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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Ariely’

We all know we’re not supposed to engage in fallacious argumentation.  We might disagree about what fallacies there are or how they work, but we all agree that there are certain moves in argumentation–at least in some contexts–that are just downright, well…dishonest. How do we keep students and others in our charge from wandering down that path? Most of the time the method is to teach and to reinforce practices of good argumentation, while at the same time teaching them how to recognize and nullify, with critique, the fallacious arguments of others. So far the story is not all that different from any other well-known model of moral education. Teach and promote the good, identify and punish the bad.  And that works most of the time in the hermetically sealed environment of the classroom.  Then our students go out into the world and encounter argumentation like this:

Or this… (more…)

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A while ago I posted a short entry here entitled Nice Argument. I’ll Believe You When You Have a Story.  That post linked to a post about the endowment effect on Dan Ariely’s blog in behavioral economics.  In that post I wondered if something like the endowment effect (the increased perception of value that comes from association with a personal narrative) might not do some explanatory work in argumentation theory, perhaps in terms of explaining why people hold and argue for the positions that they do, or why people can be resistant to changing their minds even when presented with evidence that should do so, etc..

Here now is another entry along those lines, this time by the redoubtable popularizer of all things brain science, Jonah Lehrer.  In a recent entry on his blog Lehrer goes so far as to say that in order to be effective argumentation–especially moral argumentation–ought to be aimed at exciting the emotional systems in the brain; that argumentation that appeals to rational considerations simply won’t get the job done when it comes to morality.  Let’s see now, if he’s right then moral argument is effective when it appeals to our sentiments, but is idle when it appeals to reason.  Seems like I’ve heard that one somewhere before…I wonder if Lehrer can do a Scottish accent.

What is interesting here for argumentation theorists in these developments coming out of the social and now the hard sciences are (1) that emotions apparently play a much larger role in reasoning, and by extension in effective argumentation than has traditionally been thought and (2) that arguments or not, narratives have what increasingly looks like a proven power to convince that in some cases can exceed rational appeals.  (Of course to some in rhetoric that won’t seem like news, however, considering that this observation is coming from the hard sciences I’d wager that even the toughest rhetorician may find something to smile about there). Though obviously related, these two points each have a significance of their own. The first point is in some ways a vindication of the more nuanced view taken by most argumentation theorists of what were traditionally seen the “emotion-based” fallacies (e.g. ad misericordiam, etc.). The second point certainly seems like wind in the sails of those who favor the notion that narratives can be arguments.

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