Critical Thinking: Non-Verbal Elements of Argument: Argument and Demonstrations, Symbols and Metaphors

In the previous section we talked about the 3 principles of communication and how we should use them to interpret speech acts.  Referring to the 3 principles of communication help us to identify hidden arguments, premises, and conclusions.  In this next section we will look specific ways that arguments, premises, and conclusions are hidden in non-verbal speech acts (e.g. photographs, video, sculpture, advertising, etc…).

Non-Verbal Elements in Argument
Often non-verbal arguments use “flags” to get us to notice the argument.  An argument flag can be powerful music, an evocative image, or even a smell that is not part of the argument but it is something that pulls our attention to the non-verbal argument.  Lets consider the following political ad from 1988 to illustrate:
video of political ad
The music is grandiose.  But is this part of the argument?  No.  But the music grabs our attention and gets us to watch the content (i.e., the argument).

We can find argument flags easily in advertising.  Maybe a beer commercial has a picture of horses.  Is this part of the argument for why we should drink the beer?  Probably not.  But the image of horses is compelling and so it pull our eye to the ad.

Sometimes the best arguments are presented without words: we call these demonstrations.  Suppose my argument is that the butler killed Mr. Green in the kitchen with a candlestick.  Instead of using words, I might point to the bloody candlestick, the butler’s blood splattered shirt, and his maniacal grin.  My argument may be verbalized as, “there is blood on the shirt and candlestick that the butler is holding and he’s got that crazy look in his eye, therefore he killed Mr. Green.”

Symbols and (Non-Verbal) Metaphors
Symbols are images that represent words, ideas, or arguments.  For our purposes we are interested in symbols that represent arguments.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that asserts that one thing is the same in some respects as another unrelated object.  You are probably familiar with metaphors in written or spoken language but they can also be found in images.  In written language you might say about a close friend “Bob’s my dog.”  Of course you don’t literally mean that your friend Bob (a human) is also a dog.  You are making a metaphor.  Your friend Bob is a loyal friend.

Consider the following example of non-verbal metaphor

This is a metaphor for how certain political interests in South Africa are violating the justice system.  Of course they aren’t literally raping the justice system, because the justice system isn’t a person…

We can interpret this as an argument:
HP1.  The ANC Youth League, the ANC, the SACP, and the Labour Federation are all restricting the legal system in a way such that it allows the president Zuma (not to be confused with his latin cousin “Zumba”) to violate the justice system.
HC1 Therefore, president Zuma and his co-conspirators are corrupt and
HMC should be opposed.

Lets look at one more example of non-verbal metaphor.  Hold on to your hats cuz we’re about to get meta up in here.  This example is from my favourite 90s TV ad poking fun at how advertisers use metaphor.   Jump in my time machine and lets take a look!  Wheeeee!

The metaphor that’s being made fun of is that drinking soft drinks like Jooky are fun!  The argument would look like this:

P1.  Some advertisers claim that drinking soft drinks like Jooky is fun.
P2.  But you shouldn’t chose your drink based on what advertisers claim.
P3.  You should chose your drink based on what tastes good.
P4.  Spite tastes good.
MC.  Therefore, you should drink Sprite.

In advertising and art symbols and metaphors abound as arguments.  As critical thinkers we should ask whether they are accurate (especially with metaphors) and if they are comparing relevant qualities.

There are 4 kinds of non-verbal elements of argument:  (1)  An argument flag draws our attention to the argument; (2)  non-verbal demonstrations provide direct evidence for a conclusion; (3) a symbolic reference is a premise or an argument represented as a symbol; (4) a metaphor figuratively ascribes some characteristic to the subject of the metaphor. (Good Reasoning Matters, p. 158)

2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: Non-Verbal Elements of Argument: Argument and Demonstrations, Symbols and Metaphors

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