ISSA Proceedings 1998 – From Topos To Locus To Topos: Between Aristotle And Ducrot

ISSAlogo1998You may know – or you may not know – that the basic thesis of Ducrot’s theory of argumentation in the language-system (TAL) is that certain argumentative features are inherent to the language as a system. That means that language as a system, as an abstract, general structure (as defined by de Saussure), in itself possesses or contains some argumentative potential, some argumentative force and certain argumentative orientations, and not only language in action, its use in discourse and as a discourse. For example, there are certain language structures that (restrictively) impose certain argumentative orientation on the discourse, or in other words, language as an abstract system (at least partly) controls what discourse can say, and sets its limits. If that sounds too obvious (language controling what discourse can say), let me illustrate what I mean with a few examples. Suppose someone says to us (one of Ducrot’s favourite examples)

(1) It is 8 o’clock.

Is this an argument? Why would anybody be telling us that it is 8 o’clock? Just to let us know what time it is? Not likely, unless we wanted to know what time it was. But suppose we didn’t want to know what time it was, suppose somebody just said to us (1). Why would anybody want to do that? Obviously, because he or she, by saying (1), wanted to tell us something else. But, what possible follow-up(s), what possible conclusion(s) could such an utterance lead to? In a situation where we don’t know what the exact co(n)text is, there are many possibilities:

(1a) It is 8 o’clock Hurry up!
Take your time!
Turn on the radio!
Go brush your teeth!
………………
………………

Now, let us see what happens if we introduce two modifiers to (1), already and only respectively, as in

(1’) It is already 8 o’clock

and

(1’’) It is only 8 o’clock..

All things equal, from (1’) we can no longer conclude, “Take your time” (as we could from (1)), but only, “Hurry up”; on the other hand, from (1’’) we can no longer conclude, “Hurry up”, but only, “Take your time”. And why is that supposed to be so surprising? Because (1), (1’), and (1’’) refer to the very same (chronological) fact, namely, that it is 8 o’clock: while (1) allows a multitude of conclusions, (1’) only allows conclusions oriented in the direction of lateness, and (1’’) the conclusions oriented in the direction of earliness. How is that possible if (1), (1’) and (1’’) refer to the same chronological fact, if the basis of (1), (1’), and (1’’) is the same state of affairs? Well, this “same state of affairs” is viewed from different angles: in one case, (1’), 8 o’clock is viewed (and represented) as late, in the other, (1’’), 8 o’clock is viewed (and represented) as early. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Linguistically Sound Arguments

ISSAlogo1998The centuries-long discussion as to what constitutes “good” argument has often found supporters and opponents on the basis of the standards selected to evaluate argument. Ancient standards of technical validity have been the subject of some twentieth-century scrutiny. No issue is more fundamental to the study of argumentation than the question of what constitutes good argument. Our legitimacy as critics, practitioners and teachers of argumentation rests upon our ability to evaluate, construct and describe good arguments. Historically, argument scholars have relied primarily upon formal standards borrowed from the field of logic to provide necessary evaluative criteria. In the latter half of this century, however, those criteria have increasingly been attacked as being inappropriate or, at least, insufficient for the study of both public and personal argumentative discourse. Stephen Toulmin has suggested we replace the mathematical model of argument with one from jurisprudence, thus focusing on the soundness of the claims we make, especially as we use argument in “garden variety discourse.”(Toulmin, 1958). Other theorists quickly followed Toulmin’s lead.

1. Recent Interpretations of Good Argument
While a few theorists (Willard, 1979) have gone so far as to reject logical standards, most others continue to recognize their usefulness as a part of broader schemas for evaluation of argument. Toulmin’s dissatisfaction with the rigidity and formalism of logic led him to propose a more open and flexible model of argument and to suggest that the evaluation of arguments involves the application of both traditional field invariant standards and previously overlooked field specific standards (Toulmin, 1958). Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca have advanced the concept of the universal audience composed of critical listeners, which presumably restrains advocates from making spurious arguments. At the same time, they suggest we consider adherence as the goal of argument, a focus on the intersection of psychological effects and logical strength (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969). Drawing on the work of earlier scholars, McKerrow describes a good argument as one  which provides “pragmatic justification (McKerrow, 1977). This interpretation places emphasis on the “rational perusal of arguments” by an audience in a dialectic-like relationship. Farrell interprets validity in terms of “soundness” of a rhetorical argument. An argument is sound if it conforms to three conditions:
1. is addressed to an empowered and involved audience,
2. conforms to the consensual standards of the specific field, and
3. is consistent with social knowledge (Farrell, 1977).

Zarefsky defines good argument as one that is “reasonable,” and one is reasonable if “the form of inference is free of obvious defects, and the underlying assumptions of the argument are shared by the audience” (Zarefsky,1981:88).

Collectively, these authors and others suggest that good arguments are ones that have, at least, some claim to rationality and are based upon premises and standards acceptable to the specific audiences being addressed. While these conditions serve as minimal standards for good argument, they are, in our judgment, incomplete and lacking in explanatory power. What is missing from current analyses is a consideration of the role of language. Careful language usage is necessary for the construction of sound arguments, and effective language is the key to persuasive argumentation. We define a good argument as one that is linguistically sound. The term “linguistically sound” is intended to encompass three conditions. A linguistically sound argument:
1. conforms to the traditional field invariant standards of inductive and deductive argument,
2. is based upon data appropriate to the audience and field, and
3. is expressed in language that enhances the evocative and ethical force of argument.

In the sections that follow, we will demonstrate how each of these conditions is linguistically based and how a linguistic perspective helps to explain the strength of the argument. Read more

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