Tag Archives: logic

What’s Logic Got To Do With It? – Thinking About The Role Of Emotion In The Pursuit Of Persuasion

How many commercials have you seen for Coca-Cola in your lifetime?  Something close to a gazillion (to adapt Forrest Gump’s word).  I’ve seen many of them and the ones for Pepsi, and 7UP, and… But given a choice, I always buy the Dr Pepper product.  (What can I say?, I’m from Texas!  In my youth, it was actual Dr Pepper.  Currently, it’s the Diet Cherry version.  Oh, for my youth back!).

I’m convinced that Coca-Cola (and a host of other companies) would pay you close to that gazillion figure, in cash, tomorrow afternoon, if you could do one thing:  create a commercial that, after one viewing, would get every viewer to buy their product, and only their product, for the rest of his/her life.

But you can’t create that commercial.  I don’t care how creative you are, how brilliant you are, you can’t create that commercial.  Why?  Because persuasion/rhetoric is not a science, it is an art.  It is imprecise, never guaranteed.

For example, Barack Obama was elected President with 52.87% of the popular vote.  That means, after all that campaigning, all those debates, he was unable to persuade some 47.13% of the people to vote for him.  By the way, my favorite illustration of this comes from Nolan Ryan.  Arguably the greatest candidate ever for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he had 5,714 career strikeouts and 7 career no-hitters.  Sandy Koufax, with four, is #2 on that list.  Ryan got 491 votes out of 497 votes cast.  (This was only the second highest percentage in history, at 98.79%.  Tom Seaver beat him with 98.84%, 425 out of 430 votes).

Now, I readily admit that it is an open question as to who the greatest pitcher of all time is.  But did Ryan’s accomplishments, his fame, qualify him to be in baseball’s Hall of Fame?  What idiot could possibly have failed to vote yes?  Yet, six idiots did exactly that.  (I searched, but could not find the quote – but as I remember, Nolan Ryan said something like this:  “I’d just like to find those 6 guys who did not vote for me.”)

According to Aristotle, rhetoric involves discovering and using the available means of persuasion, and are three primary means of persuasion – logosthe logical argument, the content of the argument itself; ethos, the ethical argument:  the quality of, the believability, the character, especially the credibility, of the speaker; and pathos, the emotional argument:  the passion of the speaker, the “I really care about this issue, and you should to” nature of the appeal.

We tend to believe that the “logic” of the argument should win the day.  But it’s not that simple.  And, frequently, the credibility of the speaker is more important than the logic of the argument.  But, even with those two in agreement (logic of argument  + credibility of speaker), the emotional appeal can still trump them both.

These thoughts all flow from my reaction to a short blog post, and then the video (below), from the Freakonomics blog.  I watched the video. It is really, really good.  It is unanswerable.  The logic is perfect.  But – the logic of the argument has not actually won the argument (I suspect it will be a long time before it does). The logic is unassailable.   But, as the ranter says, we won’t take this step because of “sentimental reasons.”

To reject the argument of this speaker is not logical.  It is an emotional rejection.  The subject — should we get rid of the penny?  Of course we should!  But we haven’t yet, and probably will not, anytime soon.

Here’s what Stephen Dubner wrote:

The Best Anti-Penny Rant Ever?
I’ve already used up
too much of your bandwidth complaining about the uselessness of pennies, but allow me to share with you a wonderful vlog rant by John Green on the many, many reasons why the penny (and the nickel, too) should be abolished. He is good.

And here’s the video. It is very, very funny.