Chapters 5 & 6 of Critical Thinking cover fallacies and rhetoric. According to the text, what are two examples of persuasion that are not valid arguments? Why are these invalid arguments?
W hen the military uses the phrase “self-injurious behavior incidents” regarding detainees at Guantá-namo Bay, it means what most of us call “attempted
suicides.” In fact, when the word “detainees” is used, it
means what most of us call “prisoners.” “Waterboarding”
sounds at fi rst like something you’d expect to see young
people doing on a California beach, not a torture technique
that involves forced simulated drowning. Less remarkable,
perhaps, but possibly more relevant for most of us, we’ve
heard the term “downsized” used when someone is fi red or
laid off. “Ethnic cleansing” covers everything from deporta-
tion to genocide.
What we have to say may be important, but the words
we choose to say it with can be equally important. The
examples just given are cases of a certain type of linguis-
tic coercion—an attempt to get us to adopt a particular atti-
tude toward a subject that, if described differently, would
seem less attractive to us. Words have tremendous persua-
sive power, or what we have called their rhetorical force or
emotive meaning —their power to express and elicit images,
feelings, and emotional associations. In the next few chap-
ters, we examine some of the most common rhetorical
techniques used to affect people’s attitudes, opinions, and
Students will learn to . . .
1. Define the difference between
rhetoric and argument
2. Detect rhetorical devices and their
3. Recognize prejudicial and nonprej-
udicial uses of rhetorical devices
4. Identify and critique the use
of euphemisms, dysphemisms,
weaslers, and downplayers
5. Identify and critique the use of
stereotypes, innuendo, and loaded
6. Identify and critique the use of
ridicule, sarcasm, and hyperbole
7. Identify and critique the use of
rhetorical definitions, explana-
tions, analogies, and misleading
8. Identify and critique the use of
proof surrogates and repetition
9. Identify and critique the persuasive
aspects of visual images
Persuasion Through Rhetoric
Common Devices and Techniques 5
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 146 12/9/10 2:54 PM
RHETORICAL DEVICES I 147
Rhetoric refers to the study of persuasive writing. As we use the term, it
denotes a broad category of linguistic techniques people use when their pri-
mary objective is to infl uence beliefs and attitudes and behavior. Is Hezbollah,
the Shia paramilitary organization based in Lebanon, a resistance movement
of freedom fi ghters or a dangerous terrorist organization? The different impres-
sions these two descriptions create is largely due to their differing rhetori-
cal meaning. Does Juanita “still owe over $1,000 on her
credit card”? Or does Juanita “owe only a little over
$1,000 on her credit card”? There’s no factual difference
between the two questions—only a difference in their
rhetorical force. The thing to remember through these
next few chapters is that rhetorical force may be psycho-
logically effective, but by itself it establishes nothing. If
we allow our attitudes and beliefs to be affected by sheer
rhetoric, we fall short as critical thinkers.
Now, before we get in trouble with your English
teacher, let’s make it clear that there is nothing wrong
with trying to make your case as persuasive as possible
by using well-chosen, rhetorically effective words and
phrases. Good writers always do this. But we, as critical
thinkers, must be able to distinguish the argument (if any)
contained in what someone says or writes from the rheto-
ric; we must be able to distinguish the logical force of a set
of remarks from their psychological force.
One of the things you will become aware of—as
you read these pages, do the exercises, apply what you
have learned to what you read and write—is that rheto-
ric is often mixed right in with argument. The message
isn’t that you should deduct points from an argument if
it is presented in rhetorically charged language, and it
isn’t that you should try to take all the rhetoric out of your own writing. The
message is simply that you shouldn’t add points for rhetoric. You don’t make
an argument stronger by screaming it at the top of your lungs. Likewise, you
don’t make it stronger by adding rhetorical devices.
Many of these rhetorical bells and whistles have names because they are
so common and so well understood. Because they are used primarily to give a
statement a positive or negative slant regarding a subject, they are sometimes
called slanters. We’ll describe some of the more widely used specimens.
RHETORICAL DEVICES I
Our fi rst group of slanters consists of what are usually single words or short
phrases designed to accomplish one of four specifi c rhetorical tasks.
Euphemisms and Dysphemisms
Language usually offers us a choice of words when we want to say something.
Until recently, the term “used car” referred to an automobile that wasn’t new,
but the trend nowadays is to refer to such a car as “pre-owned.” The people
who sell such cars, of course, hope that the different terminology will keep
Political language is designed
to make lies sound truthful . . .
and to give the appearance of
solidity to pure wind.
—G EORGE O RWELL
Euphemisms are unpleasant
truths wearing diplomatic
—Q UENTIN C RISP, Manners from
■ Such images as this add
to the negative impact
of the “death tax,”
described in the box
on the next page.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 147 12/9/10 2:54 PM
148 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
potential buyers from thinking about how “used” the car might be—maybe it’s
used up! The car dealer’s replacement term, “pre-owned,” is a euphemism —a
neutral or positive expression instead of one that carries negative associations.
Euphemisms play an important role in affecting our attitudes. People may be
less likely to disapprove of an assassination attempt on a foreign leader, for
example, if it is referred to as “neutralization.” People fi ghting against the
government of a country can be referred to neutrally as “rebels” or “guerril-
las,” but a person who wants to build support for them may refer to them
by the euphemism “freedom fi ghters.” A government is likely to pay a price
for initiating a “revenue enhancement,” but voters will be even quicker to
respond negatively to a “tax hike.” The U.S. Department of Defense performs
the same function it did when it was called the Department of War, but the
current name makes for much better public relations.
The opposite of a euphemism is a dysphemism. Dysphemisms are used
to produce a negative effect on a listener’s or reader’s attitude toward some-
thing or to tone down the positive associations it may have. Whereas “freedom
fi ghter” is a euphemism for “guerrilla” or “rebel,” “terrorist” is a dysphemism.
Euphemisms and dysphemisms are often used in deceptive ways or ways
that at least hint at deception. All the examples in the preceding paragraphs are
examples of such uses. But euphemisms can at times be helpful and construc-
tive. By allowing us to approach a sensitive subject indirectly—or by skirting
it entirely—euphemisms can sometimes prevent hostility from bringing ratio-
nal discussion to a halt. They can also be a matter of good manners: “Passed
on” may be much more appropriate than “dead” if the person to whom you’re
speaking is recently widowed. Hence, our purpose for using euphemisms and
dysphemisms determines whether or not those uses are legitimate.
It bears mentioning that some facts just are repellent, and for that reason
even neutral reports of them sound horrible. “Lizzie killed her father with an
ax” reports a horrible fact about Lizzie, but it does so using neutral language.
Neutral reports of unpleasant, evil, or repellent facts do not automatically
count as dysphemistic rhetoric.
Justin Timberlake’s phrase for
his tearing of Janet Jackson’s
costume during the half-time
performance at Super Bowl
The Death Tax
Here is Grover Norquist, who is the head of Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, D.C., in a
press release from that organization:
Over seventy percent of Americans oppose the Death Tax, and with good reason. It is
the worst form of double-taxation, where, after taxing you all your life, the government
decides to take even more when you die.
“Death Tax” is a dysphemism, of course. The estate tax is a tax not on death but on inherited
wealth, imposed on the occasion of a person’s death. And the person paying the tax is not the
deceased, but the inheritors, who have never paid tax on the money.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 148 12/9/10 2:54 PM
RHETORICAL DEVICES I 149
Weaselers are linguistic methods of hedging a bet. When inserted into a claim,
they help protect it from criticism by watering it down somewhat, weakening
it, and giving the claim’s author a way out in case the claim is challenged. So,
what a claim asserts, a weaseler either minimizes or takes away entirely.
Without doubt you’ve heard the words “up to” used as a weaseler a thou-
sand times, especially in advertising. “Up to fi ve more miles per gallon.” “Up
to twenty more yards off the tee.” “Lose up to ten pounds a week.” None of
these guarantee anything. Sure, you might lose ten pounds, but you might lose
nothing. The statement still stands, thanks to “up to.”
Let’s make up a statistic. Let’s say that 98 percent of American doctors
believe that aspirin is a contributing cause of Reye’s syndrome in children, and
that the other 2 percent are unconvinced. If we then claim that “some doc-
tors are unconvinced that aspirin is related to Reye’s syndrome,” we cannot
be held accountable for having said something false, even though our claim
might be misleading to someone who did not know the complete story. The
word “some” has allowed us to weasel the point.
Words that sometimes weasel—such as “perhaps,” “possibly,” “maybe,”
and “may be,” among others—can be used to produce innuendo, to plant a
suggestion without actually making a claim that a person can be held to. We
can suggest that Berriault is a liar without actually saying so (and thus without
making a claim that might be hard to defend) by saying that Berriault may be
a liar. Or we can say it is possible that Berriault is a liar (which is true of all
of us, after all). “ Perhaps Berriault is a liar” works nicely, too. All of these are
examples of weaselers used to create innuendo (to be explained below).
Not every use of words and phrases like these is a weaseling one, of
course. Words that can weasel can also bring very important qualifi cations to
bear on a claim. The very same word that weasels in one context may not
weasel at all in another. For example, a detective who is considering all the
Great Western pays up to
12 percent more interest on
Even aside from the “up to”
weaseler, this ad can be
deceptive about what interest
rate it’s promising. Unless
you listen carefully, you might
think Great Western is pay-
ing 12 percent on checking
accounts. The presence of the
word “more” changes all that,
of course. If you’re getting
3 percent now, and Great
Western gives you “up to
12 percent more” than that,
they’ll be giving you about
31⁄3 percent—hardly the
fortune the ad seems to
In the Media
Innuendo with Statistics
Taxpayers with incomes over $200,000 could expect on average to pay about $99,000 in
taxes under [the proposed] plan.
—Wall Street Journal
Wow! Pity the poor taxpayer who makes over $200,000! Apparently, he or she will pay almost
half of that amount in taxes.
But think again: In the words of the New Republic (February 3, 2003), “The Journal’s sta-
tistic is about as meaningful as asserting that males over the age of six have had an average
of three sexual partners.” Bill Gates and many billionaires like him are among those who make
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 149 12/9/10 2:54 PM
150 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
possible angles on a crime and who has just heard Smith’s account of events
may say to an associate, “Of course, it is possible that Smith is lying.” This
need not be a case of weaseling. The detective may simply be exercising due
care. Other words and phrases that are sometimes used to weasel can also be
used legitimately. Qualifying phrases such as “it is arguable that,” “it may
well be that,” and so on have at least as many appropriate uses as weasel-
ing ones. Others, such as “some would say that,” are likely to be weaseling
more often than not, but even they can serve an honest purpose in the right
context. Our warning, then, is to be watchful when qualifying phrases turn
up. Is the speaker or writer adding a reasonable qualifi cation, insinuating a
bit of innuendo, or preparing a way out? We can only warn; you need to assess
the speaker, the context, and the subject to establish the grounds for the right
Downplaying is an attempt to make someone or something look less impor-
tant or less signifi cant. Stereotypes, rhetorical comparisons, rhetorical
explanations, and innuendo (all discussed later) can all be used to downplay
something. Consider this statement, for example: “Don’t mind what Mr.
Pierce says in class; he’s a liberal.” This attempt to downplay Mr. Pierce and
whatever views he expresses in class makes use of a stereotype. We can also
downplay by careful insertion of certain words or other devices. Let’s amend
the preceding example like this: “Don’t mind what Mr. Pierce says in class;
he’s just another liberal.” Notice how the phrase “just another” denigrates
Mr. Pierce’s status still further. Words and other devices that serve this func-
tion are known as downplayers.
Perhaps the words most often used as downplayers are “mere” and
“merely.” If Kim tells you that she has a yellow belt in the Tibetan martial
art of Pujo and that her sister has a mere green belt, you would quite natu-
rally make the assumption that a yellow belt ranks higher than a green belt.
We’d probably say that Kim’s use of the word “mere” gives you the right to
make that assumption. Kim has used the word to downplay the signifi cance
of her sister’s accomplishment. But notice this: It could still be that Kim’s
sister’s belt signifi es the higher rank. If called on the matter, Kim might
claim that she said “mere” simply because her sister has been practicing the
art for much longer and is, after all, not that far ahead. Whether Kim has
such an out or not, she has used a downplayer to try to diminish her sister’s
The term “so-called” is another standard downplayer. We might say,
for example, that the woman who made the diagnosis is a “so-called doctor,”
which downplays her credentials as a physician. Quotation marks can be used
to accomplish the same thing:
She got her “degree” from a correspondence school.
Use of quotation marks as a downplayer is somewhat different from their use
to indicate irony, as in this remark:
John “borrowed” Hank’s umbrella, and Hank hasn’t seen it since.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 150 12/9/10 2:54 PM
RHETORICAL DEVICES I 151
The idea in the latter example isn’t to downplay John’s borrowing the umbrella;
it’s to indicate that it wasn’t really a case of borrowing at all. But the use of
quotation marks around the word “degree” and the use of “so-called” in the
earlier examples are designed to play down the importance of their subjects.
And, like “mere” and “merely,” they do it in a fairly unsubtle way.
Many conjunctions—such as “nevertheless,” “however,” “still,” and
“but”—can be used to downplay claims that precede them. Such uses are more
subtle than the fi rst group of downplayers. Compare the following two ver-
sions of what is essentially the same pair of claims:
(1) The leak at the plant was a terrible tragedy, all right; however, we
must remember that such pesticide plants are an integral part of the
“green revolution” that has helped to feed millions of people.
(2) Although it’s true that pesticide plants are an integral part of the
“green revolution” that has helped to feed millions of people, it was
just such a plant that developed a leak and produced a terrible tragedy.
The differences may not be as obvious as those in the cases of “mere” and
“so-called,” but the two versions give an indication of where their authors’
The context of a claim can determine whether it downplays or not.
Consider the remark “Chavez won by only six votes.” The word “only” may
or may not downplay Chavez’s victory, depending on how thin a six-vote
margin is. If ten thousand people voted and Chavez won by six, then the
word “only” seems perfectly appropriate: Chavez won by just the skin of his
teeth. But if the vote was in a committee of, say, twenty, then six is quite a
substantial margin (it would be thirteen votes to seven, if everybody voted—
almost two to one), and applying the word “only” to the result is clearly a
slanting device designed to give Chavez’s margin of victory less importance
than it deserves.
As mentioned earlier, slanters really can’t—and shouldn’t—be avoided
altogether. They can give our writing fl air and interest. What can be avoided
is being unduly swayed by slanters. Learn to appreciate the effects that subtle
and not-so-subtle manipulations of language can have on you. By being aware,
you decrease your chances of being taken in unwittingly by a clever writer or
Identify any of the rhetorical devices you fi nd in the following from the previ-
ous section of the text (euphemisms, dysphemisms, weaselers, downplayers).
Not every example may contain such a device.
1. You say you are in love with Oscar, but are you sure he’s right for you?
Isn’t he a little too . . . uh, mature for you?
2. He was at the bar for two hours, officer, but I know he had only four
drinks during that time.
3. “The key principle is ‘responsible energy exploration.’ And remember,
it’s NOT drilling for oil. It’s responsible energy exploration.”
—Republican pollster Frank Luntz
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 151 12/9/10 2:54 PM
152 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
4. Of course, it may be that Roethlisberger didn’t even commit the assaults
he was accused of.
5. Try the Neutron Diet for just four weeks, and you can lose as many as
6. Republicans stand on principle against the irresponsible plans put forth
by environmental extremists to wreck the economy.
7. “Despite what many politicians continue to say, the success of the surge
strategy put in place by Generals Petraeus and Odierno is undeniable.”
—House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)
8. Obama and his Democrat-Communist party have bloated the already
bloated federal bureaucracy by 25% in ONE YEAR.
9. Charles, be sure to tinkle before we leave!
10. Him? Oh, that’s just my brother.
RHETORICAL DEVICES II
These next three slanting devices rely, in one way or another, on unwarranted
assumptions. We have to depend on unstated assumptions all the time, but as
you’ll see, we can get into trouble when those assumptions are not trustworthy.
You often hear references to “the liberals,” “the right-wingers,” “the Jews,”
“the Catholics,” “the Evangelicals,” and, lately, “the Tea Partiers.” These
terms are almost always used when the speaker or writer is making use of
a stereotype. A stereotype is a generalization or an assumption about all the
members of a group that is based on an image of those in the group. Ameri-
cans are often stereotyped as being friendly and generous, but also as being
impatient and domineering. Asians are often stereotyped as being reserved but
clever. Some stereotypes are negative and even vicious: women are emotional,
men are insensitive, lesbians hate men, southerners are bigots, gay men are
effeminate, and so on. Of course, a moment’s thought tells us that none of
these characteristics could reasonably be applied to all the members of the
group in question.
Some of the slanters we’ve already talked about can involve stereotypes.
For example, if we use the dysphemism “right-wing extremist” to defame a
political candidate, we are utilizing a negative stereotype. Commonly, if we
link a candidate with a stereotype we like or venerate, we can create a favor-
able impression of the individual. “Senator McCain addressed his opponent
with all the civility of a gentleman” employs a favorable stereotype, that of a
gentleman, in a rhetorical comparison.
Our stereotypes come from a great many sources, many from popular lit-
erature, and are often supported by a variety of prejudices and group interests.
The Native American tribes of the Great Plains were considered noble people
Mention the strict regulations—
not protocols or rules—
governing nuclear power
—R epublican p ollster F RANK
L UNTZ, in “An Energy Policy
for the 21st Century,” advis-
ing Republicans how to sell
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 152 12/9/10 2:54 PM
RHETORICAL DEVICES II 153
In the Media
We Get Dumber in Company of Blondes
LONDON—From Marilyn Monroe to Paris
Hilton, “blonde” has long been code for a
woman who’s long on looks and light on brains.
Now French researchers have found that
the stereotype can actually affect mental
A recent study showed that otherwise intel-
ligent men performed below par on general
knowledge tests after viewing photos of blonde
The real surprise? Women’s performance also
dipped in the tests.
The study, published in the Journal of Exper-
imental Social Psychology, examined people’s
ability to answer Trivial Pursuit game questions
after viewing photos of women with different
Exposure to blondes resulted in the lowest
Thierry Meyer, joint author of the study and
professor of social psychology at the University
of Paris X-Nanterre, said that the study proves a
“There’s a decrease in performance after an
unobtrusive exposure to a stereotype about
people who have the reputation to be cogni-
tively impaired,” he said.
In plainer language, blondes might make
people act in a less intelligent manner because
the people believe—whether they want to
admit it or not—that they are in the presence of
someone who’s not very smart.
Previous studies also have shown how infor-
mation from a person’s social context can influ-
ence their behavior.
For example, when people are exposed to
elderly people, they tend to walk and talk more
slowly. When people sit beside someone who is
fidgeting, they tend to fidget as well.
“The mere knowledge of a stereotype can
influence our behavior,” said Clementine Bry,
another author of the study.
It’s not clear how the stereotype of the dumb
blonde came about, although some researchers
point to the 1950s movie Gentlemen Prefer
Blondes starring Marilyn Monroe. But through
the years a wide range of blonde actresses—
from Mae West to Suzanne Somers to Goldie
Hawn—have perpetuated the stereotype.
Bry was quick to point out that there is
“absolutely no scientific evidence” to support
the stereotype of the dumb blonde.
“Stereotypes are cultural beliefs about social
groups, and are not truthful pictures of who
people are,” she said.
—Shelley Emling, Cox News Service
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 153 12/9/10 2:54 PM
154 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
by most whites until just before the mid-nineteenth century. But as white
people grew more interested in moving them off their lands and as confl icts
between the two escalated, popular literature increasingly described Native
Americans as subhuman creatures. This stereotype supported the group inter-
ests of whites. Confl icts in general, but especially confl icts between nations,
produce derogatory stereotypes of the opposition; it is easier to destroy ene-
mies without pangs of conscience if we think of them as less “human” than
ourselves. Stereotyping becomes even easier when there are racial differences
Nicholas Kristof notes that it isn’t just the ignorant and uneducated
whose thinking runs to stereotypes:
In times of stress, even smart and sophisticated people tend to be swept
up in prejudice. Teddy Roosevelt said in 1886: “I don’t go so far as to
think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out
of ten are, and I shouldn’t inquire too closely in the case of the tenth.
The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average
The fact that nothing could have been further from the truth seems to be irrel-
evant once the blood pressure gets up. (It’s also helpful to remember that the
stereotypical cowboy of the movies was hardly realistic. After all, it was not
the pillars of society who moved West and became cowboys during the nine-
The next batch of slanting devices doesn’t depend as much on emotional asso-
ciations as on the manipulation of other features of language. When we com-
municate with one another, we automatically have certain expectations and
make certain assumptions. (For example, when your instructor says, “Every-
body passed the exam,” she doesn’t mean that everybody in the world passed
the exam. We assume that the scope of the pronoun extends to include only
those who took the exam.) These expectations and assumptions help fi ll in the
gaps in our conversations so that we don’t have to explain everything we say
in minute detail. Because providing such details would be a tedious and prob-
ably impossible chore, these underlying conversational factors are crucial to
the success of communication.
Consider this statement:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am proof that there is at least one candidate in
this race who does not have a drinking problem.
Notice that this remark does not say that any opponent of the speaker does
have a drinking problem. In fact, the speaker is even allowing for the fact
that other candidates may have no such problem by using the words “at least
one candidate.” But because we assume there would be no need to make this
remark unless there were a candidate who had a drinking problem, the speaker
*Nicholas D. Kristof, “Bigotry in Islam—and Here,” New York Times, < www.nytimes.com >, op-ed section.
The city voluntarily assumed
the costs of cleaning up the
landfill to make it safe for
—Opponents of a local
The opponents neglected to
mention that the law required
the city to assume the costs.
This bit of innuendo on the
part of the opponents sug-
gested, of course, that the
city was in bed with the
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 154 12/9/10 2:54 PM
RHETORICAL DEVICES II 1
■ As discussed later in
the text, the power
of photographs and
other images to convey
emotions is somewhat
analogous to the
rhetorical force of
language. For example,
what emotion is elicited
by this image?
casts suspicion on his opponent.
This is sometimes referred to as
signifi cant mention or paralipsis.
It is one form of innuendo, which
includes many ways of getting
a point across without explic-
itly committing oneself to it.
Another example, maybe
our all-time favorite, is this
I didn’t say the meat was
tough. I said I didn’t see the
horse that is usually outside.
— W. C. Fields
As you can see, the use of innu-
endo enables us to insinuate
something deprecatory about
something or someone without
actually saying it. For example,
if someone asks you whether Ralph is telling the truth, you may reply, “Yes,
this time,” which would suggest that maybe Ralph doesn’t usually tell the
truth. Or you might say of someone, “She is competent—in many regards,”
which would insinuate that in some ways she is not competent.
Sometimes we condemn somebody with faint praise—that is, by prais-
ing a person a small amount when grander praise might be expected, we hint
that praise may not really be due at all. This is a kind of innuendo. Imagine,
for example, reading a letter of recommendation that says, “Ms. Flotsam has
done good work for us, I suppose.” Such a letter does not inspire one to want
to hire Ms. Flotsam on the spot. Likewise, “She’s proved to be useful so far”
and “Surprisingly, she seems very astute” manage to speak more evil than
good of Ms. Flotsam. Notice, though, that the literal information contained in
these remarks is not negative in the least. Innuendo lies between the lines, so
Another form of innuendo, one distinctive enough to warrant its own heading,
is the loaded question. If you overheard someone ask, “Have you always loved
to gamble?” you would naturally assume that the person being questioned did
in fact love to gamble. This assumption is independent of whether the person
answered yes or no, for it underlies the question itself. Every question rests
on assumptions. Even an innocent question like “What time is it?” depends
on the assumptions that the hearer speaks English and has some means of
fi nding out the time, for instance. A loaded question is less innocent, however.
It rests on one or more unwarranted or unjustified assumptions. The world’s
oldest example, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” rests on the assump-
tion that the person asked has in the past beaten his wife. If there is no reason
to think that this assumption is true, then the question is a loaded one.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 155 12/9/10 2:54 PM
156 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
Identify any rhetorical devices you fi nd in these passages that were described
in the previous three sections of the text (stereotypes, innuendo, loaded ques-
tions). Not every example may contain such a device.
1. An attorney questioning a witness: “So, if you were awake when you
crossed the bridge, just when did you go to sleep at the wheel?”
2. No, I’m sure you’ll enjoy playing tennis with Jerome. He gets around
pretty well for a guy his age.
3. Frankly, I believe that fl ash memory will make any kind of moving-part
memory, such as hard drives, completely obsolete.
4. Larry Kudlow, on CNBC (in an American Spectator interview): “[Former
Treasury secretary] Bob Rubin’s a smart guy, a nice man, but he hates
tax cuts. To listen to Rubin on domestic issues, you could just die. He’s a
5. Has Harry been a faithful husband? Well, he’s not been through a Tiger
6. Why is it, do you suppose, that pit bulls are all mean and vicious?
7. I wouldn’t worry about the train being late. This is Germany, you know.
8. Why did Obama fail to act swiftly to end the BP oil spill?
9. It goes without saying that kid will do well in school. His kind always do.
10. The Pope does not molest children.
RHETORICAL DEVICES III
Humor and a bit of exaggeration are part of our everyday speech. But they can
also be used to sway opinions if the listener is not being careful.
Also known as the horse laugh, this device includes ridicule and vicious humor
of all kinds. Ridicule is a powerful rhetorical tool—most of us really hate being
laughed at. So it’s important to remember that somebody who simply gets a
laugh at the expense of another person’s position has not raised any objection
to that position.
One may simply laugh outright at a claim (“Send aid to Russia? Har,
har, har!”), laugh at another claim that reminds us of the fi rst (“Support the
Equal Rights Amendment? Sure, when the ladies start buying the drinks! Ho,
ho, ho!”), tell an unrelated joke, use sarcastic language, or simply laugh at the
person who is trying to make the point.
The next time you watch a debate, remember that the person who has
the funniest lines and who gets the most laughs may be the person who seems
to win the debate, but critical thinkers should be able to see the difference
between argumentation on one hand and entertainment on the other.
Notice that we are not saying there’s anything wrong with entertain-
ment, nor with making a valid point in a humorous way. Jon Stewart makes
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 156 12/9/10 2:54 PM
RHETORICAL DEVICES III 1
his living ridiculing others (as
well as himself). But often there
is a serious critical point along-
side or underneath the humor-
Hyperbole is extravagant over-
statement. A claim that exag-
gerates for effect is on its way to
becoming hyperbole, depending
on the strength of its language
and the point being made. To
describe a hangnail as a serious
injury is hyperbole; so is using
the word “fascist” to describe
parents who insist that their
teenager be home by midnight. Not all strong or colorful language is hyper-
bole, of course. “Oscar Peterson is an unbelievably inventive pianist” is a
strong claim, but it is not hyperbolic—it isn’t really extravagant. However,
“Oscar Peterson is the most inventive musician who ever lived” goes beyond
emphasis and crosses over the line into hyperbole. (How could one know that
Oscar Peterson is more inventive than, say, Mozart?) The test for hyperbole
is basically a test for any kind of initial plausibility (see Chapter 4, p. 111). A
hyperbolic claim will typically have little or none.
Dysphemisms often involve hyperbole. So do rhetorical comparisons.
When we use the dysphemisms “traitorous” or “extremist” to describe the
views of a member of an opposing political party, we are indulging in hyper-
bole. If we say that the secretary of state is less well informed than a beet,
that’s hyperbole in a rhetorical comparison. In similar ways, rhetorical expla-
nations and defi nitions (see next two pages) can utilize hyperbole.
Hyperbole is also frequently used in ridicule. If it involves exaggeration,
a piece of ridicule counts as hyperbole. The foregoing example, saying that the
secretary of state is less well informed than a beet, is hyperbole in a rhetorical
comparison used to ridicule that official.
A claim can be hyperbolic without containing excessively emotive words
or phrases. Neither the hangnail nor the Oscar Peterson example contains
such language; in fact, the word “unbelievably” is probably the most emotive
word in the two claims about Peterson, and it occurs in the nonhyperbolic
claim. But a claim can also be hyperbole as a result of the use of such lan-
guage. “Parents who are strict about a curfew are fascists” is an example. If the
word “mean” were substituted for “fascists,” we might fi nd the claim strong
or somewhat exaggerated, but we would not call it hyperbole. It’s when the
colorfulness of language becomes excessive —a matter of judgment—that the
claim is likely to turn into hyperbole.
Hyperbole is an obvious slanting device, but it can also have more
subtle—perhaps unconscious—effects. Even if you reject the exaggeration,
you may be moved in the direction of the basic claim. For example, you
may reject the claim that Oscar Peterson is the most inventive musician
who ever lived, but you may now believe that Oscar Peterson must certainly
A feminazi is a woman to
whom the most important
thing in life is seeing to it that
as many abortions as possible
—R USH L IMBAUGH
A rhetorical definition with
hyperbole. (A straw man, too,
but that’s for a later chapter.)
■ Much sarcastic
comment resulted from
Sarah Palin’s use of
notes penned on her
palm. She even got in
on the act herself in a
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 157 12/9/10 2:54 PM
158 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
be an extraordinary musician—otherwise, why would someone make that
exaggerated claim about him? Or suppose someone says, “Charlotte Church
has the most fabulous voice of any singer around today.” Even if you reject
the “fabulous” part of the claim, you may still end up thinking Charlotte
Church must have a pretty good voice. But be careful: Without support,
you have no more reason to accept the milder claims than the wilder ones.
Hyperbole can add a persuasive edge to a claim that it doesn’t deserve. A
hyperbolic claim is pure persuasion.
RHETORICAL DEVICES IV
Defi nitions, explanations, analogies, and comparisons are all used in straight-
forward ways most of the time. But, as we’ll see, they can also be used in rhe-
torical fashion to slant a point one way or another.
Rhetorical Definitions and Rhetorical Explanations
We encountered rhetorical (or persuasive) defi nitions in Chapter 3. “Real”
defi nitions are primarily used to clarify meaning; rhetorical defi nitions use
Several polls have reported that voters sometimes indicate approval of a measure when they
hear its title but indicate disapproval after they’ve heard an explanation of what the measure
actually proposes. This isn’t surprising, given the misleading proposal titles assigned by mem-
bers of Congress and state legislatures, and by authors of ballot measures. Here are a few exam-
ples of recent laws, initiatives, and so on, the names of which don’t exactly tell the whole story:
Healthy Forests Initiative (federal)—Reduces public involvement in decision making
regarding logging, reduces environmental protection requirements, and provides
timber companies greater access to national forests
Clear Skies Act (federal)—Loosens regulation of mercury, nitrous oxide, and sulphur diox-
ide, and puts off required reductions of these substances for several years beyond the lim-
its of the current Clean Air Act; allows companies to trade off “pollution credits” so that
some communities would get cleaner air and others dirtier air
Limitations on Enforcement of Unfair Business Competition Laws (California)—Makes it
impossible for consumer groups of all types to sue corporations and businesses to prevent
fraud, false advertising, and other deceptions before they take place
Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (Arizona)—Requires law
enforcement officers to determine immigration status of individuals whom they reason-
ably suspect to be illegal aliens
Right to Work (many states)—Prevents unions from collecting fees from nonmembers of
Prohibition of Discrimination and Preferential Treatment (California)—Weakens or elimi-
nates affirmative action programs
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 158 12/9/10 2:54 PM
RHETORICAL DEVICES IV 1
emotively charged language to express or elicit an attitude about something.
Defi ning abortion as “the murder of an unborn child” does this—and stacks the
deck against those who think abortion is morally defensible. Likewise, “human
being” could be restricted in its meaning to an organism to which a human
gives birth. Under this defi nition, abortion could not be classifi ed as homicide.
In Chapter 3, we explained three forms defi nitions typically take. It’s
worth noting here that even defi nitions by example can slant a discussion if
the examples are prejudicially chosen. Defi ning “conservative” by pointing to
a white supremacist would be a case in point. Bill Maher once defi ned a con-
servative as one who thinks all problems can be solved by either more guns or
more Jesus. If one wants to see all sides of an issue, one must avoid defi nitions
and examples that slant a discussion.
Rhetorical explanations are the same kind of slanting device, this time
clothed as explanations. “He lost the fi ght because he’s lost his nerve.” Is
this different from saying that he lost because he was too cautious? Maybe,
but maybe not. What isn’t in doubt is that the explanation is certainly more
unfl attering when it’s put the former way.
We recently saw a good example of a rhetorical explanation in a letter to
I am a traditional liberal who keeps asking himself, why has there been
such a seismic shift in affirmative action? It used to be affirmative
action stood for equal opportunity; now it means preferences and quo-
tas. Why the change? It’s because the people behind affirmative action
aren’t for equal rights anymore; they’re for handouts.
This isn’t a dispassionate scholarly explanation but a way of expressing an
opinion on, and trying to evoke anger at, affirmative action policies.
Rhetorical Analogies and Misleading Comparisons
A while back, Robert Kittle, the editorial page editor of the San Diego Union-
Tribune, referred to the Social Security system as a Ponzi scheme. (Ponzi schemes,
named for Carlo Ponzi, who was responsible for some famous examples, are
pyramid schemes designed to bilk money from people who fall for them; Ber-
nie Madoff, who made off with $65 billion of other people’s money, is the most
famous recent practitioner.) To compare the Social Security system to such a
scheme is to make a rhetorical analogy —a comparison of two things or a likening
of one thing to another in order to make one of them appear better or worse
(DOONESBURY © G. B.
Trudeau. Reprinted with
permission of Universal
Press Syndicate. All rights
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 159 12/9/10 2:54 PM
160 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
than it might be. Now, people use analogies for various explanatory purposes; if
a friend knows nothing of rugby, for instance, you might help him understand
something about it by comparing it to football. In the foregoing case, how-
ever, editor Kittle’s comparison was designed not to enlighten but to persuade.
“Ponzi scheme” has a strong negative connotation, and calling something a
Ponzi scheme portrays it in a bad light.
Rhetorical analogies are often used as a substitute for arguments, and it is
easy to see why. Facts are required to show that Social Security is fi nancially
unsustainable; it’s less work and possibly just as effective to call it a Ponzi
scheme. This kind of persuasion often works very well, producing conviction
in the listener without the necessity of proof.
Rhetorical analogies include both metaphors and similes. “Hillary’s eyes
bulge just a little, like a Chihuahua’s” is a simile; “Jenna is a loose cannon” is
Rhetorical analogies also include comparisons. “You have a better
chance of being struck by lightning than of winning the lottery.” Or Dave
Barry’s description of parenthood: “Having kids is like having a bowling alley
installed in your brain.” These are colorful ways of making a point, but of
course they do not constitute reasons for accepting that point.
Some comparisons can be problematic, leading us into error if we’re
not careful. Advertising slogans often use comparisons that can mislead us
because of their vagueness. “Now 25 percent larger,” “New and improved for-
mula,” or “Quietest by far.” We learned what problems vagueness can cause
in the previous chapter; it returns to haunt these comparative claims. Larger
than what? Improved how? Unless the terms of the comparison are spelled out
and the manner of comparing made clear, such claims are worth very little. As
we also saw in the previous chapter, claims made in advertising are not our
most reliable sources of information, and that includes comparative claims.
Following are some questions that you would be wise to keep in mind
when considering comparisons. They include reference to omissions and dis-
tortions, which can be among the more subtle forms of rhetorical devices.
1. Is important information missing? It is nice to hear that the unemploy-
ment rate has gone down, but not if you learn the reason is that a larger
percent of the workforce has given up looking for work. Or, suppose
someone says that 90 percent of heroin addicts once smoked marijuana.
Without other information, the comparison is meaningless, since 90
percent of heroin addicts no doubt listened to the Beatles, too. Our local
U.S. congressional representative Wally Herger recently warned his con-
stituents that Social Security is in dire straits. At one time, he said, there
were 42 workers to support a single retiree, and now there are only 3. This
does indeed sound ominous, except Representative Herger didn’t mention
that the 42-to-1 ratio was at the startup of Social Security before many
had retired; he also failed to mention that the 3-to-1 ratio has been around
for the past 25 years, during which period Social Security accumulated a
2. Is the same standard of comparison used? Are the same reporting and
recording practices being used? A change in the jobless rate doesn’t mean
much if the government changes the way it calculates joblessness, as
* Statistics from our colleague, Professor (of American history) Carl Peterson.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 160 12/9/10 2:54 PM
RHETORICAL DEVICES IV 1
In the Media
A Misleading Mathematical Visual
Sometimes a straightforward mathematical comparison can become misleading by the way it’s presented. The bar
graph below, from a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, compares Democrats, Republicans, and Independents with respect
to their agreement with a court’s judgment that the feeding tube should be removed from Terri Schiavo, a case dis-
cussed in the text, page 166. From a casual look at the bar graph, it might seem that Democrats are much more in
favor of removing the tube than Republicans or Independents.
But look at the numbers rather than the bars themselves, and we get a different story. The first graph shows us only
the parts of the bars, from 53 percent to 63 percent. If we display the entire bars, from 0 to 100 percent, the graph
looks like this:
In this case, the Democrats look (correctly) to be only somewhat more in favor of removing the tube. The lesson here is
to avoid drawing conclusions until you’ve had a close look at the data, including the manner in which it is displayed.
Comparison originally made by truthout.org.
Question 2: Based on what
you have heard or read about
the case, do you agree with
the court’s decision to have
the feeding tube removed?
Republicans Independentsemocrats publicans ependent
CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll
Results by party
Sampling error: 1/27%
Question 2: Based on what you have heard or
read about the case, do you agree with the court’s
decision to have the feeding tube removed?
Republicans IndependentsDe c ts epublicans dependents
RESULTS BY PARTY:
CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll
Margin of error: 1/27%
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 161 12/9/10 2:54 PM
162 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
sometimes happens. In 1993, the number of people in the United States
with AIDS suddenly increased dramatically. Had a new form of the AIDS
virus appeared? No; the federal government had expanded the defi nition
of AIDS to include several new indicator conditions. As a result, overnight
50,000 people were considered to have AIDS who had not been so consid-
ered the day before.
3. Are the items comparable? It is hard to compare baseball sluggers Barry
Bonds and Willie Mays if one but not the other used steroids, or if one
had the benefi t of improved equipment. It’s hard to derive a conclusion
from the fact that this April’s retail business activity is way down as com-
pared with last April’s, if Easter came early this year and the weather was
especially cold. That more male than female drivers are involved in traf-
fi c fatalities doesn’t mean much by itself, since male drivers collectively
drive more miles than do female drivers. Comparing share values of two
mutual funds over the past ten years won’t be useful to an investor if the
comparison doesn’t take into account a difference in fees.
4. Is the comparison expressed as an average? The average rainfall in Seattle
is about the same as that in Kansas City. But you’ll spend more time in
the rain in Seattle because it rains there twice as often as in Kansas City.
If Central Valley Components, Inc. (CVC), reports that average salaries
of a majority of its employees have more than doubled over the past ten
years, it sounds good, but CVC still may not be a great place to work.
Perhaps the increases were due to converting the majority of employees,
who worked half-time, to full-time and fi ring the rest. Comparisons that
involve averages omit details that can be important, simply because they
Averages are measures of central tendency, and there are different
kinds of measures or averages. Consider, for instance, the average cost of
a new house in your area, which may be $210,000. If that is the mean, it
is the total of the sales prices divided by the number of houses sold, and
it may be quite different from the median, which is an average that is the
halfway fi gure (half the houses cost more and half cost less). The mode,
the most common sales price, may be different yet. If there are likely to be
large or dramatic variations in what is measured, one must be cautious of
fi gures that represent an unspecifi c “average.”
Never try to wade a river just
because it has an average
depth of four feet.
—M ARTIN F RIEDMAN
The wrong average can put
In 2003, the administration
proposed a tax cut that, it was
said,would give the average
The “average” here is the
mean average. However, most
taxpayers, according to the
Institution Tax Policy Center,
would have received less than
$100 under the administra-
Cause for Alarm?
According to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, cocaine use among Americans
twelve to seventeen years of age increased by a whopping 166 percent between 1992 and
1995. Wow, right?
Except that the increase in absolute terms was a little less spectacular: In 1992,
0.3 percent of Americans aged twelve to seventeen had used cocaine; in 1995, the percentage
was 0.8 percent of that population.
Be wary of comparisons expressed as percentage changes.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 162 12/9/10 2:54 PM
RHETORICAL DEVICES IV 163
Explain how rhetorical defi nitions, rhetorical comparisons, and rhetorical
explanations differ. Find an example of each in a newspaper, magazine, or
Critique these comparisons, using the questions about comparisons discussed
in the text as guides.
You get much better service on Air Atlantic.
Better than on what? (One term of the comparison is not clear.)
In what way better? (The claim is much too vague to be of
1. New improved Morning Muffins! Now with 20 percent more real dairy
2. The average concert musician makes less than a plumber.
3. Major-league ballplayers are much better than they were thirty years ago.
4. What an arid place to live. Why, they had less rain here than in the desert.
Visual Hyperbole, Ridicule, or Just Beefcake?
Former Governor Schwarzenegger of California was the
point of all manner of jokes, both verbal and visual.
Most good satire and parody contain more than a kernel
of truth. Schwarzenegger’s fame as a bodybuilder and
later as the star of such action movies as the Termina-
tor series helped him get elected and also have been
the source of most of the humor about him. Here, he
appears in his Conan the Barbarian gear, overseeing the
settling of California by whites in the nineteenth cen-
tury. We think the main point here is simply to show the
governor without a shirt.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 163 12/9/10 2:54 PM
164 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
5. On the whole, the mood of the country is more conservative than it was
in the nineties.
6. Which is better for a person, coffee or tea?
7. The average GPA of graduating seniors at Georgia State is 3.25, as com-
pared with 2.75 twenty years ago.
8. Women can tolerate more pain than men.
9. Try Duraglow with new sunscreening polymers. Reduces the harmful
effect of sun on your car’s fi nish by up to 50 percent.
10. What a brilliant season! Attendance was up 25 percent over last year.
PROOF SURROGATES AND REPETITION
These last two devices stand more or less alone; they don’t fi t comfortably into
any of the other groups, so we’ve made a group of just the two of them.
An expression used to suggest that there is evidence or authority for a claim
without actually citing such evidence or authority is a proof surrogate. Some-
times we can’t prove the claim we’re asserting, but we can hint that there
is proof available, or at least evidence or authority for the claim, without
committing ourselves to what that proof, evidence, or authority is. Using
“informed sources say” is a favorite way of making a claim seem more author-
itative. Who are the sources? How do we know they’re informed? How does
the person making the claim know they’re informed? “It’s obvious that”
sometimes precedes a claim that isn’t obvious at all. But we may keep our
objections to ourselves in the belief that it’s obvious to everybody but us, and
we don’t want to appear denser than the next guy.
Proof surrogates are sometimes used as part of a more general scheme
of insinuating one’s way into another’s confi dence. Most good salespersons
know that if they can establish some common personal ground with a client,
they are more likely to make a sale, and the same is true in general for trying
to persuade one’s listeners that some claim is true. One way of making a per-
sonal connection is by establishing, or insinuating, that one is part of the same
group as one’s listeners. It’s “just us” instead of “us and them.” We generally
feel more favorably toward members of groups to which we belong, and this
“in-group” bias can help bring one’s listeners over to one’s side. It’s simply
true that we tend to hold our comrades—members of our own group—to a
lower standard of proof than we do outsiders.
Many proof surrogates play on this presumed in-group status. When
someone says, “As we know . . . ,” to disagree is tantamount to admitting you
are not among the in-group. Similarly, “As everybody knows . . . ,” threatens
to put one who disagrees among the uninformed outsiders.
The preceding considerations are fairly subtle but often more effective
than we might like to admit. Other proof surrogates are rather more blunt:
“Studies show” crops up a lot in advertising. Note that this phrase tells us
nothing about how many studies are involved, how good they are, who did
them, or any other important information. Here’s a good example of a proof
surrogate from the Wall Street Journal:
There is no other country in the
Middle East except Israel that
can be considered to have a
stable government. . . . Is Saudi
Arabia more stable? Egypt?
Jordan? Kuwait? Judge for
—“Facts and Logic About the
Proof surrogates often take
the form of questions. This
strategy can also be analyzed
as switching the burden of
proof (see Chapter 7).
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 164 12/9/10 2:54 PM
PROOF SURROGATES AND REPETITION 165
We hope politicians on this side of the border are paying close attention
to Canada’s referendum on Quebec. . . .
Canadians turned out en masse to reject the referendum. There’s
every reason to believe that voters in the U.S. are just as fed up with
the social engineering that lumps people together as groups rather than
treating them as individuals.
There may be “every reason to believe” that U.S. voters are fed up, but
nobody has yet told us what any of those reasons are. Until we hear more
evidence, our best bet is to fi gure that the quotation mainly refl ects what the
writer at the Journal thinks is the proper attitude for U.S. voters. Without a
context, such assertions are meaningless.
Remember: Proof surrogates are just that—surrogates. They are not real
proof or evidence. Such proof or evidence may exist, but until it has been pre-
sented, the claim at issue remains unsupported. At best, proof surrogates sug-
gest sloppy research; at worst, they suggest propaganda.
“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless
one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly—it must confi ne
itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” (Joseph Goebbles,
Nazi Minister of Propaganda)
“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” (Vladimir Lenin, Rus-
We don’t want to set Goebbles and Lenin up as models for critical think-
ing, but we are forced to admit that both had huge success at convincing large
numbers of people to believe what they wanted them to believe. And the
technique of repetition, simply making the same point over and over at every
opportunity, was a main tool in their various campaigns. Similarly, in adver-
tising and in politics today the constant repetition of a theme seems eventu-
ally to have a dulling effect on our critical faculties, and we can become lulled
into believing something simply because we’ve become used to hearing it. A
critical thinker needs to remember: it takes evidence and argument to provide
believability; if a claim is not likely to be true on the fi rst hearing, simple rep-
etition does not make it more likely on the hundredth.
Identify any rhetorical devices you fi nd in these passages that were described
in the previous four sections of the text (ridicule/sarcasm, hyperbole, proof
surrogates). Not every example may contain such a device.
1. Medical school, huh? Right. You and your fancy 2.9 grade point are going
to get into a fi ne medical school all right.
2. Laboratory tests have shown that Cloyon produces a sweeter taste than
any other artifi cial sweetener.
3. I’ll tell you, there’s never been anybody in the entire state of Florida as
blitzed as Tom and I were last night.
4. Anybody who understands how alcohol works can tell you that three
drinks is enough to make that guy seriously impaired.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 165 12/9/10 2:54 PM
166 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
5. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles chart, it takes only three
drinks to impair somebody his size.
6. “Cable news has gone round the bend: The only thing you hear on Fox
News is right-wing rants, and the only thing you hear on MSNBC are
7. That the president is a Marxist simply cannot be denied by any serious
observer of contemporary politics.
8. In the 1988 U.S. presidential election, campaigners for Democrat
Michael Dukakis took a photograph of Dukakis in an M1 Abrams Tank.
The photo was supposed to shore up Dukakis’s credentials as strong
on defense. Unfortunately, Dukakis had a silly grin and was wearing a
helmet too large for his head, and the effect of the photograph was to
make him appear diminutive and goofy. The photo was widely shown
in the months preceding the election—but not by the Dukakis people.
Instead, it was picked up and shown by his opponent, George H. W. Bush.
After looking at the photo at the following link, state which technique
was being used by the Bush campaign:
9. If you want to work your way up from being a hostess to being a server at
The Cheesecake Factory, plan on it taking about a thousand years.
10. The proposal isn’t bad when you consider it comes from a group of
PERSUASION USING VISUAL IMAGES
Before the digital age, it was much easier to take photographic evi-
dence at face value. Even then, however, all kinds of things could be done
to manipulate an image and a viewer’s perception of what was taking
place. But some photos and videos do not need any manipulation at all to
produce a mistaken impression in the viewer. You might recall that, in 2005,
a Florida woman named Terri Schiavo became the center of a controversy
regarding whether she was in a “persistent vegetative state” (PVS) and could
ever be expected to regain consciousness, never mind recover. Videotape
made by family members sometimes appeared to show her responding to
the presence of her mother. Bill Frist, himself a heart surgeon and at that
time majority leader of the U.S. Senate, saw the tape and claimed that Ms.
Schiavo seemed to be responding to visual stimuli. Other doctors, including
her own, said that the facial expressions some took as conscious response
were often exhibited by those in a PVS and were not signs of awareness. After
her death, an autopsy showed that Ms. Schiavo’s brain had shrunk to half its
normal size, and what was left was severely damaged, including her visual
cortex—she had been blind for some time before her death. The likelihood of
her having anything like consciousness near the end was virtually a medical
We describe this story to illustrate how a piece of videotape can be
ambiguous—that is, it can be open to more than one interpretation. What
app eared to be the case to some viewers turned out to be a mistaken impression—
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 166 12/9/10 2:54 PM
PERSUASION USING VISUAL IMAGES 167
leading them to make claims that turned out to be false. (Photos, videos, and
other imagery technically cannot be true or false; but claims based on such
imagery are true or false.)
As we said earlier, though, some people are not willing to let well enough
alone. They perform image manipulations of various sorts to try to create
mistaken impressions. Following is a list of tricks from the website
FAKES AND MISLEADING IMAGES CAN BE THE
RESULT OF . . .
* Deliberately manipulating an image (e.g., adding, deleting,
* Using unaltered images but with misleading captions
* Deliberately selected camera angles that distort information
* Lack of authority (i.e., author name, credentials);
inconsistency when compared to official images
* Stills taken from movies: out of context, they are given false
* Stills taken of models purported to be the real thing
* Stills that are genuine and unadulterated but “staged”
* 100% digital fabrications
In the Media
Now You See Him—Now You Don’t
Hu Jintao greets Deng Xiaoping in versions of the photo, from above clockwise, featuring a blurred audience, a dark
background and with Jiang Zemin.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 167 12/9/10 2:54 PM
168 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
In the Media
The Daschle Salute
This looks like a big-time “Oops!” moment for Tom Daschle, former majority leader in the U.S.
Senate. In fact, as explained in the text, it is a clever attempt to influence opinion against Das-
chle through photo manipulation.
The photos in the box “Now You See Him—Now You Don’t” on the
previous page are from Hong Kong’s newspaper, The Standard, from Septem-
ber 2, 2004. The original photo (lower right) showed China’s then paramount
leader Deng Xiaoping (in the gray jacket on the right) shaking hands with Hu
Jintao (wearing the tie), who has been China’s president since 2003. The per-
son between them in the original photo is former President Jiang Zemin. We
don’t know what might have become of Jiang’s reputation (he continued in
high office for some years after the photo was made), but his image suffered
a disappearing act.
In the next box, “The Daschle Salute,” it looks as though Tom Daschle
(the majority leader in the Senate at the time) doesn’t know how to salute the
fl ag or doesn’t know his right hand from his left. In reality, he did it correctly,
but someone reversed his image, fl ipping it right-to-left so that he appeared
to be saluting with his left hand rather than his right. There are two clues
to the doctoring that went on in this photo. It would take not just a critical
thinker but a sharp eye to spot them. The fi rst is that Daschle is married and
wears a wedding ring. If this were really his left hand, one would see his ring.
The second clue is more convincing. It’s that his coat is buttoned backwards:
Men’s clothing always has buttons on the right side of the garment, so it’s the
left side that closes over the right. In the photo, the right side of Daschle’s
jacket closes over the left, indicating that it isn’t just his hand that is on the
wrong side, his clothing would have to be reversed, too!
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 168 12/9/10 2:54 PM
Don’t Get Carried Away!
Once you’re familiar with the ways slanting devices are used to try to influence us, you may
be tempted to dismiss a claim or argument just because it contains strongly slanted language.
But true claims as well as false ones, good reasoning as well as bad, can be couched in such
language. Remember that the slanting itself gives us no reason to accept a position on an issue;
that doesn’t mean that there are no such reasons. Consider this example, written by someone
opposed to using animals for laboratory research:
It’s morally wrong for a person to inflict awful pain on another sensitive creature, one that
has done the first no harm. Therefore, the so-called scientists who perform their hideous
and sadistic experiments on innocent animals are moral criminals just as were Hitler and
his Nazi torturers.
Before we dismiss this passage as shrill or hysterical, it behooves us as critical thinkers to notice
that it contains a piece of reasoning that may shed light on the issue.
We would not expect your typical newspaper reader or web surfer to
be able to identify manipulated photos wherever they appear. We certainly
couldn’t do it, and some images are so carefully done nobody could spot the
problem with them.* So, what is a critically thinking person to do? It’s the
same answer you’ve heard before in these pages: Be careful. Be aware that
even though most people mean to be helpful and tell you what they actually
believe, a substantial number of them are out to fool you.
*What appears to be a wonderful paint-job illusion on the truck pictured above is actually a Photoshopped
illustration. You can see other examples of illustrations on the same truck at www.britannica.com/blogs/2009/02/
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 169 12/9/10 2:54 PM
170 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
Things to remember from this chapter:
■ Persuasion is the attempt to win someone to one’s own point of view.
■ Rhetoric seeks to persuade through the use of the emotive power of
■ Although it can exert a profound psychological infl uence, rhetoric has no
logical force; only an argument has logical force—i.e., can prove or support
■ There are a multitude of rhetorical devices in common use; they include
— Euphemisms: seek to mute the disagreeable aspects of something or to
emphasize its agreeable aspects
— Dysphemisms: seek to emphasize the disagreeable aspects of something
— Weaselers: words and phrases that protect a claim by weakening it
— Downplayers: techniques for toning down the importance of something
— Stereotypes: unwarranted and oversimplifi ed generalizations about the
members of a group or class
— Innuendo: using words with neutral or positive associations to insinuate
— Loaded questions: questions that depend on unwarranted assumptions
— Ridicule and sarcasm: widely used to put something in a bad light
— Hyperbole: overdone exaggeration
— Rhetorical defi nitions and explanations: used to create favorable or
unfavorable attitudes about something
— Rhetorical analogies and misleading comparisons: these devices per-
suade by making inappropriate connections between terms.
— Proof surrogates suggest there is evidence or authority for a claim
without actually saying what the evidence or authority is
— Repetition: hearing or reading a claim over and over can sometimes
mistakenly encourage the belief that it is true
■ These devices can affect our thinking in subtle ways, even when we
believe we are being objective.
■ Some of these devices, especially euphemisms and weaselers, have valu-
able, nonprejudicial uses as well as a slanting one. Only if we are speak-
ing, writing, listening, and reading carefully can we distinguish prejudicial
uses of these devices.
■ Although photographs and other images are not claims or arguments, they
can enter into critical thinking by offering evidence of the truth or falsity
of claims. They can also affect us psychologically in a manner analogous
to that by which the emotive meaning of language affects us, and often
even more powerfully.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 170 12/9/10 2:54 PM
You will want to recognize when someone is using rhetorical slanting devices
to infl uence your attitudes and beliefs. Let’s see if you can identify some of the
more common devices. Select the best answer.
1. “Making a former corporate CEO the head of the Securities and Exchange
Commission is like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.” This is best
seen as an example of
a. rhetorical analogy
b. rhetorical explanation
e. not a slanter
2. “Right. George Bush ‘won’ the election in 2000, didn’t he?” The use of
quotation marks around “won” has the effect of a
d. rhetorical explanation
e. not a slanter
3. “The obvious truth is that bilingual education has been a failure.” In this
statement, “the obvious truth” might best be viewed as
a. a proof surrogate
b. a weaseler
d. a dysphemism
e. not a slanter
4. After George W. Bush announced he wanted to turn a substantial portion
of the federal government operation over to private companies, Bobby L.
Harnage Sr., president of the American Federation of Government
Employees, said Bush had “declared all-out war on federal employees.”
Would you say that the quoted passage is
a. a rhetorical explanation
b. a euphemism
c. a weaseler
d. hyperbole/a rhetorical analogy
e. not a slanter
5. “Harry and his daughter had a little discussion about her outfi t . . . one
that left her in tears.”
a. a loaded question
b. a euphemism
c. both a and b
d. neither a nor b
6. “Before any more of my tax dollars go to the military, I’d like answers to
some questions, such as why are we spending billions of dollars on weap-
ons programs that don’t work?” This statement contains an example of
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 171 12/9/10 2:54 PM
172 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
a. a downplayer
b. a dysphemism
c. a proof surrogate
d. a loaded question
e. hyperbole and a loaded question
7. “Can Governor Evans be believed when he says he will fi ght for the
death penalty? You be the judge.” This statement contains
a. a dysphemism
b. a proof surrogate
e. no slanters
8. President Obama promised change, but he has continued to turn govern-
ment operations over to private companies, especially in Iraq and Afghan-
istan, just like his predecessor did.
b. a dysphemism
c. a loaded question
d. a proof surrogate
e. no slanter
9. “Studies confi rm what everyone knows: smaller classes make kids better
This statement contains:
a. a proof surrogate
b. a weaseler
d. an innuendo
e. no slanter
10. man selling his car: “True, it has a few dents, but that’s just normal
wear and tear.” This statement contains what might best be called
a. a loaded question
c. a dysphemism
d. a euphemism
Determine which of the numbered, italicized words and phrases are used as
rhetorical devices in the following passage. If the item fi ts one of the text’s
categories of rhetorical devices, identify it as such.
The National Rifl e Association’s campaign to arm every man, woman,
and child in America (1) received a setback when the president signed the
Brady Bill. But the gun-pushers (2) know that the bill was only a small
skirmish in a big war (3) over guns in America. They can give up some
of their more fanatical (4) positions on such things as assault weapons (5)
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 172 12/9/10 2:54 PM
and cop-killer bullets (6) and still win on the one that counts: regulation
of manufacture and sale of handguns.
Follow the directions for Exercise 5-7.
The big money guys (1) who have smuggled (2) the Rancho Vecino develop-
ment onto the November ballot will stop at nothing to have this town
run just exactly as they want. (3) It is possible (4) that Rancho Vecino will
cause traffic congestion on the east side of town, and it’s perfectly clear
that (5) the number of houses that will be built will overload the sewer
system. But (6) a small number of individuals have taken up the fi ght.
Can the developers be stopped in their desire to wreck our town? (7)
Follow the directions for Exercise 5-7.
The U.S. Congress has cut off funds for the superconducting super-
collider that the scientific establishment (1) wanted to build in Texas.
The alleged (2) virtues of the supercollider proved no match for the huge (3)
cost overruns (4) that had piled up like a mountain alongside a sea of red
ink. (5) Despite original estimates of fi ve to six billion dollars, the latest
fi gure was over eleven billion and growing faster than weeds. (6)
Read the passage below and answer the questions that follow it. Your instruc-
tor may have further directions.
Another quality that makes [Texas Republican Tom] DeLay an un-
Texas pol is that he’s mean. By and large, Texas pols are an agreeable set
of less-than-perfect humans and quite often well intentioned. As Carl
Parker of Port Arthur used to observe, if you took all the fools out of
the [legislature], it would not be a representative body any longer. The
old sense of collegiality was strong, and vindictive behavior—punish-
ing pols for partisan reasons—was simply not done. But those are Tom
DeLay’s specialties, his trademarks. The Hammer is not only genuinely
feared in Washington, he is, I’m sorry to say, hated.
—Excerpt from a column by Molly Ivins, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
1. What issue is the author addressing?
2. What position does the author take on that issue?
3. If the author supports this position with an argument, state that argument
in your own words.
4. Does the author use rhetorical devices discussed in this chapter? If so,
classify any that fall into the categories described in this chapter.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 173 12/9/10 2:54 PM
174 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
Follow the directions for Exercise 5-10, using the same list of questions.
Schools are not a microcosm of society, any more than an eye is a micro-
cosm of the body. The eye is a specialized organ which does something
that no other part of the body does. That is its whole signifi cance. You
don’t use your eyes to lift packages or steer automobiles. Specialized
organs have important things to do in their own specialties. So schools,
which need to stick to their special work as well, should not become
social or political gadfl ies.
Follow the directions for Exercise 5-10, using the same list of questions.
Here is what I believe: The country has just witnessed an interlude of
religious hysteria, encouraged and exploited by political quackery. The
political cynicism of Republicans shocked the nation. But even more
alarming is the enthusiasm of self-described “pro-life” forces for using
the power of the state to impose their obtuse moral distinctions on
the rest of us. The Catholic Church and many Protestant evangelicals
are acting as partisan political players in a very dangerous manner. Once
they have mobilized zealots to their moral causes, they can expect oth-
ers to fi ght back in the same blind, intolerant manner.
—William Greider, “Pro-Death Politics,” the Nation, April 2, 2005
Follow the directions for Exercise 5-10, using the same list of questions.
Asked whether he would be resigning, [U.N. Secretary General Kofi ]
Annan replied, “Hell, no. I’ve got lots of work to do, and I’m going to
go ahead and do it.” That’s doubtful. His term is up at the end of 2006,
and few—after the mess he’s caused—take him seriously. He may have
a lot of “work” he’d like to do, but he won’t be permitted to do it.
All around Annan is the wreckage of the U.N.’s spirit of high-level
—Editorial in the National Review Online, April 1, 2005
Follow the directions for Exercise 5-10, using the same list of questions.
“It is not the job of the state, and it is certainly not the job of the school,
to tell parents when to put their children to bed,” declared David Hart
of the National Association of Head Teachers, responding to David
Blunkett’s idea that parents and teachers should draw up “contracts”
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 174 12/9/10 2:54 PM
(which you could be fi ned for breaching) about their children’s behav-
ior, time-keeping, homework and bedtime. Teachers are apparently
concerned that their fi ve-to-eight-year-old charges are staying up too
late and becoming listless truants the next day.
While I sympathize with Mr. Hart’s concern about this neo-Stalinist
nannying, I wonder whether it goes far enough. Is it not high time that
such concepts as Bathtime, Storytime and Drinks of Water were subject
to regulation as well? I for one would value some governmental guid-
ance as to the number of humorous swimming toys (especially Hungry
Hippo) allowable per gallon of water. Adopting silly voices while read-
ing Spot’s Birthday or Little Rabbit Foo-Foo aloud is something cry-
ing out for regulatory guidelines, while the right of children to demand
and receive wholly unnecessary glasses of liquid after lights-out needs a
Statutory Minimum Allowance.
—John Walsh, the Independent
Choose which answer is best from among the alternatives provided.
1. “Yes, there may be instances of abuse connected with the new immigra-
tion law. But on the whole it will help Arizona deal with a serious prob-
lem.” This contains:
a. a downplayer
b. a proof surrogate
2. “Liberals need to understand the global health argument for abortion is
deeply offensive. It is like fi ghting disease by killing everyone who has a
disease.” This contains:
a. a euphemism
b. a dysphemism
c. a rhetorical defi nition
d. none of the above
3. “Why does Senator Schmidt collect child pornography? Only the Senator
can answer that.” This contains:
a. a loaded question
b. a euphemism
c. a dysphemism
d. none of the above
4. “Does Senator Schmidt collect child pornography? Only the Senator can
answer that.” This contains:
b. a downplayer
c. a euphemism
d. a stereotype
5. “Better lock up your whisky before Patrick gets here. Didn’t you know he
is Irish?” This contains:
a. a loaded question
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 175 12/9/10 2:54 PM
176 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
b. a rhetorical defi nition
c. a stereotype
d. a euphemism.
e. none of the above
6. “Ecology? I will tell you what ecology is. Ecology is the Marxist ‘science’
that tries to shove bogus facts about global warming down everyone’s
throat.” This contains:
a. a rhetorical defi nition
b. a rhetorical explanation
c. a rhetorical analogy
7. “Ecology? I will tell you what ecology is. Ecology is the Marxist ‘science’
that tries to shove bogus facts about global warming down everyone’s
throat.” The quotation marks around “science” are
b. a proof surrogate
c. a downplayer
d. a stereotype
8. “Ecology? I will tell you what ecology is. Ecology is the Marxist ‘science’
that tries to shove bogus facts about global warming down everyone’s
throat.” “Marxist” and “bogus” are
a. proof surrogates
d. rhetorical comparisons
e. none of these
9. “The reason Republicans oppose health care is they don’t care about
anyone except their friends in the insurance industry.” “Don’t care about
anyone except” is
a. a rhetorical defi nition
b. a rhetorical explanation
c. a rhetorical analogy
d. none of these
10. “Rush Limbaugh doesn’t make things up? C’mon, you know as well as I
do he makes things up.” This contains:
a. a stereotype
d. a proof surrogate
Identify any rhetorical devices you fi nd in the following selections, and clas-
sify those that fi t the categories described in the text. For each, explain its
function in the passage.
1. I trust you have seen Janet’s fi le and have noticed the “university” she
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 176 12/9/10 2:54 PM
2. The original goal of the Milosevic government in Belgrade was ethnic
cleansing in Kosovo.
3. Obamacare: The compassion of the IRS and the efficiency of the post
office, all at Pentagon prices.
4. Although it has always had a bad name in the United States, socialism is
nothing more or less than democracy in the realm of economics.
5. We’ll have to work harder to get Representative Burger reelected because
of his little run-in with the law.
6. It’s fair to say that, compared with most people his age, Mr. Beechler is
pretty much bald.
7. During World War II, the U.S. government resettled many people of
Japanese ancestry in internment camps.
8. “Overall, I think the gaming industry would be a good thing for our state.”
—From a letter to the editor, Plains Weekly Record
9. Capitalism, after all, is nothing more or less than freedom in the realm of
10. I’ll tell you what capitalism is: Capitalism is Charlie Manson sitting in
Folsom Prison for all those murders and still making a bunch of bucks off
11. Clearly, Antonin Scalia is the most corrupt Supreme Court justice in the
history of the country.
12. If MaxiMotors gave you a good price on that car, you can bet there’s only
one reason they did it: It’s a piece of serious junk.
13. It may well be that many faculty members deserve some sort of pay
increase. Nevertheless, it is clearly true that others are already amply
14. “The only people without [cable or satellite TV] are Luddites and people
too old to appreciate it.”
—Todd Mitchell, industry analyst
15. I love some of the bulleting and indenting features of Microsoft Word.
I think it would have been a nice feature, however, if they had made it
easy to turn some of them off when you don’t need them.
Identify any rhetorical devices you fi nd in the following passage, and classify
any that fi t into the categories described in this chapter.
On March 11, the U.S. Senate passed the bankruptcy bill that will fi ll
the coffers of the credit card companies while bleeding consumers dry.
The bill passed by a whopping 74 to 25 margin, with eighteen Demo-
cratic Senators going over to the dark side.
Here are the spineless 18: [There follows a list of senators.]
“This is not where we as Democrats ought to be, for crying out
loud,” as Senator Tom Harkin noted. “We are making a terrible mistake
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 177 12/9/10 2:54 PM
178 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
by thinking that we can have it both ways. We have to remember where
our base is.”
This bill is a fantasy come true for credit card companies, which
have been pushing it for years. But it’s not as though they’re suffering.
The made $30 billion in profi ts last year.
The bill severely limits the ability of consumers to wipe away some
of their debts and get a fresh start.
Half the people who fi le for bankruptcy do so because of sky-high
medical bills, and another 40 percent do so because of disability, job
loss, family death, or divorce, according to the National Consumer Law
Center. If you make more than the median income in your state, no
matter how high your bills are, you can’t wipe the debts clean.
As a result, debtors will be at much greater risk of losing their cars
or their homes.
And even if your debts are the consequence of identity theft, of
someone stealing your credit card and running up charges, you still are
on the hook for them, as the Senate amazingly voted down an amend-
ment to shelter victims of identity theft.
—Matthew Rothschild, “Democratic Senators Cave on Bankruptcy Bill,”
The Progressive, March 12, 2005
Identify any rhetorical devices you fi nd in the following passages, and explain
their purposes. Note: Some items may contain no rhetorical devices.
1. “If the United States is to meet the technological challenge posed by
Japan, Inc., we must rethink the way we do everything from design to
manufacture to education to employee relations.”
2. According to UNICEF reports, several thousand Iraqi children died each
month because of the U.N. sanctions.
3. Maybe Professor Daguerre’s research hasn’t appeared in the fi rst-class
journals as recently as that of some of the other professors in his depart-
ment; that doesn’t necessarily mean his work is going downhill. He’s still
a terrifi c teacher, if the students I’ve talked to are to be believed.
4. “Let’s put it this way: People who make contributions to my campaign
fund get access. But there’s nothing wrong with constituents having
access to their representatives, is there?”
— Loosely paraphrased from an interview with a California state senator
5. In the 2000 presidential debates, Al Gore consistently referred to his own
tax proposal as a “tax plan” and to George W. Bush’s tax proposal as a
6. [ Note: Dr. Jack Kevorkian was instrumental in assisting a number of ter-
minally ill people in committing suicide during the 1990s.] “We’re open-
ing the door to Pandora’s Box if we claim that doctors can decide if it’s
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 178 12/9/10 2:54 PM
proper for someone to die. We can’t have Kevorkians running wild, deal-
ing death to people.”
—Larry Bunting, assistant prosecutor, Oakland County, Michigan
7. “LOS ANGELES—Marriott Corp. struck out with patriotic food work-
ers at Dodger Stadium when the concession-holder ordered them to keep
working instead of standing respectfully during the National Anthem. . . .
Concession stand manager Nick Kavadas . . . immediately objected to a
“Marriott subsequently issued a second memo on the policy. It read:
‘Stop all activities while the National Anthem is being played.’
“Mel Clemens, Marriott’s general manager at the stadium, said the
second memo clarifi ed the fi rst memo.”
8. These so-called forfeiture laws are a serious abridgment of a person’s
constitutional rights. In some states, district attorneys’ offices have only
to claim that a person has committed a drug-related crime to seize the
person’s assets. So fat-cat DAs can get rich without ever getting around to
proving that anybody is guilty of a crime.
9. “A few years ago, the defi cit got so horrendous that even Congress was
embarrassed. Faced with this problem, the lawmakers did what they do
best. They passed another law.”
—Abe Mellinkoff, in the San Francisco Chronicle
10. “[U]mpires are baseball’s designated grown-ups and, like air-traffic con-
trollers, are paid to handle pressure.”
11. “Last season should have made it clear to the moguls of baseball that
something still isn’t right with the game—something that transcends
residual fan anger from the players’ strike. Abundant evidence suggests
that baseball still has a long way to go.”
—Stedman Graham, Inside Sports
12. “As you know, resolutions [in the California State Assembly] are about as
meaningful as getting a Publishers’ Clearinghouse letter saying you’re a
—Greg Lucas, in the San Francisco Chronicle
13. The entire gain in the stock market in the fi rst four months of the year
was due to a mere fi fty stocks.
14. Thinkers who entertain the possibility that there are lots of universes
have invented a new term for the entire ensemble: “the multiverse.”
Why believe in the multiverse? The “pro” camp has essentially two
kinds of arguments.
—Jim Holt, Slate online magazine
15. “[Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia’s ideology is a bald and naked
concept called ‘Majoritarianism.’ Only the rights of the majority are
—Letter to the editor of the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 179 12/9/10 2:54 PM
180 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
16. “Mimi Rumpp stopped praying for a winning lottery ticket years
ago. . . . But after a doctor told her sister Miki last year that she needed
a kidney transplant, the family began praying for a donor. . . . Less than
a year later, Miki has a new kidney, courtesy of a bank teller in Napa,
Calif., to whom she had told her story. The teller was the donor; she was
so moved by Miki’s plight she had herself tested and discovered she was a
perfect match. Coincidence? Luck? Divine intervention? Rumpp is sure:
‘It was a miracle.’ ”
17. “We are about to witness an orgy of self-congratulation as the self-
appointed environmental experts come out of their yurts, teepees, and
grant-maintained academic groves to lecture us over the impending doom
of the planet and agree with each other about how it is evil humanity and
greedy ‘big business’ that is responsible for it all.”
—Tim Worstall, in New Times
18. “In the 1980s, Central America was awash in violence. Tens of thousands of
people fl ed El Salvador and Guatemala as authoritarian governments seeking
to stamp out leftist rebels turned to widespread arrests and death squads.”
Discuss the following stereotypes in class. Do they invoke the same kind of
images for everyone? Which are negative and which are positive? How do you
think they came to be stereotypes? Is there any “truth” behind them?
1. soccer mom 9. computer nerd
2. Religious Right 10. Tea Partier
3. dumb blonde 11. interior decorator
4. tax-and-spend liberal 12. Washington insider
5. homosexual agenda 13. Earth mother
6. redneck 14. frat rat
7. radical feminist 15. Deadhead
8. contented housewife 16. trailer trash
Your instructor will give you three minutes to write down as many positive
and negative stereotypes as you can. Are there more positive stereotypes on
your list or more negative ones? Why do you suppose that is?
Write two brief paragraphs describing the same person, event, or situation—
that is, both paragraphs should have the same informative content. The fi rst
paragraph should be written in a purely informative way, using language that
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 180 12/9/10 2:54 PM
is as neutral as possible; the second paragraph should be slanted as much as
possible either positively or negatively (your choice).
Explain the difference between a weaseler and a downplayer. Find a clear
example of each in a newspaper, magazine, or other source. Next fi nd an exam-
ple of a phrase that is sometimes used as a weaseler or downplayer but that is
used appropriately or neutrally in the context of your example.
Critique these comparisons, using the questions discussed in the text as guides.
1. You’ve got to be kidding. Paltrow is much superior to Blanchett as an
2. Blondes have more fun.
3. The average chimp is smarter than the average monkey.
4. The average grade given by Professor Smith is a C. So is the average grade
given by Professor Algers.
5. Crime is on the increase. It’s up by 160 percent over last year.
6. Classical musicians, on the average, are far more talented than rock
7. Long-distance swimming requires much more endurance than long-
8. “During the monitoring period, the amount of profanity on the networks
increased by 45–47 percent over a comparable period from the preceding
year. A clear trend toward hard profanity is evident.”
—Don Wildmon, founder of the National Federation for Decency
9. “Organizations such as EMILY’s List and the Women’s Campaign Fund
encourage thousands of small contributors to participate, helping to
offset the economic power of the special interests. The political system
works better when individuals are encouraged to give to campaigns.”
—Adapted from the Los Angeles Times
10. Which is more popular, the movie Gone With the Wind or Bing Crosby’s
version of the song “White Christmas”?
In groups, or individually if your instructor prefers, critique these compari-
sons, using the questions discussed in the text as guides.
1. If you worry about the stock market, you have reason. The average stock
now has a price-to-earnings ratio of around 25:1.
2. Students are much less motivated than they were when I fi rst began
teaching at this university.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 181 12/9/10 2:54 PM
182 CHAPTER 5: PERSUASION THROUGH RHETORIC
3. Offhand, I would say the country is considerably more religious than it
was twenty years ago.
4. In addition, for the fi rst time since 1960, a majority of Americans now
attend church regularly.
5. You really should switch to a high-fi ber diet.
6. Hire Ricardo. He’s more knowledgeable than Annette.
7. Why did I give you a lower grade than your roommate? Her paper con-
tained more insights than yours, that’s why.
8. Golf is a considerably more demanding sport than tennis.
9. Yes, our prices are higher than they were last year, but you get more
value for your dollar.
10. So, tell me, which do you like more, fried chicken or Volkswagens?
Individually or in a group effort, fi nd a YouTube commentary that makes use
of a selection of rhetorical devices. Identify as many as you can and compare
your analysis with those of your classmates.
Look through an issue of Time, Newsweek, or another newsmagazine, and
fi nd a photograph that portrays its subject in an especially good or bad light—
that is, one that does a nonverbal job of creating slant regarding the subject.
In groups, write captions that seem to fi t the photo on page 155. Discussion
should be about which caption fi ts best and why.
After removing the slanting devices, diagram the argument in the box on
1. The illustration on the next page is for an article on banks and bankers
in Rolling Stone Magazine online. After seeing the illustration but before
reading the article, how sympathetic to bankers would you expect it to
be? Try to come up with a couple of sentences that you think the image
illustrates—you’ll probably need some forceful language.
2. Your instructor will select an essay from those in Appendix 1 and ask you
to identify as many rhetorical devices as you can fi nd. (Your instructor
may narrow the scope of the assignment to just certain paragraphs.)
3. Over the past decade, reportedly more than 2,000 illegal immigrants
have died trying to cross the border into the southwestern United States.
Many deaths have resulted from dehydration in the desert heat and from
freezing to death on cold winter nights. A San Diego–based nonprofi t
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 182 12/9/10 2:54 PM
humanitarian organization now leaves blankets, clothes, and water at
stations throughout the desert and mountain regions for the immigrants.
Should the organization do this? Its members say they are providing sim-
ple humanitarian aid, but critics accuse them of encouraging illegal activ-
ity. Take a stand on the issue and defend your position in writing. Then
identify each rhetorical device you used.
4. Until recently, tiny Stratton, Ohio, had an ordinance requiring all door-
to-door “canvassers” to obtain a permit from the mayor. Presumably,
the ordinance was intended to protect the many senior citizens of the
town from harm by criminals who might try to gain entry by claiming
to be conducting a survey. The ordinance was attacked by the Jehovah’s
Witnesses, who thought it violated their First Amendment right to free
speech. The Supreme Court agreed and struck down the law in 2002.
Should it have? Defend your position in a brief essay without using rheto-
ric. Alternatively, defend your position and use rhetorical devices, but
identify each device you use.
moo38286_ch05_146-183.indd 183 12/9/10 2:54 PM
R ecently, we’ve watched the country’s leaders and lawmakers slog through some pretty heavy rhetoric as they dealt with health care reform, reform of the
fi nancial system, and the midterm elections of federal and
state officials. We’ve also heard some pretty good arguments
and seen some pretty good evidence—mainly in the form
of studies we believe were done in a professional manner
by trustworthy people—that such reforms are needed. But
determining which information is “good”—something we,
of course, must do to participate successfully in a democ-
racy—can be difficult amidst the clatter and bang of warring
political parties, adversarial media personalities, rantings
(and sometimes unreliable information) from the blogo-
sphere, and shouting in the streets. In fact, the emotional
tone of public discussion and debate has lately reached lev-
els we haven’t seen since the 1960s, and the rhetoric often
seems more gratuitously misleading now than it did in those
days. (It may be that your authors were simply too young to
recognize it back then, of course. Ahem.)
As it becomes more difficult to fi nd serious discussions
of important issues, it gets easier and easier to fi nd examples
of rhetorical devices designed to provoke emotional, knee-
jerk reactions. Unfortunately (for us as individuals as well
as for public policy), it can be altogether too easy to allow
Students will learn to . . .
1. Recognize and name fallacies that
appeal directly to emotion
2. Recognize and name fallacies that
appeal to psychological elements
other than emotion
6 More Rhetorical Devices Psychological and Related Fallacies
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 184 12/9/10 1:34 PM
FALLACIES THAT INVOLVE APPEALS TO EMOTION 185
emotional responses to take the place of sound judgment and careful think-
ing. In this chapter, we’ll target some specifi c devices designed to prompt ill-
considered reactions rather than sound judgment—devices that go beyond the
rhetorical coloration we talked about in the last chapter. The stratagems we’ll
discuss sometimes masquerade as arguments, complete with premises and
conclusions and language that would suggest argumentation. But while they
may be made to look or sound like arguments, they don’t provide legitimate
grounds for accepting a conclusion. In place of good reasons for a conclusion,
most of the schemes we’ll look at in this chapter offer us considerations that
are emotionally or psychologically linked to the issue in question. The support
they may appear to offer is only pretended support; you might think of them as
pieces of pretend reasoning, or pseudoreasoning.
The devices in this chapter thus all count as fallacies (a fallacy is a mis-
take in reasoning). The rhetorical devices we discussed in the last chapter—
euphemisms, innuendo, and so forth—aren’t fallacies. Of course, we commit a
fallacy if we think a claim has been supported when the “support” is nothing
more than rhetorically persuasive language.
People constantly accept fallacies as legitimate arguments; but the
reverse mistake can also happen. We must be careful not to dismiss legitimate
arguments as fallacies just because they remind us of a fallacy. Often, begin-
ning students in logic have this problem. They read about fallacies like the
ones we cover here and then think they see them everywhere. These fallacies
are common, but they are not everywhere; and you sometimes must consider
a specimen carefully before accepting or rejecting it. The exercises we’ll sup-
ply will help you learn to do this, because they contain a few reasonable argu-
ments mixed in with the fallacies.
All the fallacies in this chapter have in common the fact that what pre-
tends to be a premise is actually irrelevant to the conclusion. That is, even if
the premise is true, it does not provide any reason for believing that the con-
clusion is true.
FALLACIES THAT INVOLVE APPEALS TO EMOTION
One can arrange fallacies into groups in a number of ways: fallacies of rel-
evance, of ambiguity, of presumption, of distraction, and so on. We’ve chosen
in this chapter to talk fi rst about fallacies that involve appeals to emotion, fol-
lowed by fallacies that depend in part on psychological impact but that do not
appeal directly to one emotion or another. Incidentally, we don’t want to give
the idea that all appeals to emotion are fallacious, misleading, or bad in some
other way. Often we accomplish our greatest good works as a result of such
appeals. One burden of the next section is to help you distinguish between
relevant and irrelevant calls on our emotions.
The Argument from Outrage
A while back, an article in the Washington Post by Ceci Connolly summa-
rized a New England Journal of Medicine report that gave credit to new med-
ical technology for lowered battlefi eld death rates in the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Many fewer casualties were dying than had ever been the case
in wartime before. The most widely heard radio talk show host in America,
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 185 12/9/10 1:34 PM
186 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
Rush Limbaugh, made use of this report to express his outrage at
liberal critics of the war.
They’re just livid—the press, the leftists in this country—are
just upset there are not enough deaths to get people outraged and
protesting in the streets against the war. They’re mad these doc-
tors are saving lives. They want deaths!
H is voice was tense with disbelief and indignation that “the Left”
wanted more soldiers to die. * This technique of expressing out-
rage—anybody who doesn’t see this point must be a fool or a trai-
tor!—is one we’ve identifi ed with Limbaugh because he was one
of the early masters of the method; we’ve even considered refer-
ring to the use of outrage to persuade people as “the Limbaugh
fallacy.” But the technique is not unique to Limbaugh, of course;
it’s typical of today’s hard-line talk show people. And apparently
it works, if the people who call in to the programs are any indi-
cation, since they tend to be as outraged at the goings-on as the
hosts of the programs. That’s the idea, of course. If a person gets
angry enough about something, if one is in the throes of righteous
indignation, then it’s all too easy to throw reason and good sense out the win-
dow and accept whatever alternative is being offered by the speaker just from
Now, does this mean that we never have a right to be angry? Of course
not. Anger is not a fallacy, and there are times when it’s entirely appropriate.
However, when we are angry—and the angrier or more outraged we are, the
more true this becomes—it’s easy to become illogical, and it can happen in
two ways. First, we may think we have been given a reason for being angry
when in fact we have not. It is a mistake to think that something is wrong
just because it makes somebody angry, even if it’s us whom it seems to anger.
It’s easy to mistake a feeling of outrage for evidence of something, but it isn’t
evidence of anything, really, except our anger.
Second, we may let the anger we feel as the result of one thing influence
our evaluations of an unrelated thing. If we’re angry over what we take to be
the motives of somebody’s detractors, we must remember that their motives
are a separate matter from whether their criticisms are accurate; they might
still be right. Similarly, if a person does something that makes us mad, that
doesn’t provide us a reason for downgrading him on some other matter, nor
would it be a reason for upgrading our opinion of someone else.
The argument from outrage,** then, consists of infl ammatory words (or
thoughts) followed by a “conclusion” of some sort. It substitutes anger for
reason and judgment in considering an issue. It is a favorite strategy of dema-
* We should say that our own investigation could not turn up anyone, from the Left or anywhere else, who wanted
more Americans to die. We did find, however, that one result of the new technology was a much higher number
of soldiers who were returning alive but seriously wounded, including great numbers of amputees. (The 6 percent
amputee rate for wounded soldiers is about double that of previous wars, due primarily to the widespread use of
** Although we use the phrase “argument from outrage” here, we should make it clear that evoking a person’s sense
of outrage does not count as making an argument, although as indicated, this emotional appeal is very often a
substitute for an argument.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 186 12/9/10 1:34 PM
FALLACIES THAT INVOLVE APPEALS TO EMOTION 187
gogues. In fact, it is the favorite strategy of demagogues. Let’s say the issue is
whether gay marriages should be legal. Left-of-center demagogues may wax
indignantly about “narrow-minded fundamentalist bigots dictating what peo-
ple can do in their bedrooms”—talk calculated to get us steamed although it
really has nothing to do with the issue. On the other side, conservative dema-
gogues may allude to gays’ demanding “special rights.” Nobody wants some-
one else to get special rights, and when we hear about somebody “demanding”
them, our blood pressure goes up. But wanting a right other people have is not
wanting a special right; it’s wanting an equal right.
A particularly dangerous type of “argument” from outrage is known as
scapegoating —blaming a certain group of people, or even a single person (like
George W. Bush or Barack Obama), for all of life’s troubles. George Wallace, the
former governor of Alabama who ran for president in 1968 on a “states’ rights
platform” (which then was a code word for white supremacy) said he could get
good old Southern boys to do anything by “whupping” them into a frenzy over
Northern civil rights workers.
“Arguments” based on outrage are so common that the fallacy ranks high
on our list of the top ten fallacies of all time, which can be found inside the front
cover. It’s unfortunate they are so common—history demonstrates constantly
that anger is a poor lens through which to view the world. Policies adopted in
The idea behind [talk radio] is
to keep the base riled up.
—Republican political advisor
BRENT LAUDER, explaining what
talk radio is for.
In the Media
Fashion magazines are chock full of ads that
are designed to associate a product with
beautiful images (as discussed in Chapter
4). But even if using a product might make
you smell like the guy in the photo, it isn’t
likely to change anything else—to believe
otherwise is to engage in wishful thinking,
discussed later in this chapter.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 187 12/9/10 1:34 PM
188 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
anger are seldom wise, as any parent will tell you who has laid down the law in a
fi t of anger.
George Wallace didn’t just try to anger the crowds when he told them what
Northern civil rights workers were up to; he tried to scare them. When people
become angry or afraid, they don’t think clearly. They follow blindly. Dema-
gogues like Wallace like to dangle scary scenarios in front of people.
Trying to scare people into doing something or accepting a position is
using scare tactics. One way this might be done is the George Wallace method—
dangling a frightening picture in front of someone. A simpler method might
be to threaten the person, a special case of scare tactics known as argument by
force. Either way, if the idea is to get people to substitute fear for reason and
judgment when taking a position on an issue, it is a fallacy. Likewise, it is a
fallacy to succumb to such techniques when others use them on us. (This does
not mean you shouldn’t give up your wallet to the guy with the gun aimed at
your head. See the box “Prudential Grounds Versus Rational Grounds,” above.)
Prudential Grounds Versus Rational Grounds
A scary or threatening situation can provide us with a prudential reason for acting on a claim,
even though, outside the immediate circumstances, we would not accept it. For example, a
person or organization might agree to pay a settlement to a person who claims his back was
injured on their property, even though they believe, with good reason, that he is faking the
injury. The fear of losing an even bigger sum in court provides prudential grounds for paying,
even though they would never accept the claim that they should pay except for the threatening
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 188 12/9/10 1:34 PM
FALLACIES THAT INVOLVE APPEALS TO EMOTION 189
Fear can befuddle us as easily as can anger, and the mistakes that happen
are similar in both instances. Wallace’s listeners may not have noticed (or may
not have cared) that Wallace didn’t actually give them evidence that civil rights
workers were doing whatever it was he portrayed them as doing; the portrayal
was its own evidence, you might say. When we are befuddled with fear, we may
not notice we lack evidence that the scary scenario is real. Imagine someone
talking about global warming: The speaker may paint a picture so alarming
we don’t notice that he or she doesn’t provide evidence that global warming
is actually happening. Or take gay marriages again. Someone might warn us
of presumably dire consequences if gay people are allowed to marry—we’ll be
opening “Pandora’s box”; marriage will become meaningless; homosexuality
will become rampant; society will collapse—but he or she may issue these
warnings without providing details as to why (or how) the consequences might
actually come about. The consequences are so frightening they apparently don’t
Fear of one thing, X, may also affect evaluation of an unrelated thing,
Y. You have your eye on a nice house and are considering buying it, and then
the real estate agent frightens you by telling you the seller has received other
offers and will sell soon. Some people in this situation might overestimate
what they really can afford to pay.
To avoid translating fear of one thing into an evaluation of some un related
thing, we need to be clear on what issues our fears are relevant to. Legitimate
warnings do not involve irrelevancies and do not qualify as scare tactics. “You
should be careful of that snake—it’s deadly poisonous” might be a scary thing
to say to someone, but we don’t make a mistake in reasoning when we say it,
and neither does the other person if he or she turns and runs into the house.
Suppose, however, that the Michelin tire people show an ad featuring a sweet
(and vulnerable) baby in a ring of automobile tires. Showing pictures of car
tires around infants will produce disquieting associations in any observer, and
it wouldn’t be unreasonable to check our tires when we see this ad. But the
issue raised by the Michelin people is whether to buy Michelin tires, and the
fear of injuring or killing a child by driving on unsafe tires does not bear on
the question of which tires to buy. The Michelin ad isn’t a legitimate warn-
ing; it’s scare tactics.
Other Fallacies Based on Emotions
Other emotions work much like anger and fear as sources of mistakes in rea-
soning. Compassion, for example, is a fi ne thing to have. There is absolutely
nothing wrong with feeling sorry for someone. But when feeling sorry for
someone drives us to a position on an unrelated matter, the result is the fal-
lacy known as argument from pity. We have a job that needs doing; Helen
can barely support her starving children and needs work desperately. But does
Helen have the skills we need? We may not care if she does; and if we don’t,
nobody can fault us for hiring her out of compassion. But feeling sorry for
Helen may lead us to misjudge her skills or overestimate her abilities, and that
is a mistake in reasoning. Her skills are what they are, regardless of her need.
Or, suppose you need a better grade in this course to get into law school or to
avoid academic disqualifi cation or whatever. If you think you deserve or have
earned a better grade because you need a better grade, or you try to get your
instructor to think you deserve a better grade by trying to make him or her
feel sorry for you, that’s the argument from pity. Or, if you think someone else
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 189 12/9/10 1:34 PM
190 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
deserves a better grade because of the hardships he or she (or his or her parents)
suffered, that’s also the “argument” from pity.
Envy and jealousy can also confuse our thinking. Compassion, a desir-
able emotion, may tempt us to emphasize a person’s good points; envy and
jealousy tempt us to exaggerate someone’s bad points. When we fi nd fault
with a person because of envy, we are guilty of the fallacy known as argument
from envy. “Well, he may have a lot of money, but he certainly has bad man-
ners” would be an example of this if it is envy that prompts us to criticize him.
Pride, on the other hand, can lead us to exaggerate our own accomplish-
ments and abilities and can lead to our making other irrelevant judgments as
well. It especially makes us vulnerable to apple polishing , by which we mean
old-fashioned fl attery. Moore recently sat on a jury in a criminal case involv-
ing alleged prostitution and pandering at a strip club; the defendant’s attorney
told the members of the jury it would take “an unusually discerning jury” to
see that the law, despite its wording, wasn’t really intended to apply to some-
one like his client. Ultimately, the jury members did fi nd with the defense,
but let us hope it wasn’t because the attorney fl attered their ability to discern
things. Allowing praise of oneself to substitute for judgment about the truth
Knee Operation Judged Useless
Fake Surgery Worked Just as Well in Cases of Osteoarthritis.
Here we are doing all this surgery on people and it’s
all a sham.
—DR. BARUCH BRODY, Baylor College of Medicine
Wishful thinking—allowing our desires and hopes to
color our beliefs and influence our judgment—is com-
mon indeed. A powerful illustration of wishful thinking
is the placebo effect, where subjects perceive improve-
ment in a medical condition when they receive what
they think is a medication but in fact is an inactive
substance. Even surgical procedures, apparently, are
subject to a placebo effect, judging from a study of
a popular and expensive knee operation for arthritis.
People who have had this procedure swear by it as sig-
nificantly reducing pain. But researchers at the Hous-
ton Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Baylor College
of Medicine discovered that subjects who underwent
placebo (fake) surgery said exactly the same thing. Fur-
thermore, when they tested knee functions two years
after the surgery, the researchers discovered that the
operation doesn’t improve knee functions at all.
Source: Sacramento Bee, from New York Times News Service.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 190 12/9/10 1:34 PM
FALLACIES THAT INVOLVE APPEALS TO EMOTION 191
of a claim, or trying to get others to do this, as the lawyer did, is the apple-
Feelings of guilt work similarly. “How could you not invite Jennifer to
your wedding? She would never do that to you, and you know she must be
very hurt.” The remark is intended to make someone feel sorry for Jennifer,
but even more fundamentally, it is supposed to induce a sense of guilt. Elicit-
ing feelings of guilt to get others to do or not to do something, or to accept the
view that they should or should not do it, is popularly known as putting a guilt
trip on someone, which is to commit a fallacy. Parents sometimes use this
tactic with children when they (the parents) won’t (or can’t) offer a clear expla-
nation of why something should or shouldn’t be done. Certainly, if the child
knowingly does something wrong, he or she should feel guilty; but whatever
has been done isn’t wrong because he or she feels guilty.
Hopes, desires, and aversions can also lead us astray logically. The fal-
lacy known as wishful thinking happens when we accept or urge acceptance
(or rejection) of a claim simply because it would be pleasant (or unpleasant)
if it were true. Some people, for example, may believe in God simply on the
basis of wishful thinking or desire for an afterlife. A smoker may refuse to
acknowledge the health hazards of smoking. We’ve had students who are in
The 2010 health proposals brought fierce emotional responses from opponents.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 191 12/9/10 1:34 PM
192 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
denial about the consequences of cutting classes. The
wishful-thinking fallacy also underlies much of the
empty rhetoric of “positive thinking”—rhetoric that
claims “you are what you want to be” and other such
slogans. As obvious (and as obviously fallacious) as
it may appear when you read about it here, wishful
thinking can be a powerful infl uence and can some-
times defeat all but our most committed efforts to do
the rational thing.
Most people desire to be liked or accepted by
some circle of other people and are averse to having
the acceptance withdrawn. A desire for acceptance
can motivate us to accept a claim not because of its
merits but because we will gain someone’s approval
(or will avoid having approval withdrawn). When we
do this or try to get someone else to do it, the fallacy
is the peer pressure “argument.” Now, obviously nobody ever said anything
quite so blatant as “Ralph, this claim is true because we won’t like you any-
more if you don’t accept it.” Peer pressure is often disguised or unstated, but
anyone going through an American high school, where you can lose social
standing merely by being seen with someone who isn’t “in,” knows it is a real
force. Kids who feel ostracized sometimes take guns to school.
It doesn’t have to be one’s associates who exert peer pressure, either. In
scientifi c experiments, people will actually revise what they say they saw if a
group of strangers in the same room deny having seen the same thing.
One very common fallacy that is closely related to the peer pressure
“argument” involves one’s sense of group identification, which people experi-
ence when they are part of a group—a team, a club, a school, a gang, a state,
a nation, the Elks, the Tea Party movement, the U.S.A., Mauritius, you name
it. Let’s defi ne the groupthink fallacy as substituting pride of membership in
a group for reason and deliberation in arriving at a position on an issue; and
let’s include the fallacy in our list of the top ten fallacies of all time, because
it is exceedingly common. One obvious form of this fallacy involves national
pride, or nationalism —a powerful and fi erce emotion that can lead to blind
endorsement of a country’s policies and practices. (“My country right or
wrong” explicitly discourages critical thinking and encourages blind patrio-
tism.) Nationalism is also invoked to reject, condemn, or silence criticism of
one’s country as unpatriotic or treasonable (and may or may not involve an
element of peer pressure). If a letter writer expresses a criticism of America on
the opinion page of your local newspaper on Monday, you can bet that by the
end of the week there will be a response dismissing the criticism with the
“argument” that if so-and-so doesn’t like it here, he or she ought to move to
Russia (or Cuba or Iraq or Iran).
Groupthink does not play cultural or political favorites, either. On the
opposite side of the political spectrum are what some people call the “blame
America fi rst” folks. The groupthink ethic of this club includes, most impor-
tantly, automatically assuming that whatever is wrong in the world is the result
of some U.S. policy. The club has no formal meetings or rules for membership,
but fl ying an American fl ag would be grounds for derision and instant dismissal.
Groupthink “reasoning” is certainly not limited to political groups, either.
It occurs whenever one’s affiliations are of utmost psychological importance.
Patriotism is the last refuge of
—S AMUEL J OHNSON, 1775
Boswell, Johnson’s biog-
rapher, does not indicate
what the context is here, but
he does say that it is false
patriotism to which Johnson
■ This “Patriotism Bear”
is all decked out with
flags, medals, and
patches. He sells for
$119.99 from Dollsville
on the Web. Whether
motivated by patriotism
or profits, there are
plenty of people ready
to cash in on the
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 192 12/9/10 1:34 PM
FALLACIES THAT INVOLVE APPEALS TO EMOTION 193
Remember, these various emotional fallacies, from the “argument” from
outrage to the groupthink fallacy, all share certain properties. They often
(though not always) contain assertions you might call “premises” and other
assertions that you might call a “conclusion.” But the “premises” don’t actu-
ally support the “conclusion”; rather, they evoke emotions that make us want
to accept the conclusion without support. So, although they can wear the cloth-
ing of arguments, they are really pieces of persuasion (Chapter 5). Whenever
language is used to arouse emotions, it is wise to consider carefully whether
any “conclusions” that come to mind have been supported by evidence.
In the passages that follow identify any fallacies that were discussed in the pre-
vious section of the text. There may be examples in which no fallacy occurs—
don’t fi nd them where they don’t exist!
1. The tax system in this country is unfair and ridiculous! Just ask anyone!
“Hmmmm. Nice day. Think I’ll go catch some rays.”
“Says here in this magazine that doing that sort of thing is guaranteed to
get you a case of skin cancer.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that, too. I think it’s a bunch of baloney, personally. If
that were true, you wouldn’t be able to do anything—no tubing, skiing,
nothing. You wouldn’t even be able to just plain lie out in the sun. Ugh!”
3. I’ve come before you to ask that you rehire Professor Johnson. I realize
that Mr. Johnson does not have a Ph.D., and I am aware that he has yet to
publish his fi rst article. But Mr. Johnson is over forty now, and he has a
wife and two high-school-aged children to support. It will be very difficult
for him to fi nd another teaching job at his age, I’m sure you will agree.
4. juan: But, Dad, I like Horace. Why shouldn’t I room with him, anyway?
juan’s dad: Because I’ll cut off your allowance,
5. That snake has markings like a coral snake. Coral snakes are deadly
poisonous, so you’d better leave it alone!
6. he: Tell you what. Let’s get some ice cream for a change. Sunrise
Creamery has the best—let’s go there.
she: Not that old dump! What makes you think their ice cream is so
he: Because it is. Besides, that old guy who owns it never gets any busi-
ness anymore. Every time I go by the place, I see him in there all alone,
just staring out the window, waiting for a customer. He can’t help it that
he’s in such an awful location. I’m sure he couldn’t afford to move.
7. What do you mean you’ll vote for our wonderful Senator? Don’t you real-
ize he voted for the blasted health care reform act? Don’t tell me you
really want to see a government takeover of health care! Don’t tell me
you want to see us taxed to death to pay for a whole new government
8. “Jim, I’m very disappointed you felt it necessary to talk to the media
about the problems here in the department. When you join the FBI, you
join a family, and you shouldn’t want to embarrass your family.”
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 193 12/9/10 1:34 PM
194 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
9. “Listen, Steve lives in a huge house, drives an expensive car, and makes
twice the money you do. You’re never going to live like he does unless
you cut some corners.”
10. A fi ctitious western governor: “Yes, I have indeed accepted $550,000 in
campaign contributions from power companies. But as I stand here before
you, I can guarantee you that not one dime of that money has affected
any decision I’ve made. I make decisions based on data, not on donors.”
SOME NON-EMOTION–BASED FALLACIES
The next three fallacy families—(1) red herrings, (2) appeals to popularity and
tradition and such, and (3) rationalizing—all have psychological elements, but
they do not make the same kind of direct emotional appeal that we fi nd in the
Red Herring/Smoke Screen
When a person brings a topic into a conversation that distracts from the origi-
nal point, especially if the new topic is introduced in order to distract, the
person is said to have introduced a red herring. (It is so called because dragging
a herring across a trail will cause a dog to leave the original trail and follow
The “True For . . .” Cop-Out
Sometimes, especially when a controversial subject is under discussion, you’ll hear someone
say, “Well, that may be true for you, but it isn’t true for me.”
If you stop to think about it, this is a peculiar thing to say. Certainly if the issue is about
an objective fact—whether there is water on the moon, for example—then if it’s “true for” any-
body, it’s true for everybody. As somebody recently said, you can choose your own opinions,
but you can’t choose your own facts; the facts are just what they are, and they’re the same for
Of course, one person can believe something is true while another believes it isn’t true, but
that’s a different matter entirely. If that is what the speaker means, he should simply say so
clearly instead of using the paradoxical version we’re calling a cop-out.
When we say the expression is a cop-out, we mean it’s simply a way of saying “I don’t want
to talk about this anymore.” It’s a discussion ender. And it certainly does not do anything to
resolve whatever the original issue was. We see this expression used most often, perhaps, in
matters of religion, where many people hold strong beliefs, but for one reason or another, they
do not want to engage in discussions about them.
The only place where our “true for . . . ” expression is not a cop-out is when the claim in
question is subjective. For example, “Zinfandel tastes better than merlot.” This remark really can
be true for one person and false for another, because they may really have two different tastes.
Remember, whenever you hear the “true for…” expression about an objective factual matter, it’s
just a way of saying “I’m done talking.”
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 194 12/9/10 1:34 PM
SOME NON-EMOTION–BASED FALLACIES 195
the path of the herring.) In the strip-joint jury trial we mentioned earlier, the
defendant was charged with pandering; but the prosecuting attorney intro-
duced evidence that the defendant had also sold liquor to minors. That was a
red herring that had nothing to do with pandering.
The difference between red herrings and their close relatives, smoke
screens, is subtle (and really not a matter of crucial importance). Generally
speaking, red herrings distract by pulling one’s attention away from one topic
and toward another; smoke screens tend to pile issues on or to make them
extremely complicated until the original is lost in the (verbal) “smoke.” Some-
times, the red herring or smoke screen involves an appeal to emotion, but
often it does not. When Bill Clinton had missiles fi red at terrorists in Sudan,
he was accused of creating a red herring to defl ect public scrutiny from the
Monica Lewinsky business. When George W. Bush talked about Iraq having
missiles capable of threatening the United States, about that country’s poten-
tial of having a nuclear weapon “within six months,” and about similar pos-
sible Iraqi threats, he was accused of putting up a smoke screen to hide his real
reasons for wanting to attack Iraq, which were said to be oil interests and his
own personal desire to complete his father’s unfi nished business.
Let’s take another example, this one made up but typical of what often
happens. Suppose that Felipe Calderón, the president of Mexico, holds a press
conference, and a reporter asks him whether his use of federal troops in Juárez
has made the city any safer from drug-related murders. Mr. Calderón answers,
“I can guarantee you that everything the federal government can do to pacify
the situation in Juárez is now being done.”
Calderón has avoided the reporter’s original question, possibly because
he is not interested in admitting that the city is not any safer. He has changed
the issue to one of what kind of effort the government is making. In so doing,
he has dragged a red herring across the trail, so to speak. The government may
or may not be doing all it can to keep the peace in Juárez, but in either case
We admit that this measure is
popular. But we also urge you
to note that there are so many
bond issues on this ballot that
the whole concept is getting
—A generic red herring (unclas-
sifiable irrelevance) from a
California ballot pamphlet
In the Media
A Red Herring in a Letter to Time
Time’s coverage of the medical marijuana controversy was thoughtful and scrupulously
researched. But what argues most persuasively for a ban on marijuana is the extraordinary
threat the drug poses for adolescents. Marijuana impairs short – term memory, depletes
energy and impedes acquisition of psychosocial skills. Perhaps the most chilling effect is
that it retards maturation for young people. A significant number of kids who use lots of
pot simply don’t grow up. So it is hardly surprising that marijuana is the primary drug for
more than half the youngsters in the long-term residential substance-abuse programs that
Phoenix House operates throughout the country.
—MITCHELL S. ROSENTHAL, M.D. , president, Phoenix House, New York City
The issue is legalization of marijuana for adults; the question of what it would do to children,
who presumably would be prohibited from its use, is a red herring.
Source: Time, November 28, 2002.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 195 12/9/10 1:34 PM
196 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
that is a separate matter from whether citizens are safer in Juárez since federal
Let’s imagine that the conversation continues like this:
reporter: “Mr. Calderón, polls say that most of the
country believes that the government has failed
to make the situation safer. How do you answer
felipe calderón: We are making progress toward reassuring
people, but quite frankly our efforts have been
hampered by the tendency of the press to
concentrate on the negative side of the issue.”
Once again (in our fi ctional news conference), Calderón brings in a red
herring to sidestep the issue raised by the reporter.
Whether a distraction or an obfuscation is a plain red herring or a smoke
screen is often difficult to tell in real life, and it’s better to spend your energy
getting a discussion back on track rather than worrying which type you have
Many of the other fallacies we have been discussing in this chapter (and
will be discussing in the next chapter) qualify, in some version or other, as
red herrings/smoke screens. For example, a defense attorney might talk about
a defendant’s miserable upbringing to steer a jury’s attention away from the
charges against the person; doing this would qualify as an appeal to pity as well
as a smoke screen/red herring. Likewise, a prosecuting attorney may try to get
a jury so angry about a crime it doesn’t notice the weakness of the evidence
pointing to the defendant. This would be an argument from outrage—and a red
To simplify things, your instructor may reserve the red herring/smoke
screen categories for irrelevancies that don’t qualify as one of the other falla-
cies mentioned in this or the next chapter. In other words, he or she may tell
you that if something qualifi es as, say, an argument from outrage, you should
call it that rather than a red herring or a smoke screen.
Everyone Knows . . .
In Chapter 5, we examined such proof surrogates as “Everyone knows . . .”
and “It’s only common sense that . . .”. Phrases like this are often used when a
speaker or writer doesn’t really have an argument.
Such phrases often appear in peer pressure “arguments” (“Pardner, in
these parts everyone thinks . . .”). They also are used in the groupthink fal-
lacy (“As any red-blooded American patriot knows, . . .). There is, however,
a third way these phrases can be used. An example would be when Robert
Novak said on CNN’s Crossfire, “Liberals are fi nally admitting what everyone
knows, that airline safety demands compromise.” Novak wasn’t applying or
evoking peer pressure or groupthink; he was offering “proof” that airline safety
demands compromise. His proof is the fact that everyone knows it.
*Unfortunately, the number of homicides in Ciudad Juárez went from 317 in 2007 to 1,623 in 2008 and to 2,754 in
2009, according to government reports. That would make it the most dangerous city in the world during the latter
Could somebody please show
me one hospital built by a dol-
phin? Could somebody show
me one highway built by a
dolphin? Could someone show
me one automobile invented
by a dolphin?
—RUSH LIMBAUGH, responding
to the New York Times’ claim
that dolphins’ “behavior and
enormous brains suggest an
intelligence approaching that
of human beings”
Good point. Anyone know of
a hospital or highway built by
Rush Limbaugh or an automo-
bile invented by him?
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 196 12/9/10 1:34 PM
SOME NON-EMOTION–BASED FALLACIES 197
When we do this, when we urge someone to accept a claim (or fall prey to
someone’s doing it to us) simply on the grounds that all or most or some sub-
stantial number of people (other than authorities or experts, of course) believe
it, we commit the fallacy known as the appeal to popularity.
That most people believe something is a fact is not evidence that it is
a fact—most people believe in God, for example, but that isn’t evidence that
God exists. Likewise, if most people didn’t believe in God, that wouldn’t be
evidence that God didn’t exist.
Most people seem to assume that bus driving and similar jobs are some-
how less desirable than white-collar jobs. The widespread acceptance of this
assumption creates its own momentum—that is, we tend to accept it because
everybody else does, and we don’t stop to think about whether it actually has
Is It Still a Lie If Everybody Does It?
“Shell [Oil Company] was charged with mislead-
ing advertising in its Platformate advertisements.
A Shell spokesman said: ‘The same comment
could be made about most good advertising of
most products.’ ”
—SAMM S. BAKER, The Permissible Lie
A perfect example of the common-practice fallacy.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 197 12/9/10 1:34 PM
198 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
anything to recommend it. For a lot of people, a job driving a bus might make
for a much happier life than a job as a manager.
In some instances, we should point out, what people think actually deter-
mines what is true. The meanings of most words, for example, are determined
by popular usage. In addition, it would not be fallacious to conclude that the
word “ain’t” is out of place in formal speech because most speakers of English
believe that it is out of place in formal speech.
There are other cases where what people think is an indication of what is
true, even if it cannot determine truth. If several Bostonians of your acquain-
tance think that it is illegal to drink beer in their public parks, then you have
some reason for thinking that it’s true. And if you are told by several Europe-
ans that it is not gauche to eat with your fork in your left hand in Europe, then
it is not fallacious to conclude that European manners allow eating with your
fork in your left hand. The situation here is one of credibility, which we dis-
cussed in Chapter 4. Natives of Boston in the fi rst case and Europeans in the
second case can be expected to know more about the two claims in question,
respectively, than others know. In a watered-down sense, they are “experts”
on the subjects, at least in ways that many of us are not. In general, when the
“everyone” who thinks that X is true includes experts about X, then what they
think is indeed a good reason to accept X.
Thus, it would be incorrect to automatically label as a fallacy any instance
in which a person cites people’s beliefs to establish a point. (No “argument”
fi tting a pattern in this chapter should be dismissed unthinkingly. ) But it is
important to view such references to people’s beliefs as red alerts. These are
cautionary signals that warn you to look closely for genuine reasons in support
of the claim asserted.
Two variations of the appeal to popularity deserve mention: Appeal to
common practice consists in trying to justify or defend an action or practice
(as distinguished from an assertion or claim) on the grounds that it is common.
“I shouldn’t get a speeding ticket because everyone drives over the limit” is
an example. “Everyone cheats on their taxes, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t”
is another. Now, there is something to watch out for here: When a person
defends an action by saying that other people do the same thing, he or she
might just be requesting fair play. He or she might be saying, in effect, “Okay,
okay, I know it’s wrong, but nobody else gets punished, and it would be unfair
to single me out.” That person isn’t trying to justify the action; he or she is
asking for equal treatment.
The other variant of the popularity fallacy is the appeal to tradition, a
name that is self-explanatory. People do things because that’s the way things
have always been done, and they believe things because that’s what people
have always believed. But, logically speaking, you don’t prove a claim or prove
a practice is legitimate on the basis of tradition; when you try to do so, you
are guilty of the appeal to tradition fallacy. The fact that it’s a tradition among
most American children to believe in Santa Claus, for instance, doesn’t prove
Santa Claus exists; and the fact that it’s also a tradition for most American
parents to deceive their kids about Santa Claus doesn’t necessarily mean it
is okay for them to do so. Where we teach, there has been a long tradition of
fraternity hazing, and over the years several unfortunate hazing incidents have
happened. We have yet to hear a defense of hazing that amounted to anything
other than an appeal to tradition, which is equivalent to saying we haven’t
heard a defense at all.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 198 12/9/10 1:34 PM
SOME NON-EMOTION–BASED FALLACIES 199
Let’s say Mr. Smith decides to do something really nice for his wife on her
birthday and buys her a new table saw. “This saw wasn’t cheap,” he tells her.
“But you’re going to be glad we have it, because it will keep me out in the
garage and out of your way when you’re working here in the house.”
The fallacy in the reasoning in this made-up example is pretty obvious.
Mr. Smith is confusing his wife’s desires with his own.
When we do this, when we use a false pretext to satisfy our own desires
or interests, we’re guilty of rationalizing, a very common fallacy. It almost
made our list of the top ten fallacies of all time.
Now, there is nothing wrong with satisfying one’s desires, at least if they
don’t harm someone or aren’t illegal. But in this book, we’re talking logic,
not morals. Rationalizing involves a confusion in thinking, and to the extent
we wish to avoid being confused in our thinking, we should try to avoid
“But,” you may be saying, “it is good to do nice things for other people. If
you do something that helps them, or that they like, or that benefi ts the world,
what difference does motivation make? If, for whatever reason, the table saw
makes Mr. Smith’s wife happy, that’s what counts.”
Now, there is something to be said for this argument, because it is good
to make people happy. But whether Mr. Smith’s wife is happy or not, there has
been a confusion in his thinking, a fallacy. And it is a common fallacy indeed.
Obviously, most instances of rationalizing are not as blatant as Mr. Smith’s,
but people frequently deceive themselves as to their true motives.
Rationalizing need not be selfi sh, either. Let’s say a former oilman is
elected governor of a state that produces oil. He may act in what at some level
he thinks are the best interests of his state—when in fact he is motivated by
a desire to help the oil industry. (Incidentally, you can’t just assume he would
do this.) To the extent that he is deceiving himself about his true motivation,
he is rationalizing. But this isn’t selfish rationalizing; his actions don’t benefi t
Rationalizing, then, involves an element of self-deception, but otherwise
it isn’t necessarily devious. However, some people encourage others to ratio-
nalize because they themselves stand to benefi t in some way. “Hey, Smith,”
his buddy Jones says to him. “That’s a fi ne idea! Really creative. Your wife will
really like a saw. Maybe you could build a boat for her, and you and I could go
fi shing.” Jones may or may not say this innocently: If he does, he, too, is guilty
of rationalizing; if he doesn’t, he’s just cynical.
In the following passages, identify any fallacies discussed in the preceding sec-
tion of the text (red herring/smoke screen; appeals to popularity, tradition, com-
mon practice; rationalizing). There may be passages that contain no fallacy.
1. democrat: What do you think of your party’s new plan for Social
republican: I think it is pretty good, as a matter of fact.
democrat: Oh? And why is that?
republican: Because you Democrats haven’t even offered a plan,
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 199 12/9/10 1:34 PM
200 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
2. fred: I think we should just buy the new truck and call it a business
expense so we can write it off on our taxes.
ethel: I don’t know, Fred. That sounds like cheating to me. We wouldn’t
really use the truck very much in the business, you know.
fred: Oh, don’t worry about it. This kind of thing is done all the time.
3. A fi ctitious western governor: “Yes, I have indeed accepted $550,000 in
campaign contributions from power companies. But as I stand here before
you, I can guarantee you that not one dime of that money has affected
any decision I’ve made. I make decisions based on data, not on donors.”
4. They fi nally passed the immigration law. Did you see the latest poll?
It says that over two-thirds of Americans believe it’s going to solve the
immigration problem once and for all. It’s about time they did the right
thing in Congress.
5. reporter cokie roberts: Mr. Cheney, aside from the legal issues that
stem from the various United Nations resolutions, isn’t there an overrid-
ing moral dimension to the suffering of so many Kurdish people in Iraq?
dick cheney: Well, we recognize that’s a tragic situation, Cokie, but
there are tragic situations occurring all over the world.
—Adapted from an interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition
6. I’m going to use the textbook that’s on reserve in the library. I’ll have to
spend more time on the campus, but it’s sure better than shelling out
over a hundred bucks for one book.
7. The animal rights people shouldn’t pick on rodeos about animal treat-
ment. If they’d come out and see the clowns put smiles on kids’ faces and
see horses buck off the cowboys and hear the crowd go “ooh” and “ahh”
at the bull riding, why, then, they’d change their minds.
8. You know, Selina, I’ve been thinking lately that we’ve been putting away
money for our retirement for quite a while now, and since the economy
seems to be recovering from the recession, I think we’re going to be in
pretty good shape when we’re ready to retire—we’ll at least have enough
to get by. Meanwhile, I’ve been looking at these new Ford trucks, and
they really come with everything these days, even GPS and satellite
radio. And if we put a portion of our income toward purchase of a new
truck, it would be a sort of investment in the future itself, you know?
9. What’s wrong with socialism? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with socialism.
Americans don’t like it, is what’s wrong with socialism.
10. Should I spend time doing more of these logic exercises when I could be
outside playing golf? Well, one thing is for sure. Doing one or two more
exercises won’t make a difference to my grade, but playing golf will make
a difference to my health.
TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT
Let’s say you get tired of the people upstairs stomping around late at night, and
so, to retaliate, you rent a tow truck and deposit their car in the river. From
an emotional standpoint, you’re getting even. From a reasoning standpoint,
you’re committing the fallacy known as “two wrongs make a right.” It’s a fal-
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 200 12/9/10 1:34 PM
TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT 201
lacy because wrongful behavior on someone else’s part doesn’t convert wrong-
ful behavior on your part into rightful behavior any more than illegal behavior
on someone else’s part converts your illegal activity into legal activity. If an
act is wrong, it is wrong. Wrong acts don’t cross-pollinate such that one comes
out shorn of wrongfulness.
However, there is a well-known and somewhat widely held theory
known as retributivism, according to which it is acceptable to harm some-
one in return for a harm he or she has done to you. But we must distinguish
legitimate punishment from illegitimate retaliation. A fallacy clearly occurs
when we consider a wrong to be justifi cation for any retaliatory action, as
would be the case if you destroyed your neighbors’ car because they made too
much noise at night. It is also a fallacy when the second wrong is directed at
someone who didn’t do the wrong in the fi rst place—a brother or a child of the
wrongdoer, for example. And it is a fallacy to defend doing harm to another on
the grounds that that individual would or might do the same to us. This would
happen, for example, if we didn’t return excess change to a salesclerk on the
grounds that “if the situation were reversed,” the clerk wouldn’t have given us
back the money.
On the other hand, it isn’t a fallacy to defend an action on the grounds that
it was necessary to prevent harm from befalling oneself; bopping a mugger to
prevent him from hurting you would be an instance. To take another example,
near the end of World War II, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on
Japanese cities, killing tens of thousands of civilians. Politicians, historians,
and others have argued that the bombing was justifi ed because it helped end
the war and thus prevented more casualties from the fi ghting, including the
deaths of more Americans. People have long disagreed on whether the argu-
ment provides sufficient justifi cation for the bombings, but there is no dis-
agreement about its being a real argument and not empty rhetoric.
(1) The people upstairs keep making noise late at night and (2) it bothers
me so (3) I have the right to rent a tow truck and deposit their car in the
(1) The people upstairs keep making noise late at night.
(2) It bothers me.
(3) Therefore I have the right to rent a tow truck and deposit
their car in the river.
Fallacies run the gamut from attempts to stir up emotion to attempts to dis-
tract us from a subject entirely. In this chapter we’ve covered a selection of fal-
lacies that are based on appeals to our emotions as well as several others that,
while they have a psychological aspect, are less emotion-based.
Fallacies that appeal to emotion:
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 201 12/9/10 1:34 PM
202 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
■ Argument from outrage
■ Scare tactics
■ Argument by force
■ Argument from pity
■ Argument from envy
■ Apple polishing
■ Guilt trip
■ Wishful thinking
■ Peer pressure “argument”
■ Groupthink fallacy
Other fallacies discussed in this chapter don’t invoke emotions directly
but are closely related to emotional appeals. These include
■ Red herring/smoke screen
■ Appeal to popularity
■ Appeal to common practice
■ Appeal to tradition
■ Two wrongs make a right
In all these specimens, there is something one might call a “premise”
and something one might call a “conclusion,” but the “premise” either fails
to support the conclusion or “supports” some tangential claim. In any case, a
mistake in reasoning has been made; a fallacy has been committed.
In the exercises that follow, we ask you to name fallacies, and your instructor
may do the same on an exam. (At the end of Chapter 7, there are more exercises
that refer back to the fallacies in this chapter.)
Working in groups, invent a simple, original, and clear illustration of each type
of fallacy covered in this chapter. Then, in the class as a whole, select the illus-
trations that are clearest and most straightforward. Go over these illustrations
before doing the remaining exercises in this chapter, and review them before
you take a test on this material.
Answer the following questions and explain your answers.
1. A brand of toothpaste is advertised as best selling. How relevant is that to
whether to buy the brand?
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 202 12/9/10 1:34 PM
2. A brand of toothpaste is best selling. How relevant is that to whether to
buy that brand?
3. An automobile is a best-seller in its class. How relevant is that to
whether to buy that kind of automobile?
4. A movie is a smash hit. Would that infl uence your opinion of it? Should it?
5. Your friends are all Republicans. Would that infl uence your decision
about which party to register with? Should it?
6. Your friends are all Democrats. Would that infl uence what you say about
Democrats to them? Should it?
7. Your friend’s father wrote a novel. How relevant is that to whether you
should say nice things about the book to your friend?
8. Your friend’s mother is running for office. How relevant is that to
whether you should vote for her?
9. Your own mother is running for office. How relevant is that to whether
she will do a good job? To whether you should vote for her?
10. Movie critic Roger Ebert gives a movie a “thumbs-up” and calls it one of
the best of the year. How relevant is this to whether you should go see
Which of the following do you believe? Which of the following do you really
have evidence for? Which of the following do you believe on an “everyone
knows” basis? Discuss your answers with other members of your class.
1. Small dogs tend to live longer than large dogs.
2. Coffee has a dehydrating effect.
3. Most people should drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
4. If you are thirsty, it means you are already dehydrated.
5. Rape is not about sex; it’s about aggression.
6. Marijuana use leads to addiction to harder drugs.
7. The news media are biased.
8. You get just as much ultraviolet radiation on a cloudy day as on a
9. If you don’t let yourself get angry every now and then, your anger will
build up to the exploding point.
10. Carrots make you see better.
11. Reading in poor light is bad for your eyes.
12. Sitting too close to the TV is bad for your eyes.
13. Warm milk makes you sleepy.
14. Covering your head is the most effective way of staying warm in cold
15. Smoking a cigarette takes seven minutes off your life.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 203 12/9/10 1:34 PM
204 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
16. Government-run health care management is more (or less—choose one)
expensive than private-run health care management.
For each of the passages that follow, determine whether fallacies are present
and, if so, whether they fi t the categories described in this chapter.
1. Boss to employee: “I’ll be happy to tell you why this report needs to be
fi nished by Friday. If it isn’t ready by then, you’ll be looking for another
job. How’s that for a reason?”
2. Mother: “I think he has earned an increase in his allowance. He doesn’t
have any spending money at all, and he’s always having to make
excuses about not being able to go out with the rest of his friends because
3. Mother to father: “You know, I really believe that our third grader’s
friend Joe comes from an impoverished family. He looks to me as though
he doesn’t get enough to eat. I think I’m going to start inviting him to
have dinner at our house once or twice a week.”
4. Statistics show that fl ying is much safer than driving. So why put your
family at risk? This summer, travel the safe way: Fly Fracaso Airlines!
5. One political newcomer to another: “I tell you, Sam, you’d better change
those liberal views of yours. The general slant toward conservatism is obvi-
ous. You’ll be left behind unless you change your mind about some things.”
6. If you ask me, I think breaking up with Anton is a big mistake. Have you
forgotten how he stuck by you last year when you really needed somebody?
Is this how you repay that kind of devotion?
7. one fan: The fi eld goal has become too big a part of the game. I think it
would be more reasonable to change it from a 3-point play to a 2-point
play. That would make advancing the ball more important, which is as it
another fan: Oh, come on. Field goals have always been three points; it’s
just silly to think of changing a part of the game that’s been around for so
8. Student speaker: “Why, student fees have jumped by more than 300 per-
cent in just two years! This is outrageous! The governor is working for a
balanced budget, but it’ll be on the backs of us students, the people who
have the very least to spend! It seems pretty clear that these increased
student fees are undermining higher education in this state. Anybody who
isn’t mad about this just doesn’t understand the situation.”
9. “What? You aren’t a Cornhuskers fan? Listen, around here everybody is for
the Huskers! This is Nebraska!”
10. They need to understand that it’s okay for the good guys to have nuclear
weapons and it’s not okay for the bad guys to have them. And the U.S.A. is
one of the good guys, you see. The U.S. is always going to do the right thing
by these weapons, and we can’t trust most of the rest of the world to do
that. There’s your nuclear arms policy in a nutshell.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 204 12/9/10 1:34 PM
For each of the following, determine whether one of the lettered rhetorical
devices or fallacies covered in Chapters 5 and 6 occurs in the passage. There
may be items that do not contain such devices or fallacies, so be careful!
1. Letter to the editor: “Your food section frequently features recipes with
veal, and your ads say veal is a wholesome, nutritious food. Well, I have a
different opinion of veal. Do you know how it comes to be on your plate?
At birth, a newborn calf is separated from its mother, placed in a dark
enclosure, and chained by its neck so it cannot move freely. This limits
muscular development so that the animal is tender. It is kept in the dark
pen until the day it is cruelly slaughtered.”
a. scare tactics d. wishful thinking
b. argument from pity e. no device or fallacy
c. common practice
2. Listen, Bob. I’ve met with the rest of our neighbors on the block, and we
all agree that your yard really looks terrible. It’s embarrassing to all of us.
Our conclusion is that you ought to do something about it.
a. common practice d. rationalizing
b. use of euphemism e. no device or fallacy
c. use of dysphemism
3 . Former presidential chief of staff John Sununu was charged with using
Air Force executive jets for frequent trips to vacation spots. In a letter to
a newsmagazine, a writer observed, “What’s all the fuss about? If every-
body is doing it, why get excited about Sununu?”
a. loaded question d. common practice
b. stereotyping e. no device or fallacy
c. argument from outrage
4. I was thinking: Our newspaper boy has not missed a day all year, and
he always throws our paper right up here near the front door. I think
I’m going to leave him an extra-large tip this Christmas. I know people
who do that kind of work don’t make a lot of money, and I’m sure he
can use it.
a. downplayer d. argument from pity
b. stereotyping e. no device or fallacy
5. Hey, watch what you say about my car. You won’t see many that old
around anymore; it’s a real classic.
a. rhetorical explanation d. use of euphemism
b. hyperbole e. no device or fallacy
c. argument from pity
6. Despite all the fancy technology that went into Sam’s new car, it still
gets a mere 29 miles per gallon.
a. use of dysphemism d. downplayer
b. weaseler e. no device or fallacy
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 205 12/9/10 1:34 PM
206 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
7. Text messaging teaches people to misspell and adopt the crudest style of
writing possible. It’s like an advanced degree in Bonehead English.
a. rationalizing d. argument from outrage
b. rhetorical analogy e. no device or fallacy
c. rhetorical explanation
8. Imagine yourself alone beside your broken-down car at the side of a coun-
try road in the middle of the night. Few pass by, and no one stops to help.
Don’t get caught like that. You need a No-Tel cellular telephone!
Which of the following best characterizes this passage?
a. The passage gives someone no reason for buying anything at all.
b. The passage gives someone no reason for buying a cell phone.
c. The passage gives someone no reason for buying a No-Tel cell phone.
d. The passage gives someone a reason for buying a sawed-off shotgun for
For each of the passages that follow, determine whether fallacies are present
and, if so, whether they fi t the categories described in this chapter.
1. “Grocers are concerned about sanitation problems from beverage residue
that Proposition 11 could create. Filthy returned cans and bottles— over
11 billion a year —don’t belong in grocery stores, where our food is stored
and sold. . . . Sanitation problems in other states with similar laws have
caused increased use of chemical sprays in grocery stores to combat
rodents and insects. Vote no on 11.”
—Argument against Proposition 11, California ballot pamphlet
2. C’mon, George, the river’s waiting and everyone’s going to be there. You
want me to tell ’em you’re gonna worry on Saturday about a test you
don’t take ’til Tuesday? What’re people going to think?
3. attendant: I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t allow people to top off their gas
tanks here in Kansas. There’s a state law against it, you know.
richard: What? You’ve got to be kidding! I’ve never heard of a place that
stopped people from doing that!
4. One roommate to another: “I’m telling you, Ahmed, you shouldn’t take
Highway 50 this weekend. In this weather, it’s going to be icy and danger-
ous. Somebody slides off that road and gets killed nearly every winter.
And you don’t even have any chains for your car!”
5. That, in sum, is my proposal, ladies and gentlemen. You know that I
trust and value your judgment, and I am aware I could not fi nd a more
astute panel of experts to evaluate my suggestion. Thank you.
6. jared: In Sweden, atheists and agnostics outnumber believers 2 to 1, and
in Germany, less than half the population believes in God. Here in the
United States, though, over 80 percent believe in God. I wonder what
makes the United States so different.
alice: You’ve answered your own question. If I didn’t believe in God, I’d
feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb.
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 206 12/9/10 1:34 PM
7. One local to another: “I tell you, it’s disgusting. These idiot college stu-
dents come up here and live for four years—and ruin the town—and then
vote on issues that affect us long after they’ve gone. This has got to stop!
I say, let only those who have a real stake in the future of this town vote
here! Transient kids shouldn’t determine what’s going to happen to local
residents. Most of these kids come from Philadelphia . . . let them vote
8. Chair, Department of Rhetoric (to department faculty): “If you think
about it, I’m certain you’ll agree with me that Mary Smith is the best
candidate for department secretary. I urge you to join with me in recom-
mending her to the administration. Concerning another matter, I’m now
setting up next semester’s schedule, and I hope that I’ll be able to give
you all the classes you have requested.”
9. nellie: I really don’t see anything special about Sunquist grapefruit. They
taste the same as any other grapefruit to me.
nellie’s mom: Hardly! Don’t forget that your Uncle Henry owns Sun-
quist. If everyone buys his fruit, you may inherit a lot of money some
10. “Don’t risk letting a fatal accident rob your family of the home they
love—on the average, more than 250 Americans die each day because of
accidents. What would happen to your family’s home if you were one of
“ Your home is so much more than just a place to live. It’s a commu-
nity you’ve chosen carefully . . . a neighborhood . . . a school district . . .
the way of life you and your family have come to know. And you’d want
your family to continue sharing its familiar comforts, even if suddenly
you were no longer there. . . . Now, as a Great Western mortgage cus-
tomer, you can protect the home you love. . . . Just complete the Enroll-
ment Form enclosed for you.”
—Insurance company brochure
11. “You’ve made your mark and your scotch says it all.”
—Glen Haven Reserve
12. Dear Senator Jenkins,
I am writing to urge your support for higher salaries for state
correctional facility guards. I am a clerical worker at Kingsford Prison,
and I know whereof I speak. Guards work long hours, often giving up
weekends, at a dangerous job. They cannot afford expensive houses or
even nice clothes. Things that other state employees take for granted,
like orthodontia for their children and a second car, are not possibilities
on their salaries, which, incidentally, have not been raised in fi ve years.
Their dedication deserves better.
Very truly yours, . . .
13. her: Listen, honey, we’ve been dating for how long now? Years! I think
it’s time we thought seriously about getting married.
him: Right, ummm, you know what? I think it’s time we went shopping
for a new car! What do you say to that?
14. There are very good reasons for the death penalty. First, it serves as a
deterrent to those who would commit capital offenses. Second, it is just
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 207 12/9/10 1:34 PM
208 CHAPTER 6: MORE RHETORICAL DEVICES
and fair punishment for the crime committed. Third, reliable opinion
polls show that over 70 percent of all Americans favor it. If so many peo-
ple favor it, it has to be right.
15. first idahoan: I’ll tell you, I think Senator Creighton has done a fi ne job
of representing our state. He’s brought a lot of federal money here, and
he’s on the right side of most of the social issues we care about here.
second idahoan: Aw, come on, man. They caught the guy trying to pick
up another man in an airport restroom. Throw him out on the street
where he belongs!
16. Frankly, I think the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and the Wildlife Fund
will put my money to better use than my niece Alison and her husband
would. They’ve wasted most of the money I’ve given them. So I think I’m
going to leave a substantial portion of my estate to those organizations
instead of leaving it all to my spendthrift relatives.
17. “The president’s prosecution of the War on Terror is being handled
exactly right. He wasn’t elected to do nothing!”
18. Student to teacher: “I’ve had to miss several classes and some quizzes
because of some personal matters back home. I know you have a no-
make-up policy, but there was really no way I could avoid having to be
out of town; it really was not my fault.”
19. bud: So, here’s the deal. I’ll arrange to have your car “stolen,” and we’ll
split the proceeds from selling it to a disposer. Then you fi le a claim with
your insurance company and collect from it.
lou: Gee, this sounds seriously illegal and dangerous.
bud: Illegal, yeah, but do you think this is the fi rst time an insurance
company ever had this happen? Why, they actually expect it—they even
budget money for exactly this sort of thing.
20. Kibitzer, discussing the job Lamar Alexander did as secretary of education:
“It was absolutely clear to me that Alexander was not going to do any
good for American education. He was way too involved in money-making
schemes to give any attention to the job we were paying him for. Do you
know that back before he was appointed, he and his wife invested fi ve
thousand dollars in some stock deal, and four years later that stock was
worth over eight hundred thousand dollars? Tell me there’s nothing fi shy
about a deal like that!”
21. My opponent, the evolutionist, offers you a different history and a dif-
ferent self-image from the one I suggest. While I believe that you and I
are made in the image of God and are only one step out of the Garden of
Eden, he believes that you are made in the image of a monkey and are
only one step out of the zoo.
22. Recently, two Colorado lawmakers got into a shouting match when one
of them marched into a news conference the other was holding in opposi-
tion to same-sex marriage. Rep. Jim Welker had called the news confer-
ence to solicit support for a constitutional amendment to bar gays and
lesbians from marrying. Rep. Angie Paccione objected, saying, “We have
over 700,000 Coloradans without health care; how could we possibly say
gay marriage is more important than health care?”
Welker then responded, “Gay marriage will open a Pandora’s box.
Where do you draw the line? A year and a half ago a lady in India married
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 208 12/9/10 1:34 PM
her dog!” Welker was referring to the marriage of a 9-year-old girl to a
stray dog as part of a ritual to ward off an evil spell.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Paccione said. “Come on, Jim.”
“That is true. That’s a fact,” Welker said.
Paccione replied, “It’s not the same to have somebody marry a dog as
it is to have two loving people get married. Come on.”
23. What makes you think I should put a note on this guy’s car? Do you
think for a minute he’d have left a note on mine if he’d put a dent in it?
1. Find an example of a fallacy in a newspaper editorial or opinion magazine
(substitute an example from an advertisement or a letter to the editor
only as a last resort and only if your instructor permits it). Identify the
issue and what side of the issue the writer supports. Explain why the pas-
sage you’ve chosen does not really support that position—that is, why it
involves a fallacy. If the writer’s claims do support some other position
(possibly on a different, related issue), describe what position they do
2. In 1998, the police in Harris County, Texas, responded to a false report
about an armed man who was going crazy. They did not fi nd such an indi-
vidual; but when they entered the home of John Geddes Lawrence, they
found him and another man, Tyron Garner, having sex. Both men were
arrested and found guilty of violating a Texas law that criminalizes homo-
sexual sex acts. The men challenged their conviction, and the case went
to the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2003. A district attorney from the
county argued, “Texas has the right to set moral standards of its people.”
Do you agree or disagree with the district attorney’s statement?
Defend your answer in a one-page essay written in class. Your instructor
will have other members of the class read your essay to see if they can
fi nd your basic argument in the midst of any rhetoric you may have used.
They also will note any fallacies that you may have employed.
3. Should there be an amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting
desecration of the U.S. fl ag? In a one-page essay, defend a “yes” or “no”
answer to the question. Your instructor will have other members of the
class read your essay, following the instructions in Writing Exercise 2.
4. Listen to a talk radio program and make a note of any fallacies discussed
in this chapter that you notice. Try to write down the exact words
used in the program as well as the name of the fallacy you think was
moo38286_ch06_184-209.indd 209 12/9/10 1:34 PM