A Fallacy for You and Me

Last week, I drew similarities between the common understanding of “communication” and the PRSA definition of public relations—claiming that everyone is in public relations. This post understands there’s a difference between professionals of other industries and public relations professionals apart from salary. However, this post is still for both.

A lot of you know that I love the arts of reasoning and rhetoric. Don’t laugh, I know I’m unreasonable a lot of the time… but that’s because I love logical fallacies and take a lot of personal pleasure in needling.

So let me needle you again. Hopefully I can prove how important understanding these two topics (and logical fallacies) are to the world of public relations.  Either you’re smart and understand logical fallacies or you’re stupid because you don’t. Many of you probably don’t know what logical fallacies are, so what does that make you?

I’m just kidding, but hopefully by the end of this you will have clicked away and come back enough times that you’ll attack my credibility as a public relations professional “ad hominum” for my excluded middle.

So first, let me explain reasoning. There are two basic forms of reasoning: inductive and deductive. My favorite of the two is deductive reasoning which seeks to get ABSOLUTE truths through logic. It’s commonly explained as a=b and b=c so a=c. The fun comes with making intentionally-funny faulty deductive reasoning.

Now let’s get real technical.

First we need to understand the art of rhetoric. If you already know the term rhetoric, you might think of people like Plato and Aristotle.

Now some bells should be going off for some of you.

For those who can’t hear those sweet bells, there have been many understandings of what rhetoric is since its “earliest definitions.” However,  one school of thought about rhetoric stems from the combined works of Aristotle and Machiavelli, whereby through the intense study of argumentation techniques and public speaking, people can make others do things.

Here’s where logical fallacies come in. Logical fallacies were some of these argumentation techniques and tactics, developed from works by Aristotle on the subject of rhetoric. They’re not  necessarily done unintentionally either as we can see in Machiavelli’s expansions on and understandings of logical fallacies.

Now, you’ve heard of Machiavelli and might be thinking, “Hey, I thought you said PR isn’t an evil profession about making people do stuff. This rhetoric crap sounds a lot like PR propaganda!”

Well, here is also where the understanding of rhetoric today. And if you’re a PR pro or student, you’ve probably already heard of the extremely influential media theorist Marshal McLuhan and his views on rhetoric like in this awesome class I found.

Rhetoric is not something to avoid, but logical fallacies are. It’s not that they’re not effective. As we have learned from Aristotle and the ancient philosophers, Machiavellireligious leaders, media theorists, politicians and studies on Nazi propaganda, it’s extremely effective. Don’t even use them once beaue it’s a slippery slop to jumping on the bandwagon of bad PR pros who love logical fallacies.

But my “bold” claim is that intentionally using logical fallacies is not cool and pretty much unethical.

While they may be effective if someone doesn’t know how to induce or deduce things for themselves (reason), companies and individuals have been criticized for their use of logical fallacies. Recognizing when others are using them can also lead to deeper discussions on whatever topic you’re exploring in conversation. You don’t have to be rude and call them out, but try and get to the real intent of their message. There’s even an infographic to help!

Maybe you’ll read more on rhetoric and become more informed about the field of public relations… or maybe this post was just wishful thinking.