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improbable that either one will come up ten times in succession. By such laws of mere probability, without any degree of certainty whatever, are we compelled to determine a thousand acts of our everyday life. Though often a matter of mathematical computation, serious errors have been made and there is room for argument even here.
There is still more room for argument in cases that are not susceptible of mathematical demonstration. Take a prophecy, as for example that the world will come to an end next week or in the year 2000, or let some member of the class write a prophecy, and then debate upon the probability of its being fulfilled. Or take any current newspaper report that is of a surprising or sensational nature and argue from antecedent probabilities that it is or is not true. Argumentative exercises of this nature may be made extremely interesting and instructive.
"Conduct is three-fourths of life," says Matthew Arnold. Another amends this and says, "Conduct is the whole of life." Living means something more than being; it means something more than knowing or believing it means action, conduct, behavior. The man who knows without acting upon that knowledge is as censurable as the man who acts without knowledge. And what does the Apostle James say of faith without works?
The office of persuasive discourse is to arouse men to action. Exposition, we said, presupposes some degree of ignorance on the part of those addressed, and argumentation presupposes error. Persuasion presupposes indifference, inaction, or misdirected action; it appeals to the emotions, the feelings. Strange as it seems, we may know a truth, we may firmly believe it to be truth, and yet fail to take it home to ourselves, to act upon it,
to live it, to concrete it, as it were, in our daily conduct. We know it, we say, but we fail to realize it. Thus we know that the earth is an immense sphere whirling through space at a high velocity, but only seldom do we realize it, and it may be questioned whether some who know the fact ever realize it at all in the sense in which the astronomer does. In like manner we know, every one of us, as positively as we know anything, that sooner or later we shall die, but only at rare intervals does that fact present itself to us in its full significance. We speak of it and write of it a hundred times to once that we act upon it. And so we know a thousand things with a sort of uncomprehending knowledge, a knowledge that leads to nothing. Strange inharmony of the human intellect and will! Stagnation is death, we say; and yet we stagnate unconcernedly while we shudder at and shrink from and rebel against death. Disobedience to the laws of health is slow suicide; we do not for a moment question the truth of that; and yet we go on disobeying those laws day after day like ignoramuses or skeptics. But we are neither one nor the other for we know and we believe; we simply will we are fools.
Manifestly there is a field for Persuasion, and manifestly, too, of all the various forms of literary art this may be made the most practical and helpful. It will be no mistaken endeavor to turn in this direction all the knowledge and power we have gained by our previous practice, to concentrate it upon this, the supreme achievement of literary labor.
No model will be given here. It may be noticed that what has just been written, though ostensibly exposi
tory, is largely persuasive in character. But it was written without any consciousness of an attempt to make it such. If it has been read with the same unconsciousness so much the better. If it has in the slightest degree inspired you to act, to write, to attempt in particular to persuade others to act upon their knowledge and beliefs in a thousand matters of everyday life, then it has not been written in vain.
Motives of private and personal interest are confessedly determinative in most of our ordinary deliberations and actions. They are doubtless stronger with some than with others, and it is often difficult to say just how far a man shall let these considerations carry him without laying his action open to the charge of selfishness. There is a degree of egoism, a selfishness if you will, that few of us presume to blame. Philosophers have declared that self-preservation is our first duty. And who would find fault with a man for seeking self-culture and self-advancement?
Persuasion that would accomplish its end by appeals to these motives must be founded upon a study and