Emotional Versus Logical Appeals Help (page 4)
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)
Practice Passage 2
Now look at another argument for the same position. Notice how much more logical this essay is—regardless of whether you agree with the author—simply because the author gives explanations and evidence for his position rather than appealing solely to the readers' emotions.
The City Council of Ste. Jeanne should reject mandatory recycling. Although many good people support this idea, the proposal facing us is so deeply flawed that I believe their support is misplaced. The most glaring problem is that the mandatory recycling program proposed here would create at least as much pollution as it would eliminate. Our neighbors in Youngsville could testify to that: Greensleaves Recycling, the proposed contractor, got the recycling contract in Youngsville five years ago, and their machinery spewed so much toxic gas out of its smokestacks that the city government stopped all recycling, mandatory or optional, for a solid year.
One of the biggest concerns people have is that the bottles and cans they throw away today will either accumulate in unsightly, unsanitary landfills or go up in smoke from an incinerator. But the fact of the matter is that new waste treatment facilities in nearby counties soon will eliminate most of the need for landfills and incinerators. By compacting unsorted trash into blocks comparable in hardness to concrete, the new facilities make it available for use in building foundations, dikes, and road construction. This form of "recycling"—not part of the present proposal—doesn't require us to collect the garbage in any new way because it doesn't matter whether the content is coffee grounds or juice bottles.
An argument in favor of the recycling proposal for which I have some sympathy is that mandatory recycling will raise people's awareness of our beautiful and fragile environment. Reflecting on this, however, I recalled our wonderful educational programs, both in the schools and in the mass media. Voluntary recycling is at an all-time high level of participation; both anglers and environmentalists are celebrating the recent re opening of the Ste. Jeanne Waterway to fishing; and downtown Ste. Jeanne won the "Greening of the State" award just last year. Taken together, these facts suggest to me a populace already deeply engaged with environmental issues and now looking hard for new, well-conceived proposals to do even more. The present proposal simply doesn't measure up to our city's high standards.
You probably noticed immediately that this passage also gives three reasons for not supporting the mandatory recycling program—so the authors don't differ over whether to reject the proposed program. The two passages don't have as much in common in their style of argument, though, and that is our focus here. Let's take a closer look at passage 2.
What Reasons Does the Writer Offer?
Break this argument down as you did the first one. Here are the reasons the author of passage 2 provides in arguing that the mandatory recycling program should be rejected. Underneath each reason, make a note about the logic behind the reason; say what reasoning, evidence, or common sense the author points to in support of the argument.
- The proposed mandatory recycling program would cause as much pollution as it would eliminate.
- New waste treatment facilities lessen the need for recycling programs.
- The mandatory recycling program is not needed to raise people's awareness of the environment.
Are the Appeals Logical?
Regardless of whether you agree with the author, you can see that this is a much more effective argument because the writer uses logic and common sense in backing up what he has to say.
The first argument is supported in the following way:
- The proposed contractor caused a great deal of pollution from smokestacks in a nearby city five years earlier.
- The smokestack toxicity in the nearby city was so extensive that even voluntary recycling was halted for a year, meaning that even less recycling took place than before the mandatory recycling program began.
The second argument is supported by the following logic:
- New waste treatment facilities allow all waste to be reused without the need for sorting it into waste to be recycled and waste to be incinerated or put in a landfill, but the proposed plan does not involve these new facilities.
Finally, the third argument is supported this way:
- The populace of Ste. Jeanne is already highly conscious of the environment, and benefit from educational programs in the schools and the mass media.
- The high level of environmental consciousness of the people shows in (a) the high rate of voluntary recycling, (b) the celebrated re opening of the Ste. Jeanne Waterway to fishing, and (c) the city's downtown winning a state environmental award the previous year.
Emotional Versus Logical Appeals Practice and Answers
Now that you've examined two brief essays—one that appeals to emotion and one that appeals to logic—see if you can correctly identify the approaches used by the writers of the following sentences. Look carefully for a sense of logic. If the writer is appealing to your emotions, is the author's argument also backed up by logic (common sense, reason, or evidence)?
Write an E in the blank if it appeals only to your sense of emotion and an L if it appeals to logic.
- Using a cell phone when driving is dangerous and anyone who does this is stupid.
- Using a cell phone when driving is dangerous because when drivers hold a cell phone to their ear, they're using only one hand to control their motor vehicle, which makes them much more likely to have an accident.
- Many states have banned cell phone use when driving because it is dangerous. These laws have been put into effect because of startling statistics that point to the elevated risk of car accidents due to cell phone use.
- Dogs should always be kept on a leash in public places. What if you were walking down the street minding your own business and a loose dog ran up and attacked you?
- Dogs should always be kept on a leash in public places. A leash can protect dogs from traffic, garbage, dangerous places, and getting lost. It can also protect people from being harmed by overzealous, angry, or agitated dogs.
Argument 1 is an appeal to emotion without any logic, and arguments 2, 3, and 5 use common sense, evidence, and reason. But argument 4 might not be so obvious, since it may seem like a reasonable argument. However, it does not address all the logical reasons that leashes are necessary, but instead points to one frightening possibility. Yes, we would all like to avoid being attacked by a dog, which is a scary and threatening possibility, and by using only this scenario in the argument, the writer is appealing directly to our emotions.
Looking for appeals to logic will make you a more critical reader and thinker. And once you learn to read between the lines in an argument (to look behind emotional appeals for some sort of logical support), you'll have more confidence as a reader and be a better judge of the arguments that you hear and read.
- Language is often more powerful than we realize. Think about a situation in which you were enticed to buy a new game, food, movie, article of clothing, perfume, or other product or service. Was there a particular word, phrase, or sales pitch that was particularly persuasive?
- Listen carefully to how people around you try to convince you (or others) when they want you to think or act a certain way. For example, if a friend wants you to try a new place for lunch, how does he or she try to convince you: with appeals to your sense of logic ("The food is great—and so are the prices!") or to your emotions ("What, are you afraid to try something new?")? If your boss asks you to work overtime, does he or she appeal to your sense of logic ("You'll make lots of extra money") or to your emotions ("I could really, really use your help")? See which arguments you find most convincing and why.
- Read an editorial from the Opinion-Editorial page of your local newspaper. Look at how the writer supports his or her argument. Is the editiorial convincing? Why? What reasons or evidence does it use to support its position?
Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Reading and Drawing Conclusions Practice Test.
Test your knowledge at Reading Comprehension Final Practice Test.
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