Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Manipulating Emotions: Value-Based Reasoning and Emotive Language

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Manipulating Emotions: Value-Based Reasoning and Emotive Language

Article excerpt

During election campaigns, in many countries politicians frequently attack the opposing parties and candidates. Excellent instances of the use of this strategy occurred in the campaigns for the Italian general election of 2013, which can be appropriately described as a rhetorical battlefield, a creative exchange of ad hominem arguments (Macagno, 2013; Walton, 1998). The speeches and declarations of the competing parties (especially the right- and left-wing coalitions) were focused more on attacking the other candidates than promoting their own constructive programs. In this context, a crucial role was played by emotive words. The voters were not provided with slogans describing long-term plans, but mainly with "devil terms" (Weaver, 1985, p. 222), namely epithets and descriptions crystallizing negative properties of the opponents. Instead of reporting and describing complex reasoning or lengthy discourses, the newspapers quoted such emotive characterizations and contributed to creating a war of epithets (for a history and an analysis of this phenomenon in Italy, see Ruggiero, 2012). This political example highlights a fundamental argumentative choice, the use of ethical (or emotive) terms. From the philosophical, argumentative, and linguistic perspective these words raise some unanswered questions. What makes a word emotive? Why can such words be instruments of persuasion? What reasoning mechanisms do they trigger? And, most importantly, what are ethical or emotive words?

A clear account of ethical words was given by Stevenson (1937; 1938; 1944). He noticed there are words that do not simply describe a possible fragment of reality. For example, "terrorist" is not used simply to refer to a person who commits specific actions with a specific intent. Words such as "torture" or "freedom" carry with them something more than a simple description of a state of affairs or mere conceptual content (Stevenson, 1944, p. 210). These words have a "magnetic" effect (Stevenson, 1937, p. 16), an imperative force, a tendency to influence the interlocutor's decisions (Stevenson, 1937, p. 18-19; see also Weaver, 1985). They are strictly bound to moral values leading to value judgments and potentially triggering specific emotions. For this reason, they have an emotive dimension. In the modern psychological terminology, we can say that these terms carry emotional valence (Frijda & Mesquita, 2000), as they presuppose and trigger a value judgment that can lead to an emotion.

In politics and other domains of human communication, these terms play a crucial role (Schiappa, 2003; Zarefsky, 2004). They can be used to change the evaluation of a state of affairs, and modify the interlocutor's attitudes and choices. They provide the hearer with a pre-packaged suggested evaluation of an entity or event. The analysis of the mechanism of persuasion triggered by such words involves the complex relationship between values, decisions, emotions, and the reasoning mechanisms that have been investigated under the label of heuristics (Kahneman, Tversky & Slovic, 1982).

THE POWER AND THE USES OF EMOTIVE WORDS

Some of the best examples of emotive words can be found in the public debates, speeches, and declarations of the 2013 Italian general elections. The context in which the campaigns took place was characterized by strong public disenchantment with the political class (furthered by television shows on the nepotistic structure and the corruption levels of the elite in power) (e.g., Smart, 2011), severe austerity measures introduced to curb a heavy economic crisis resulting in an extremely high youth unemployment rate, and several scandals within the ruling party including criminal proceedings brought against its leader, Mr. Berlusconi (e.g., Annicchiarico, 2014). As a matter of fact, three individuals dominated the scene, showing an incredible creativity in forging new epithets for depicting their rivals in a negative manner: Beppe Grillo, leader of the Movimento 5 Stelle, Silvio Berlusconi, the politician who ruled the country for the previous 18 years, and Mario Monti, the outgoing prime minister. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.