The Science of Persuasion

Constructing a powerful, persuasive essay is tough. A good writer supplies the right words. Yet, the right words only get a writer so far. Sound, logical content is required to hammer home a point. Style and word choice are discussed so often, but the logical side is less highlighted. In the world of rhetorical study, Aristotle called the former logos and the latter lexis 0r the content of an essay versus the style and delivery. Who gets excited about geometry, frameworks, and the foundational structure of anything? People want the customized trim, upgraded leather interior, and marble countertops. 

“I do not seek applause,” said he, “nor to amuse the people, I want to convince them.” – A. Lincoln

After reading Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason, I developed a comprehensive appreciation on how Lincoln applied Euclidean structure to his writings and arguments. When the last word of this post is read, hopefully you’ve found or rediscovered a new way to construct a high-quality essay or argument, the same way Abraham Lincoln used it during his life-long, autodidactic journey. 

Abraham Lincoln once told a friend:

In the course of my reading…I constantly came across the word ‘demonstrate.’ I thought at first that I understood its meaning, but soon became satisfied that I did not. I consulted Webster’s dictionary. That told me of certain proof beyond the probability of doubt, but I could form no idea of what sort of proof that was. I consulted all the books of reference I could find, but with no better results. You might as well have defined blue to a blind man. At last I said to myself, ‘Lincoln, you can never make a lawyer if you do not know what “demonstrate” means,’ and so I worked until I could give any proposition of the six books of Euclid at sight. I then found out what ‘demonstrate’ meant.

In high school, the maxim when writing a paper was: “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” or something similar. While this instruction ranks high for simplicity and memorability, the guidance around ways to execute are limited. After studying the Structure of Reason, the below formula informs how to demonstrate a proposition.  

Enunciation:  The enunciation states what is given and what is being sought from it….” Question to answer: Why are we here?

Exposition: The exposition takes separately what is given and prepares it in advance for use in the investigation. Question to answer:  What do we need to know with what is given? 

Specification: The specification takes separately the thing that is sought and makes clear precisely what it is.” Question to answer: What do we need to know relating to what is sought? 

Construction: The construction adds what is lacking in the given for finding what is sought. Question to answer: How do the facts lead to what is sought? 

Proof: The proof draws the proposed inference by reasoning scientifically from the propositions that have been admitted. Question to answer: How does the admitted truth confirm the proposed inference?

Conclusion: The conclusion reverts to the enunciation, confirming what has been proved. Question to answer: What is proved? 

When an argument, letter, or essay is constructed in this manner — through geometric reasoning — the reader is lead into a home with a foundation and support that could withstand a hurricane. As logos is prioritized, it may not receive the resounding jubilation of a fortune cookie sound bite, but when done well, it will convince with science.   

The irony of this structure is the freedom it creates for the writer to focus on style, including word choice and grammar.  

The generations of today and tomorrow will require greater discernment to articles, arguments, and propositions we find on the free and open internet. The framework above is one of the best I’ve found incorporating fact, logic, and reason to writing. Putting together a formidable proposition takes deep thinking, fact collection / checking, and logical construction. 

“If a man will stand up and assert, and repeat, and re-assert, that two and two do not make four, I know nothing in the power of argument that can stop him.” – Lincoln

Of course, the entire methodology only works if facts are confirmed. However, when the agreed upon facts are collected and the proposition is proposed, geometry is the finest way to prove a point through science with clarity and elegance.

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