Appeals to Reason

Some people can be persuaded by appeals to reason: arguments that convince them to adopt a particular style of behaviour.

People are only susceptible to reasoned argument if all the following conditions are met:

They have the intellectual capacity to analyse a logical argument.

They have sufficient education to make them aware of the evidence which is being brought to the argument, such as historical precedents, academic sources and published factual data.

They have sufficient interest in the subject to want to engage with it, to follow the argument being presented.

They have an open mind on the subject and have not already adopted a mindset which is closed to further input.

This is quite a demanding list of criteria, so those who would seek to persuade by appealing to reason ought to be aware of the limits of such an approach.  As explained by Steven Pinker, in his book Rationality, “most people don’t particularly want to be rational. Far from seeking the truth, we usually just want to win the argument”; he describes lots of tricks that people play on themselves to avoid engaging with rational argument.

Despite the limitations of reason as a means of persuasion, if someone is interested in a subject and has some level of education in it, reasoned arguments must be supplied.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4312a.htm