From Susan Stebbing [first woman professor of philosophy in the UK in 1933]

Photo by Jill Burrow on

Be wary of emotive language

Stebbing distinguishes between two types of language: “scientific” and “emotive”. Scie]ntific language is used to make objective claims. Emotive language is intended to evoke strong feelings. Often, in politics (and journalism), emotive language is disguised as scientific language –- giving words “a significance in addition to their objective meaning”. Think of the way “woke” is used by right-wing commentators. It isn’t so much describing someone, as getting you to feel a certain way about them.

Paying attention to whether politicians are trying to appeal to our emotions can help us tell a convincing argument from a cheap, emotional dog whistle. We can then decide whether to allow ourselves to be persuaded by our feelings or to turn to more objective forms of evidence.

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