ISSA Proceedings 2002 – Giving And Asking For Reasons: The Impact Of Inferentialism On Argumentation Theory

logo  2002-1Introduction
In Making It Explicit (1994) and Articulating Reasons (2001), Robert Brandom has introduced a semantic conception called Inferentialism. Inferentialist semantics determines the meanings of terms and actions by describing their inferential use in the language-game of giving and asking for reasons. Brandom’s domain is primarily the philosophy of language and not argumenta­tion theory. I will just give a rough sketch of the inferentialist idea and draw some consequences for our field: argumentation theory.

1. The idea of Inferentialism
Following Wittgenstein, Brandom characterizes his inferentialist approach as “an attempt to explain the meanings of linguistic expressions in terms of their use.” (Brandom 1997, 153) However, this slogan is not specific. More specific for Inferen­tialism is the idea that it is a particular kind of use that is crucial for the meanings of linguistic expressions: it is the inferential use of these expressions in the language game of giving and asking for reasons, i.e. the use of these expres­sions in contexts of argumentative reasoning.
It may be confusing that Brandoms speaks of “inferential use” and “inference”, since these terms are sometimes identified with “deduction” or “formal entail­ment”. Brandom, however, does not follow deductivism, but pragmatism. Formal inference is only one case of inferring. Brandom also speaks of con­cep­tual, material and practical inferences. His concept of “inference” includes all kinds of regular connections and relations between linguistic expressions – and between linguistic expressions and practical conse­quences, i.e. actions. This concept of inference is open for many types of argument and could even be applied to regular connections between “meaning­ful” non-linguistic activi­ties, as long as these connections and relations can be judged in a normative dimension of correctness. Actions, linguistic and non-linguistic, are significant insofar as they follow from and are followed by other actions in a way that it can be understood as correct or incorrect rule-following.
Instead of being too tight, Brandoms conception of inference may now appear as too broad for the purpose of explaining meaning and argument. This would be the case if Brandom had not restricted his focus to the inferential use in a particular language game, the game of giving and asking for reasons. In every kind of practice, language game or communication there are regularily connected, significant moves. Infe­rence is everywhere. But, according to Brandom, it is only the language game of giving and asking for reasons that discloses what the meanings of these moves are. The reason is that in this language game we do not only perform, understand and practice inferential moves, but also explicitly judge and mutually control the correctness of these moves. Whatever practice we perform, whatever game we play: as soon as the correctness of some move is called into question this game may shift to the game of giving and asking for reasons. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – Interpreting Arguments

logo  2002-1Abstract
The aim of this paper is to develop and justify a specific methodology of interpreting arguments for judging their argumentative validity and adequacy, i.e. the aim is to provide a useful tool which may be used for a specific purpose. This does not exclude that there are or may be other useful methodologies for interpreting arguments which could serve for different purposes. The methodology exposed in the paper will not only be theoretically justified but also specified up to detailed rules which can be used in classroom for analyzing found scientific arguments.

1. What Is an Interpretation of a Text in General?
Arguments in the sense of argumentative acts (as opposed to the content of an argument) are speech acts or – if one takes speech acts to be smaller units confining them to the level of sentences – consist of speech acts. In the analytical tradition there exist two major approaches to the interpretation of speech acts. The first may be called the “rationality presupposition approach“, is fostered e.g. by Davidson and Dennett (Davidson, 1963; 1974; 1980; Dennett, 1987), and claims that speech acts can be understood only if we presuppose that they are rational themselves or the expression of the agent’s rationality. The second approach may be called the “intention reconstruction approach“, is fostered e.g. by Grice and Meggle (e.g. Grice, 1957; 1968; 1969; 1989; Meggle, 1981) and states that understanding texts and speech acts consists in recognizing certain parts of the agent’s communicative intentions.
Here I cannot dwell on a substantial discussion of the merits of these approaches. But some short arguments against the rationality approach and in favour of the intention reconstruction approach shall help to motivate the general guidelines (exposed below) for interpreting arguments.

A first big shortfall of the rationality presupposition approach is that there are many theories about what being rational amounts to. Some authors think of epistemic rationality only, others think of practical rationality in particular decision theory; but in both of these areas a wide variety of concurring or only supplementing standards are discussed: from logical coherence (defined in various ways) over respecting the probability calculus etc. up to the many definitions of ‘knowledge’ or from simple decision theoretic optimizing fulfilling the axioms of von Neumann and Morgenstern or various other axiom systems over nonlinear utility theory to philosophically more substantial criteria of prudential rationality. Firstly, until the followers of the rationality presupposition approach have not determined which of these many standards is essential for understanding speech acts their approach remains too vague. Secondly, even if one of these many rivaling conceptions will have been established to express in the best way what it means to be “rational” it is highly improbable that we already now are able to understand each other without knowing about the result of this discussion.
A second and even bigger shortfall of the rationality presupposition approach is that rationality is an ideal (and rationality theory in a wide sense is a normative theory) which often is not realized in practice; if it were always fulfilled the theory would be pointless as rationality theory[i]. This implies that if the rationality presupposition approach asks us to regard speech acts to be the result of rationality, firstly, the outcome of the interpretation cannot always be an understanding of this particular utterance and, secondly, it must be systematically leading astray: We are encouraged to see something which does not exist. One may take the occasion to construct something rational from the given utterance; but this is already creative and no understanding of something given and the aim of such an operation is unclear. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – Arguing In Organizations: The Struggle Concerning Rules And Meaning

logo  2002-1In modern types of organizations individuals do not simply fulfil roles. They are neither independent and autonomous individuals. In the daily functioning of organizations many types of discussions can be found, some of which are of an explorative nature, others are rather negotiations and in still other cases proper argumentation takes place. The aim of this paper is to develop a model of the place of argumentation within the different types of verbal interactions taking place in organizations. In this model, which takes into account the variables of identity of the participants, of the hierarchical power relations between the participants, the urgency of a decision to be taken and the general mission of the organization, I will show that in all cases some aspects of argumentation are present, combined and interlinked with forms of negotiations, fights and other interaction games. However, the rules of argumentation used will be adapted to the power differential of the participants, the urgency of finding a solution and the general mission of the organization.
To begin with I will present a case study in some detail and based on this case study and other references I will outline the general model of arguing in organizations.

1. A case study from a multicultural school
A research project in which I participate aims to collect data over two years of verbal and non-verbal interactions in the classrooms and in grading meetings of two multicultural schools with an important percentage of Moroccan students. In one of the schools two thirds of students are migrant children, with a large percentage of Moroccan origin, in the other it is one third. With the help of several video recordings a number of mathematics lessons are recorded and also some other lessons in the same school. Parts of these recordings are discussed immediately after the lesson with the teacher and with some students, with questions such as: ‘what did happen here?’ This is the so-called ‘stimulated recall’ interview method. It was also possible to record some of the discussions in meetings of the teachers in the schools, and in particular some grading meetings where all the teachers of a class discuss the results of each student, and decide what kind of measures should be taken.
The recordings where made in the so-called ‘orientation’-year, which is situated between primary and secondary education, in principle at age twelve. This year is very important, because at the end of this year students will go separate ways, according to the school career which they are judged to be able to pursue.

The central question of this large research project was rather modest. With the help of a variety of methods of (micro)analysis a large inventory of the characteristics of the various interactions should be established with the aim to identify specific types of interactions or specific characteristics of interactions which are connected with school success or which are connected with school failure.
In the Netherlands state schools are obliged to publish every year a self-presentation with a standard format, called ‘schoolgids’. This information is sent to all parents with children in the school and also to all others who might be interested in the school for their children. Here follows a translation of one specific point from the self-presentation of one of the schools where the research data have been collected. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – Arguments On Display: Conceptualizing The Museum As A Discursive Text

logo  2002-11. Introduction
Museums recently have come to be seen as particularly important sites for the examination of cultural values and knowledge (e. g., Bal, 1996; Bennett, 1995; Haraway, 1989). Through display and commentary, museums depict certain truths about the artwork, history, or artifacts they house; yet, such truths always are incomplete. Museums purport to reveal facts about people and places, culture and experience, but their truths are bound by the specific values of the era in which the museum is founded, influenced by the selective choices made by the curators, and structured by the museum’s architecture and design.
This paper builds upon recent inquiries in the fields of rhetorical and cultural studies into the communicative dimensions of museums by analyzing the discursive messages in a relatively new and different project: The Women’s Museum in Dallas, Texas. This privately funded museum opened in 2000, and significantly is the first national endeavor to tell the story of women in the United States. Hence, its means of establishing arguments about women’s activities, social roles, and cultural contributions are important to examine for what they reveal about how topics, themes, and events are articulated as significant in the public consciousness.
The rhetorical analysis in this paper focuses on describing and analyzing the communicative aspects of the museum. In essence, I conceptualize how the museum argues through visual and experiential means of presentation and interaction. The museum architecture, exhibits, and promotional materials are analyzed to reveal the patterns of language, imagery, and persuasive strategies embedded within them, especially as revealed by choices that include and exclude particular topics regarding women’s experience and history. The methodology employed is developed from several critical models, including those used in recent cultural studies critiques of museums (Bal, 1996; Bennett, 1995; Ferguson, 1996; McLean, 1999). The paper concludes with an evaluation of the social and political implications of the museum’s messages.

2. What is a museum?
In recent U.S. history, several museums have become sites of controversy. Of particular note are two incidents of public outcry in response to exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution, one about the Enola Gay warplane and the other a reinterpretation of art depicting the American west (Boyd, 1999; Dubin, 1999; Harris, 1999, Lubar, 1997; Yeingst & Burch, 1997). Both exhibits drew responses to what some segments of the audience perceived as anti-patriotic, revisionist, or liberal interpretations of the historical record. Such controversies indicate a deeper set of questions regarding the definition, purpose, and role of a museum. Two explanations can be gleaned from the literature of museum professionals and from that of critical and cultural studies. Both understandings of the museum are relevant to developing a critical analysis of the discursive dimensions of The Women’s Museum and similar public institutions. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – The Rhetorical Shift In Interviews: New Features In Russian Political Discourse

logo  2002-1The result of modern dynamic global changes in the world has created special interest in the communicative process as a means for overcoming certain prejudices and transgressing boundaries in modern societies. This transgression is connected with the development of new paradigms in discourse analysis, which allow seeing the meaning of words, public speeches and interviews in relation to the overall global context part of which they are. This becomes especially important when the speeches political leaders make and interviews they give become part of virtual communication via the Internet. Their speedy translations into English expand the audience to global size and we believe that the functional rhetorical impact is not limited to direct actors of the interview situation.
We chose the genre of the interview as a subject of our paper because of its great potential in disclosing the interactive strategies of the participants and pragma-dialectical features of the resulting texts, the study of which, as we’ll attempt to demonstrate, can further develop the argumentation theory. Besides, this type of communication is connected with the what is known as source approach (McNair, 1995, XIII).
In the Oxford English Dictionary, the interview is defined as a “face to face meeting for the purpose of a formal conference, between a representative of the press and someone from  whom he wishes to obtain statements for publication”. The genre of the interview appeared in the US in the middle of the 19th century. Two eminent figures are credited for having invented the interview: Horace Greely, editor of The New York Tribune, and James Gordon Bennett Sr, the proprietor of The New York Herald.
The rapid development of this genre in mid-nineteenth century came as a result of many factors, the most significant of which was the new perception of public figures. According to Christopher Silvester, the editor of The Norton Book of Interviews, “The interview created for the reader an illusion of intimacy with celebrities” (Silvester, 1996, 5). He calls the interview “a broken-backed form of discourse which is necessarily partial” (op. cit., 3).

At the same time, “the interview technique grew from the familiarity of journalists and readers with verbatim court reports” (op. cit., 4). Therefore, from early on the form of interview has been earmarked by its connection to the court procedure. As will be shown below, its rhetorical structure still retains the idea of the two competing parties in a situation similar to the one in the courtroom. The difference lying in the fact that there are has two “consistent isotopies in legal discourse: its legislative level and its referential level” (Greimas, 1990, 102-106) whereas we have in the interview one referential level.
Rhetorical approach is connected with the pragma-dialectics as a theory and we follow the idea that the Aristotelian norm of successful persuasion is not necessarily in contradiction with the idea of reasonableness. Thus formal (a-rhetorical) approach is not necessarily looked upon as contradictory to anti-formal – functional, contextual one. Frans van Eemeren and Peter Houtlosser write of three levels of manoevering. “Rhetorical manoevering can consist of making a choice from the options constituting the topical potential associated with a particular discussion stage, in deciding on a certain adaptation to auditorial demand, and in taking policy  in the exploitation of presentational devices” (Eemeren, Houtlosser, 1999, 165). Topical maneuvering in confrontation stage is conducive to the most effective choice among potential issues for discussion by restricting the disagreement space. Auditorial demand is creating a “communion” and by presentational devices following Perelman and Olbrecht-Tyteca new rhetoric concept, we believe that rhetorical figures attract attention and bring the change of perspective (Op. cit. 167). This changing perspective is of special importance to present-daypublic speaking in Russia. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – Legitimizing Public Discourse: Civility As Gatekeeper

logo  2002-1[I]f there are times when dissent is appropriate and justified, [then] public deliberation cannot proceed strictly under the banner of mutual understanding. When the public’s form is fixed by a presupposition of consensus, the creative and generative elements of opposition are squandered before they ever appear. The citizen wakes up in a public, but has nothing to say (Erik W. Doxtader).

1. Introduction
The contestation of voices in contemporary public discourse has reached an impasse of a special type. While discourses themselves continue to foment, fragment, and reconstitute at a deceptively healthy pace, the conceptual grounds upon which they do so, the discursive sites of their activity, have stagnated. In so doing, these sites have inadvertently come to undermine the political efficacy of
1. the discourses they serve; and
2. speakers’ efforts to enact those discourses in local, productive spheres of influence. Uprooted from formerly fertile, now dessicated, soil, public discourse writ large has lost much of its rhetorical purchase and an equal measure of its practical strength. With both the sites of speech and speech itself compromised in this way, what remain to us are fractious, diluted schemas of “the public sphere(s)” or “civil society,” any or all of which are poor conceptual substitutes for vigorous and inclusive public deliberation among active citizens speaking in spheres of fruitful civic association.

So goes the line of argument we seek to explore in this essay, an essay which responds to widespread reports of theoretical dead-ends reached by theorists and critics who were once hopeful of framing spheres of public discourse in ways that might encourage inclusive forms of deliberation among engaged private citizens. Though we do not presume ourselves able to gerrymander the conceptual terrain of public speech in a way that would afford ideal breathing room for all, we do think it crucial to ask why it is that the most obvious and, in recent years, most lauded corrective to disintegrative public discourse, civility, has failed to make the difference that so many parties from so many quarters have expected it to make. In the interests of rhetorical pragmatism, we question civility at the scene of the proverbial crime: at sites of its application as the argumentative crown jewel of contemporary rhetorical theorizing’s pet project, civil society.
Contending as we do that efforts to promote civility as an ameliorative agent in civil sphere deliberation have failed in some crucial respects, we offer an alternative perspective on the problem, in hopes of establishing two claims. First, we seek to show how civility is intentionally or unintentionally wielded so as to silence oppositional or counterpublical voices in public contexts, thereby removing the very possibility of real “argument” from the equation. We find that this is most often accomplished by default, as efforts to apply “civility” directly in the service of real citizens’ real speech frequently fail. Second, and relatedly, we argue that civility’s sub rosa gatekeeping of what counts or does not count as “legitimate” speech in the civil sphere is both dangerous and deeply misguided. As we hope to make evident, our second claim is the unintended outcome of the failure of the efforts described in our first claim. That is, failing to apply itself to the meat of the deliberative problem in question, “civility” instead tends broadly to bracket one set of argumentative possibilities in favor of a simple but weak reinscription of another. Read more

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