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Photo by Samantha Moss

Trent University’s President Dr. Leo Groarke presented his final lecture of a series of three at Traill College on November 12 at 4PM. The series was the annual Gilbert Ryle philosophy events, titled Words, Pictures, Argument: What Happens to Logical in an Age of Pictures? In his lecture Twelve Pinocchios: How Do Cartoons Argue?

Dr. Groarke discussed how visual images can argue as effectively as the written word.

The “Twelve Pinocchios” refer to the widely recognizable figure of the long-nosed Disney cartoon character Pinocchio, and how the long nose has been used to argue a person’s deceitfulness. Through his twelve years of philosophical education, Groarke cannot recall once incurring a use of pictures.

However, in the digital world, academia needs to adapt and develop with the ‘changing world’. In other words, a world that thrives on a high volume use of visual representations.

Data visualization allows us to make inferences in forming arguments, said Groarke. He used an example of a man explaining proof of global warming. However, after the video example, he made a point of explaining that he was not trying to make an agreement about global warming.

Dr. Groarke used a commercial for anti-depressants to show that the visual message (‘it can get better’) is stronger than the audio message, which included all the possible side effects of the medication.

As an example of the evolution of visual symbols, Groarke used an emoticon from the early 2000’s with its middle finger up along with two other unrelated pictures.

To explain the visual mode of arguing, an argument was defined as ‘a set of propositions’ without explanation on what  qualifies as a proposition. A good argument is of strong logical and rhetorical strength. While logical arguments provide evidence, rhetorical arguments strive for persuasion. A good argument is therefore true, evidential, and persuasive, he explained.

Dr. Groarke reminded the audience that an image’s content should be analyzed according to its social context and how the image is being used. This idea of the power of images being revealed through analysis – and the argument that visuals themselves can argue a message – is no surprise for those of most of the students’ generation.

However, Groarke’s work lays a foundation to a much larger philosophical analysis and understanding of pictures. Deeper exploration could lead to a better learning system for visual-learning students of all ages.

It could furthermore change the potential of company branding and marketing. In conclusion, in order to understand how we as people argue, philosophers need to understand argumentative potential in the symbols of the digital age.