Manipulation Through Rhetoric: Ethical or Unethical?

During class we discussed if rhetoric was manipulative, and also how it can be used ethically and unethically. Rhetoric is an art of persuasion, and sometimes persuasion can be used to manipulate someone into doing something they did not want to do. Manipulation can occur ethically or unethically, therefore making rhetoric both ethical and unethical. Ethical ways of using rhetoric could include sharing pros and cons of a specific medicine, while an unethical way to use rhetoric would be to not share the side effects with the patient before prescribing the medicine. By leaving out this information, you are manipulating the patient and taking advantage of them. Another example would be through the news. Different channels or outlets take portray different sides of the story, leaving viewers not fully informed. These channels have an agenda, taking political sides specifically during this past election. By having these channels, people are less apt to change because they are continuing to watch like-minded people. This could be seen as unethical, as a boundary to personal growth and openness to other’s ideas.

I think rhetoric has a bad reputation purely because manipulation has a bad reputation. Which led me to look up different definitions on Merriam-Webster for manipulation:

  • “To control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage”
  • “To change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose”

These definitions both have negative connotations with “control” and “change.” This led me to believe that rhetoric is more often than not used to unethically manipulate the audience.




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