An Introduction to Confirmations


The classical argument contains an introduction, a narration that sets the scene, a preview of the argument, a rebuttal of the opponent's view, arguments in favor of the speaker's position, and a conclusion that looks back over the whole. The section which gives arguments in favor of the speaker's position is called the confirmation, and it may either follow or precede the rebuttal.

Normally the confirmation consists of three arguments. These should be thought of as reasons to side with the speaker, and they are usually constructed from the topics and from authority or testimony. You might come up with these arguments by asking yourself why you hold the view you do and then asking whether or not those reasons are likely to be convincing to someone else. What assumptions or biases does the audience hold? If the audience is not likely to be convinced by the reasons that convince you, you should figure out what would appeal to the audience and pitch the arguments that would be likely to move them. Kenneth Burke, a modern rhetorical theorist, said that the one tries to persuade must affirm some of the beliefs of the audience because those common beliefs provide common ground for a lever with which you can change their minds about other things.

Once you have come up with the three best arguments you can think of, you need to fully explain them and support them with examples, citations, or some other data. These arguments, in other words, should not be mere assertions without evidence. Then, having developed the arguments in detail, you should ask yourself, "Which of these arguments is the strongest from the audience's perspective?" Think of the strongest argument as number 1, the second strongest as number 2, and the third as number 3.

Traditionally, these arguments are presented in the following sequence: 2-3-1. There is a reason for this pattern. You want to start with a strong argument so that the audience does not form an initial dismissive attitude. Having presented a strong argument, you can slip in a relatively weaker one, which seems to add fuel to the fire of belief, even though by itself it may not be a sufficient reason to believe. Following a strong argument, it plays the part of an added witness. Then, if you follow up with the strongest argument, its power is magnified by way of contrast with the second argument. If the audience was leaning toward belief after the second argument was presented, the third and strongest argument should bring absolute conviction.

It is important to remember that conviction is not the same as persuasion. The audience may come to concur with your argument; that is they may give mental assent. But that doesn't mean that they have been persuaded. Persuasion does more than convince: it moves to action. That is why the classical pattern doesn't end with the rebuttal and confirmation. It goes on to the conclusion, or peroratio, which not only reviews the arguments but also creates an emotional disposition that moves the audience to do something. But for now, it is enough to work on the confirmation.