Pound the Table
According to one source, “There is an old adage among lawyers that says, ‘If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts; if you have the law on your side, pound the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law, pound the table.”
Expanding on this aphorism, a separate source states that pounding the table means, “To base an argument on bluster or rhetoric when unsupported by more substantive elements.” In my line of work, I observe emotional demonstrations of this sort quite often.
As one source suggests, “Appeal to emotion or argumentum ad passiones (meaning the same in Latin) is an informal fallacy characterized by the manipulation of the recipient’s emotions in order to win an argument, especially in the absence of factual evidence.”
For instance, think of a politician who declares healthcare as a human right even though this isn’t an actual enumerated right—expressed within the United States (U.S.) Constitution. Imagine the politician declaring:
Healthcare is a human right! The time has come to end the oppressive practice of the U.S. denying free medical care for each and every person within this nation—documented or not, citizen or not, employed or not! The ability to be seen by a physician or other medical provider isn’t a privilege only to be enjoyed by the wealthy; it must be enshrined as a right through my proposed program! Those opposed to this proposal are morally bankrupt individuals and the blood on their hands from untreated marginalized people will not go unnoticed!
While it may be factually correct that people could die without receiving healthcare, it isn’t valid to insist that such an event will absolutely occur. As well, the law may not be on the side of the politician, as indicated by the proposal of a program that doesn’t already exist.
Without the facts or law on the politician’s side, pounding the table—appealing to emotion—is a technique used to persuade those who are susceptible to emotionally-based arguments. However, this is not a rational endeavor—that which is based in accordance with logic and reason.
When I inform some people that their emotional experience is irrational, they seem flabbergasted at my suggestion. It’s as though I’ve slapped their grandma in front of them.
All the same, I invite people to consider that moral imperatives which are often communicated through use of should, must, and ought-type statements are expressions of irrational beliefs. In the above-example, the politician declares healthcare “must be enshrined as a right.”
It may be correct that the politician and those of like mind want national healthcare to function as a human right, though it isn’t accurate to proclaim his proposal is objectively true. This is where an irrational belief plays a key role.
Even when established in sound though flawed logic, a conclusion can be unreasonable at its core. Consider the following syllogism:
Major premise: All people deserve access to mental health services, because healthcare is a human right.
Minor premise: Person X cannot afford the mental health services she deserves.
Conclusion: Therefore, person X is being denied a human right.
Logically, using specific parameters established in the major premise, the syllogistic conclusion makes sense. Still, allow me to build upon the above-indicated inference using a moral though irrational syllogism:
Major premise: No mental health practitioner should require people to pay for services they can’t afford, because healthcare is a human right.
Minor premise: Deric requires payment for mental health services for which not everyone can afford.
Conclusion: Consequently, Deric denies people of their human rights.
It isn’t reasonable to expect clinicians to work for free, even if a proposal to the contrary may seem reasonable. Violating a person’s human rights is a serious matter that may result in criminal charges, as the politician’s declaration without just compensation for services rendered could make criminals of many mental health providers.
Now, let’s examine this matter when taken to its logical conclusion by use of an emotional appeal using the following syllogism:
Major premise: All mental healthcare practitioners who deny human rights by charging people for services must serve life sentences for indirectly causing the psychological suffering of others.
Minor premise: Deric is a mental healthcare practitioner who denies human rights by charging people for services.
Conclusion: Thus, Deric must serve a life sentence for indirectly causing the psychological suffering of others.
When the facts and law aren’t on one’s side, pounding the table with irrational appeals to emotion may convince others that an argument is the right choice even if it isn’t a reasonable one. Nonetheless, rhetoric and behavior of this sort aren’t something I advocate.
How about you, dear reader? Are you easily swayed, irrationally influenced, or routinely fooled by passionate appeals to your emotion? If so, and you would like to know more about how to use a more rational approach to living, I may be able to help.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
ConstitutionUS.com. (2023, March 8). What enumerated and unenumerated rights does an American have? Retrieved from https://constitutionus.com/constitution/what-enumerated-and-unenumerated-rights-does-an-american-have/
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Wikipedia. (n.d.). Appeal to emotion. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_emotion
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ZedLeppelin. (n.d.). Bernie Sanders Bernie hits table GIF [Image]. Tenor. Retrieved from https://tenor.com/view/bernie-sanders-bernie-hits-table-bernie-gif-15857195