How An Argument Can Be Persuasive Despite Being Based On Fallacies

Fallacies are commonly used in today’s communication models, they are defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a “false idea that many people believe to be true”. In this world if anything is to be seen by what the media portrays it’s that an argument does not have to be valid or logical to be persuasive. This essay will seek to prove that an argument can be persuasive despite being based on fallacies. In doing so, the essay will discuss the lack of critical thinking that is employed by general audiences which leads to easy influence with fallacies. Then, will investigate the successful use of fallacies within advertising and their ability to direct stakeholders towards products or positions. Next it will look at political campaigns and the use of fallacies within arguments which lead to an effective persuasion of voters and public opinion. Finally, it will review the use of common fallacies in everyday communication from personal interaction between two people ranging to public media for persuasion in arguments despite the false basis or authority of the arguments.

In the professional world, one uses critical thinking in a deliberate sense, used to understand the world, be more alert listening to a lecture or when attending a meeting, but outside of that world it can be assumed that some may switch off their critical thinking and others may not employ critical thinking at all. In an argument, if a party is not positioned to be critically thinking, it could mean that a fallacy placed into the argument goes unnoticed or is accepted as truth without investigation. Not employing critical thinking makes a person vulnerable to being deceived or in the very least receiving unfair outcomes for them, in this case it leads to an easy persuasion with even the plainest of fallacies. Effective critical thinking involves absorbing the information provided and then examining it critically to assess whenever the information is accurate and logical, therefore without the use of critical thinking it is a slippery slope to simply accepting what is said as true at the face value. An appeal to pity fallacy and emotive fallacies are effective tools with an audience not employing critical thinking. Examples of this could be reminding the other party of an emotional connection they share, such as a relative and using this connection for personal gain. Finally, without using critical thinking, an argument with weak analogies or false analogies could appear to be accurate or logical which would persuade ones thinking to agree with the argument. A false or weak analogy is when an argument’s conclusion features an analogy that isn’t solid enough to be supported (Hurley, 2008). Some weak analogies use commonly thought conclusions already employed such as common stereotypes. An example would be, ‘the group of teenagers are out after dark and are wearing dark clothes, therefore they must be up to no good’, in reality it is just a stereotype and a weak conclusion that just because a group is out together after dark or a group is wearing dark clothing, doesn’t have to reach the conclusion that they are up to no good, though there are instances where groups out after dark are up to no good, or there might be a stereotype that teenagers wear dark clothing, it is a loose correlation but still persuasive to an audience that isn’t using critical thinking and easily accepts the information.

Advertising is a platform that successfully uses fallacies every day, whether it’s in print media, television or radio; the use of fallacies ranges from blatantly obvious to subtle in how they present their information. A common fallacy that is persuasive would be the misuse of statistics. In the early 2000s, Colgate-Palmolive ran an advert globally for their toothpaste claiming that 4 out of 5 Dentists recommend Colgate. This, although very persuasive to their consumers that went and purchased Colgate toothpaste because of this, led to Colgate-Palmolive coming under fire for the misuse of statistics. A newspaper in the UK reported that the survey used was said to have been completed by an independent marketing company that wasn’t tied to Colgate-Palmolive but still led to the shutdown of the advert by the Advertising Standard Authority. As much as it has been proven to be a false claim, in 2011 Colgate was still placed number 55 out of 100 Top Global Brands. A more recent use of fallacy within advertising would be the Cadbury Donate Your Words campaign that was released in the UK at the beginning of December 2019. Cadbury had partnered with an organisation raising awareness of loneliness particularly amongst older people, their advert relies heavily on the use of an appeal to pity or manipulating their consumer’s emotions in order to sell more chocolate bars and their argument is highly persuasive. The consumers then buy the product because they now believe that they are helping tackle the loneliness problem in the UK. Fallacies are effective within the advertising arguments and it is shown that they can persuade the consumers despite their fallacious origins or the argument.

Time and time again as each political race involves a fight between parties to be on top, arguments thrown back and forth can be seen to be filled with fallacies, whether they’re used to make the opponent appear less than desirable or to make the party appear to be more aligned with what the voters are needing, many politicians use fallacies as the basis of their arguments. A common fallacy used would be ad hominem, attacking the person on the other side of the argument. This is a tactic frequently used by Donald Trump, the current President of the United States. In 2017 instead of addressing the argument about a health care bill, he attacked Senator Warren who had the concerns, calling her ‘hopeless’, ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘highly underrated’ (CBS, 2017). Another tactic used amongst politicians and often in conjunction with media is the Straw Man fallacy, which often represents the views of someone in a way that is blown out of proportion. In 2015, Ben Carson a politician in the United States made a statement on television about guns in schools remarking that if he had a child in kindergarten, he’d be more comfortable having someone on campus such as security or police who were trained with weapons, he also discussed an idea of the teachers being trained in weapons use and potentially having access to one. The headline afterwards read “Carson wants kindergarten teachers to be armed.” This blew the statement out of proportion and would have changed opinions of Ben Carson within the public’s eye monumentally. Finally, looking again at Donald Trump in his 2016 Presidential Campaign and onward it is clear to see that a common tactic of the Republican party was and still is to use fallacies as the basis of their arguments which led to the result of Donald Trump becoming President. This is so evident that there are numerous articles, websites and podcasts devoted to analysing the many fallacies that are made. ‘Fallacious Trump’ is one such podcast that discusses fallacies used such as begging the question from a speech in February 2017, and Red Herring from the Second Presidential Debate from October 2016 (Cliff, Red Herring, 2019). Fallacies are so commonplace within political arguments; they are persuasive and have shown throughout history to be effective.

Finally, fallacies are used every day in general communication to persuade even the smallest of arguments. In personal conversations between two persons, Person A could use an appeal to pity to convince Person B that they should go out for dinner because Person A had a bad day and deserves a treat. The bad day in reality has no impact on the change in dining location but the appeal to pity and poorly backed argument can be highly persuasive to another person if there is a benefit to both persons, enough to cancel out the drawback of financial loss by dining out. In television, audiences believe the advice of Dr Phil even though he is not qualified as a medical Doctor, this appeal to authority or Ad Verecundiam used by the producers of this show is effective in persuading the consumers in the argument of trusting Dr Phil’s advice even in fields that are not relevant to the qualifications of Dr Phil. In many forms, another frequent fallacy used is the false dilemma, this takes the assumption that there are only a set number of choices available. Examples of this could be the options for Male or Female on a form without adding options for other orientations, or when asking a person their religious beliefs, only giving the options for belief or atheist. It develops a sense of a false dilemma that there are limits to the options available instead of the wide variety often actually available.

In conclusion, the essay set out to prove is that an argument can be persuasive despite being based on fallacies. This has been discussed at length looking at the lack of critical thinking engaged by audiences which leads to fallacies being presented accepted as true and logical. Then the successful use of fallacies within advertising campaigns as well as the effective arguments within political campaigns based on fallacies, and the use of fallacies in everyday communication. This without a doubt proves that arguments based on fallacies are persuasive, after all this entire argument has been based on the discussion of fallacies and is still highly persuasive. 

16 December 2021
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