How can I respond to my professors belief that King's "Letter" is an example of what is called a "classical argument?"By that she means that Dr. King followed all the general guidelines for how to...

How can I respond to my professors belief that King's "Letter" is an example of what is called a "classical argument?"

By that she means that Dr. King followed all the general guidelines for how to approach an effective argument. My professor says in her lecture:

In addition to being a great piece of writing because of its ideas, King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail is also an example (the best I know) of a classical argument. By "classical" I mean the Letter follows rhetorical strategies taught as far back as Aristotle’s day for presenting a successful argument. Notice, for instance, how King opens the Letter. While sitting in jail, King reads criticisms of his actions in an editorial written by eight local clergymen. Rather than respond with anger, King treats the clergymen with respect and throughout the writing assumes they have the good sense to understand his ideas.

Additionally, King takes each criticism (not just from these eight clergymen, but from Americans generally) of his movement, explains the criticism, and then clarifies his position. As Jacobus explains in the introduction, King relies heavily on Biblical precedent—just as Paul went forth on a mission for God, so too Martin, etc. He also alludes to philosophers and statesmen with whom he assumes his readers will be familiar: Basically, King uses every support he can come up, hoping that his readers will have no option but to accept his argument by the time they finish his Letter. Look especially at paragraph 14 for an example of such writing

Asked on by kritterbug

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I don't think that your professor is wrong.  Any response to your professor's ideas would have to concede that her points made are strong ones.  She is right in that Dr. King has used much in way of a "Classical" formulation of an argument.  I would merely suggest that Dr. King's letter is a work of praxis.  He is seeking to bring about a merging of theory and practice.  In this, we might be able to add on to your professor's points in suggesting that Dr. King not only embraces a Classical argument, but a modern tendency to bridge the gap between theory and practice.  Unlike many Classical rhetoricians, Dr. King is not using Classical rhetoric for aesthetic purposes or intellectual ones, as much as he is using his argument to drive social change.  Dr. King uses his argumentation skills in order to advance the cause of Civil Rights for people of color.  This is tangible, resulting in the struggle for many and even death.  For Dr. King, the classical argument that he embraces is also one of praxis, a merging between theory and practice in order to create significant and lasting social change.  This is where I think that one can find a difference between he and the Classical thinkers, who were more concerned with aesthetic and a sense of philosophical logic in their formulations of arguments.


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