Massimo Piattelli Palmarini

The Art of Persuasion Publication date : March 1, 1999

During World War II, a small group of partisans succeeded in slipping past their German jailers. A prison wall loomed before them – beyond lay freedom. But their escape route was not clear. On the other side of the wall, a soldier and a young woman were locked in an embrace. The soldier was trying to persuade the woman to come away with him. Pierre Mendès-France was among the escapees. He would later write: "Never before had I wished so fervently that a woman would consent to lose her honour..."In certain dramatic situations, survival can depend on the art of persuasion. In everyday life, the outcome of a persuasive speech may seem much more banal, but the underlying issue remains unchanged. How can one person convince another to renounce his or her opinion, freely and willingly, without appealing to authority, pity or trust? In order to better understand the rules and secrets that govern the art of persuasion, Massimo Piattelli Palmarini has analysed in great detail some well-known or highly persuasive advertising campaigns, sales pitches and political speeches. In a vivid, lively style, he demonstrates why some perfectly sound arguments have failed to convince, while others based on faulty logic are highly persuasive. He goes on to show how the cognitive sciences, linguistics and the psychology of reasoning can, to a large extent, enable us to anticipate the motivation and mental paths of others – and so to be even more persuasive. The Art of Persuasion should interest a wide readership – parents and their children, salespeople and buyers, politicians and ordinary voters –for it shows not only how to persuade an opponent, but also how to avoid falling into some rhetorical traps.

Massimo Piattelli Palmarini is the head of the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the Instituto San Raffaele, in Milan. He is the author of three books published by Editions Odile Jacob, The Taste for Studies and How to Acquire it (1993; Opus, 1997),Change Your Judgement and Never Trick Yourself Again (1995), and The Concise Discourse on Kant, for the Use of My Son.(1996).