Defence Against the Dark Arts: Lying Logos

The term Logos refers to logic which can be seen as the pursuit of proof. There are two different types of logic, formal logic (also known as mathematical logic) and informal logic. Informal logic is the sort we use in speeches and it is what this blogpost will focus on. If you want to know more about formal logic, we have a blogpost about that too!

Logos is the term used when you try to persuade someone with evidence or a logical argument. A logical argument can be anything that is loosely based on logical principles. You can think of a logical argument like a wall. You get some walls that are impressively tall, however in reality, it doesn’t take much to knock them over. You get some made out of sticks and mud whilst others are made out of solid rock. You even get some badly built walls that have gaping holes letting in the foul winds of manipulation and deceit.

So why is logos dangerous? Logos is dangerous because sometimes an argument can be composed of entirely bullshit, but even bullshit, if sculpted into the correct shape, can be mistaken for chocolate and consumed by an unsuspecting naïve audience.

A logical argument can be anything that attempts to demonstrate a logical progression. Quite a lot of ‘logical’ arguments present a problem and a solution (with an implied result which isn’t always stated).

For example…

‘Look at the state of America! There is a serious crime problem. We need to do something. Here is an idea… Let’s build a wall around Mexico!’

The problem presented here is the current state of America. The solution is to build a wall. The implied result is that this will reduce the crime rate. To many Trump voters, this looks like tasty tasty ‘chocolate’. However, anyone with a mild understanding of the world will realise what it really is.

This is poor logic, however, it would still be considered as a use of logos.  In formal logic, this argument would be considered untrue or unproven, with informal logic it still counts.

The use of evidence (or what seems like evidence) is always effective in increasing the impact of an argument. For example, if I said ‘Britain should ban petrol cars, because the petrol cars are bad’, there is no evidence. If I said that ‘Britain should ban petrol cars, because the petrol cause pollution which kills innocent baby unicorns’ I’ve just presented what would be considered as evidence.

As you can see, evidence doesn’t necessarily have to be true, however, quite often people assume that if evidence is presented it must be true. There normally isn’t enough scrutiny into the validity, relevance or truth in evidence which has led to the surge of #FakeNews. It is our own lack of scrutiny that makes it very easy for people to convince us to eat the chocolate. For example, in the recent Brexit campaign, campaigners said, ‘If Britain leaves the EU we will save £350 million a week’. This use of ‘evidence’ was very convincing, however, as it has been revealed, was unfounded and probably untrue.  It is worth noting that the ‘Remain’ campaign also used similarly unfounded evidence about how many jobs would be lost if Britain left the EU. These are both examples of logos behaving badly.

Logos isn’t all bad, however…

“Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before. More of our people are insured than ever before. And we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.” – Barack Obama

Obama is listing evidence to support the argument that his administration has achieved positive change.

Ethos (which was the subject of a previous blogpost) can also be seen as a use of evidence and in many cases, ethos is also logos because it is being used to prove a point – normally to do with credentials.

So as you can see, logos is tricky – it can lie, it can distort, and it can be incredibly persuasive. The only way to overcome weak logic is to question it, to challenge it and to logically dismantle it. Next time you hear what seems to be a sound logical argument, you should ask yourself, is this really chocolate… really?

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