Patterico's Pontifications

3/12/2009

The Two Most Important Factors in Making a Persuasive Argument

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:09 pm



Last night I asked:

[I]n your opinion, what are the two most important factors in making a persuasive argument? What MUST you have going for you in order to convince your audience?

There were a lot of interesting answers, and most of the answers contained good suggestions for making arguments better. You could probably ask this question of 100 people and get 100 different answers.

Also, I don’t mean to suggest that if you have only the two factors I describe, you don’t need anything else. A successful argument is usually the result of many factors and facets. I just happen to believe that two of them are more fundamental than any other.

Without further ado . . . the envelope, please!

Ahem.

  • 1. Credibility.

If you don’t think I’m credible, you’re not going to believe a thing I say. I could have the best arguments and evidence in the world — but if there is no credibility to back them up, you won’t believe them. (Credibility can mean many things: an ability to cite a credible source demonstrates credibility.)

I’ll discuss objections to this in the comments, but I think this one is obvious.

It’s the second one that I didn’t expect you to get:

  • 2. An audience that is capable of being persuaded.

If there’s one thing I have learned over years of making arguments in different contexts, it’s that you can’t persuade someone who refuses to be persuaded.

Commenters here have seen this in the behavior of commenters they call “trolls.” The “troll” has a different point of view — and when you argue with him, he is unreasonable in his responses. If you make a good point, he refuses to acknowledge it, or he mischaracterizes it. If you prove he’s wrong about argument A, he moves to argument B. Show him he’s wrong about that, and he moves to argument C. Refute argument C, and he goes back to argument A — and acts for all the world as if he’s never heard your argument refuting argument A.

You can run around in circles with people like that for the rest of your life. They can’t be persuaded.

RELATED TRIAL LAWYER DIGRESSION: This is why, for example, peremptory challenges are critical in jury trials. Because there are some people who will never be convinced no matter what your evidence is, and no matter how well you put on the case.

If you accept a panel with such a person, the case is already lost.

You can’t deal with such issues purely with cause challenges, because such people don’t always identify themselves. They often think they are open-minded. They will sit there and look at you with big innocent eyes and tell you they’d keep an open mind.

BACK TO THE BLOG WORLD: Unfortunately, most discourse on the Internet is of this nature. People who read political blogs tend to be political partisans. They have a point of view on most issues, and you will not talk them out of it. If you try, prepare to be frustrated.

What’s worse, there seem to be so few people truly capable of listening to your argument, understanding it, and responding to it. Most people offer canned talking points and don’t truly engage. When you find one who does, it’s a rare treat. Savor it. It doesn’t happen often.

So why argue with trolls? You’re not going to persuade them.

There are really only two reasons: 1) because you find it entertaining, or 2) to persuade others who might be persuaded, by knocking down the arguments of your troll, who cannot be persuaded.

You might even fall into this category on some issues. Answer me this: what is your most foundational belief? It could be a belief in God, or that it is wrong to kill the innocent, or something else. Take a second and decide what that belief is for you. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Done? Good.

Now imagine me trying to convince you that you’re wrong.

Not happening, is it? Because you’re not capable of being persuaded on this issue.

Thanks for listening. I know some of you may disagree with my two factors. Some of you may feel very strongly I’m wrong, in fact.

If that’s how you feel, let me know. We’ll talk about it.

But chances are, there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind.

UPDATE: I changed one sentence in response to a comment from JRM: from “you can’t persuade someone who doesn’t want to be persuaded” to “you can’t persuade someone who refuses to be persuaded.” That’s more in line with what I meant, and what I said in my bullet point #2.

74 Responses to “The Two Most Important Factors in Making a Persuasive Argument”

  1. Nope. Those sound dead-on perfect…

    I was sooooooo close…

    Scott Jacobs (90ff96)

  2. I inferred that you were after two things within the control of the message sender. In trial, one has limited peremptories. In life, we often can’t choose our pool of those to be persuaded to our side of things.

    Since the entire point of argument is to move others, it follows that they are capable of movement. No problem with your take.

    Thanks for engendering another great thread.

    Ed (52bb9a)

  3. *It follows that they must be capable of movement.

    Ed (52bb9a)

  4. One reason I relentlessly argue with people is that I just enjoy the challenge of it. Maybe a little perverse, but there you have it.

    The second reason is that, on almost every issue, I’m almost certain that I’m wrong, I just haven’t yet discovered exactly how I’m wrong. That leaves me doomed to operate under the illusion that I may be right, unless and until I can compel someone demonstrate otherwise or happen upon the facts or logic on my own.

    And I certainly agree with Pat that it’s reasonable to assume that, even when we know we’ll never convince an opponent, we can take some comfort in knowing that objective observers will be persuaded.

    Hax Vobiscum (23258e)

  5. There are really only two reasons: 1) because you find it entertaining, or 2) to persuade others who might be persuaded, by knocking down the arguments of your troll, who cannot be persuaded.

    I also argue to test the specific points in my argument, and to refine my debating skills in general.

    aunursa (2aca7b)

  6. The audience that can be persuaded is an interestng concept. Yet the experienced trial attorney can pick a winning jury time and time again.

    Joe (17aeff)

  7. I wouldn’t have figured out your second criteria without your hint that trial lawyers might be the only ones who’d get it.

    Interesting point, and, as you say, this issue seems to be wildly magnified on the internet.

    Pendleton (7f8d26)

  8. Some effective tactics:

    1. This one is effective against someone who tries to overwhelm me with many points. When my opponent tosses out arguments A-Z, I ask him to select his strongest point, so that I can address it. Once it’s resolved, we can move on to his next strongest point, and so on.

    2. This one can be effective against the opponent who demands that I prove the truth of my statement of fact, and who seems predisposed to reject any evidence as inferior or insufficient and/or move the goalposts.

    I tell my opponent that in order for me to meet his challenge, he must state specifically what type and/or amount and/or source of evidence he will accept as sufficient to prove my statement. The ball is then in his court. Usually at this point he punts or fumbles.

    aunursa (2aca7b)

  9. and/or predisposed to move the goalposts

    aunursa (2aca7b)

  10. The only thing necessary to make, what is called, a persuasive argument is an audience that is persuaded.

    That is all.

    Now to make a good argument, you must be persuasive, and be right.

    Different things.

    Wickedpinto (2987bb)

  11. Wickedpinto – Good to see you here.

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  12. I was told being right all the time was the quickest way to get fired..

    EricPWJohnson (4d7bc6)

  13. Good post!

    Some thoughts:

    1. Credibility matters a lot, but people are notoriously bad at failing to mistrust the untrustable. People can and do accept arguments from incredible sources; witness the Coulter-on-Olbermann hubbub.

    But, yeah, that’s important. *In a jury trial setting*, it’s vital *for the attorneys*. It’s not as vital as it ought to be in other settings, IMO. Meet Mr. Madoff. And jurors often accept parts of testimony from people they mostly disbelieve – and they are often right to do so when they do that.

    I would like it to matter more than it does. I would like to be persuaded by your argument.

    2. You say, “[Y]ou can’t persuade someone who doesn’t want to be persuaded.” I disagree with the formulation of the sentence; correcter is, “You can’t persuade someone who absolutely refuses to be persuaded.” I’ve certainly been persuaded of things I did not want to be persuaded were true, and I’d bet you have too.

    But we’ve seen those jurors who are just gunning for one side or the other. I’ve had the Evil Juror of Doom, thank you. (I think I’ve had two Evil Jurors of Doom, where there was no way I could prove anything to them. They’re pretty rare, though; others who have gone against me could have been persuaded – maybe by more than I think necessary, but could have been.)

    I’ve had great, great political discussions with very lefty folks (I had a wonderful conversation with a sports columnist and a lawyer over our first beers together) but it does require a willingness to engage the conversation. If the wall is pre-built, it’s uninteresting. I’ve even managed good conversations about religion, though I find that rarer and harder.

    –JRM, who gave the right answers to the problem as a logic puzzle.

    JRM (355c21)

  14. It’s a quibble, but your question presumes an audience that is capable of being persuaded. Otherwise it’s a meaningless question. And the question also presumes that there is something the speaker can do to be persuasive.

    If you’d re-phrased your question to be, “What are the two most important factors in whether someone is persuaded by an argument?” then I’d agree with you.

    Beldar (b95a76)

  15. By the way, is this a free lesson on how to avoid jury duty?

    I would have guessed that acting eccentric would work better than acting obstinate. Now I know the real secret!

    Pendleton (7f8d26)

  16. JRM says:

    You say, “[Y]ou can’t persuade someone who doesn’t want to be persuaded.” I disagree with the formulation of the sentence; correcter is, “You can’t persuade someone who absolutely refuses to be persuaded.” I’ve certainly been persuaded of things I did not want to be persuaded were true, and I’d bet you have too.

    Entirely correct; your formulation is in line with what I said in my bullet point, and I have changed the sentence to which you objected.

    Ed says:

    In life, we often can’t choose our pool of those to be persuaded to our side of things.

    But you can. If you recognize someone who refuses, you can choose to move on to the next person. It’s a valuable point.

    Beldar says:

    It’s a quibble, but your question presumes an audience that is capable of being persuaded. Otherwise it’s a meaningless question. And the question also presumes that there is something the speaker can do to be persuasive.

    There is: make it to someone capable of being persuaded.

    My definition of a persuasive argument is one that persuades. I can see how someone might argue that an argument could be “persuasive” in the abstract — even if it’s not persuading this audience. It’s an absolutist vs. relativist view, isn’t it?

    But I would argue that an argument can never be really persuasive except to the extent it persuades someone. If you deem it persuasive it’s because YOU were persuaded.

    You might have THOUGHT the question presumed an audience capable of being persuaded — and indeed, it’s probably some subconscious sense that some would make that presumption that caused me to assume that so few would get the answer.

    But I think it’s a VERY important point to understand for anyone who desires to actually persuade.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  17. those items *might * w*rk…….

    Guns and ammo w*rk every time.

    redc1c4 (9c4f4a)

  18. If only you could peremptorily challenge a Ninth Circuit judge. (Or a panel.) I’ve had a few who were not open to persuasion.

    grs (b9e726)

  19. I still go with the military presentation of fact.
    Or it could be like a Jesuit…
    Have your shit together and put it out that way.
    People can sense it.
    Reagan got past the DC crowd by talking to the nation. It wasn’t just the actor it was him and they believed in droves.
    The trial lawyer doesn’t just pick for the open mind. He wants to mold thinking…some folks will not fall for it by steadfast integrity.

    Mike (be3fe7)

  20. Yes. Yes. In speech class, they always admonish, “Consider your audience.” The arguments you use, the facts you select to support the argument, are influenced by your assessment of the audience. For example, when addressing the congregation on Sunday, it is not necessary to argue that God exists. But if you assume the audience in San Francisco will accept an argument about gay marriage based on Biblical precepts without first being persuaded that God matters, you have lost before beginning.

    I find your comment about trolls ironic. Habitués of this forum tend to label all newcomers “trolls”. See for example this description of xenophobes.

    Harry Phillips (63afbf)

  21. While using trolls to make your point, you ignore the crucial distinction.

    [T]he audience has to have some intellectually honesty. Without that, there is no way to persuade an adversarial audience.

    Sure Trolls fit into a subset of the intellectually dishonest, but that subset is knowingly malicious. In the real world, eg a jury pool, most folks would be reticent to display such childish behavior. Cyberspace trolls are purposefully and gleefully contentious; they knowingly ignore logic.

    The real world is populated with the more benign, yet more insidious larger group of just plain intellectually dishonest. These are the folks you briefly address:

    …such people don’t always identify themselves. They often think they are open-minded. They will sit there and look at you with big innocent eyes and tell you they’d keep an open mind.

    In the mother of irony, these folks are likely of liberal beliefs. They are the ones that rail against the inflexible dogmatism of the religious right – the intolerant of intolerance, the accepting of all people just as long as they think emote alike.

    bains (f104b8)

  22. I confess that I also took it for granted that I had both an open-minded audience and a plausible position as my starting point. Im going to start giving more thought to your questions, Patterico.

    nk (31b2d3)

  23. It’s far more important to be certain about what is necessary to persuade yourself than it is to sure of what it takes to convince others…

    Unless you’re a litigator. And even then, it’s a toss-up.

    Hax Vobiscum (4012df)

  24. Hacks’ 2 most important factors in making an argument are willful obfuscation, and intentional misrepresentation.

    JD (537b67)

  25. Can we get our terms straight at least? “Persuade” is when you want someone to do something. “Convince” is when you want someone to believe something. They are not synonymous or interchangeable.

    nk (31b2d3)

  26. I quibble with 1. By Credibility, do you mean actual credibility or just credibility in the eyes of your current audience. For example, those cops in Atlanta who killed Kathryn Johnston didn’t have real credibility but were still able to convince a judge to sign the search warrant.

    kaf (16e0b5)

  27. If you make a good point, he refuses to acknowledge it, or he mischaracterizes it. If you prove he’s wrong about argument A, he moves to argument B. Show him he’s wrong about that, and he moves to argument C. Refute argument C, and he goes back to argument A — and acts for all the world as if he’s never heard your argument refuting argument A.

    Isn’t this the definition of a Democrat?

    I like you two points which I’ll paraphrase as credibility and an audience with an open mind – capable of being pursuaded/convinced. I used to work in golf club sales and I had a sales technique that kinda went like this.

    A) Obtain Credibility: By first demonstrating a complete command of the facts and empowering the customer with knowledge. (For juries I just pretend they are customers and I am selling a product, my case). So gain their trust, i.e. have them believe you are credible by being honest and forthcoming about good and bad facts and educating them on the specifics of the product.

    B) Tip them in the direction you want them to go in; i.e. pursuade/convince them through the timing of the delivery or think of it as the structure of your educational phase. While you are obtaining their trust with your credibility and educating them, do it in a logical manner and procession so that at the end of the presentation there can be but only one correct answer: the purchasing of the product I want them to buy.

    I’ve used this two-fold approach in numerous Moot Court Competitions back as an undergrad and in Law School and won several local and regional trophys with it. Then I used it on about 32 or 33 jury trials. (You know juries, you win some you lose some.) I’ve used it on three appellate cases, all of which I won and one even went to the State Supreme Court.

    I used to love to tell my opponents right beore we went into action: “Yeah, time to go sell some golf clubs.” And they would freak out wondering where the hell was the golf club issue, I didn’t brief any golf club issue. Holy crap, did I miss something. And I would simply go in and 1) educate with facts and 2) pursuade by my structure of presenting facts so it seems like I’m not pursuading when I really am. Thank you Harold Charpentier who taught me how to sell golf clubs; and thank you Mark Grinker who taught me how to argue legal cases.

    J. Raymond Wright (d83ab3)

  28. From the trial lawyer contingent, I add that if your audience must perceive that you yourself believe what you are arguing. Maybe that can be included under the credibility component, but it better be there or you might as well be singing in the shower.

    V.R. Stull (d7fc75)

  29. Let’s not forget that some arguments are easier to make than others. “Don’t You Mess With My Toot Toot” may be a hard sell but who can fail with “Don’t Do The Bump With No Big Fat Woman”?

    nk (31b2d3)

  30. One reason I relentlessly argue with people is that I just enjoy the challenge of it. Maybe a little perverse, but there you have it.

    The second reason is that, on almost every issue, I’m almost certain that I’m wrong, I just haven’t yet discovered exactly how I’m wrong.

    As someone might say – Shocka!

    carlitos (3f0da9)

  31. Carlitos – that one just took my breath away.

    JD (b186eb)

  32. Thank you, this is very instructive. You have already proven your point with me.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  33. “you can’t persuade someone who refuses to be persuaded.”

    Or the more common refrain: You can reason someone out of a position they haven’t been reasoned into.

    But there’s the subtle difference I think Patterico has hit on. The difference is between reason and persuasion.

    Take the OJ jurors. The prosecution strategy was doomed because it relied on reason: DNA, blood evidence, etc, and presumed the jurors had the capacity for reason. They didn’t, or certainly not to the degree required for these tactics to work.

    They were operation on a much more elemental level – this DNA stuff is oooga booga black magic, and the glove didn’t fit, so OJ is innocent.

    TakeFive (7c6fd5)

  34. Great thread [as was the original] and I agree in a general way.
    I might pick at the second point…that the audience must be capable of being persuaded
    because a persuasive argument can still exist
    despite audience resistance.
    In other words a persuasive argument need not succeed in order to be labeled “persuasive”
    IMO

    jimzinsocal (52b843)

  35. It looks like you independently arrived at Aristotle’s three requirements for persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. Your list of two sounds like ethos and pathos, essentially. I think you were assuming the logos was there, and were asking what else was needed, so you have all three.

    Bud Norton (29550d)

  36. I’d like to ask a question:

    Who has a healthier approach to the truth (and there is an empirical objective truth that has nothing to do with credibility or how persuadable your audience is):

    Someone who spends all of his/her time with others who echo and reinforce their every prejudice and preconceived notion, or that individual who actively seeks out, considers and is willing to engage those with vastly contrary opinions?

    Some of the folks labeled “trolls” here (myself included) are simply assigned that term due to holding opinions that aren’t considered to be the accepted norm. And so, instead of their opinions being ever seriously considered by most of the vocal participants here (I like to think there’s a quiet component of lurkers who actually do take arguments into consideration, I may be wrong on that), they’re subjected to abuse and a constant attack on the first part of Patterico’s formulation above: Credibility.

    Peter (e70d1c)

  37. Aaaargh!

    I can not count the number of times I’ve had to address the credibility issue. Ye olde ethos v. logos canard. Ethos is, of course, crucial if the arguers are a) known and b) vetted.

    If you are reading two essays providing opposite points of view by anonymous authors, logos is of primary importance. There is no credibility issue.

    Had a “teacher” who actually down-graded me until I demonstrated with an example from her own book of how one can be persuaded by an argument advanced by a non-credible participant. She had an essay by Carl Rowan on the D.C. gun laws. Upon my asking if she found the argument persuasive, she answered that it certainly was as it was closely reasoned (hah!) and advanced by an award winning journalist who had reported for years on crime in the District.

    I then asked if she was aware that he had shot his own son with an unregistered handgun four years prior to her inclusion of his article in her anthology. She replied that I was lying, and upon being offered proof of the incident … well, you can guess.

    The incident did not have any bearing on the larger point, the argument was still well-reasoned, exceptio probat regulum in the standard way that the statement is misapplied, and so on.

    Perceived credibility is of tremendous importance in face to face arguments, but even that is changing. Witness the long-haired kid in jeans versus the distinguished fellow in a banker’s suit. On matters of law the suit wins, when it comes to computers the kid takes it in a walk.

    We are rapidly approaching a period (due largely, I believe, to those intertubes with their wacky handles) when credibility will not be an issue and the argument will rely solely on its strengths and internal consistency.

    Sorry to go on so long: just got back from the dentist and I’m still kind of muzzy … but does that make me less credible? Would you have said the same without knowing that I’m sitting here drooling on myself and wondering why the lights make my teeth itch and throb?

    Credibility is situational and can lead people to make the wrong decisions based on prejudice rather than reason.

    Seriously, if I you could see me now you might pretend to listen to my argument out of pity but you wouldn’t hear it.

    I’m going to take a nap on an ice-pack or three.

    Uncle Pinky (834163)

  38. ^^that sure sends me back.

    I want a second to refine my previous post above.
    Perhaps Im being overly literal.
    What I was attempting to get at is all arguments are persuasive. Maybe Im reading too much into what Patterico is getting at but it seems hes exchanging “successful” for persuasive.

    And yes…the previous post. Indeed.

    – Logos – structure your argument well, and make sure it holds true (even if it’s not true make your position at least seem true)
    – Pathos – back up your position with propositions which use stories and language that chime with your audience.
    – Ethos – make sure your arguments are well founded, and backed up with some juicy (believable) evidence.

    Ha!

    jimzinsocal (52b843)

  39. […] 13, 2009 · No Comments Patterico claims that the two most important factors in making a pursuasive argument are 1) personal […]

    What are you capable of being pursuaded about? « Smash Mouth Politics (5381c6)

  40. ^^and by argument? I mean this. An attempt to persuade…so for me? Why I consider all arguments persuasive. Some are simply better than others

    Argument. An argument is a set of statements, one of which is the conclusion, and the others are premises. The premises provide support for the conclusion. In other words, the conclusion asserted to be true on the basis of the premises. Example:

    Premise: Either it will rain tomorrow, or it will be sunny tomorrow.
    Premise: It will not rain tomorrow.
    Conclusion: It will be sunny tomorrow.

    An argument can be good or bad based on (1) how well the premises support the conclusion, and (2) whether the premises are actually true.

    jimzinsocal (52b843)

  41. Logos – word
    Pathos – passion
    Ethos – societal value

    nk (31b2d3)

  42. If you accept a panel with such a person, the case is already lost.

    Only if they are willing to be a holdout. My limited experience is not too many people are, they will go along with the majority even if they aren’t really convinced.

    James B. Shearer (c65551)

  43. What makes people believe as they do?

    Could it be Credibility as you suggest? Like when someone assures you that there are WMDs in Iraq and the threat is imminent and we must act immediately and then the threat turns out to be otherwise?

    How about when they tell you that cutting taxes for the wealthiest 1% will result in prosperity for all as they did three years ago and we now fear for our economic future. Does that undermine their credibility? Or like when they tell you that self regulation of financial institutions is a great thing, and they make hundreds of millions for themselves and then we see the current situation..

    Credibility important? Yes to a degree but its obvious that credibility, for many, is not a fact based thing.

    How about the importance of history and its role in establishing credibility. If the same folks that were crying “socialism” when child labor laws were proposed, are the same ones that fought social security and medicare along with the Food and Drug administration and are now calling higher taxes on millionaires “Marxism”… well they dont have much credibility IMO. But obviously with many that is not the case. So history has a role but obviously its limited especially since so many dont have any knowledge of it.

    How about the profit motive? When people stand to make millions through deregulation, you have got to think that personal profit plays a role in their persuasiveness too.

    Well its probably a lot of things.. people are complex.. but one fundamental thing which drives them and which Republicans have not forgotten is EMOTION..

    People hear what they want to hear, like the song says.

    They know if you can sell yourself as a true patriot while portraying others as out to destroy the country, if you can portray yourself as a good and decent citizen with family values and trust in God while sewing suspicion and hate toward others by questioning their morals, decency and patriotism, and if you can get millions to turn a blind eye to the Big Money Ripoffs, job losses and bungled foreign wars and direct their anger instead to some folks abusing Food Stamps. And if you can subtly play the homophobic or race card AS THEY HAVE then, facts be damned, you can definitely persuade millions to your cause even if it means sending their kids off to fight senseless wars and destroying the economic future of the very people of vote for you.

    VietnamEraVet (543dfe)

  44. In VeV’s case, the 2 most important parts of an argument are aggressive dishonesty, and complete destruction of the imaginary voices in its head.

    JD (dd18ce)

  45. VietnamEraVet, we’ve already dealt with your credibility since you continually repeat the same tired cliches time after time and ignore how often you have been shown to be flat out wrong.

    Here you do it again, making up stuff.

    Of course, I like how you mention deregulation and profit motive and then ignore how the Democrats have personally profited – like Chris Dodd and Joe Biden – from their advocacy of financial industry positions.

    SPQR (72771e)

  46. jimz and nk: fair enough.

    That holds iff you are using ethos in its Aristotlean (very narrow) definition.

    Our host seems to have set us up here.

    1.If you don’t think I’m credible, you’re not going to believe a thing I say. I could have the best arguments and evidence in the world — but if there is no credibility to back them up, you won’t believe them. or

    2.(Credibility can mean many things: an ability to cite a credible source demonstrates credibility.)

    In option 1 we are going with the definition I used. Option 2 seems to modify that into the more Aristotlean definition; that of internal credibility.

    Yet, today, when people speak of credibility they are usually not going with option two. Seymour Hersh has zero credibility, unless he is writing, because he has proven himself (and admitted as much) to be unreliable in oral argument. And while Aristotle set up his (heh) Platonic ideal of a rhetorical argument, it gets very little play today and, if I recall correctly, it got little enough in his day.

    I really don’t feel like going up to the attic and dusting of my Cicero (and I’ll be damned if I’ll go to wikipedia for any sourcing) but look at the way debates are conducted today. Hell, imagine some unnamed prosecutor putting a witness on the stand who is a habitual drug user (never meaning no harm … been in trouble with the law since the day he was born) but has a sterling record on the matter he is testifying to. The defense will seek to destroy his credibility: as a witness if possible, but if not, as someone who can morally offer testimony. It’s not right, but it is not uncommon.

    As I said, I recall this being prevalent at the time of Aristotle and certainly afterwards during the evolution of rhetoric. If this thread is still alive when I come out of my Percocet stupor, I’ll try to nail down some sources for you.

    For now, I’m going to get in the old Laz-e-Boy and have a couple of beers. I know I shouldn’t be mixing, but it’s Friday and I’m an …

    OUTLAW

    Uncle Pinky (834163)

  47. One thing is certain, and it’s that VEV will never come within a few neighborhoods of a persuasive argument, unless she’s talking to other crazy people.

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  48. Seymour Hersh has zero credibility

    Uncle Pinky – How many times have we invaded Iran or been on the cusp of it according to Seymour?

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  49. #36 Uncle Pinky: The person Carl Rowan shot was not his son, but a stranger — a teenager who was intruding on his property.

    The only connection Rowan’s son had to the incident was that Rowan claimed that the gun belonged to his son.

    Joshua (9ede0e)

  50. Uncle Pinky #45,

    I would suggest that you have control over your logos (speech), but no control over your audience’s pathos (passion), and God help you when you challenge their ethos (values). One Guy, a fairly convincing One at that, got crucified for it from what I have read.

    nk (31b2d3)

  51. ^^Uncle Pinky

    Points taken. Hey…Im a word freak. And I hate to dust off Bertrand Russell.
    Even when I dont succeed in changing the end result…
    its important to consider the persuasiveness of an argument.[Merits]

    What a great exchange this has been.

    Good on Patterico.

    What a lift from the crap we endure at CNN etc.

    jimzinsocal (52b843)

  52. How about :
    (1) A pointing, shaky finger and
    (2) A straight face.

    Emperor7 (0c8c2c)

  53. Beldar:

    “It’s a quibble, but your question presumes an audience that is capable of being persuaded. Otherwise it’s a meaningless question. And the question also presumes that there is something the speaker can do to be persuasive.”

    You’re right. And it’s not a “quibble,” it undermines the whole exercise. Formulating an argument does not normally include choosing the audience that will judge that argument. But the question was about argument formulation. Audience formation is wholly separate from argument formulation and, even in court, precedes it in time. If answer number (2) was “that the argument be one which the audience is capable of being persuaded of,” then I guess I could buy it (although, even then it seems obvious almost to the point of circularity).

    As the author makes clear, audience composition (ie picking the jury) is very important to trial lawyers. Still, once the jury is picked, the issue in “formulating” the argument that one presents to it is a matter of choosing one that they, as they exist, can buy. Let’s say that a trial lawyer can rely on theory A or B. After the jury has been selected, despite his best efforts, the members of the jury are such that they will never buy theory A. In that case, the lawyer should go with theory B. In other words, in formulating his argument, he should take into account the prejudices (or whatever you want to call of them) of his audience. But, again, that (the formulation of the argument) is a process separate from the choosing of the audience.

    In addition, and I don’t think this is a “quibble” either, when one goes about “formulating” one’s argument, one’s own, personal “credibility” is not a “factor.” The author say this, “If you don’t think I’m credible, you’re not going to believe a thing I say. I could have the best arguments and evidence in the world — but if there is no credibility to back them up, you won’t believe them.” Well, if that’s the case, it might be time for the client to find a new lawyer, and, perhaps, for the lawyer to look for a new line of work (or confine himself to legal work not involving jury trials), but I don’t see what it has to do with formulating the argument. The problem the author is dealing with here is not one of argument formulation, but of personal characteristics. If the evidence really does support the lawyer’s argument but, say, the lawyer’s beady, shifty eyes, his sweating and stuttering, or whatever, make him seem incredible to the jury, the argument should not be reformulated, rather, the attorney should be replaced.

    Moving to the real world, of blogs and trolls, the problem is not with “credibility”, nor does it have anything to do with the “formulation” of arguments. The problem (as the author gets right with respect to this, his real reason for posing the quesion, although not as an answer to his poorly worded “challenge”), is with the character of the audience. It’s not that the troll doesn’t find his interlocutor on the internet to be “credible,” (the internet is a faceless, anonymous medium, personal credibility has almost nothing to do with it), nor is that there is anything wrong with the “formulation” of the arguments used to disprove the troll’s claims. Instead, the problem is that the troll is a self-selected audience of one person. And that person does not seek to legitimately dispute the isssues, to be open to persuasion even as he tries to persuade others. No, he’s only here to make trouble for its own sake, to derail the discussion, to get attention, to gain whatever sort of perverse delight that such persons get out of knowing that they are infuriating and frustrating others.

    It probably only rarely has anything to do with politics. So, I also disagree with the author that the situation is one in which a person’s fundamental beliefs are under attack, and no amount of argument, no matter how persuasive, is going to convince him to change them. A person whose beliefs are generally hostile to the “slant” of the board either won’t stay long, or will pick his spots, trying to score some tactical points when he can. If he has any attention of doing anything constructive on such a board, he will avoid even posting on “core” issues on which he and the majority of the board are fundamentally opposed.

    I think, for the true troll, that it’s more like a personality disorder. To argue with him is only to give him what he wants.

    So, while I understand what the author was trying to say, I think he presented it incorrectly. Arguing with trolls (unless, as he states, one enjoys it or one hopes to persuade third parties) IS a useless occupation. But it has nothing to do with the “credibility” of the troll’s opponent, nor with the “formulation of arguments.”

    ruddyturnstone (afd530)

  54. .I loved your post on this, P. As for me, I think the basic thing I need to be persuaded from seeing things the way I see it is manner of approach. Style is everything. If you really think that you are right and I am wrong, you will have to convince me that it’s not just about winning an argument. It’s about showing me the right path. But if I perceive signs of contempt and disrespect, I will throw it on your face. This is why, permit me to say, DRJ is and was the greatest. She could easily have persuaded me to believe that the earth was flat! To convince people that you think your POV is better, you have to show it in your behavior towards them. You have to be able to touch their hearts. DRJ did just that. So I will sum it up thus:
    (1) Respect for other people and
    (2) Respect for other people.

    Emperor7 (0c8c2c)

  55. As to your second point:

    Theologians have a word (actually two words) for it: invincible ignorance. Have always liked the phrase; the connotatations are very evocative.

    En_Revanche

    Michael Spencer (b25592)

  56. Beldar and ruddyturnstone –

    The reason my second point was “Timing” is because it trumps resistance to persuasion. Despite Patterico’s assertion, anyone can be persuaded, as long as the timing of the argument is right. In fact, the better the timing, the less need for credibility, facts and/or presentation. The correct Timing renders resistance to argument moot.

    Witness every single Democrat on September 12, 2001 instantly believing in a very powerful and deadly military, and giving GWB a blank check to reinforce said military.

    My assumption was that Patterico was making a point and that this post directly relates to two stories he recently covered on this blog.

    1. Carville
    2. Clinton & friends

    Maybe I’m wrong, but to me all three dealt with the same subject.

    Apogee (f4320c)

  57. I’ve known about #2 for years now, more on a gut level than a brain level. For example, I still remember arguing with someone about Clinton’s lying under oath. When the guy told me, “But everyone lies about sex,” I figured there’s no way I’m going to get through to this guy that it wasn’t about the lying, it was about the lying under oath. So I just gave up and walked away.

    Robin Munn (4811b5)

  58. I’ve made many a persuasive jury argument to my dog (typically while we both paced back and forth outside in the days when I was a smoker). She is incapable of being persuaded. That failing on her part, however, has never lessened the persuasiveness of my arguments.

    Beldar (b95a76)

  59. You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.

    cthulhu (3ef702)

  60. That failing on her part, however, has never lessened the persuasiveness of my arguments.

    You consider them persuasive because you are persuaded by them.

    I mean, I get you. But you see what I mean?

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  61. Can we get our terms straight at least? “Persuade” is when you want someone to do something. “Convince” is when you want someone to believe something. They are not synonymous or interchangeable.

    Hm. I’m not sure I find that argument persuasive. But I could be wrong; maybe you could convince me to believe it.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  62. I think I could make a convincing case that appellate court jargon is not colloquial English.

    nk (0a1ba0)

  63. “It’s about showing me the right path. But if I perceive signs of contempt and disrespect, I will throw it on your face.”

    Lovey – Your words show exactly why why you are treated as you are here. You fail to treat virtually every other commenter with respect, lie and distort their statements. It is curious why you are then upset at the treatment you receive in return.

    Have a beautiful day.

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  64. I also think part of having credibility is that you yourself are capable of being persuaded.

    Regardless of what the trolls here say, I tend to dismiss their arguments because I don’t believe they are capable of considering or even understanding their opponent’s points. If you can’t persuade the listener that you really considered and rejected alternate points of view and that you would be willing to change your opinion with different evidence, then you have no credibility that you’re being fair when you present your own evidence.

    Civilis (e439c0)

  65. Patterico’s last point. I agree.
    While the two words are often used as swaps…I suspect a subtle difference [that Patterico hinted at]

    Usage: To {Convince}, {persuade}. To convince is an act of the understanding; to persuade, of the will or feelings. The one is effected by argument, the other by motives.

    jimzinsocal (52b843)

  66. All right, I’m the last person to be putting on airs considering all the verbal gaffes I make. Case in point:

    My local grocery store sells hot fried chicken at the deli counter. I went there to get some but wondered if I might not be a little early. So I asked the lady by the deep-fryer “Do you have two legs and two thighs for me?” She blushed, nodded, and then wrote down her phone number and handed it to me.

    nk (0a1ba0)

  67. Comment by nk — 3/14/2009 @ 10:55 am

    So, were you persuaded? 😉

    Stashiu3 (460dc1)

  68. Apogee:

    “The reason my second point was ‘Timing’ is because it trumps resistance to persuasion. . .anyone can be persuaded, as long as the timing of the argument is right. . .the better the timing, the less need for credibility, facts and/or presentation. The correct Timing renders resistance to argument moot. Witness every single Democrat on September 12, 2001 instantly believing in a very powerful and deadly military. . .”

    While it might be true, in the abstract, that “anyone can be persuaded,” given the right timing, the reality is that the troll will not admit to being persuaded, even if he is in his “heart of hearts.”

    To take your example, a person who regularly trolled a pro US military board prior to 9/11 simply wouldn’t show up on Sept. 12, 2001. Or, worse yet, he might show up and continue to make his trollish arguments even in the wake of the attacks, and infuriate his readers all the more. This is what, I contend, the troll lives for. He WANTS people to be angry at him, and if that anger reaches near apoplectic outrage, all the better.

    Democratic party politicians and pundits, and even Democrats that one might know in real life, might have felt compelled by the force of events (by timing, as you would say) to espouse the need for a strong and deadly military on Sept. 12, 2001. Similarly, it might be difficult for a juror to stonewall a clearly convincing case, to refuse to even be open to persuasion, to look his fellow juror in the eye and, when asked to explain himself, to mouth some bogus-on-its-face, logically fallacious, factualy incorrect BS. But an anonymous troll, posting from his mother’s basement, can always refuse to assent, can always refuse to be persuaded, no matter the timing, or anything else.

    And I think that is what Patterico was getting at, even if, as I say, his “challenge” did not really lead to that conclusion.

    ruddyturnstone (afd530)

  69. I got some … fried chicken. The whole story is true except for the last sentence.

    nk (0a1ba0)

  70. When I graduated from college, my beliefs had changed significantly from what they had been going in. And I credit several godly men in the dorm for doing so. In that context, we’d argue for hours and sometimes I was no the winning side, others I’d be on the losing side. After I graduated I observed that I’d learned more from the arguments that I’d lost than those I’d won. So there’s that.

    Argument serves a purpose of testing and challenging one’s own beliefs and the strength of the reasons and supports for them. I am a Christian who enjoys dialog with atheists and agnostics for this reason: they help me dispense with the weak supports I might not see as such.

    Ideas, when unchallenged get puffy, flabby and foamy. Like the head on the top of a mug of beer. Argument with someone who disagrees with the thesis will serve to scrape off the foam and leave the substantial bits. We have to each personally face into the weak points and either work on buttressing them or dispense with them.

    This serves your first point, credibility.

    Steve Poling (8b0aa0)

  71. I love this post! I am going to use the premise on some of my favorite trolls!

    wscott (8172db)

  72. […] keys to persuasion, as noted by Patterico, are to effectively and credibly convey your message to an audience willing to listen. The […]

    Co-Opting Your Opponent « Ennuipundit (a716dd)

  73. […] Jeb — and most of those associated with the new group — lack the two most important factors in making a persuasive argument. In particular, having helped lead the GOP to its current state of disrepair, most of them lack […]

    The Greenroom » Forum Archive » You talkin’ to me, Jeb? (e2f069)

  74. […] Persuasion requires credibility. Doctors have it; Congressment don’t. If doctors say a government-run plan would ultimately restrict patient choice and explode costs, people are likely to believe them. That is one of the reasons why Obama is feeling the need to take his medicine show on the road. However, with his approval ratings turning negative on budget and spending issues, it is far from clear that Obama can beat back America’s doctors. […]

    The Greenroom » Forum Archive » Obamacare: Docs vs. Dems (e2f069)


Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.4637 secs.