Emotional Versus Logical Appeals Help

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Updated on Sep 21, 2011

The Difference between Logical and Emotional Appeals

When writers want to convince people of something or influence them to think a certain way, they generally rely on two means of persuasion: appealing to the reader's sense of logic and appealing to the reader's emotions. It is important to be able to distinguish between these two types of appeal because when writers rely only on appeals to emotion, they neglect to provide any real evidence for why you should believe what they say. Writers who rely solely on emotional appeals usually hope to get their readers so angry, scared, or excited that they will forget to look for reason or sense in the argument.

Unfortunately, many readers aren't aware of this strategy, so they may accept arguments that are unfounded, manipulative, or both. Political leaders who use the emotional strategy in speaking to crowds are called demagogues. Calling a leader a demagogue is no compliment, since it means that he or she relies on prejudice and passion rather than clear thinking to persuade people of his or her position. Sound reasoning requires that you are able to look beyond emotional appeals to determine if there is any logic behind them.

Logical: according to reason; according to conclusions drawn from evidence or good common sense

Emotional: relating to emotions; arousing or exhibiting strong emotion

While it is true that an appeal to emotions can help strengthen an argument based in logic, an argument cannot be valid if it is based solely on emotional appeal.

Distinguishing between Logical and Emotional Appeals

The best way to see the difference between logical and emotional appeals is to look at some examples. Actively read the passages that follow, trying to discern whether the author is appealing primarily to your sense of reason or to your emotions.

Practice Passage 1

The City Council of Ste. Jeanne should reject mandatory recycling. First, everyone knows that recycling doesn't really accomplish very much and that people who support it are mostly interested in making themselves feel better about the environment. They see more and more road construction and fewer and fewer trees and buy into the notion that sending bottles and cans to a recycling plant rather than a landfill will reverse the trend. Unfortunately, that notion is no more than wishful thinking.

Second, the proponents of mandatory recycling are the same people who supported the city's disastrous decision to require an increase in the number of public bus routes. After the mayor spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for the new buses and for street signs, bus shelters, and schedules, we all quickly learned that there was little to no interest in using public transportation among the people for whom the new routes were intended. Mandatory recycling would add yet another chapter to the book of wasteful government programs.

Finally, I'd like every citizen to answer this question in the privacy of his or her own heart: Would the mandatory recycling law really influence behavior? Or would most people, in fact, go on doing what they are doing now? That is, wouldn't the recyclers keep on recycling and the people who throw their bottles and cans in the trash continue to do just that (only being a little bit more careful, burying the bottles inside "legal" trash such as pizza boxes and coffee filters)? Why should any of us be forced to be surreptitious about something so simple as throwing away a soft drink can? I urge both the council and the mayor to reject this misguided proposal.

Chances are that no matter how you feel about mandatory recycling programs, this passage provoked a reaction in you. Perhaps you found some of the writer's arguments convincing; perhaps they simply made you want to argue back. But take another look at the passage. Is there any appeal to your sense of logic here—reason, evidence, or common sense? Or is the author only appealing to your pre existing ideas and feelings about environmentalism and government programs?

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