The Art of Persuasion – Philosophy and Debate

by Max Andrews

Guest Blog Post by Josh Beaty

The Art of Persuasion:  A Brief Application of Communication Theory Towards an Understanding of Debate

Communication has been systematically studied since antiquity (Clevenger, Jr., 1991)  but it became an especially important topic in the twentieth century.   W. Barnett Pearce describes this development as a “revolutionary discovery,” largely caused by the rise of communication technologies (such as social media, television, satellites, etc.) along with industrialization, big business and global politics. (Pearce as Cited in Littlejohn, 2008).  We live in a world of intentional interpersonal influence on a daily basis.  People, in general, look for ways to counter arguments or stand for a personal position in the wake of personal, corporate, academic, and spiritual life.  It is important to remember that communication is a vital factor in processing philosophical topics.  Therefore, it is my belief that a thorough understanding of communication studies can aid in the development of a philosopher.  As a result one may ask, “How can I take charge and stand up for my position(s) I am developing as a philosopher?”.

Communication theory has many different explanations for one seeking an understanding of their communication style and understanding the process of persuasion.  For the contributing blog entry I will briefly illustrate two examples of communication theory in action for a potential debate that a philosopher may find oneself in.


For example, Petty and Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model posits that “message elaboration is the central route of persuasion that produces major positive attitude change.  It occurs when unbiased listeners are motivated and able to scrutinize arguments that they consider strong.  Message irrelevant factors hold sway on the peripheral path, a more common route that produces fragile shifts in attitude” (Griffin, 2006).  In light of this explanation I would assume that philosophers, in general, are rather attuned to a way of thinking and not totally unbiased as rhetoric and philosophy are part of a “humanistic” approach in communication studies, whereas a scholar who quantitatively measures variables for objective explanations of human phenomena slants towards a more unbiased approach into research and inquiry.

Social Justice

In other instances, a philosopher may find oneself in a debate and contemplate whether or not the opponent will ever be persuaded to understand their argument.  In context of this dilemma, I believe Sherif’s Social Judgement Theory can be applied as it suggests that “the larger the discrepancy between a speaker’s position and a listener’s point of view, the greater the change in attitude – as long as the message is within the hearer’s latitude of acceptance.  High ego-involvement usually indicates a wide latitude of rejection.  Messages that fall there may have a boomerang effect” (Griffin, 2006).

It may make more sense as to why you never are able to get a specific point across to another individual to join you in your respective position in any philosophical topic.  Sometimes the latitude of acceptance is just not in range.  This could be due to a sense of personal conviction, moral upbringing, political ideology, spiritual beliefs, and so forth. These beliefs/attitudes are difficult to change.  My advice to those who desire to persuade another is to make small steps toward attitude change.  Someone once told me a few years ago that “persuasion does not happen during debate and heated argument- it happens when one is all alone, laying in bed, reflecting and thinking about the world around them.”  Bring a structured, well-rounded argument, and you will be on your way to effective persuasion.  However, remember: persuasion is an artful process and it is not always guaranteed.


Griffin, E. (2006). A first look at communication theory.  McGraw Hill: Boston.
Littlejohn, S. W., & Foss, K. A. (2008).  Theories of Human Communication.  Thomson Wadsworth: USA.



Guest Blog Post by Josh Beaty

Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies: Speech Communication, Liberty University 2010

Master of Arts in Organizational & Interpersonal Communication, Liberty University 2011

Research Interests: Rhetorical Theory & Criticism, Conflict Theory & Resolution, Computer-Mediated Communication, Social Media Marketing, Interpersonal Communication



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: