Emotional Versus Logical Appeals Help (page 2)
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?
What Reasons Does the Writer Offer?
To help you see whether the writer's appeals are based on logic or emotion, break down her argument. The writer offers three different reasons for opposing the mandatory recycling proposal. List them here.
You probably noticed that each of the three paragraphs deals with a different reason that the writer opposes the mandatory recycling program. They are:
- Recycling programs do not help the environment, and people who support the mandatory recycling program do so simply in order to make themselves feel better about a declining environment.
- The people who support mandatory recycling also supported a failed program to increase city bus routes.
- A mandatory recycling program would not actually cause people who do not presently recycle to begin recycling.
Are the Appeals Logical?
The next step is to see if these reasons are logical. Does the author come to these conclusions based on reason, evidence, or common sense? If you look carefully, you will see that the answer is no. Each of the writer's arguments is based purely on emotion without any logic to support it.
Begin with the first reason: Recycling programs do not help the environment and people who support the mandatory recycling program do so simply in order to make themselves feel better about a declining environment. Is there any logic behind this argument? Is this statement based on evidence, such as poll data showing a link between feeling bad about the environment and supporting the program, or environmental reports showing that recycling doesn't improve the environment to any appreciable degree?
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this author, you can probably see that this argument is based only in emotion rather than in logic. The argument crumbles when you break it down. The author tries to blunt any skepticism about her argument by saying that "everyone knows" that recycling doesn't accomplish very much and that people support it mostly for selfish reasons. She states this as if it were an established fact, but she fails to establish it with evidence. Even though many people may agree, no one can correctly claim that everyone knows this to be true—as presented, it is mere opinion. In fact, many people would argue in turn that recycling does a great deal to help clean up the environment. And if the writer cannot say for a fact that recycling doesn't work, how can she convincingly assert that people support it for selfish reasons?
Even without this flaw, the writer's argument is not logical because there is no evidence in this essay that the particular mandatory recycling program being discussed by the city council will not work. The author moves from stating her opposition to the program in the first sentence to a paragraph of unconvincing generalities about recycling programs in general.
The author's second argument is that the people who support mandatory recycling also supported a failed program to increase city bus routes. Is there any logic in this statement? No, not if we bear in mind that the point of the argument is the recycling program and not the bus route program. Readers who are sympathetic to the underlying message that many government programs are wasteful may get caught up in the emotion of their opinion and lose sight of the fact that the author is not even talking about the proposed mandatory recycling plan. The argument is designed to succeed by appealing to this underlying sympathetic response rather than by addressing the merits and demerits of the proposal being considered.
The third argument is that a mandatory recycling program would not actually cause people who do not presently recycle to begin recycling. Again, the author offers no evidence for this claim. Instead, she works on her readers' sense of shame about their own failure to comply with local ordinances or on their cynicism about whether their fellow citizens will comply with such rules. She doesn't offer evidence that people won't comply, or that the law enforcement authorities will be ineffective in forcing compliance, instead suggesting that the proposed program would be an undue burden, forcing good people to act "surreptitious," or stealthy, about everyday, innocent actions. Again, she avoids supporting her argument with logic, reason, or evidence.
TIP: Certain words are sometimes used to communicate or reinforce bias, a person's individual opinion or interpretation of something. Biased words often illustrate the writer's emotions, and can also trigger emotions in a reader. Biased words are not rooted in fact. Instead, they convey judgment and personal belief. Here are some words that demonstrate bias:
- mailman (this word is gender-biased, as it pertains only to the male sex)