The Aesthetic Life

On Rhetoric

Posted in Uncategorized by jonflynn on December 2, 2009

I have an ethical question on my mind. What are my obligations if I learn how to effectively convince others of anything I want? After studying psychology, both in class and out of it, I’ve learned quite a few techniques of getting people to come over to my view. A strong voice, a good stature, and generally acting confident, as if you actually knew what you were talking about, will win most people over easily. I’m not great at it, but I pull on the veil of competence if I want to. Now, the cases one should absolutely not use this are easy to recognize. If you are knowingly lying, you should not try to be charismatic to fool people. Granted, there might be a few occasions when it might be acceptable to lie in general, and you can put on the charm then, but those are the exceptions and not the rule. However, what about when you are actually trying to tell the truth? People trust certain behaviors because those that are telling the truth generally have them. Intuitively, there is nothing wrong with a person acting like they know something if they actually know it. But once you know the behaviors associated with competence, you run into a problem. Are you convincing someone by your behaviors, or your actual argument? If so, are we obligated to stop those behaviors? We know from psychological studies that convincing people is mostly about that emotional appeal, but the philosopher’s ideal would be to convince by argument alone, without appeal to baser instincts and emotions, and that charm and rhetoric are always a bad thing. Does that mean, for a person to be truly honest, that he or she must write as dryly as language allows, to always speak in a monotone, to never gesture or act any differently than a mannequin?
Here’s an extension to the argument, although I’m not sure if this clarifies things, or makes them murkier. There seems to be something inherently immoral about the job of a lobbyist. Their goal is simply to wine and dine those with political power and convince them to their cause. What if the cause that the lobbyist promotes truly is a good one, one that they believe in? There still seems something wrong with charming/bribing a senator. I suspect that I may be conflating a typically bad thing with cases where someone is simply trying to inform a senator of something they truly care about.

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