ISSA Proceedings 1998 – How To Lose An Argument

ISSAlogo1998Arguments are like families: the happy ones all resemble one another, but each unhappy one is unhappy in its own way. Like families, no one wants to be part of a dysfunctional one. Like families again, as a general rule of thumb, it is the unhappy arguments that are the most interesting for argumentation theorists and the most fun for non-participant spectators. There is a notable exception to this, an unhappy argument that loses its appeal to spectators rather quickly – the interminable filibuster. And yet, while filibusters may be uninteresting to spectators, they should be quite interesting for argumentation theorists.
There are many ways of conceptualizing arguments (Cohen 1995). Two stand out in particular because they are individually so common and so compelling yet they embody completely different criteria for success and failure. For many, the first thing that comes to mind when we speak of arguments is the idea of some sort of verbal warfare. This is the “adversarial” paradigm for arguments, the subject of rhetoric. Two arguers are each trying to persuade the other of something, or to do something, while simultaneously trying to resist all of the other’s attempts at persuasion. This is the notion of arguments that is enshrined in what Robert Nozick has called “coercive philosophy” – making people believe things whether they want to or not (Nozick 1981: 4). It is also manifest in the militaristic language we use to talk about arguments. Good arguments are “strong” or “knockdown;” they are “right on target” with “lots of punch,” while bad arguments are “weak,” “vulnerable to counterattack,” and easily “shot down.” And like warfare, argumentation is an art. Success can be achieved in many ways, so ready arguers should have a well stocked arsenal at their disposal, one whose weapons include the brute force of reason, the carefully constructed ambush, the verbal jujitsu of Socratic elenchus, the captivating analogy, the deadly barbs of satire, or perhaps even the bombshell of a surprise revelation (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: Ch. 1). Filibusters lay siege.

The result of a successful argument, according to the adversarial paradigm, is the end of resistance and a victory over the now converted opposition who henceforth will believe or act in accordance with the dictates of the winner. From the other side, this means that unsuccessful arguments suffer a particularly ignominious kind of failure: losing. But isn’t there something wrong with this picture? If someone has successfully constructed an argument leading us to a true, or at least now-warranted, conclusion, why should we feel that we have lost rather than gained something? Why are we resentful rather than grateful? The discomfort arises because there is a second way  to conceptualize arguments that also appeals to us as arguers and holds sway in our thoughts. An argument is an extended chain of reasoning – a sequence of elements, propositions or speech acts, say – in which acceptance of the starting points, the premises, leads or commits one, in some logical sense, to accepting the final element, the conclusion. We subject ourselves to the less arbitrary and more benevolent “dictates of reason” rather than to those of any lesser master. This is the “argument as proof” paradigm, the subject of logic. It is the ideal of reasoning that is embodied (we like to think) in the pages of academic journals of mathematics and symbolic logic. Whether the absolute objectivity inherent in this conception is taken as transcendental proof that we are more than the sum of this mortal coil or dismissed as the incoherent by-product of hypostatizing linguistic convention, there is a normative force to this ideal that is integral to our evaluations of arguments. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Acts Of Argumentation: Beyond Spoken Dialog

ISSAlogo19981. Introduction: four approaches to argumentation
Theories, or treatments or conceptions of argumentation form three large classes which I will call the formal-logical, the dialectical and the rhetorical.
Formal-logical treatments take argumentation to be a structure of propositions whose truth relations are the only concern of a disembodied Pure Reason. The formal-logical approach to argumentation consists in classifying forms of argument as valid or invalid, assuming that every argument has a readily determined form and declaring each argument valid if it has a valid form, invalid otherwise. That is all you do. Ten zillion logic texts exemplify this approach. But it is true that some inferences are invalid and this can be good to know.
Dialectical accounts, pioneered by Hamblin (1970), take argumentation to be a rule-governed two-party game with claims, in which the aim of one or both parties is to secure the acceptance by the other of some specific claim. The dialectical approach to argumentation improves on the formal-logical approach in recognising argumentation to be action. The recent book of Van Eemeren, Grootendoorst, Jackson and Jacobs (1993) illustrated how the concept of speech act helps us understand argumentative norms other than truth conditions.
The leading concept in a rhetorical approach is the audience. Rhetorical conceptions take argumentation as attempts at rational persuasion of various audiences. In realistically highlighting the persuasive rationale for argumentation and the multifariousness of real examples, rhetorical approaches tend to be open to platonic charges of being concerned with success, not cogency. Crosswhite (1996) is a recent example of this approach.
I will argue for a still more realistic approach to studying argumentation, in two specific respects. My main point is that something more than a shift to rhetorical accounts is needed, specifically, we need more fully pragmatic accounts which observe the material realities introduced into argumentation by writing; that is, we need to take account of the fact that much important argumentation is necessarily written. My secondary point is that a pragmatic perspective demands recognising that much important real argumentation is multi-party – it involves many more participants than two. I will sketch an argument for these two rather general claims via a discussion of ad hominem argument.

2. Are ad hominem arguments fallacious?
Consider the following letters to the editor of The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, one day in February this year:
John Howard states that Kim Beazley is a failed Finance Minister and a failed Employment Minister. Is Australia’s worst Prime Minister the most appropriate person to make such an assessment?
Colin Cleary, Epsom
What makes an expert?
The loss of Walter Mikac’s family was tragic beyond words, but it is sheer emotionalism to imply this gives him technical expertise in the field of effective firearms regulations.
Chris Armstrong, Ringwood North Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Power And Perceived Truthfulness Of Visual Arguments In U.S. Political Campaign Biofilms

ISSAlogo1998A relatively new, and certainly significant, controversy about the nature of argument revolves around whether it is possible to argue visually or whether argumentation is solely a linguistic phenomenon. Fleming (1996) offers a succinct review of advocates both for and against the extension of argument to visual images. Scholars who reject the extension of argument to visual messages assume a priority of verbal over non-verbal means of communication. Language, they argue, offers reasons for belief; linguistic reason-giving is the necessary characteristic of argument and, without language, argument cannot exist (van Eemeren & Grootendorst 1984, Balthrop 1980, Toulmin, Rieke, & Janik 1979, Kneupper 1978). Fleming explains the rejection of non-linguistic forms of argument by contending that argument must both assert and prove, which in the case of pictures is impossible because one cannot differentiate between these two necessary elements. Fleming writes, “To say that a picture can be an argument is to leave individuals with the impression that they have argued for something when they have merely placed it in someone else’s field of vision” (1996: 13).
Although Fleming writes that “argument requires a structure in which conceptually-distinct ideas can be sequentially linked” (14), which verbal arguments are capable of achieving, the characterization of arguments as linear (Hintikka & Bachman 1991, Andrews, Costello & Clark 1993, Postman 1985) is limiting and short-sighted. We contend, as others who support the extension of argument to visual images, that neither verbal nor visual arguments are always linear and that pictures can be visual messages that argue enthymematically when they evoke a shared cultural claim and offer proof of that claim (Willard 1989, Hesse 1992, Fisher 1988, Fisher & Filloy 1982, Medhurst & DeSousa 1981).
Like verbal messages, visual messages are not absolute, but they nonetheless make the proposition that what is depicted is real or truthful. In political persuasion, anything that leads an audience to say “this is real,” or “this is truth,” is a powerful component of the rhetorical process meriting further attention. As Shelley (1996) writes, “in the case of rhetorical visual arguments, the individual elements of a picture evoke a pattern of verbal and emotional associations in the mind of the viewer” (67). The message is not just placed in someone’s field of vision; by careful association an enthymematic appeal is made. Of course, the visual message can reinforce a linguistic message, but we contend that even without the verbal claim, the argument can be completed by the viewer. There is no guarantee that all viewers will interpret the visual message in the same manner, but there is similarly no guarantee that an audience will interpret a verbal message in the same manner. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Renaissance Roots Of Perelman’s Rhetoric

ISSAlogo1998Everyone here, I dare say, is aware of the stature of The New Rhetoric (as the Traité de l’argumentation came to be known in its English incarnation) has these days in the field of argumentation theory, of the elegance of Perelman’s critique of cartesian formalism, of his re-positioning of the question of what constitutes reasonability, and of the consequent enhancement – perhaps the rehabilitation – of a discipline that many found suspect: rhetoric. You are all no doubt aware as well of the sorts of reservations Perelman’s ideas have elicited, chiefly in the area of his notion of the “universal audience” or, indeed, of his radical audience-orientation in general. Of these I shall have nothing to say because my concern is a rather different one from those expressed in the vast majority of critical response to Perelman.
Nothing I have seen in the critical literature pays much attention to two important subjects treated by Perelman in the Traité: loci and figures. I do not know why this is so. It may be that his interpreters of record understand these things better than I do. But it is nevertheless exceedingly strange that they should ignore them, since they constitute by far the greatest part of Perelman’s discussion. On the very face of it, therefore, a look at Perelman’s treatment of loci and figures seems very much in order. His book, he tells us in the very first pages, was to be a study of the discursive methods of “securing adherence”, methods that extend beyond the “perfectly unjustified and unwarranted limitation of the domain of action of our faculty of reasoning and proving” imposed by logic (p.3). His rhetoric is accordingly a method both of inquiry and of the means by which we can articulate the reasons for our decisions. The study of these discursive means centers on the loci of preference (NR pp.83-114/ TA 112-153) and schèmes argumentatifs (187-450/251-609) based on the loci (p.190/254f.), and on the verbal devices of eloquence in all its forms, devices ordinarily relegated to the realm of ornamentation and devalued as mere device (pp.167ff., 450f./ 225ff., 597f.). The primary subjects of the Traité are in short invention (not judgement, as so many want to claim) and expression.
Since time is short (and the argument is long), I will restrict myself to a brief examination of the resemblances between Perelman’s treatment of loci and Renaissance “place-logics” – particularly the place logic in the De inventione dialectica of the great Renaissance humanist, Rudolph Agricola. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – “I’m Just Saying…”: Discourse Markers Of Standpoint Continuity

ISSAlogo19981. Introduction
Group discussion of a controversial issue confronts participants with intellectual and pragmatic challenges that in practice are inextricably entwined. Argumentation theory attends primarily to the intellectual challenges and provides conceptual tools for analysis of issues and arguments. Practical argumentation, however, is fundamentally a pragmatic, communicative process. The pragmatic work of discussion is not merely a distraction from the intellectual work of argumentation. Rather, it sustains the social matrix within which argumentation becomes possible and meaningful as a constituent feature of certain collective activities.
To understand the normative and pragmatic dimensions of argumentation in their intertwined complexity requires empirical studies of practical argumentative discourse along with analytical and philosophical studies of normative argumentative (van Eemeren, Grootendorst, Jackson, & Jacobs 1993). The present study attempts to contribute to the empirical side of this inquiry by describing and analyzing certain uses of a particular pragmatic device.
Specifically, the paper reports a discourse analysis of discussions among students in an undergraduate “critical thinking” course. Student-led discussions of two controversial issues (capital punishment and legal recognition of homosexual marriages) were audiotaped and transcribed. Examining discourse markers (Schiffrin, 1987) in the two discussions, we noted frequent uses of “I’m just saying” and related metadiscursive expressions (I’m/we’re saying, I’m/we’re not saying, etc.). Our central claim is that these “saying” expressions are pragmatic devices by which speakers claim “all along” to have held a consistent argumentative standpoint, one that continues through the discussion unless changed for good reasons. Through microanalysis of a series of discourse examples (see Appendix B), in the following sections we show how these discourse markers are used to display continuity, deflect counterarguments, and acknowledge the force of counterarguments while preserving continuity. In a concluding section we reflect critically on the use of these continuity markers with regard to a range of argumentative and pragmatic functions that they potentially serve.

2. “Saying” as a Marker of Standpoint Continuity
Speakers often use “saying” as a discourse marker in order to highlight a formulation of their continuing standpoint in contrast to some other idea with which it might be confused. As in (1)19, the purpose may be simply to distinguish the speaker’s main point from a subordinate element such as evidence. Often, however, the purpose is to dissociate the speaker’s standpoint from some other, usually less acceptable, standpoint that in the context has been, or might plausibly be, attributed to the speaker. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Is Praise A Kind Of Advice?

ISSAlogo19981. Introduction
In this paper, I will try to capture the fonction of the epideictic genre of the classical rhetoric from a linguistic point of view. This will be done by describing both praise and blame as peculiar varieties of “advices”.

2. Aristotle on epideictic
According to Aristotle, the object of rhetoric is a judgement that the audience should perform on the matter that is presented by the orator. Each of the three rhetorical genres – i.e. deliberative, forensic and epideictic – requires a specific discursive activity of the orator and a specific judgement of the audience. This typology can be summarized as follows:


In the light of this typology, one may observe that Aristotle’s statements remain rather vague about the activity performed by the audience of the epideictic genre. In the deliberative genre, the audience’s activity is a “decision”, i.e. some kind of deontic activity. In the forensic genre, the audience’s activity is a “judgement”, i.e. some kind of epistemic activity. But what about the “evaluation” which is supposed to be the audience’s activity in the epideictic genre? Aristotle, who seemed to be aware of this fuzziness, considered this “evaluation” as an aesthetical activity. Indeed, for him, the audience of the epideictic genre is in charge to judge the orator’s talent. But this way out endangers the internal coherence of the whole typology. In the deliberative and the forensic genres, the matter of the judgement reduces to the object of the discourse (the action (not) to be realized or the innocence/guilt of the defendant). On the contrary, the matter to be decided on by the audience of the epideictic genre is discourse itself.

3. Contemporary theories
Perelman rightly underlined the fact that although epideictic discourses – of praise or blame – have to do with matters that are not disputable (e.g. the greatness of the city, the authority of gods, the virtues of a dead person…), they nevertheless fulfil a function which is not merely aesthetical, since they are used to increase the communion of feelings concerning those values that are already endorsed by the whole community. In my opinion, Perelman implicitly referred to the ancient notion of homonoïa (i.e. concord, conformity, unanimity). As pointed out by Barbara Cassin, homonoïa is an effect created by discourse. In epideictic rhetoric, homonoïa could be seen as the emotion produced by amplification i.e. by the evocation of those prototypes of agents or actions that represent the values of the community. It should induce, in the mind of each citicitizen, a general disposition to some kind of political action. For example, Isocrates’ Panegyric, praises the city of Athens; this praise provokes a homonoïa effect which is such that Athenians citizens are inclined to accept, and to engage in, a war on the Persians.
This conception entails that there is an essential link between the epideictic genre and the deliberative one. Indeed, both aim at triggering a certain type of decision that should precede a certain type of action. This relationship had already been noticed by Greek and Latin authors. It is emphasized in Pernot’s book which directlyinspired me when choosing a title for this lecture: indeed, according to Pernot, praise is a kind of advice.
Pernot remarks that many discourses, like Isocrates’ Panegyric, belong to a hybrid genre, partly epideictic, partly deliberative. In other words, such texts are basically symbouleutic (from sumboulê: advice) – i.e. the orator supposedly performs a deliberative activity – but they are grounded on an encomiastic matter (from enkômion: praise), so that the orator should also perform an epideictic activity. According to Pernot, this is the typical case in which we can see that praise is a kind of advice. Read more

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