Thoughts on one of Burke’s Definitions of Rhetoric

Burke: Rhetoric is a “symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (A Rhetoric of Motives, 43).

I like Burke’s definition because symbols can include words (written or spoken) as well as movement and image (so nonverbal rhetoric, visual rhetoric).

While I personally find some of Burke’s ideas confusing, there are lots of people whose work I respect who rely on him. I guess that means I should put his texts on my “must read” list and dig into them so that I will have a better handle on what he wrote about and how what he wrote influences modern understandings of rhetoric, because I think that his writings exert tremendous influence on the study of rhetoric.

I wonder about “inducing cooperation.” That seems to be meaning persuasion or perhaps including persuasion. Can you do something or go along with something without being persuaded that the doing is right? Yes. If you are persuaded that something is right/good, will you necessarily do it? No. So this definition perhaps includes persuasion, but does not require it. That is interesting all by itself.

What is more interesting about “inducing cooperation” is that it requires some sort of doing on the part of the audience. Is this simply cooperation to listen or read or watch? That isn’t clearly delineated in this short quote.

Definitely I need to get cracking on understanding Burke better, through a developed course of study in his writings.

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