1. Word and Domains

The transitive verb to manipulate, “No manipulates N1” functions within two structures:

Manipulate1: N1 refers to an object (non-human, inanimate) (container manipulation) or body parts (spinal manipulation).

Manipulate2: N1 designates a person as a synthesis of representations and capable of self-determination. Manipulating2 is exploitative; manipulating people is using them as objects or instruments.

To manipulate is the head of a rich and homogeneous derivational family: manipulation, manipulator, (non-)manipulatory, (non-)manipulative, outmanipulate, “to outdo or surpass in manipulating”, (MW, Outmanipulate).

Manipulation2 can influence all domains of human activity.

— Political, ideological and religious fields.
— Everyday psychology: a manipulator, manipulative behavior.
— Military domain: White propaganda comes from domestic source and targets domestic public opinion; it may be misleading. Black propaganda has a concealed origin and purpose. It appears to come from a well-meaning and harmless source, although it comes from an evil or enemy source.
— Commercial action and marketing techniques are used to encourage or manipulate people to buy this rather than that or nothing, using different techniques to “bait and hook” the customer, S. Gradualism.

In these different fields, manipulative influence may cross, combine or contradict argumentative persuasion.

2. Doing together: from collaboration to manipulation

Manipulation is a resource that may be activated in any situation where a person M pursues a goal φ. To achieve this goal, M requires a contribution to be made by another person, N.

2.1 Overt purpose negotiation

(i) M considers that φ is in the interest of N, and N agrees

N has a positive representation of φ; φ is considered important, pleasant, in the individual’s interest; N pursues φ spontaneously, for independent reasons. So, M needs N and N needs M; M and N co-operate to achieve φ.

If N’s commitment is less immediate, M will take a more open approach and will seek to persuade N to associate with him or her in order to realize φ. N knows that M intends to make him or her do φ, and they will discuss this with one another.

(ii) Doing φ is not really in the best interest of N

N doesn’t care about φ. He or she will not spontaneously collaborate with M in order to achieve φ. M may then act on the will or on the mental representations of N.

(a) Action on the will to do

In this situation, M may undertake to persuade N to do φ. M threatens N (ad baculum), tries to blackmail or bribe N (ad crumenam), to move N to pity (ad misericordiam), to charm or seduce N (ad amicitiam), S. Threat; Emotion.

N still has a rather negative view of φ. But M’s arguments, if they are arguments at all, have transformed N’s willingness to act, and he or she will ultimately agree to act in favor of φ even if he or she does not like it. N does φ reluctantly, as a favor to M. The question arises as to whether N has been manipulated.

(b) Action on representations of the action to be taken

M may reframe φ so that it seems to be pleasant or favorable, in N‘s in best interests. As in case (i), N agrees to do φ because it seems beneficial.

In case (a), N will do a job that he or she knows to be dangerous, because it is well paid. In case (b), N will do a job, hazardous or not, which he or she does not consider to be dangerous. M can combine the two strategies: “you can do this for me, it’s not so dangerous”. These two situations are not necessarily manipulative. M has openly presented the goalφto N; N was persuaded to do φ for arguably good reasons; the work may not actually be all that dangerous, and it is well paid.

M behaves manipulatively only if he or she knows that the work is dangerous, but knowingly misrepresents it, concealing the danger to N. Lying is the basis of manipulation.

(iii) Doing φ is against the interests and values ​​of N

Now, φ is clearly contrary to the interests of N. In normal circumstances, N would automatically oppose M in his or her attitude toφ. Nevertheless, it is still possible for M:

— To persuade N to willfully do something contrary to his interests or values. In an extreme case, for example, N might be persuaded to commit suicide or sacrifice him or herself, even if he or she does not wish to die, in the name of a higher interest or value, “God, the Party, the Nation, asks you to…”; “You must sacrifice your children to make our cause prevail”.

— To persuade N that the action to which he or she is urged is good, and in his or her best interest. M urges N to sacrifice him or herself for example, even if N is not eager to die, “you will go to le se”. The discourse and arguments through which M persuades N to consent to φ are manipulative because they do not respect a hierarchy of values that is considered natural. On the basis of highly questionable arguments, N was induced to do something to which no person would reasonably commit. This is a case of brainwashing.

2.2 Covert purpose negotiation

In the cases described above, N is more or less aware of what he or she is committing to doing. Deep manipulation, however, is characterized by M’s hiding his or her actual intentions or the true nature of the goal φ, which in reality is unacceptable to N. M will use a secondary goal, as a decoy (φd):

(i) φd is positive for N: N is led to believe that it is in his or her interests to do φd
(ii) φd leads fatally to φ
(iii) N ignores (2)
(iv) N achieves the decoy goal; M pockets the bet.

There is not necessarily a verbal exchange, or even contact between M and N during this process. N suffers any damage, and may or may not understand that he or she has been manipulated. N may lose the game without even knowing he or she was playing a game. One example might be that of a salesman. A large encyclopedia, for example, is sold to consumers who, although delighted by its purchase, hardly know how to read, have no use for this type of book, and, in any case, cannot afford to pay the bill. The salesman has achieved the feat of framing the sales interaction,φ, as an ordinary, friendly conversation, φdecoy.

3. “Pious lies”

Manipulation achieved via a pious lie is what we see in action when, for example, we put sweeteners in cod-liver oil administered to children; or what Calvin attributes to monks who wish to bring people to their salvation by any means, because the end justifies the means. The following excerpt is about the multiplication of the relics of the true cross:

Now, what other conclusion can be drawn from these considerations but that all these were inventions for deceiving silly folks? Some monks and priests, who call them pious frauds, i.e., honest deceits for exciting the devotion of the people, have even confessed this.
John Calvin, A Treatise on Relics, [1543][1]

The concept and practice of “patriotic fraud” in elections might be seen as a modern day version of the practices that Calvin attributes to medieval monks.

4. Manipulation and power practices

The status accorded to manipulation is based on ideas of power and action. Should power be exercised by reason and valid argument, or, in a Machiavellian perspective, does it necessarily require the use of force and lies?

I must confess that what is called the cultured circles of Western Europe and America are incapable of understanding the actual balance of power. These people must be considered deaf-mutes.
To tell the truth is petty bourgeois prejudice, while lying is often justified by the objectives. (Lenin, quoted in V. Volkoff, [Disinformation, A Weapon of War], 1986[2]

Discussing the vital necessity of keeping the place and time of the Normandy landing a secret, Churchill said:

In war-time”, I said, “truth is so precious it should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”. (Discussion of Operation Overlord with Stalin at the Teheran Conference, Nov. 30, 1943[3])

The answer to the previous question may be that:

[The] truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is.
Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons, May 17, 1916[4]

5. Argumentation and manipulation

5.1 Argumentation and propaganda

The study of discursive schematizations is the study of the processes through which the speaker arranges a synthetic, coherent, stable meaning. This constructed meaning is neither a manipulation2, nor reality itself, nor an illusion of reality, but simply a significant view taken of reality, S. Schematization. To communicate, the speaker must necessarily manipulates1 the discursive material, but this process is not necessarily intended to manipulate2 the interlocutor. Manipulation2 presupposes deliberate falsehood. Considering that all speech is necessarily manipulative would amount to an undue dramatization of the process of signification.

A very tenuous thread separates the study of argumentation as defined by the Treatise on argumentation and that of political propaganda, as defined by Domenach. For Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, “the object of the study of argumentation is the study of the discursive techniques allowing us to induce or to increase the mind’s adherence to the theses presented for its assent.” ([1958]/1969, p. 4; italics in the original). Domenach defines the object of propaganda as “to create, transform or confirm opinions” by means of multi-semiotic processes (image, music, demonstration and crowds) (Domenach 1950, p. 8). This difference may be that between ratio-propaganda and senso-propaganda as defined by Tchakhotine (1939, p. 152). The former is effective “by persuasion, by reasoning”, and the second by “suggestion” (ibid.), that is, by manipulation2.

5.2 Manipulation and lying

Lies and concealed intentions crucially oppose argumentation to manipulation; a lie being understood as an active lie, asserting a known falsehood, and a passive lie, as failing to tell the whole truth, or relevant parts of it. Manipulative discourse is based on lies, which may be presented as “alternative facts”. Disorienting hints, false cues and misleading prospects are put forward as truths. Even some true information may be mixed with fake information to make it believable.
The denunciation of manipulative discourse is a denunciation of lies; but there is no formal mark of errors and lies; exposing lies necessitates a substantial knowledge of the issue. For this reason, as Hamblin says, “[the logician] is not a judge or court of appeal: and there is no such judge or court” (1970, p. 244); but, as a responsible citizen, he or she must denounce manipulation in favor of a better-informed picture of reality, S. Evaluation.

[1] John Calvin, A Treatise on Relics. Trans. and introd. by Valerian Krasinski. 2nd ed. Edimburg: Johnstone, Hunter & Co, 1870. Quoted after (08-17-2017)
[2] Vladimir Volkoff, La désinformation, arme de guerre. Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 1986, p. 35.
[3] In The Second World War, Volume V: Closing the Ring (1952), Chapter 21 (Teheran: The Crux), p. 338.
[4] Quoted after