Framing as a Force of Persuasion (Reading Response 3)

The first part of chapter three analyzes the five canons of rhetoric and highlights Platonic dialectic and Aristotle’s topics. The first interesting idea that was readdressed through the chapter was the definition of rhetoric itself and how Pullman depicts it as mostly persuasive instead of focusing on its other components. For instance, the author’s example of his doctor friend and his olympic patients really highlighted rhetoric’s placebo effect, or in this case, a solely persuasive factor of rhetoric. While a rational argument wouldn’t be  just telling the athlete what he or she wants to hear, the doctor still uses the placebo effect, or rhetoric, in order to reassure the athlete in the most persuasive way. This example clearly favors rhetoric’s persuasive quality and I believe it leads to more of the misleading or manipulating ideas that people usually have about rhetoric.

Another idea that Pullman discusses is Aristotle and his role in rhetoric. Pullman compares Aristotle’s ideas on rhetoric as the same or at least very similar to Gorgias’ ideas on rhetoric (134). However, reading against Pullman’s grain, later Aristotle’s topics are revealed and his definition of rhetoric is much more in-depth than Gorgias’ definition is. In fact, the reading only covers a few of Aristotle’s special topics and oratories. The book focuses on the forensic oratory which is Aristotle’s least favorite oratory but would likely be Gorgias’ favorite or only oratory, further highlighting their differences.

The most interesting part of the reading though ends with framing. I think it’s especially revealing how Pullman defines framing as to “control an argument’s outcome by constraining the terms, trying to force [emphasis mine] people to see the issue as one way when it could be others” (149). I can reconnect this definition of framing back to the earlier definitions of rhetoric as something persuasive and even forceful. Not only that, but Pullman highlights that framing is everywhere just like rhetoric and persuasion are. I tend to see this because almost everything is framed in a least some way to help a person develop an intended idea over something. The examples I always think of and am aware of most of the time are survey samples. This is a problem because instead of allowing someone to form his or her own thoughts, the questions are framed in a way that already influence one’s decisions. Something like this is especially dangerous in a survey or voting situation at polls. A lot of legislation that wants to be approved is framed in a way where voters cannot possibly disagree with it without prior knowledge. What are some examples that you have seen of framing?

 Furthermore, I think Pullman uses his own idea of framing with the language or ideas he chooses. One example of this is the author’s take on e-books vs. paper books. Pullman frames his argument for an object’s purpose and not the “look.” He frames the section by saying that things that are easily accessible are more purposeful and then references that paperback fans’ love the “feel and smell” of a real book, i.e. not purposeful. What Pullman does not mention is the fact that things can be easier to read on paper and easier to understand or follow giving paperbacks more purpose than depicted before. All of these interesting layers prove to be important when considering rhetoric and its effect on persuasion.

3 Replies to “Framing as a Force of Persuasion (Reading Response 3)”

  1. I found the “placebo pill” anecdote to be interesting as well. While we read the doctor’s position as “this easy excuse and advice will help much more than a long explanation of truth”, it is still an omission of facts. In actuality, the nutritionist was providing a framework for the patient that would convince him to relax, things will be fine. A solution that worked for both the doctor and the athlete. It is an innocent interaction designed for mutual benefit. I don’t feel the need to fault him for that.
    However, this “placebo effect” is a slippery slope, especially with the stamp of approval from someone with a Dr. preceding their name. You mentioned that this is what leads people to believe the more nefarious qualities of rhetoric and I am here to say I agree with you.
    A different way of framing this interaction is- Out of convenience, the doctor gave a false solution to a patient in distress.
    A bit dramatic for this narrative, but helps when making a case about the power doctors hold over a patient and how their practices don’t always hold to absolute truth.
    Let’s look at another example we could frame the same way.
    A young girl is seeing a psychiatrist for unexplained, but severe anxiety (clarification: the girl cannot provide one instance or particular event that causes these feelings). The doctor prescribes her a low dosage of an anti-anxiety drug (so low the effects will hardly be felt with one pill). However, the doctor understands her anxiety to be from an unhealthy relationship partnered with unhealthy behaviors. But, the doctor is tired, has way too many patients, and gets paid per prescription. And, the drug will make her think the problem is fixed, or has decreased. The girl leaves the office feeling hopeful that this is her quick fix.

    Obviously these two situations have very different levels of severity and possible consequences. But we can still frame them both within “Out of convenience, the doctor gave a false solution to a patient in distress. ”
    The outcome of using these stories as evidence for such a claim could be positive, resulting on stricter rules for possibly harmful prescriptions. It could also result negatively, anywhere from distrust for a trustworthy expert to restrictions that inhibit the doctor from being as effective with the patient.
    We can reconstruct the first story Pullman gives us about the nutritionist and Olympian to sound much more like my example as well, taking an innocent use of the placebo effect and turning it into a lying doctor and a fooled athlete.

    These slippery slopes such as omissions with the placebo effect and framing something in a dishonest way are something we want to avoid as rhetors. (Hopefully) we all want to use our information and ability to persuade in an honest way. And beyond that, understanding the way situations can be morphed in a different light helps us discern between valid or contrived. If frameworks inform our opinions and truths, we should be able to identify them and how they are effecting the narrative.

  2. Can we avoid this kind of framing? I mean, what does it take to avoid this kind of framing? A level of knowledge we can never have? Or does “dishonest” mean we know all the information , we just choose to present things in a way that misrepresents the reality that information establishes?

    1. This is an interesting question Mrs. A. One of the great philosophy quotes is “You cannot know what you don’t know.” Sometimes someone can inherently force a frame without even knowing it. Whether it’s because they have a lack of information themselves, or they have a subtle and subconscious emotional attachment to an idea that doesn’t allow them to deal well with the rejection of how they see it.

      Think of a friend who might stay in a situation long after they have left, ( a friend who should leave their parents house, someone who should leave a relationship) and how people tend to frame a counterargument (i.e. “I know I’m 30 years old but I’m just waiting for my band to get their big break” or “I know I should dump him but he doesn’t hit me when he’s not mad and he loves me very much.”

      I don’t think any of this is malicious per-say. We all have our inherent biases that can subtly frame an idea even if we’re unaware of it. In my opinion, I believe a good portion of the responsibility falls upon the audience to be at least a little bit skeptical when interacting with any information that might be biased to come to a certain conclusion. Yet this only raises another question. If the rhetor is delivering an idea and the audience likes the idea, does the audience have an actual responsibility to attack how something is framed if they aren’t doing harm?

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