclusion.)

At no point in his column does Mr. Lane offer a fact to support his side nor does he adequately explain either the pro-voucher or anti-voucher position-both proof and refutation are missing from this column.

What does Mr. Lane use in place of these two required parts? He uses invalid topics. Topics, to rhetoricians, are both the form and the function of arguments. They describe the way to properly present an argument, refute an opponent, and prove a case. Invalid topics are for those who cannot present a valid argument, cannot refute the opposition, and cannot prove the case. The saying "When the facts are against you, argue the law; when the law is against you, argue the facts; when both the facts and the law are against you, pound on the table" describes the use of invalid topics.

Aristotle lists ten invalid topics. Mr. Lane uses the following:

  1. He concludes his argument without having completed the process of reasoning (i.e., without presenting logical arguments)
  2. He uses indignant language
  3. He makes a statement about the whole that is true only about a part of it (e.g., some Florida legislators may think that underfunding education is a good idea; it is unlikely that the Florida state constitution mandates such underfunding.)
  4. He ignores crucial circumstances (minor items like facts, examples, hard numbers, statistics, etc.)
  5. He uses unrepresentative examples (i.e., school vouchers for the poor will lead to toll booths for parks-please note that fees have been charged for entry to Florida state parks for years)

Granted, invective and indignation are easy to write. They are, however, a poor substitute for reasoned arguments and facts, especially when one's case needs to persuade others to its support in order to prevail.

* Professional honesty requires Rhetorix to note that she attended school with Mr. Lane, although she has not seen him since then. She also notes that, during those school years, Esquire Magazine named the News-Journal as the "third worst newspaper in the U.S.A." In her opinion, the intervening years have not brought improvement to this newspaper.

e-mail this article | Print-Friendly Version

"...At no point in his column does Mr. Lane offer a fact to support his side nor does he adequately explain either the pro-voucher or anti-voucher position-both proof and refutation are missing from this column..."

Tocquevillian Opinion Archives:

Wayne Lutz

Nancy Ahern

Gene Royer


Donna Doyle

Stan Kid

Guest Columns