There's an interesting post at Skepticlawyer making a case for thinking that 'If you're going to win an argument or persuade someone to your point of view, it helps if you can tell a story'. The author of the post, Helen Dale, quotes Andrew Norton as follows:
The human brain is surprisingly bad at remembering numbers, and struggles to recall or even understand the analytical arguments that flow from them. Narrative is our more natural mode of understanding...
And she says that this is bad news for social scientists and lawyers, for they have been slow to master the use of narrative. She offers a powerful pictorial illustration of her point.
I half agree with Dale's argument but only half. I agree to the extent of its positive claim: namely, that it helps to be able to tell a story in support of analytical, statistical and other abstract reasoning. My reservation relates to what this leaves out (though its omission by her doesn't necessarily mean she is unaware of it). Dale's argument has much in common with a thesis of Richard Rorty's to the effect that imaginatively engaging people's sympathies with the situation of others is the way to persuading them towards solidarity with those others - engaging their sympathies rather than reasoning from philosophical 'foundations' concerning, for example, our common humanity.
Imaginative engagement, including through the telling of stories, is indeed important. But what's wrong with Rorty's thesis and missing from Dale's argument is registration of the fact that unless sympathy and narrative also activate - whether explicitly or implicitly, deliberately or unwittingly - general reasons and/or principles, they can simply fail in their object. Unless a reader can see why the story of this child, or mother, or worker, or victim of religious persecution, has broader implications with respect to others similarly situated, nothing need follow for the reader or viewer by way of a general conclusion about what should be done, and by whom, what policies adopted, and so on. Without the analytical component a sad story need be no more than just that, something to sigh over on closing the book or leaving the cinema. Similarly, a story won't by itself win a poor argument, though it may sway some into buying it for a time. (Thanks: A O'D.)