"A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.".....Now, lots of folks in academia claim to teach "argumentation"—how to argue. But they aren't always teaching the same things.—Chuckles the Clown
.....It has long struck me as odd that, while philosophers teach their students that facts about an arguer are irrelevant (this is the essence of their teachings re the "ad hominem" fallacy), writing and speech instructors often seem to teach the opposite, for they make a great point of the importance, for the writer or speaker (the arguer), of presenting himself in a certain way: as reasonable, knowledgeable, etc.
.....The explanation of this difference, of course, concerns the different purposes these people have. The philosopher/logician seeks the truth and thus teaches students how to seek the truth. Hence, he focuses on evidence and reasons—what writing instructors call "logos" or the "logical appeal." He is not concerned with "pathos" or "ethos"—i.e., the emotional appeal or the appeal that derives from how the writer presents himself.
.....Writing instructors, however, are more about "effectiveness" (or persuasion) than truth, and so, for them, "logic" is just one tool among several. For instance, if you want to convince your readers of something—say, that John McCain is too addled to be President—then, assuming they aren't very logical (usually a safe assumption), you'd be a fool to offer mere logic. Reasons and evidence? Most audiences will become bored with that; they'll walk away. Better get out the blooper reel. (See Why we need rhetoric.)
.....Philosophers, as philosophers, are happy to have people walk away. They want to know the truth, and knowing the truth has nothing to do with having lots of eager listeners or readers. (Indeed, folks who seek the truth invariably become very nervous when their ideas become attractive to others.)
.....Roughly speaking, writing instructors are unhappy when the audience (or the "reasonable" among the audience) walks away. And so they spend a good deal of time talking about the importance of presenting yourself properly, i.e., effectively. (Ironically, writing and speech instructors can trace their body of theory to the writings of a philosopher/logician, but one who held audiences in low esteem. See Aristotle's rhetoric.)
.....Um, but if your readers buy that, they're committing a fallacy, right?
..... —Oh, absolutely. Great. Now show us Obama Girl!
.....Ben Oldacre’s “Bad Science” column this morning (in the Guardian) concerns what happens when audiences focus on how a speaker presents himself (ethos) without focussing on his evidence and reasons (logos):
Testing the plausibility effect:
.....You will remember, two weeks ago now, we saw the Sunday Express claiming on its front page that an impressive government adviser called Dr Roger Coghill had performed a research study demonstrating that the Bridgend suicide cases all lived closer to a mobile phone mast than average. When I contacted Coghill it turned out he wasn't really a government adviser, he said the Express had made a mistake in calling him a doctor, he had lost the data, and he couldn't even explain what he meant by average.My advice? Let's start teaching students what is relevant and what is not. We're drowning in illogic.
.....Without data, we have only a bloke. Week in, week out, we see apparently scientific claims being made in the newspapers with great confidence, as if they were based on evidence, when in reality they are based on nothing more than authority, and often from one man. This is because science is communicated to the public by journalists, who sometimes have no understanding of what it means for there to be evidence for an assertion. They are impressed by enthusiasm, long words, by a PhD, a white coat, or a medical qualification. [My emphasis.]
.....What if this is taken to an extreme? In 1973 a group of academics noticed that student ratings of teachers often seemed to depend more on personality than educational content. They wanted to find out how far this effect could be stretched: what if you had an impressive, charismatic and witty lecturer, who knew nothing at all about the subject on which they were lecturing?….
.....They hired a large, affable gentleman who "looked distinguished and sounded authoritative". They called him "Dr Myron L Fox" and he was given a long, impressive, and fictitious CV. Dr Fox was an authority on the application of mathematics to human behaviour.
.....They slipped Dr Fox on to the programme at an academic conference on medical education. His audience was made up of doctors, healthcare workers, and academics. The title of his lecture was Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education. Dr Fox filled his lecture and his question and answer session with double talk, jargon, dubious neologisms, non sequiturs, and mutually contradictory statements. This was interspersed with elaborate diversions into parenthetical humour and "meaningless references to unrelated topics". It's the kind of education you pay good money for in the UK.
.....The lecture went down well. At the end, a questionnaire was distributed and every person in the audience gave significantly more favourable than unfavourable feedback. The comments were gushing, and yet thoughtful: "excellent presentation, enjoyed listening", "good flow, seems enthusiastic", and "too intellectual a presentation, my orientation is more pragmatic".
.....The researchers repeated the performance. Time and again they got the same result….
Philosophers/Logicians love this Monty Python bit: "the Argument Clinic":
.....“A second type of … argument is the speaker’s character, not only as established by his reputation, but also as conveyed in the speech itself. Most orators agree that one’s character is the most potent weapon in one’s rhetorical arsenal.”
—From A Brief Summary of Classical Rhetoric, made available to students at Harvard[Thomas Hobbes] maintains that the establishment of ethos is an irrelevance not merely in the natural sciences…but in the moral sciences as well. His translation of Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric accordingly omits the entire section in which Aristotle speaks of the crucial importance of taking steps to make a good impression on one’s audience.
–From Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes, Quentin Skinner