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Reasoning Skills and Appeals to Emotion Help

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Introduction to Reasoning Skills and Appeals to Emotion

 

"They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."

—Carl W. Buechner, author (1926–)

Lesson Summary

Arguments that appeal to people's emotions rather than to their sense of logic and reason abound in everyday life. In this lesson, you'll learn how to recognize several common appeals to emotion so that you can make more informed and logical decisions.

One of your coworkers, Ronald, is running for union representative. You've known him for several years. Ronald is good friends with your supervisor, Shawn, so you see him often—and you don't like what you see. You've seen Ronald treat other coworkers unfairly and talk rudely behind people's backs. You've decided to support another candidate who has always impressed you with her work ethic and generosity. But the day before the election, Ronald says to you, "I know I can count on your vote on Tuesday. After all, I know how much your job means to you. And you know that Shawn and I go back a long way." Even though you are on the committee that set up the voting procedure and voting booths, even though you know that it's almost impossible for Ronald to determine how you voted, and even though you're sure Shawn values you too much to fire you over your vote, you still vote for Ronald. Why? How did he get your vote?

It's probably not hard to see that Ronald took advantage of your desire to protect your well-being. Though you know better, he still made you think that your job was in jeopardy if you didn't vote for him. He got your vote not by arguing with any reason or logic, but by manipulating your emotions.

There are many strategies people will use to try to convince you that their conclusions are sound. Unfortunately, many of these strategies appear to be logical when, in fact, they're not. These strategies—often called logical fallacies or pseudoreasoning (false reasoning)—can lead you to make poor decisions and accept arguments that really don't hold water. That's why the next three lessons go over some of the most common logical fallacies. The more of them you can recognize—and the more you can avoid them in your own arguments—the better problem solver and decision-maker you will be.

This lesson addresses four fallacies that appeal to your emotions rather than to your sense of reason: scare tactics, flattery, peer pressure, and appeals to pity.

Scare Tactics

In the opening scenario, Ronald appealed to your emotion of fear. You voted for him out of fear that you might lose your job if you didn't. He used his relationship with your supervisor to frighten you into accepting his conclusion (that you should vote for him). He didn't provide you with any logical reasons for giving him your vote; instead, he played upon your emotions. He used a logical fallacy known as scare tactics.

Scare tactics are used very commonly in deductive arguments, and they can be quite powerful. Though sometimes scare tactics cross the line and can become very real threats to your physical or emotional well-being, in most cases, you're not in any real danger. Once you know what to look for, you can see right through scare tactics. For example, read the following argument:

    Support Governor Wilson, or your children will receive a poor public school education.

Sounds convincing, doesn't it? After all, who wants their children to receive a poor education? But is this a good argument? Notice that the only reason this argument gives you for supporting the conclusion is emotional. It aims to frighten you into supporting Governor Wilson. The argument would be much more powerful if it also provided a logical reason for your support.

Tip

Do you read horror novels? Go to scary movies? It can be fun to get scared when you know that you are really safe. Arguments based on scaring you, on the other hand, are not enjoyable nor are they trustworthy. If someone is trying to persuade you of something by frightening you, it's a red flag.

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