ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Rhetorical Audience In Public Debate And The Strategies Of Vote-Gathering And Vote-Shifting

ISSAlogo1998In the pragma-dialectical approach to argumentation, as represented by van Eemeren & Grootendorst (e.g., 1992) or Walton (1989, 1992, 1995), critical discussion provides the normative model for rational argument. But do the norms for critical discussion also apply to political debate? As rhetoricians, we insist that critical discussion and political debate are different genres with different norms. Critical discussion is dialogic, debate is trialogic (Dieckmann 1981, Klein 1991). The arguers in the discussion address each other with the cooperative goal of resolving the dispute; debaters do not argue in order to persuade each other, but to win the adherence of a third party: the audience (Jørgensen, in press).
Because of its trialogic nature, a debate must answer the needs of the audience. This means that a debate should be evaluated in relation to the functions it fulfils. This does not mean that our approach is oriented toward uses and gratifications in the traditional sense. We are interested not only in the functions of debate, but also in the specific features of debates that serve these functions; and our approach is normative.
We shall concentrate on issue-oriented debates, such as the Irish debate over the Ulster peace plan, or the Danish debate over the Amsterdam treaty. What we have to say about the rhetorical audience and the quality of public debate has particular reference to how debate is conducted on TV.

Opinion polls will tell us that the audience of such debates consists of three groups: those in favour, those against, and the undecided. Commentators typically refer to the undecided as those who have not made up their minds yet, implying that all the others have indeed made their minds up. Accordingly, it is assumed that the outcome depends on the remaining undecided voters.
But this is misleading. Both among those in favour and among those against, there are many who have not made their minds up, and who may well change sides – under the influence of events or  arguments. To document this, we may cite a poll in the French daily Libération shortly before the referendum in France on the Maastricht treaty in 1992. Here – interestingly – voters were asked whether they might change sides on the issue. No less than 37 % of those who intended to vote yes admitted they might also vote no, and conversely for 34 % of those who said they intended to vote no. It is probably true that especially in matters concerning the European Union many voters are in two minds; they feel that there are arguments on both sides of the issue, and they are constantly weighing them against each other.
What this means is that on any issue, the audience represents a spectrum of opinion, with unmoveable partisans at both ends, and with a fair number of voters near the middle of the road who lean to one side but who may be shifted. But debaters and TV programmers tend to make the undecided their primary target because they falsely believe that the static and simplistic Yes-Undecided-No model says all one needs to know about the debate audience. They forget the lesson of the Danish referendum which rejected Maastricht because many voters changed sides at a late stage, even at the polling station.
To understand how some voters can thus be in two minds, we shall propose a model of the debate audience (inspired by Tonsgaard 1992). This, in turn, will allow us to distinguish between the different functions of debate for the public audience. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Importance Of Being Argumentative: Designing Disagreement Into Teaching/Learning Dialogues

ISSAlogo1998The single most important thing to know about the pragmatics of argumentation is that argumentation is a kind of conversational expansion, a form of repair that kicks in when triggered by a special sort of event. Discourse occurs before a very dense backdrop of assumptions, assertions, and implications, not all of which can be examined for their acceptability or justifiability. Whenever any of us speaks, we evoke for our hearers an indefinitely expandable context of belief and claim, any part of which may be called out and made arguable. Most of what we say, and especially most of what we evoke, passes without close examination.
This willingness to let things pass without examination, though essential to the organization of conversation, is antithetical to what is commonly called “critical thinking.” In educational contexts, at least, we might suppose that what we want is for students to be constantly engaged in reviewing each proposition advanced and considering whether it is to be believed or not. Realizing, however, that a speaker’s “standpoint” is not simply what is asserted but also what must be believed in order to have made that assertion and to have made it in the circumstances in which it was made, we see that it is not in fact possible for students to inspect everything. Like all of us in all contexts, they must pick and choose among propositions to examine. In the classroom as in conversation, most statements pass without inspection.
This paper is about designing discourse for the support of argumentation, both in the sense of stimulating its occurrence and in the sense of regulating its conduct. Argumentation is valuable in educational contexts, and although I do not expect this point to be controversial, I will begin by reviewing in the first section some of what is known about the relationship between argumentation and learning. Unfortunately, however valuable argumentation may be, it is also interpersonally complex, implicating not just our beliefs about impersonal things but also our “standing concerns” for identity, status, and relationship (Jacobs, Jackson, Stearns & Hall 1991). In status-marked settings like the classroom, these interpersonal complexities can create intractable dilemmas for the structuring of argumentation, a point to be elaborated briefly in the second section of the paper. Employing a design methodology described briefly in the third section of the paper, I will describe several explicitly theorized plans for the incorporation of argumentation into teaching and learning. In this respect, the present paper is an instance of the form of practical research my colleagues and I championed in Reconstructing Argumentative Discourse (van Eemeren, Grootendorst, Jackson & Jacobs 1993): research organized by the search for argumentation procedures that take into account the situation of argumentation within real-world constraints and limitations. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Using Argumentation Analysis To Examine History And Status Of A Major Debate In Artificial Intelligence And Philosophy

ISSAlogo19981. The Problem
My primary goal today is to introduce you to a pioneering project undertaken to see how extensive mapping of arguments can be accomplished and whether such a mapping would be useful to students, teachers, and scholars. Why would you want to map an extensive argument? Let me start with a hypothetical story. In the 1930s Alan Turing, the great British mathematician, invented the ideas on which the modern computer is based. In 1950, he wrote, “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.” He certainly thought the computers would be able to think. However …. there are less than two years left before the end of the century. Unfortunately, Turing died in 1954 at the age of 42. Suppose he came back from the dead after 44 years to find out whether his prediction had come true. Suppose he asked you, “What’s happened since I died? Was I right? Does everybody agree that computers can think?”

In the first place we could tell him that he certainly should have expected to be contradicted. That almost 400 scholars have engaged in a 48-year argument that he started. That the argument was worldwide. That it has taken place in almost 300 journals and books and consists of more than 800 major “moves” – claims and rebuttals and counterrebuttals. He would find out that some of the greatest physicists, philosophers, computer scientists, and psychologists in the contemporary world have taken part in it.
Suppose Turing said: “Right now I don’t have time to read 300 journals and books. What is the status of the argument? Where does it stand now?” Stop for a moment. How would you give him a serious answer? Suppose you managed to answer his question. Then suppose he asked another: “Where can I get an overview of the history of the arguments so I can decide which I want to read.” Where would you direct him?

2. The Problem As We Saw It
For great debates like this one about machine intelligence, there is:
– no comprehensive map of this major debate
– no way to get an up-to-date briefing on its current status
– no way to link positions to rebuttals (so that proposed refutations of data and positions can be easily compared)
– no efficient way to navigate through the argument
– no way to visually inspect its structure and direction

These are also the problems of every beginning student in any major subject-matter debate. And these problems are not only true of the artificial intelligence debate but also of most of the great discussions in which humanity is involved. While the argumentation maps I will talk about today show the substance of this decades-long, worldwide debate, I will not so much focus on the substance of that particular argument. Rather, I want to discuss with you the argumentation analysis format we developed, the implications that our maps have for the study of argumentation analysis, the problems we encountered, and the kinds of solutions we came up with.
I should add an historical note here. Credit must go to Stephen Toulmin who, as far as I know, developed the modern ideas of argumentation analysis in 1957. I worked in the mid-80s on a variety of graphic approaches to mapping extensive argumentation. A chapter of my 1989 book, Mapping Hypertext, is devoted to the progress I made. But in the end I felt I hadn’t quite got a useful enough approach. Four-and-a- half years ago I took up the problem again when I went to Stanford. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Giving Reasons In Intricate Cases: An Empirical Study In The Sociology Of Argumentation

No, at the moment there is no such thing as a sociology of argumentation; but it would be nice to have one. The aim of this paper is to show how a sociological approach could possibly enrich our understanding of argumentation.
This is the fourth Amsterdam conference on argumentation, but sociology is still missing from the wide range of disciplines present in argumentation studies. There is a whole branch of sociology, the sociology of knowledge, which should have been interested in argumentation studies from the very beginning – but it was not. Habermas’ landmark work, The Theory of Communicative Action, should have drawn a crowd of sociologists into argumentation theory – but it did not. I think this is an unfortunate situation but one that will change soon. Sociologists are already active in such neighboring fields as discourse analysis, conversation analysis – even rhetorical studies. It is only a matter of time that they discover the importance of argumentation.
We cannot foresee how a future sociology of argumentation will look like, but we can be pretty sure that it will be organized around two main questions: first, how social reality shapes argumentation; and second, how argumentation shapes social reality.

The first question is easier to answer. The unequal distribution of knowledge and skills is a commonplace in sociology. It would be easy to show that the willingness to argue and the skills of arguing as well as the types of arguments actually used are unequally distributed in society and depend on social factors like the gender, the educational level and other social characteristics of the arguers. Standard statistical methods can be used to show the correlation between the social characteristics of the arguers and their arguments.
The second part of this paper will present some exercises of this kind. I will analyze the responses given to an open-ended why-question in a survey on political opinions conducted recently in Hungary. The question first asks whether the 1992 decision of Hungary to abandon the building of the Danube Dam – a huge and environmentally risky barrage system on the border river, a ìjoint investmentî with former Czechoslovakia – was good or bad, and then asks why the respondent thinks so.
This question was recently discussed in the Hague International Court of Justice by experts of international law. The negotiations between the two countries were unfruitful, so they opted for the judgment of this supranational institution. The judgment came out last year and was solomonic. It said that Hungary was not right when it abandoned the project unilaterally, but Czechoslovakia was not right either when it continued it unilaterally.
The mere fact that there is an international court of justice and that the controversy between Hungary and Slovakia had a happy ending, that the end of the conflict was not a bloody war, but a scholarly dispute between polite lawyers, brings us back to the second main question of the sociology of argumentation: how argumentation shapes social reality. I will address this question in the first part of my paper. Taking the decade-long debate on the building of the Danube Dam as a historical example, I will show why the use of arguments (instead of force) was one of the most important stakes of the debate. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – 30,000 Feet Over The Smithsonian: Authenticity And Vicarious Collective Memory

ISSAlogo1998In 1984, radio personality and author Studs Terkel wrote The Good  War. Designed as a history of World War II, Terkel selected and edited oral testimonies and narratives to combat the “disremembrance of World War Two.” He begins the book with his observations of a thirty-something woman he met in 1982. She said, “I can’t relate to World War Two. It’s in schoolbook texts, that’s all. Battles that were won, battles that were lost. Or costume dramas you see on TV. It’s just a story in the past. It’s so distant, so abstract. I don’t get myself up in a bunch about it” (Terkel 1984: 3).
The terror of forgetting is often juxtaposed to the nobility of remembering. Especially in holocaust literature, the epithet that we must never forget our memory (a rhetorical move suggestive of Paix La Chapelle, the Alamo or the Maine in United States’ history) acts a bulwark against the rising tide of revisionism (Schudson 1993: 5).
Here I am interested in the dynamics of the collective memory. I take collective memory in the sense of Annales School sociologist Maurice Halbwachs or American sociologist Barry Schwartz as a socially constructed past composed of persistence and change, continuity and newness (Schwartz 1982: Halbwachs 1992). Most importantly, it is held by a living community as a part of its constitution. However, while most collective memory scholarship has emphasized the living and socially constructed part of memory, my interest is in turning this concept on its head and look at the social past as a constraint on historical interpretation. IN this sense, memory and history are opposed. Generally, we have accepted that the factual quality of the historical (as practiced by historians) past constrains our ability to interpret the past. However, the social past, itself is prehistorical and has a predictable inertial quality that prevents us from using the past at our own will.
This paper progresses in three parts. First, I will discuss the nature of public memory as it has been studied. In the second part I will use the controversy involving the presentation of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian as a case study. Finally, I will draw out some implications of this controversy for the study of America’s past. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Tacit Dimension In Argumentation

ISSAlogo1998Actual act-performing thinking is an emotional volitional thinking, a thinking that intonates, and this intonation permeates in an essential manner all moments of a thought’s content.  – Mikhail Bakhtin, Toward a Philosophy of the Act.

“The twentieth century has been a time of extraordinary change in every branch of philosophy and the social sciences, above all epistemology,” Stephen Toulmin writes in a recent essay (1995: ix). This change, he goes on to say, amounts to the “abandonment” and even “death” of the “Cartesian program of ‘modern philosophy’” that influenced our understanding of knowledge from, roughly, 1650 to 1950, and was marked by “excess individualism” (1995: xiii, xv).
Toulmin’s work, I believe, has contributed much to bringing about that change, for his reconception of reasoning offers an alternative to the “three underlying assumptions” that he identifies as supporting the Cartesian “research program.” These are:
1. the certainty axiom, which holds that knowing is building “demonstrably certain” systems;
2. the representation axiom, which holds that knowing begins in the “inner theater” called “the mind”; and
3. the individualism axiom, which holds that knowing is a “personal and individual accomplishment” (1995: x).

In this paper I propose that these three assumptions work to suppress a tacit dimension of argumentation that is crucial for developing a post-Cartesian understanding of rationality. This tacit dimension is acknowledged by Toulmin, Rieke and Janik (1984) as “the general body of information, or backing, that is presupposed by the warrant appealed to in the argument” (1984: 26). The source of this information, they go on to say, is the “culture that forms our initial values, attitudes, and expectations” and thereby “equips us. . .with ways of thinking and reasoning whose underlying basis or backing is not always made explicit” (1984: 66). Typically, these implicit contributions are presumed to be less rational than the explicit information, evidence, testimony, principles and rules which provide the data, claim, and warrant of an argument. This paper is part of a larger project which argues, contrary to that presumption, that both tacit and explicit contributions be evaluated without hierarchical preference in argument analysis.
A crucial step toward doing so is showing how factors that often are dismissed as less rational (or even irrational) function as the Backing component of an argument as analyzed by the Toulmin Model. Both Toulmin in The Uses of Argument (1958) and Toulmin, Rieke, and Janik in An Introduction to Reasoning (1984) say relatively little about Backing. This neglect, I believe, enables the survival of a crucial building-block of the Cartesian program – the dichotomy of fact and value – within Toulmin’s influential and on-going rethinking of reasoning. My aim here is to contribute to the development of a post-Cartesian understanding of rationality that was initiated by Toulmin, Chaim Perelman and others, by explicating and respecifying the nature and role of Backing as the tacit dimension of argumentation. [i]

This dimension provides the cultural, emotional, and volitional impetus for everyday argumentation. These factors are often dismissed as merely incidental to the setting of an argument – which is to say, they are all too easily categorized as outside of rationality.
Acknowledging them as the content of Backing enables us, instead, to identify and evaluate them as providing (in Bakhtin’s words) an “intonation that permeates in an essential manner all moments of a thought’s content” (1993: 34). Correlatively, this recognition of Backing as the tacit dimension requires respecifying Warrant as the explicit rules and procedures that justify connections among elements within an argument.[ii]
I begin with a brief consideration of the first and second axioms that Toulmin identifies as underlying the Cartesian program. I find that the Toulmin model provides powerful alternatives to both of these “underlying assumptions.” I then look more closely at the third (“individualism”) axiom, and find remnants of this assumption remaining within Toulmin’s reconception. It’s present in relation to that aspect of the Toulmin model – Backing – which typically creates particular difficulties in explication and application.
My hope, then, is that explicating and respecifying both Backing and Warrant will offer the positive side effect of making the Toulmin Model an even more useful means for argument analysis. Read more

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