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Business Argument. Part 2

There are other difficulties. How is he going to prove HI 1. (a) 2.f That declares that business men read the Sunday literary supplement because they have time to do so. But how do we know that they don't toss it unread to their wives? That is a difficult point on which to gather evidence.

§ 98. Evidence I If you have looked into business law yon know the importance of evidence. You know that it is of different kinds and values. Direct evidence is supposed to be the best, but it is subject to discount because observers vary so astonishingly. A carpenter can give evidence as to the size of a room after merely glancing at it; some people couldn't after working at it with a foot rule. People suffering from nervous excitement report colors wrongly, and lengthen seconds into minutes. Indirect evidence is often laughed at, but some, as Thoreau said, is pretty strong, as when you find a trout in the milk pail. And many a man has been hanged on indirect evidence. Statistics, they say, can be made to prove anything. We can't do without them, but the writer of argument should make sure of the source of them and the method of their compilation. And if he quotes authority, he must be sure that it is authority. Careless (not to say fraudulent) citation of so-called authorities is one of the crimes of business English.

, §99. The commonest errors in argument are four: (1) reasoning from undefined terms; (2) reasoning from insufficient data; (3) reasoning from analogy; (4) reasoning post hoc propter hoc.

The second of these errors is called hasty generalization. One swallow does not make a summer. The fact that a greenhorn catches a big fish the first day - it may be a real fish, or metaphorically it may be a customer - is only one sign that he will catch big fish steadily.

Reasoning from analogy is by no means to be despised, but it is to be used with caution. Mr. Gifford Pinchot has said that Americans have used up their forest just as a foolish shipwrecked sailor drinks up all his supply of fresh water the first day. That is a good analogy, and it happens to be true, because it rests on a psychological fact. But not every analogy will hold. The shipwrecked sailor may be in a place where he can't dig a well. But Americans can plant and protect trees.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is the old phrase for mistaking what follows for what results. "After this, therefore because of this." You eat a baked apple and have a bad dream afterwards. But the dream may possibly have resulted from the Welsh rabbit which preceded the baked apple. You sell goods after advertising; but only heaven knows whether the sales resulted from the advertising; in some cases they resulted in spite of it.

§ 100. So much for the principles of reasoning. It is not much, when we consider the volumes that discuss practical logic and argument. But we must hasten on to the principles of persuasion. Persuasion follows conviction. It aims to move the feelings and induce action. That does not mean stirring up a gust of feeling which ends in mere feeling or tears or smiles. It means getting people to take a new attitude and act accordingly.

This means knowing men - yes, and women and children. In the second book of his Rhetoric, the great Aristotle attempted a popular psychology of different audiences - young men, middle aged men, old men, rich men, poor men, etc. Young men are rash, for youth is a sort of wineless intoxication. They must be addressed accordingly. And so on, and so on. Aristotle has nothing to say about the character of women; evidently he didn't count them in. But nowadays the cold-blooded advertiser studies women as well as men. Women, he tells us, will read longer letters than men will; demand pictures and samples more than men do; and come to get their money back if they are not satisfied. The last point is interesting. A man who is fooled out of a small sum will say, "Oh, let it go; the fellow meant well enough." The woman, for various good reasons, is less easygoing. This fact calls attention to the complicated problem that the advertiser has on his hands when he attempts to argue with the ladies.

But this practical study of human nature is going on all the time in business. And every particle of it bears upon oral or written argument. Here is an extract from System:

"Never try to find out exactly what a customer wants," was the decision reached at a recent class of saleswomen, which was addressed by Mr. Greenbut the head of the big New York department store that bears his name.

The theory is that the customer has vaguely in mind an article or piece of goods that she has seen elsewhere or that she has pictured in her own imagination. By asking her [By being asked] to describe it in detail she must picture a more clearly defined article and she is more likely to insist upon getting one just like it or upon looking elsewhere for it. In this case a purchase may be lost or worse, a customer may be lost permanently - a circumstance which every salesman endeavors always to avoid.

By showing her [If she is shown] an assortment of such articles before she has definitely formulated her opinions, she is more inclined to see the advantages of other styles and thus be led to purchase not only something the store has in stock, but something better adapted for her purpose as well and she goes away satisfied at the same time.

"Never ask a customer what she wants to spend" is another dictum that was laid down. ."If you offer her a high-priced article, she is more flattered than offended."

In Scott's "Psychology of Advertising" the older student will find a systematic discussion of the instincts and feelings to which an argument may appeal. Some are, the sense of beauty, the sense of sympathy, the instinct for gain, the instinct for food, the clothing instinct, the hoarding instinct, the hunting instinct, the constructing instinct, the social instinct, the maternal instinct, the instinct of reverence. All of these may be appealed to in the processes of buying or selling. Put in this abstract form, they seem a little too scientific, perhaps, for practical use. Literary art is itself partly an instinct, and a good writer produces effects without exactly knowing how. Practical advertisers are a little suspicious of any attempt to reduce the arguments of advertising to a psychological basis. Many prefer to depend on statistics. But statistics - especially for shop sales - are hard to get at. More and more there will be the effort to reach a scientific basis of some sort for argumentative advertising.


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