Leonardo invented flying machines. Dyson invented vacuums. YOU, my rhetor friends, are inventors of argument—molding stats into piercing logic, transforming emotion into actionable appeals, forging years of experience into an armor of ethos.
Damn. You’re good.
But inventing an argument is tough work, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Every subject gives you so much raw material to work with! You might ask yourself:
- What is the most important element of what I’m trying to argue?
- What context does my audience need to “get” my argument?
- How can I present the argument in an interesting or insightful manner?
These are big questions not easily answered (and not by any means exhaustive). They’re complex, intricate, delicate. One way to start thinking about argument invention is through one of Aristotle’s favorite tools: topoi, common topics or ways of thinking about arguments that apply to any subject.
I looked at the four most common topics in a previous post, but I wanted to give some screen time to the wider categories. (If Aristotle thought they were important, then who am I to disagree?) Topoi are particularly effective if you’re looking at a broad or abstract topic and trying to narrow your approach. So whittle away!
There are six categories of topoi: Definition, Division, Comparison, Relationship, Circumstance, and Testimony. Let’s look at how they might apply to the broad subject of environmentalism…