Win Every Argument Buchzusammenfassung - das Wichtigste aus Win Every Argument
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Zusammenfassung von Win Every Argument

Mehdi Hasan

The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking

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16 Min.

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    Persuasive arguments appeal to facts and feelings

    Facts don’t care about feelings. So goes the internet adage, anyway. It’s an appealing idea: truth is truth, whether or not we want to believe it. From this thought follows the equally appealing idea that debate is an inherently rational activity. It’s about following the facts and accepting the better argument – the argument which best fits the evidence.

    But it’s never been that simple. The ancient Greeks called the language deployed in such debates rhetoric – a word derived from rhetor, meaning “public speaker.” But for philosophers like Plato, rhetoric was downright pernicious. Honey-tongued debaters, he said, tend to be amoral. Theirs is an art of persuasion that’s just as easily turned to deceiving audiences as it is to the noble task of uncovering truth. Other thinkers didn’t go that far. Aristotle, who wrote the book on rhetoric, literally and figuratively, noted that proper reasoning or logic and rhetoric may be separate pursuits, but they can – and often do – overlap.

    For Aristotle, persuasive speech has three modes. The first is ethos – the Greek word for “character.” Ethos in this context concerns the credibility of a person. We’re more inclined to accept what a practicing doctor has to say about vaccinations, for example, than an anonymous blog author. At least, we should be, anyway; as we saw during the pandemic, the link between expertise and credibility isn’t as strong as it once was – but that’s a different topic.

    The second is pathos or “emotion.” In Aristotle’s words, “Our judgments when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile.” Imagine that our doctor’s credentials haven’t persuaded their reluctant patient, so they start telling the patient a story about a couple in perfect health who refused to get vaccinated. Both died within 15 days of each other, the doctor says, leaving behind four young children. That’s pathos: the attempt to sway an audience by appealing to powerful emotions such as love and fear.

    Finally, there’s logos or reasoning. This form of persuasion deals in facts and figures. If our doctor points out that multiple peer-reviewed studies show that COVID vaccines result in a 90 percent decrease in the risk of hospitalization and death, they’re appealing to logos. 

    In contemporary debates, it’s usually logos that’s asked to do the heavy lifting. That makes sense: we extol facts and figures, data and statistics, because we want our arguments to be rooted in truth. In an ideal world, the evidence would do its own talking. But that’s rarely how public debates play out. In the real world, logically unassailable arguments fall short and leave audiences cold. People are stubborn. Reactive. Overconfident. Afraid of change. More importantly, they’re emotionally invested in beliefs, ideas, and ideals. That adage, then, has it back to front: often enough, it’s our feelings which don’t care about the facts.

    For self-avowed rationalists, the issue is simple: we’ve forgotten how to reason properly. If we trained ourselves to think more dispassionately, public debates would become more rational. 

    That view assumes that reason and emotion are separate – and contradictory – things. But new research into human cognition has called that assumption into question. As the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio summarizes the findings of this new research, humans are neither thinking nor feeling machines, but “feeling machines that think.” Let’s break that down.

    In his acclaimed book Descartes’ Error, Damasio looks at people who’ve suffered damage to the part of the brain which handles emotional processing – the prefrontal cortex. At first glance, these people seemed to be reasoning machines: theirs was a black-and-white world of pure logic in which the fuzzy gray tones of emotions had disappeared. Being unemotional, though, didn’t make them more rational. Instead, they became “uninvolved spectators” in their own lives who struggled to assign different values to different options. They could know, but they couldn’t feel. Reason, Damasio concludes, isn’t a standalone faculty. Without feelings, our decision-making landscape becomes “hopelessly flat.” In short, to make rational decisions we need a jolt of emotion. 

    What does that have to do with winning arguments? In a word, everything. To win an argument, you have to get your listeners to make a decision – they have to choose you over your opponent. If neuroscientists like Damasio are right and the heart leads the head, pure logos won’t cut it: you also have to appeal to listeners’ feelings. This isn’t about jettisoning reason and simply saying what people want to hear. The point, here, is that audiences may only accept better, more truthful arguments once the person making them has established an emotional connection. Put differently, pathos may be the best vehicle to deliver logos.

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    Worum geht es in Win Every Argument?

    Win Every Argument (2023) is a guide to the art of argument by one of the world’s most combative debaters: journalist, anchor, and writer Mehdi Hasan. Drawing on ancient theories of persuasion, neuroscientific theories of cognition, and the rhetorical tricks of contemporary politicians, Hasan reveals the secrets to winning arguments in today’s post-factual world.

    Wer Win Every Argument lesen sollte

    • Natural-born arguers and debaters
    • Anyone interested in the art of persuasion
    • Public speakers and politicos

    Über den Autor

    Mehdi Hasan is an award-winning British American journalist, anchor, and author. He’s the host of The Mehdi Hasan Show on MSNBC and a regular contributor to newspapers including the New York Times and the Washington Post. Hasan is a former political editor of the New Statesman and a former columnist for the Intercept. Win Every Argument is his second book. 

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