Something that jumped out at me early on in chapter 3 of the college critical thinking text, Schick and Vaughn’s How to Think about Weird Things (5th edition, 2008), is the distinction that was made between argument and persuasion. To win support for a claim we can provide:
- good reasons
- good rhetoric
But, as Schick and Vaughn caution, we should not mistake good rhetoric as providing good reasons to accept a claim. Rhetoric may, in fact, distort our ability to judge a claim’s truth (37):
Through various persuasive ploys—fancy rhetoric, emotional appeals, deception, coercion, and more—you may be able to influence people to accept a conclusion. But if you do, you will not have shown that the conclusion is worthy of acceptance, that there are good reasons for believing it. Of course, a good argument, in addition to presenting solid grounds for accepting a claim, can also be psychologically forceful. But these two approaches to claims should not be confused.
Thus, whether you are trying to devise an argument or assess one, the authors suggest that it is important to distinguish reasons from rhetoric.
More blogging on Schick and Vaughn’s book here.