Is there a better term than "empty rhetoric" for this kind of response?
September 5, 2019 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Is there a good term for the rhetorical tactic of responding to a suggestion of a specific course of action ("We should ban guns") with broadly agreed-on facts that don't address the suggested course of action? ("Obviously, murder is bad, and I can guarantee solving a problem with multiple causes is never straightforward.")

"Empty rhetoric" is largely about saying things will be done, without any intention to follow through, so I don't think it's the right term, because the tactic I'd like to address is specifically about making agreeable sounds and not even proposing a response.
posted by paul_smatatoes to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Irrelevant Conclusion?
...the informal fallacy of presenting an argument that may or may not be logically valid and sound, but (whose conclusion) fails to address the issue in question.
Or Question Dodging?
Question dodging is a rhetorical technique involving the intentional avoidance of answering a question. This may occur [...] when the person is being interrogated or questioned in debate, and wants to avoid giving a direct response.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:24 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

bad faith
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:30 AM on September 5, 2019

posted by bluebird at 7:34 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would call the example you use a straw-man argument. There is a proponent's conclusion (we should ban guns), and the opponent misdescribes the proponent's argument in order to make it easier to attack (murder is bad and has a single cause with a straightforward solution: ban guns). Rather than address the merit of banning guns, the opponent focuses on a different argument that is so weak it can be dismissed out of hand.
posted by skewed at 7:44 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

In German I would call that kind of talking "Sonntagsrede" (literally Sunday speech, various dictionaries suggest translations such a "soap box oratory"). A Sonntagsrede is vague, pretty, and ineffective, lacking meaningful practical implications. I thought the expression was supposed to allude to sermons in church (because of the Sunday-part), but that might be a private association. I do think that Sonntagsreden are frequently sanctimonious.

I think "pablum" or "drivel" might also be good descriptions, but they're kinda missing the "failing to effectively adress a serious issue"-aspect. I wouldn't have much of problem with a bit of pablum or drivel on occasion if the stakes are sufficiently low. "Sonntagsrede" is really used more in the context of "We desperately need more than Sonntagsreden".

A Sonntagsrede defenitely consists of hollow phrases though, so I guess that's the expression I'd use to describe the phenomenon. ("We need more than hollow phrases" - gets the point across.)
posted by sohalt at 7:55 AM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Non sequitur. Their argument does not follow - it doesn't engage with yours at all.
posted by Garm at 8:08 AM on September 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by bluedaisy at 8:24 AM on September 5, 2019

Prevarication, equivocation, dodging, deflection and sidestepping all work for me.
posted by pipeski at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by mhoye at 8:36 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by glasseyes at 8:42 AM on September 5, 2019

Skirting the question
posted by bluebird at 8:50 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would call such statements "bromides." I don't think there's a specific term for that specific practice other than the more general ones already mentioned here--evasion or dodging or sidestepping all work for me, but to really describe what's going on, you'd probably have to use some limiting nouns.
posted by praemunire at 9:01 AM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Evasion or side-stepping, and most politicians are experts. Along the same lines, you may enjoy reading about logical fallacies.
posted by theora55 at 9:14 AM on September 5, 2019

As a rhetorical fallacy, it's a red herring.
posted by adamrice at 10:53 AM on September 5, 2019

posted by PMdixon at 1:38 PM on September 5, 2019

Mouthing platitudes?
posted by Enid Lareg at 2:10 PM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Making perfect the enemy of good
posted by Bodechack at 2:18 PM on September 5, 2019

Motherhood statements
posted by reshet at 11:58 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not applicable in all cases, but occasionally: "moral cowardice."
posted by mhoye at 6:49 AM on September 6, 2019

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