In today’s culture, on behalf of causes ranging from abortion to war, people often rely on emotion-provoking images to attract others to their viewpoint. In this 1998 lecture delivered at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum, philosopher Leonard Peikoff examines the use of imagery to convey a position. Motivated by an invitation he received to participate in an abortion debate using pictures, Peikoff discusses why he would never enter in to such a debate, even with truth on his side.

Peikoff begins by discussing the common view of words and pictures in arguments. He discusses how people often equate pictures with the truth, whereas words are commonly seen as lies and distortion: “A picture, according to the received wisdom, is worth a thousand words. A picture does not lie, whereas people . . . notoriously can and do.”

Discussing the appeal to pictures as the standard of proof, he gives examples of the use of powerful imagery in issues such as abortion, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, land mines, police brutality, animal rights, legislation for the disabled, global warming and foreign policy. Although when used properly, images can convey information or help illustrate a point, Peikoff explains why philosophical issues cannot be understood or resolved on the perceptual level alone.

Explaining why these emotion-provoking images “seduce you” into bypassing rational thought when forming an opinion, Peikoff discusses how such manipulation is achieved. Stressing why this is the exact opposite approach needed to form a rational opinion, he discusses how pictures can misdirect rather than clarify one’s focus on an issue.

In explaining why he chose to be a radio talk show host (which he was at the time this lecture was given), Peikoff ends by discussing why radio is a superior medium to spread philosophical ideas and why he would never agree to host a TV show.

The Q&A that follows the lecture expands on its subject matter and also includes the following topics:

  • Paintings, movies and other visual arts
  • Violence and the impact of TV on our culture
  • Computer games
  • Political polls
  • President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinski
  • Analysis of the Ayn Rand quote: “Anyone who fights for the future lives in it today.”
  • Are radio listeners more intelligent than TV viewers?
  • Physical attractiveness in real people and fictional characters
  • Advertising using pictures