Definition of Premise

The word premise means a proposition set in advance. It is derived from the Latin word praemissa. It is a derivate of two words prae that means before or prior to and mittere that means to send. Its counterpart term in French is premisse that is also the derivative of the same Latin term. In rhetoric, it is is a statement that becomes the foundation of an argument. It is specifically inferred to refer to the second statement that is also a premise and both make up a syllogism to draw a conclusion. Therefore, it is a simple proposition on which the conclusion is based.

Examples of Premise in Literature

Example #1

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

This is the first part of the argument of Martin Luther King that he weaved during his speech of the Civil Rights Movement. The first part states that they are standing in the shadow of the statue of the forefathers who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. His second premise is implicit which means that African Americans were not mentioned in it to be discriminated against. Therefore, he made the third one immediately that Negro slaves are still vying for justice which means that they are not free and this is against the spirit of that proclamation. This is the conclusion of this syllogism.

Example #2

Spanish Armada Speech by Queen Elizabeth

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm: to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

This is the first part of the great historical speech of Queen Elizabeth. It is called Spanish Armada. She has given both premises in the first two sentences of her speech. Her first premise is that she cannot fight as she is considered a weak woman. However, she immediately seconds it with her second premise that she has a very strong heart and English or the English must support her to fight against Spain. Therefore, her argument becomes strong with both premises that if she, as a weak lady, could take up arms, then all must do.

Example #3

We Shall Fight on the Beaches by Sir Winston Churchill

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do.

This is part of the speech of Sir Winston Churchill that he delivered during WWII. The first premise is based on the logic of “if” by what he means that not all are doing the same. He means that if they all do their duty, then they will win the war and that that is what they are trying to do.

Example #4

The Decision to Go to the Moon by John F. Kennedy

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

The first part of this argument put forward by Kennedy comprises “We choose…” in which he has included the public as he uses the first person plural. The reason to make this logic is that the people were aware that the decision to go to the moon does not directly benefit the public. However, it is very easy to sell them by calling them “we.”  Therefore, he uses the first premise that they have decided to go to the moon and the second is that they will use these skills to win wars.

Functions of Premise

A premise is the first part of the argument. It functions as the first starting point for a rhetorician to build his argument. When the second premise is presented, the first makes its impression to the readers or the audiences about the main argument of the rhetorician. It also makes them aware of the nature of the argument and its logical conclusion. They become aware of the impact that the first or the second premise is going to have on them and whether they need to resist or accept it. If the first premise is strong, it makes a lasting impression and helps the orator to persuade the public. In the case of a weak premise, it loses its strength and the audiences do not accept the second or the third premise of the argument.


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