Chapter XX. Business Argument
§96. Argumentation is the art of winning others to your view of a proposition. In a higher sense it is the art of winning others to a true proposition. In a still higher sense it is the art of convincing others of the truth of a true proposition, and of persuading them to modify their action in the light of that truth. Let us take the word in this third sense, since the best is none too good for us.
There was a great deal of argument in ancient days as to the method of persuasion. Aristotle made it clear for ever that the finest argumentation is intellectual and cool; that the finest audience is one which is moved to action through the reasoning process, and not through the feelings. But he recognized that men are creatures of emotion as well as of reason, and somewhat contemptuously gave directions for stirring up prejudices and passions.
Later rhetoricians continued to discuss the point. Cicero said that audiences had grown a little tired of seeing the prisoner's wife and children brought into court to move the pity of the beholders. He related with relish the story of one orator's discomfiture; on drawing aside a curtain to display the weeping children, the speaker found that the boys had got tired of waiting and had run away to play.
Business English cannot overlook the persuasive power of appeals to human instincts. But more and more it depends on "showing" and "the reason why." There are of course limitations to these means. Advertisers often search in vain for the reason why reason-why copy does not bring the desired results. But the movement away from appeals to prejudice and passion will go on. As the public becomes more and more discriminating, ii will more and more demand to be shown. And of course argumentation within a business itself will always be comparatively cool in tone. Explanation is about the only argument that a manager will listen to.
Therefore exposition is the greater part of argument. All that has been said in the preceding chapter is applicable here. Our nineteenth chapter is taken up into the twentieth, just as the eighteenth was taken up into the nineteenth. The chief difference between pure explanation and pure reasoning is in the subject. In pure argument the speaker and the hearer are supposed to have different opinions at the start. Argument concerns principles which are not so quickly accepted as those of pure exposition. There is no disputation, ordinarily at least, about the law of gravity. It needs merely to be set forth to be accepted. But you have to prove that the law of gravity makes your gravity-engine the best.
§ 97. The outline of an argument is called a brief. It consists of a series of propositions, not of mere topics. Not infrequently the brief of an argument is printed as an advertisement. One has already been given on page 147. Here is another:
"The magazine supplement for Sunday papers is destined to be the greatest advertising medium in the field in less than five years."
The Literary Magazine has made a growth during the past two years that justifies the statement
It Is a Winner
Because it has to be high class in every respect to satisfy the publisher who buys it.
Because the Sunday newspaper reader is the best in the world.
Because the magazine goes into the home Sunday morning; the time the business man has time to read.
Because the magazine has not only its own prestige, but that of the home Sunday paper as well.
A solicitor would take that brief and expand it. He would start with a word of introduction. Then he would give the first argument and support it by evidence. He would pass to the second proof and prove that. And so on, giving just as many subordinate "proofs of proofs" as the prospective buyer of space seemed to need. Some buyers would need very few proofs, others a good many. The whole brief would have three main parts:
In the conclusion the solicitor would make some appeal for immediate action.
The Discussion part of the brief would perhaps read as follows, provided the customer required detailed proofs:
The magazine supplement for Sunday papers is destined to become the greatest advertising medium in the field in less than five years, because:
I. It has made a growth during the past two years that warrants the statement, for
A. Reliable statistics show it, for
1. Authority A is reliable for two reasons, reason a reason b
2. Authority B is reliable, for three reasons, reason a reason b reason c
B. The growth will continue, for
1. Prejudice against Sunday papers is dying, for
(a) The Puritan idea of Sunday is dying, for reason a reason b reason c II High class mediums are the greatest mediums,
1. Reason A
2. Reason B
III. The Sunday supplement is high class in every respect, for 1. The publishers would not buy it if it weren't, for
(a) Their patrons demand a high-class Sunday paper, for 1. It is read by the whole family 2. It is read by business men, for
(a') They have time Sunday to read, for 1' Many do not go to church, for
Statistics show it. 2' Those who do go still have time.
This brief of the Discussion carries the subject far enough to show the theory of a brief. It does not correspond exactly to the five propositions of the advertisement, for we find those propositions not to be strictly co-ordinate. And even as revised above the argument may be at certain points difficult to prove.
For instance, the term "high-class" is not carefully defined. It is doubtful whether the writer could define it; and yet it is fundamental in a good argument that the terms of each proposition shall be clearly defined. The Century Magazine is a high-class publication, yet its circulation is not a quarter so large as that of some Sunday papers. When the writer says that the Sunday magazine is strictly high-class in every respect, and that its readers are the "best" in the world, just what has he in mind? "Best" of course means to him the best to place advertisements before. But size of circulation is one of his strong points too. And the very best spenders in this world - are they so very numerous? The writer's whole thought in this matter is vague and undeveloped, and very likely a good brief could be made against him.