- 1 Lecture 5: Critical Reasoning
- 1.1 A Brief Introduction to Rhetoric
- 1.2 Persuasive Non-Argument
- 1.2.1 Euphemism and Dysphemism: Word Choices
- 1.2.2 Slanted Comparisons, Definitions, & Explanations: Clarifications That Push
- 1.2.3 Stereotypes: All X are Y
- 1.2.4 Innuendo: What Lies Between the Lines
- 1.2.5 Loaded Questions: Hidden Assumptions
- 1.2.6 Weaselers: Watering Down Claims
- 1.2.7 Downplayers: "Nothing-Buttery"
- 1.2.8 Ridicule: Making Fun of the Opposition
- 1.2.9 Hyperbole: Exaggerating to Make a Point
- 1.2.10 Proof Surrogates: "Everyone knows. . ."
- 1.3 What Seems Relevant Often Isn't
- 1.3.1 Smokescreen: Irrelevant Distraction
- 1.3.2 Subjectivism: "Everyone's entitled to an opinion"
- 1.3.3 Popularity: "Majority Rules" Truth and Morality
- 1.3.4 Personal Attack: Irrelevant Personal Facts
- 1.3.5 Genetic Fallacy: Organisational Attacks
- 1.3.6 Wishful Thinking: "Can't Bear to Think"
- 1.3.7 Appeal to Pity: Need Over Strength
- 1.3.8 Appeal to Anger: Inflammatory Moves
- 1.3.9 Two Wrongs Make a Right: Retribution
- 1.3.10 Apple Polishing: Complimenting the Audience
- 1.4 Changing the Rules as We Play
- 1.5 In Summary
Lecture 5: Critical Reasoning
Arguments that convince many people often do so despite inadequate evidence. Students of philosophy must learn the principles of recognising and constructing arguments that are not only persuasive, but also persuasive because of reasonable evidence. Conviction regarding reality and our relationship to it comes from application of reason to issues, not merely the ability to "win" arguments on-the-spot. Such application of reason takes patient effort and more time than mere "bluster", but the latter will not convince great numbers of people for long.[#_ftn1 ] The previous lectures provide some introduction to students who wish to think clearly, but they should also be on the lookout for certain rhetorical devices that can make arguments appear stronger than they really are.
Rhetorical devices, in an of themselves, do not invalidate an argument, and they may often make an audience appreciate some aspects of the argument at hand differently or more entertainingly than if they weren't used, but rhetorical devices can never add the strength of reason to an argument that has no reasonable evidence elsewhere. Socrates called rhetoric a sort of "cookery," whereby arguments were made acceptable to audiences in the same way that spoiled food was prepared to be palatable (though dangerous) to those who would consume such meals.
The current course instructor has a less jaundiced view towards rhetoric, in particular because the philosophical desire for clarity of argument and logic is itself a kind of rhetoric. Nevertheless, it is wise to discern when rhetorical devices are used so as to camouflage the absence of reason in an argument.
In order to introduce the students to rhetoric, I will begin with a brief discussion of each of several common devices. The classroom sessions and discussions on critical thinking for this course examine these devices in more detail and give the students a great deal of practice at discerning reasonable and flimsy argumentation, but this present discussion should provide students with some rudimentary abilities to evaluate arguments.
A Brief Introduction to Rhetoric
There are at least three aspects of arguments that convince many people but have little solid evidence for their conclusions.
One of these aspects is that such an argument may be constructed of only rhetorical devices providing weak support (or less!)for its conclusions. As such, the argument may be thought of as irrational rationale. Sometimes it can take awhile to spot the irrationality of the argument, and the argument itself may appear to be quite calmly rational. However, anytime an argument gives inadequate logic or evidence to support its conclusion, yet otherwise seems convincing, one should at least suspect that rhetorical devices are "muddying the waters."
A second aspect of an argument supported largely by rhetoric, is that it may produce incensed senses in those who are hearing or reading the argument. Situations in the world can legitimately outrage us -- they can be outrageous! Nevertheless, it is also true that people can be outraged without reason. In addition, people who know how can construct an argument that incenses our senses without actually providing our reason with any actual evidence that the situation described is wrong. When we consider an argument that is being made, we need to carefully discern whether we are being given actual reasons to oppose a situation; it is possible that our emotions are being appealed to because we would by unconvinced by the evidence. Please note, though, that an emotional argument is not automatically bad just on the grounds of its being emotional. But if an argument provides little or no evidence for its conclusion, it should not convince us merely because it can provoke us to anger.
A third aspect that is widespread in the use of rhetorical devices is that such discussions may attempt to make an argument more convincing by virtue of majority opinion on a matter. This I call "taking leave of one's senses by consensus." An argument that lacks rational support does not become more reasonable because many people are convinced by it. Candidates for public office who are incompetent do not become more competent simply because a lot of people are planning to vote for them. Sometimes the majority on an issue lacks a collective capability to evaluate the reasonable evidence at hand. It is important to evaluate arguments based upon their legitimacy, rather than their appeal. Put another way, all arguments are appealing: some to our sense of reason, others to our insecurities and desires to be popular. It is important that we value reasonable arguments over popular ones, if the latter lack sufficient reason.
Having said all this, let me reiterate: Just because an argument has rhetorical devices, it is not necessarily a bad argument. Rhetoric can make a discussion interesting and help us consider a variety of factors (some of which may be entirely unrelated to the actual issue under consideration). But rhetoric is not the same thing as evidence, and when we are considering choices of various kinds, the whole person (including the rational mind) must be involved in the decision-making process. Therefore, the evidence is important.
With these things in mind, then, let's consider the actual devices.
Some rhetorical devices may be used to get the audience to assume what is actually an arguable point. When such devices are used the argument can appear to be over before it starts. The discussion that follows will describe ten such devices.
Euphemism and Dysphemism: Word Choices
Word choices can affect how people react to things we say and write. It can be very hard to use only neutral terms in our discussions, nor is it particularly desirable to avoid colourful word choice. The problem comes when we choose words that make it hard for our opposition to manoeuvre. For example, if I insist on calling all people who favour abortions "murderers," I may feel that I am accurately portraying the situation, but I have not opened any reasonable channels whereby discussions on abortion can be engaged except by people who already agree with me.
Certain countries seem throughout history never to have supported "terrorist activities," but they have often been engaged in supporting "freedom fighters." The problem with this is that often the two terms are applied to the same people depending upon whether the speaker/writer favours the goals of the combatants or not.
Slanted Comparisons, Definitions, & Explanations: Clarifications That Push
People sometimes will use a particular comparison between things, definition of an unknown term, or explanation connecting events together in order to make their audiences regard the situations either positively or negatively. Sometimes in fact, it is impossible not to have such discussions push audiences one way or another. It is always helpful, though, to know which way such discussions are slanted.
Saying that a classroom full of people was a "quiet as a library" gives a very different impression from saying the same classroom was as "quiet as a morgue." This illustrates how persuasive comparisons can work.
Similarly, I may define the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as "a misguided and simplistic attempt by the government to provide extra revenue in the name of debt-reduction that it could then use in any way it wanted" or "a courageous and noble effort to move the people of Canada beyond ever increasing taxes to support the national debt." However, no one would be likely to see those definitions as creating the same regard for the GST.
Finally, persuasive explanations try to explain events in such a way as to move audiences toward or away from particular stances without actually presenting reasons for or against the argument. Thus, I may say that a particular expedition turned around because the explorers heard rumours of war in their home country and thought they should return to aid the powers they were working for. Such an explanation makes the explorers appear heroic and noble. If however, I explain that the explorers turned around because they heard rumours of war in the land they were going to and they didn't want to have to fight, then the explorers can be made to appear cowardly. But suppose I reveal that in fact both pieces of information came to the explorers at the same time, and they decided that if they were going to have to fight anyway they would just as soon be at home. Then, they appear neither especially heroic or cowardly, merely pragmatic.
Stereotypes: All X are Y
When we stereotype people, we assign certain attributes to them, not because we have actually observed those attributes ourselves, but because we believe the attribute is possessed equally by all members of the class they belong to in greater measure than in the population at large. I can never have had enough experience of all the members of a class to say that all Italians are x or that all teenagers are y. As a result, any connections I make between members of classes that are unrelated[#_ftn2 ] to attributes they are said to possess would lack sufficient evidence for the claim I am making. Curiously, the practice of stereotyping people has the effect of placing the attribute in question beyond all dispute at just that point where we might want to challenge it.
Innuendo: What Lies Between the Lines
Suppose a politician is engaged in debate with one opponent and that he mentions in his opening remarks, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am happy to report with absolute certainty that you have one candidate in this election who is not an alcoholic. This should be a great relief to many of you." If you are alert, you will have picked up the subtle implication that the speaker's opponent is addicted to alcohol. However, if the politician on the other side of the debate challenges the implication of the first speaker, in fact the first speaker has actually not said anything about his opponent. Furthermore, if the opponent challenges the first speaker at all on the matter, the first speaker would be likely to respond: "Where did he ever get the idea I was accusing him of being an alcoholic? Unless, of course, it is true. Then I can see he might be embarrassed." Thus, the case becomes more and more mired in the audience's consideration of the question of whether the first speaker's opponent has a problem with alcohol.
Loaded Questions: Hidden Assumptions
"So, tell me. Have you stopped beating your wife, yet?" the prosecutor asks the accused in hopes of getting the latter to admit guilt without thinking about the assumptions of the question. Of course the prosecutor knows that asking the question this way is much harder to allow for an answer that is non-incriminating than "Did you beat your wife?" He hopes that the accused may be fooled into answering the question either "yes" or "no," because either answer assumes what may in fact be the point under examination: whether the accused beat his wife.
Any time we are asked questions in a survey, we need to look for such hidden assumptions. They can seem to force us into agreement with a position that we, in fact, are very much in disagreement with.
Weaselers: Watering Down Claims
Sometimes claims can be made so vague that no serious argument could ever oppose them. We are told in advertising that "choosy mothers choose Jif" (a type of peanut butter). This gives the impression that some sort of poll was taken. What is a "choosy mother?" Are all mothers "choosy," or did the company personnel decide that they would call mothers who choose Jif "choosy?" How many other choices were there in the survey? What factors were a part of their choice -- taste, price, nutrition?
When the Honda Civic first came out (long, long ago in a galaxy far away -- I think it was about 1973!), many people (including some competition, I think) criticized the car, saying it was "nothing but a 1000-cc motorcycle on four wheels." People might have been dissuaded from driving the car based upon the notion, but such would not have constituted rational grounds for that choice, in fact, many people found the Civic to be a quite acceptable, if not entirely luxurious, mode of transport. Watch carefully when someone uses the phrase "nothing but" in characterizing an opposing theory or viewpoint on an issue. Other expressions that can similarly downplay the strength of an opponent without actually providing logic or evidence are "merely," "just another," and "so-called."
Ridicule: Making Fun of the Opposition
Sometimes when we lack reasonable grounds to defeat a line of argument, we can "poke fun" at our opponents. If we can make them look ridiculous, we can seem to have a stronger argument than we really do. Just because our opponents are "fools" doesn't necessarily mean that we are automatically wise. Of course, there are times when people are truly ridiculous, either in what they believe or in the reasons they give for believing it. But we can also ridicule beliefs and decisions that are quite reasonable and well-grounded; such ridicule should not weaken the strength of an otherwise reasonable stance.
Hyperbole: Exaggerating to Make a Point
Undoubtedly, your mother has told you a million times never to exaggerate, but still we love to do it. Exaggeration can be a specific type of ridicule, but it also can seem quite serious. When people are told that they "always" do something, the argument as to whether they were wrong in a specific case can seem to be assumed by the simple portrayal of their actions as typical or continual. In this way, one opponent in an argument can seem to push the issue being exaggerated beyond the reach of rational consideration in the discussion at hand.
Proof Surrogates: "Everyone knows. . ."
Sometimes people make claims that are well-known and could rightly be accepted without serious challenge. At other times, people will state controversial positions as if they were common knowledge. At such times, it can be helpful to ask for documentation or statistics. If indeed "everyone knows" something, then it should be claimed or supported in print somewhere.
The ten devices presented above have a common feature that they all tend to put some controversial issue or aspect of an issue beyond consideration by the audience. The next ten devices turn to a different sort of distraction from reason.
What Seems Relevant Often Isn't
When we consider the logical strength of an argument, we need to address the relevance of the premises or evidence to the conclusions that are being argued. Is there a clear connection between the stance taken in an argument and the reasons given for the stance? If not, rhetorical devices may be redirecting the audience's attention from reasons to irrelevant truths. In this section, we will discussion ten devices that can do this.
Smokescreen: Irrelevant Distraction
There is a sense in which all rhetorical devices are smokescreens. When we try to consider the reasons why an argument should be agreed with, anything that draws us away from rational consideration of the issues provides a "smokescreen." This sort of device can also be called a "red herring." Sometimes when people were being chased by the police using dogs, they would distract the dogs from the trail by throwing out herrings (a rather distinctively smelly fish) alongside their trail. They hoped the dogs would investigate the fish and lose interest in chasing them. Rhetorical devices that distract us from the reasons for an argument have this same sort of effect on us; they can draw us aside to trivia that confuse the issues or disguise an argument's weaknesses. If we think an element in an argument is irrelevant to the argument in some way, but we can find nothing more specific about the item than this, it is a good bet we are dealing with this type of rhetorical device, the smokescreen.
Subjectivism: "Everyone's entitled to an opinion"
At times when people think their way of arguing may not have a reasoned basis, they will attempt this move, saying, "Well, you have your opinion and I have mine." While it is true that people are entitled to opinions, this is not because all opinions are equally valid. Whether the earth is flat or not may be a matter of opinion, in that we cannot finally prove to the sceptic (or the conspiracy-theorist!) that the earth is not flat, but science only entertains one of the alternatives. Such issues need to be carefully distinguished from truly subjective matters, such as whether a given colour of car pleases a given person or whether vanilla or strawberry ice cream tastes better.
Popularity: "Majority Rules" Truth and Morality
When we try to defend choices based upon the notion that "everybody's doing it," we fall victim to the rational fallacy that ethics (or truth) can be decided democratically. To use the issue discussed above, for a long time a majority of people apparently believed the earth was flat. Just because today a majority of people appear to believe that it is round, does not mean that the earth has actually changed shape.
This does not mean that people should avoid points of view that are held by a majority of people, only that the majority -- by virtue of simply being the majority -- does not provide a reason to hold an opinion. As much as this may be true in regard to factual claims, it is even more important to see how it can be true in regard to morality.
Personal Attack: Irrelevant Personal Facts
Suppose that someone proposed a solution to environmental pollution that would bring about zero air and water pollution in a century without inconveniencing our present lifestyles[#_ftn3 ]. For the sake of argument, suppose it involved some sort of hydro-generation of energy that could be used on anything from very small scale engines for homes and cars to the largest operations that industry would require. Suppose scientist were widely hailing the solution as having certainty of success. Then, suppose it were being proposed by someone who had repeatedly performed morally heinous acts (I will leave this to your imagination, if you choose, so long as it is generally felt to be disgusting and without ethical justification to a majority of Canadians). Does the participation of the solution's proponent in morally offensive behaviour weaken the proposal's rational grounds?
If someone has an answer to world hunger, environmental issues, tax revision, or some similar problem we are facing, it is immaterial at the level of consideration of the issues themselves whether that person is an alcoholic, cheats on his or her income tax, is homeless (or a lawyer!), plays sports, or graduated from high school (or whether they eat chicken with their fingers!). Consideration of an issue should not be distracted by such personal factors, unless they can be shown to be directly relevant to the matter at hand.
Genetic Fallacy: Organisational Attacks
When we criticize a person's stance on an issue solely because of an organisational affiliation not relevant to the question at hand, we have applied a particular sort of personal irrelevancy to the issue, that of the genetic fallacy. So, proposals for tax reform should not be accepted based solely upon whether the chief proponent is Liberal, Reform, or NDP (or Republican or Democrat!). It also does not matter whether they are Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim (or Presbyterian or Pentecostal). It doesn't even matter whether the proponents work for an organisation that will profit from the proposed solution, though we might want to check their figures independently.
Wishful Thinking: "Can't Bear to Think"
Sometimes we are persuaded to believe certain things or follow certain courses of action not because we have good reasons to do so, but because any alternatives are too frightening or depressing to consider. For example, we may believe there is a heaven because the notion that dead people are simply gone is too horrible for us, but this is not an actual reason. The historical fact of Jesus' resurrection provides us with much greater certainty, by comparison.
This is not to say that everyone must be confronted with every possible issue that could arise, no matter how horrific or gruesome. We are not made to be able to consider every situation rationally that is posed to us on any and every occasion. But when we rule out an option based simply upon the fact that we cannot bear to think about it, we are not in a position to try to convince others of either the validity or the rational basis for our viewpoint.
Appeal to Pity: Need Over Strength
As was discussed above, people's arguments are not weakened because of personal factors or the organisations they belong to alone. However, it is also true that those factors cannot strengthen people's arguments, even when we feel sorry for them.
For example, suppose I hire someone to paint my house, fix my plumbing, or cut my lawn simply because they have a large family and need the work. Further, suppose that the people I am about to hire have no references that indicate that they are good workers. In such a case, I may have been charitable, but I am only acting rationally if I am prepared to have such people work poorly for me.
Appeal to Anger: Inflammatory Moves
The fact that a situation moves me to anger does not guarantee that a given course of action that seems motivated by the anger is rational. When we are "cut off" by someone in traffic, our response to honk, tail, or try to get ahead of the people so we can cut them off may seem appropriate, but such behaviour is demonstrably irrational (especially in many states in the U.S. where handguns may be legally carried by the public!).
Many years ago in Colorado voters became alarmed over the number of deer that were being taken in the annual hunt. As a result, they called for complete closure to the hunting season. The following winter a large number of deer were found to be starving, because they did not have enough natural food. Despite public efforts to airlift hay and other food to the deer, tens of thousands of deer died. I don't remember the actual numbers of deer that had been taken in the annual hunt in the previous year; it may have been around 40,000. The number that starved in the year hunting was banned was larger, perhaps around 50,000. This illustrates the possibility that the first course of action that seems to be required in a given situation is not necessarily the one that takes a significant account of the total situation. Oftentimes people will call for urgent intervention in a deplorable situation, only to find that the intervention is worse than the original situation.
Two Wrongs Make a Right: Retribution
Sometimes we are urged to take action against people or organisations because their behaviour has been unfair toward others. Sometimes the actions advocated do not merely control the aggressive behaviour of the parties in question, but rather they hurt those people in proportion to the hurt they caused others. This may be appropriately done in societies through the court system, but when it is done by individuals it works to the detriment of society as a whole. Vigilantism and "gang warfare" result. Thus, when I run over my neighbours' yard or bushes because they ran over mine, I may have acted understandably, but not rationally. Also, if I selfishly take all of a certain dessert at a dinner on the grounds that someone else would have taken it, if given the chance, I have used the same sort of faulty reasoning, but applied "before the fact." This leads to a misstatement of the "Golden Rule," as if what Jesus wanted was for us to "do unto others before they do it" to us.
Apple Polishing: Complimenting the Audience
Suppose I come to you for a job, and rather than stating my qualifications for the job, I spend all of my time talking about how great your company is, how attractive the workplace is, how popular the job is with my friends -- all things that may be true, but not really relevant to the job I would do if I were working for you. What reasons would I have given for you to hire me?
If a student writes me after completion of a course and tells me how wonderful the course was, how exciting my lectures were, what a great idea it is to offer courses online, and what a great time they had taking the course, doing the assignments, and reading all the materials, I will be impressed by that student's intelligence and discernment, that they have so correctly assessed the quality of my course. If that student then proceeds to ask me to reconsider their final exam and the grade they received, have I been given rational grounds to change my grade? Well, if it were a course on "buttering people up," I might have to consider raising the grade; otherwise, no. My excellence in teaching should not serve as grounds for the students to receive higher grades on their work after the fact.
All of the previous ten rhetorical devices in the section at hand can distract unwary audiences and readers with items that are not relevant to the point being argued, persuading them to agree with the argument set forth without proper rational basis. In the next section, we will turn to a consideration of ways in which speakers and writers can shift an argument's "balance of power" in their favour.
Changing the Rules as We Play
Sometimes when people argue, they will shift proper and balanced consideration of the issue in their favour as a way of making their argument seem stronger. All of the devices discussed are subtle "heads-I-win-tails-you-lose" manoeuvres that can force audiences and readers to surrender the point being argued without a thorough consideration of the reasonable claims of alternative positions. There are six specific moves that we will consider in this section.
Scare Tactics: Irrelevant Penalties
If people lack (or are too tired to develop) arguments for particular stances, they may exert authority in a situation to get agreement without a reasoned argument. Children who hold their breath when their parents refuse to give them desired things are attempting to use scare tactics, as are employers who threaten to fire employees who ask for better working conditions.
It is important to clarify scare tactics from warnings. A person who points out that a child who is teasing an anxious dog is going to get bit may be using scare tactics, but if the dog is known to have bitten people who teased it before, the person may be said merely to be warning the child.
Burden of Proof: "Can You Prove Me Wrong?"
Sometimes people may be more certain that their opposition lacks reasonable support than they are of the support they themselves have. By forcing the other side of a debate to supply the support, one immediately gains the advantage that "I am right until proven wrong." For example, someone who wants to appear to prove the existence of UFOs may demand their opponents to prove UFOs don't exist. In fact, it is very difficult to prove the non-existence of anything[#_ftn4 ].
An example of when we accept the burden of proof bias is in regard to criminal trial; in such cases we believe that it is so much better to have 10 guilty people acquitted than to have even 1 innocent person imprisoned that we insist the prosecution always has the burden of proof, even when it is unreasonable to do so. Juries are given instruction that defendants do not have to have proved their innocence only a reasonable doubt of the proof offered. In this way we hope to guarantee that no innocent people will be imprisoned.
Straw Man: The Stance No One Takes
Often when people are considering the consequences of a position, they will carry the position "to its logical conclusion." When such a position actually advocates the conclusion one would arrive at, then there is no problem with such a move. However, sometimes people will replace a stance actually taken with an extreme version of the stance that no one actually takes. Because no one actually takes the position, engaging one's own view in opposition to the extreme view one concocted is like drawing a sword on an opponent made of straw -- a dummy.
If someone who advocated forms of gun control were to characterise their opposition as "wanting to put guns in the hands of every man, woman, and child in North America," the audience should give some consideration as to whether, in fact, anyone advocates such a position. If not, then the speaker is probably staging a debate against a non-opponent; in such a case it's not hard to figure out why the speaker seems to win.
False Dilemma: "Only Two Kinds of People"
It has been said there are two kinds of people in the world: people who believe there are only two kinds of people in the world, and people who don't.
Many times in life there are only two real choices before us. We can have the lights on or leave them off. We can drive on the left-hand side of roadways by convention or on the right; animals are either alive or they are dead. However, in many of the decisions that present themselves to us, there are more than only two alternatives. Sometimes people may present such a situation to us as if there were only two (or three or four!) alternatives, when in fact there are more.
A hoodlum walks up to Crocodile Dundee, brandishing a knife and says, "Give me your watch and your wallet," or some such line. He appears to offer Dundee the choice between giving up his valuables and getting hurt. Dundee draws his own (very much larger) knife, and the hoodlum immediately discovers other possibilities.
A child offers her mother three choices: "Mom, would you like me to get my nose pierced, get a tattoo, or buy a new pair of jeans?" The mother offers the girl the task of doing the dishes. Suddenly the girl is aware of new, unthought-of alternatives.
A good practice when we are offered limited choices in a situation is to consider whether other possibilities exist. This is a strategy mediators use to help resolve conflict situations.
Slippery Slope: Inevitable Devolution
When I was young some well-meaning people in my church persuaded me to avoid participating in certain legitimate activities because of "what they might lead to." It was felt that the participation in the allowable activity would place one in a situation where one would be tempted to sin. While this certainly was true, it ignores a basic fact about life: all human activities can lead to sin. The question should not be whether an activity leads to sin, but whether there is any principled way to engage in the legitimate activity without engaging in the other, sinful one.
In considering ethical situations that present themselves before us, we need to consider the actual behaviour in question. When someone questions a choice because of where it might lead, we need to ask whether being involved in the first activity will inevitably lead to the second. If involvement in the second activity involves a choice in itself, then it is quite possible to choose the first activity and refrain from the second consistently.
Of course, if the first activity is wrong, in and of itself, then we should avoid the activity no matter whether it inevitably leads to worse things or not.
Begging the Question: Assuming the Conclusion
Okay, so you believe that the world exists pretty much the way you see it, and I don't; I say that you can't prove the world exists. My argument goes like this:
"First of all, just for the sake of argument assume that the world does not exist and everything you see is just an illusion. Now, how are you going to prove to me that the world does exist?"
Not only have I shifted the burden of proof away from my own argument, but I have also forced you to assume what I am trying to prove. So the conclusion of my argument would be solidly based upon assumption of itself in order to "prove" itself. This move is called begging the question.
In point of fact, an argument could only demonstrate the absurdity of such an assumption, never prove its opposite. If I were to assume there were no God, I could perhaps attempt to show that such a belief is ridiculous in view of the facts, but I could never actually directly prove God's existence once I have assumed his non-existence.
The six devices discussed in the section above illustrate types of power manoeuvres whereby people who hold one stance in an issue may attempt to distract their opposition by means of intimidating them or giving them a disproportionate amount of work to do in arguing their points.
In this lecture, we have introduced many devices used to distract and persuade people who are trying to consider the rational basis for various stances. Overall, it is important to keep the following general characteristics of rhetorical devices in mind.
m Rhetoric can make a weak argument seem strong.
m It can rob opposition of rational response.
m It can provoke resistance and prevent reconciliation or resolution.
m It can present an emotional alternative to genuine thought.
Most rhetorical devices have some legitimate purposes for use in conversations, but we should never confuse rhetoric with reason. We may allow ourselves to be persuaded by an argument based solely on rhetorical devices, but we should not allow ourselves to think that by so doing we have given adequate rational thought to the issue.
[#_ftnref1 ] Many people have forgotten what used to be a hackneyed proverb from Abraham Lincoln: "You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." Furthermore, when people discern that you are "fooling with them" even on occasion, they are more likely to hold everything you say "at arms length", waiting for confirming evidence from other sources.[#_ftnref2 ] It is worth noting at this point that there are attributes that are necessary to members of some classes. For example, successful race car drivers have cat-like reactions. The attribute of quick reactions is not unrelated to the occupation of driving a race car. [#_ftnref3 ] Two days after I wrote this statement, I came in contact with a news report on Ballard's new methanol-burning automobile engine. The sole by-product of the engine's operation is reported to be water vapour. Apparently, a proto-type drove across the continental US recently, thus proving the engine capable of long-range travel. Ballard plans to have methanol-burning cars in production for the general public in four years. Please note, though, that I am not in any way accusing Ballard of any attribute mentioned in this illustration; it is totally hypothetical.[#_ftnref4 ] Suppose someone wanted to prove there were elephants in this room you are now in. They demanded that you prove there are no elephants in the room. When you point out that you don't see any elephants, they may say "They're invisible." When you walk about the room and point out that you would have run into an elephant by now, they may say "They're microscopic" or "They're impossible to feel when they are invisible." And so forth.