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How Stories Seduce Us

Stanley Fish

Arguments are woven throughout our public and private lives. What determines which win the day? Renowned literary and legal theorist Stanley Fish leads us through literature, politics and the domestic to reveal the power - and inevitability - of rhetoric.

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    Stanley Fish

About the Course

From the courtroom to the bedroom, arguments are woven throughout our private and public lives: they are how we decide what’s right, what’s true and what we should do. With examples ranging from Milton’s Paradise Lost to the legalization of same sex marriage and Donald Trump, Fish shows us how the rules of engagement shift between contexts - and how rhetoric is the key to success in all of them.


Drawing from his bestselling book Winning Arguments, Fish makes the controversial claim that facts are merely opinions that have been made to stick - and what makes them stick is nothing more than successfully deployed arguments.


Take the course to learn:

  • What Milton’s Paradise Lost teaches us about the power of rhetoric and the first ever domestic quarrel
  • The techniques Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony uses to provoke his audience to violence
  • What characterizes Donald Trump’s rhetorical style – and how it breaks all the rules
  • How the case for same sex marriage was really won through a cultural shift rather than careful legal argument 
  • The tricks climate change deniers use to sow doubt
  • The Five Key Truths about domestic quarrels – and why self-help guides to marital harmony almost never work


About the Instructor

  • Stanley Fish

    American literary theorist, legal scholar and public intellectual, NYU professor Stanley Fish is the author of Winning Arguments. 

Course Syllabus

  • Part One: Rhetoric as a Malign Influence
  • Part Two: Rhetoric as a Positive Influence

Suggested Further Readings

Conway, E. and Oreskes, N. (2010) Merchants of Doubt, Bloomsbury Publishing

Fish, S. (2016) Winning Arguments: What Works and Doesn’t Work in Politics, the Bedroom, the Courtroom and the Classroom. HarperCollins

Milton, J., (1667) Paradise lost.