COMM 339 -- Persuasion

Dr. Lee McGaan  

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Fall 2016 Office Hours:   MWF:  9:30 - 10am, 11am - Noon & 1 -2pm TTh:  2-3pm & by apt.  |  copyright (c) by Lee McGaan, 2006-2016

Course Description Syllabus Course Notes and Handouts Course Assignments +

        Persuasion Ethics

Two Traditions as Bases of Persuasion Ethics

Ethics refers to those prescriptions and guidelines that involve concerns larger than effectiveness of persuasive efforts.  Ethical standards look toward the needs of others and the greater good of the society in which persuasion takes place.  Ethics involves values.  While some values may be personal and not all agree on every ethical standard, many communication scholars would argue that some ethical positions are objectively required of persuaders.

  1. Communication Values Relevant to Persuasion.  Ethical persuaders value:

A.  Truthful information (which makes rational choice possible).  (Note:  links to "Defining Characteristics of Persuasion" - "choice")

  • Lying undermines persuasion and all communication and, thus, all human sociality --->  existential mistrust.

  • What constitutes truth?   Logical? Emotional? Relational?

    • factual accuracy/honesty/reliability

    • completeness

    • appropriate context

    • honest disclosure of their motives

B.  Allowing receivers a range of choices that make freedom actual and moral action possible.  No coercion!

C.  Presenting and discussing the best reasons for action not just those most favorable to the advocate or those which "work" (i.e. get you what you want).  ("credible sources)

D.  A "level playing field" for all communicators. Fairness in persuasion includes  ("autonomous receivers)

  • adequate time for respondents to reflect and prepare counter‑arguments.

  • equal access to information resources for all .

  • no unfair use of power differentials.

E.  Respecting the (adult) audience as capable of rational decision-making;  ("autonomous receivers)

  • Adults are not means for the persuaders' ends (but are ends for themselves).

  1. American cultural values influencing persuasion ethics include:

A.  Persuasion should reinforce or at least be consistent with free and democratic processes. Among those are:

  • clear, honest information and proposals are required for participation in democratic decision-making

  • the opportunity for dissent, discussion, democratic decision-making, etc. by all receivers is essential.

  • a right to respond by opponents is expected in a democracy

  • persuaders should favor the public interest over their own self interest

B.  Persuaders should demonstrate good character and a sense of the integrity of ideas (their full complexity, consistency, fair consideration of the consequence of ideas) including thorough research.

C.  Persuaders should consider the multiplicity of perspectives of entire audience, esp. cultural, moral, political and economic variation -- and care about that.

D.  Both the means and the ends of persuasion should be ethical (as in the principles of  A. - E. in I. above) and persuaders should consider the long-term as well as short term "good."

  1. Listeners have responsibilities too.

  • Be active, critical listeners - not passive receivers.

  • Listeners have the responsibility to respond to persuasion using their own ethical standards.

  • Listeners should support persuader's efforts to be ethical and honest -- rather than using honesty, etc. against opponents (e.g. the problems faced by politicians who tell the truth on tough issues).

  • Resist urges to silence opponents.

  • Be fair and don't accept strawman and ad hominem arguments. It only encourages others to use them.

  Discussion Questions for Friday

  1. Make a short list of several things that are illegitimate/improper to do in persuasion efforts.

  2. How ethical is the kind of campaign communication we have seen so far in the 2016 presidential campaign?  Examples?

  3. What Is propaganda?  Is it always unethical?  Based on the two traditions, why or why not?

  4. What are the problems for a society that does not value and use ethical persuasion?

  5. If what you are trying to get people to do a "good thing," why shouldn't you use any method you can to "persuade" them?

last updated 8/25/2016