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Rogerian Persuasion

Page history last edited by Don Pogreba 11 years, 8 months ago

Argument as War/Discourse Between Rational Actors

  • There are two dominant models of persuasion, ideal rhetoric of Aristotle and the rhetoric of war model.
    • In the Aristotelian formulation, rhetoric is seen as a triad, with two rhetors trying to convince a third party who will make a decision based on reason and logic. The speakers will be equals, and as Plato says, involve two people “not less happy to be refuted than to refute."
    • The war as rhetoric model is premised on the assumption that one can overwhelm her opponent with unassailable reasoning and evidence, employing any strategy necessary to win.
  • Neither approach is well-suited to the most common type of persuasion, when two people are trying to persuade each other to change.
  • Rogerian Persuasion Offers an Alternative
    • Avoids the Adversarial Approach to Persuasion
    • Focused on specific strategies for non-combative inquiry
    • Potentially offers long-term ethical and cognitive growth


Rogerian Therapy

  • Rogerian Rhetoric and Composition began with the work of Carl Rogers, a therapist, in the 1950s.
  • Rogers noted that he could not change the behavior of his patients by using rational argument. Rogers noted that clients were unwilling to be argued with, and would withdraw, rather than engage in a discussion based on changing their worldview.
  • He concluded that rational argument always implies a form of evaluation that threatens a person sense of self. The topic may be something as simple as a political leader or even car to purchase, but the closer the subject of argument comes to the beliefs that constitute the core of a person's sense of self, of identity, the more any attempt to change beliefs is perceived as a threat and met with walls of defense.
  • Rogers re-envisioned the role of a therapist. The therapist should not be a healer, but a facilitator of healing.
  • The therapist would rely on restatement or “saying back.” Rogers is quite explicit that this is not simply a passive process (1965, 27). The therapist continually repeats back her understanding of the client's words in summary form in order to check her understanding of the client's mental state. Thus the therapist might say, "It sounds as though what you are really saying is that you hate your father." The client might respond, "No, that's not quite it," and the therapist would continue with more probes such as, "Well, perhaps you were just angry with him at that moment." Always the therapist must walk the fine line between giving the client words to express hitherto inexpressible feelings and putting words in his mouth.
  • § In its purest form, Rogerian therapy is not argument, but anti-argument.


Rogerian Rhetoric

Professors Young, Becker and Pike proposed adopting the Rogerian method to composition. They suggested four steps for a rogerian persuasive appeal:

  1. An introduction to the problem and a demonstration that the opponent's position is understood.
  2. A statement of the contexts in which the opponent's position may be valid.
  3. A statement of the writer's position, including the contexts in which it is valid.
  4. A statement of how the opponent's position would benefit if he were to adopt elements of the writer's position. If the writer can show that the positions complement each other, that each supplies what the other lacks, so much the better.

Rogerian Techniques

  • The writer has a much more difficult challenge that the therapist employing the Rogerian method, as he cannot interact with his audience. To overcome this limitation, Professor Douglas Brent argues that the writer must both “imagine with empathy” and “read with empathy.”
  • "Imagining with empathy," means more than teaching students to imagine another's views. This would be little different from classical audience analysis. It means teaching students to think carefully about how another person could hold views that are different from one's own. This is what Young, Becker and Pike mean by finding the "contexts in which the opposing viewpoint is valid." Rather than simply imagining an isolated set of arguments for an opposing viewpoint, the writer must imagine the entire worldview that allows those arguments to exist, that makes them valid for the other.
  • “Reading with empathy," means teaching students to use the printed words of another as a guide to this imagining process. In a sense, this is no more than what is usually known as "research." When preparing any written argument it is useful to do one's homework. But whereas students often associate "research" with the mere looking-up of "facts," research in a Rogerian context emphasizes the looking-up of facts in the context of the arguments that support them, and looking at those arguments in the context of other worldviews, other ways of seeing.


Classical And Rogerian Argument Compared



Capture the audience’s attention. Introduce the issue and create exigence for your claim.
Why is this an issue‌ Why do we need to pay attention‌

State the problem you hope to resolve. By presenting your issue as a problem you raise the possibility of positive change. Often opponents will want to solve the same problem.

Statement of Background

Supply the context needed to understand the case you present. What circumstances, occurrences, or conditions do we need to be made aware of‌
Summary of Opposing Views

As accurately and neutrally as possible, state the views of the people with whom you disagree. By doing this you show that you are capable of listening without judging and have given a fair hearing to people who think differently from you.


State your position (claim/thesis), based on the information you have presented, and outline the major points that will follow. The partitio divides the background information from the reasoning.
Statement of Understand-ing

Also called the statement of validity. Show that you understand that there are situations in which these views are valid. Which parts of the opposing argument s do you concede‌ Under which conditions might you share these views‌


Present your reasons, subclaims, and evidence. Establish inferences between claim and support. Provide additional evidence for subclaims and evidence, where necessary. Explain and justify assumptions.
Statement of Your Position

Now that readers have seen that you’ve given full consideration to views other than your own, they should be prepared to listen fairly to your views. State your position.


Anticipate and refute opposing arguments. In this section you demonstrate that you have already considered the issue thoroughly and have reached the only reasonable conclusion.
Statement of Contexts

Describe situations in which you hope your views will be honored. By showing that your position has merit in specific contexts, you recognize that people won’t agree with you all of the time. However, opponents are allowed to agree in part and share common ground.


Summarize the most important points. Make a final appeal to values, motivations, and feelings that are likely to encourage the audience to identify with your argument
Statement of Benefits

Appeal to the self-interest of your opponents by showing how they would benefit from accepting your position; this concludes your essay on a hopeful, positive note.

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