The word politics comes from the ancient Greek word polis. While polis referred specifically to the city-state, politics came to mean, more generally, the ways in which individual people form themselves into a group. Politics is equally tied to the Greek word logos, which can be translated as logic OR language. That is, when we describe a political group or movement, we are asking what logic structures many individual people into a political group. But we could--and should—ask a different question of logos: How does language link many individual people into a political group?

This question has been brought to the forefront of politics as hate speech proliferates and political debates take more violent forms. But it is a question that has been at the heart of the discipline of rhetoric since its inception 2500 years ago in ancient Greece. This class will introduce you to ancient rhetoric and two competing theories about how language shapes a city’s values and politics. It will then demonstrate the influence of these two ideas in contemporary understandings of political debates. To what extent is our understanding of our surroundings subject to the language we use? In which ways is the world 'out there' connected with the language we use to describe it? What is the relation between language and the body? Are there eternal truths that ground a society? Or is society based on contingent and contextual values and laws? How do we convince other people of our ideas? What role should/does education play in the relation between the individual and the polis? We will investigate these and other questions by reading arguments by, among others, ancient Greeks (the Sophists and Plato) and modern philosophers.


The module is divided into three units. In the first, we will we look at some seminal philosophical and rhetorical arguments in the debates about education, language, and persuasion. In the second unit, we will turn to contemporary thinkers who have taken up the questions posed by these essays. The third unit will give you the opportunity to develop your own research project on a research topic related to the content of the module. On many days this semester, the class will be conducted in seminar format, which means we will engage in discussions about reading, writing, and speaking assignments and examine the rhetorical strategies used to persuade audiences. As a class, we will raise questions, pose problems, interpret readings, challenge each others’ ideas, and develop strategies for successfully completing assignments. There will also be many sessions in which we perform workshop-style activities, including peer review, conferencing, drafting, and editing. Although there will be mini-lectures on a variety of writing-related topics, we will spend the majority of class time engaging in collaborative discussions and activities.

Rhetorical Introduction and Course Objectives

This module is designed to offer you structured, sustained practice in critical reading, analysis and composing. During the semester, you will read a range of challenging, linguistically rich texts in a variety of genres – which could include academic, literary, rhetorical, cultural, and multimedia works – and write analytical and argumentative essays in response to them. Through these reading and writing assignments, you will explore the interconnectedness of reading and writing, and you will learn how to use both reading and writing as venues for inquiry, learning, thinking, interpretation, and communication. The course will provide instruction and individualized feedback to help you advance as a careful, thoughtful reader and as an effective writer. Throughout the course you will

  • Learn and practice strategies for reading carefully, closely, and critically.
  • Work through a full range of writing processes – including invention, planning, drafting, revision, and editing – in order to produce effective college-level essays.
  • Develop, organize, and produce effective analytical and argumentative essays.
  • Become acquainted with conventions for summarizing, paraphrasing, and documenting reading material in accordance with MLA guidelines.
  • Develop a clear, effective writing style, free of major errors, and appropriate for academic audiences.
  • Encounter a variety of challenging texts representing a range of literary and non-literary genres.