ISSA Proceedings 1998 – From Arguing Within To Arguing Across Boundaries: Globalization As A Challenge To Argumentation Studies

ISSAlogo1998Is it possible to argue across the boundaries of self-contained, ideologically or culturally incompatible formations (e.g., East and West, North and South, Islamic and Christian civilizations)? In other words, can controversies be discussed and resolved rationally without there being even a common, general intellectual or cultural tradition for disputants to fall back on as the final guarantee for an eventual agreement? The default answer to this question, for a number of reasons, is “No.”

Analytical and neo-pragmatist philosophers by and large have long expressed their doubt that a rational agreement can ever be reached argumentatively between radically different systems. W. V. Quine undercuts such a possibility with his influential doctrine of the “indeterminacy of translation.” For Quine, outsiders “cannot even say what native locutions to count as analogues of terms as we know them, much less equate them with ours term for term,” and the “native may achieve the same net effects through linguistic structures so different that any eventual construing of our devices in the native language and vice versa can prove unnatural and largely arbitrary” (1960:53). Richard Rorty believes that “there is no way to step outside the various vocabularies we have employed and find a metavocabulary which somehow takes account of all possible vocabularies, all possible ways of judging and feeling,” which has led him to reject argumentation as the mode of cross-“vocabulary” interactions (1989: xvi, 8).
Postmodern thinkers in general not only accept the premise of a radical incommensurability between different life-worlds, but also add an ethical dimension to the issue, making it even more difficult to contemplate the possibility of rational, non-coercive means of cross-cultural conflict resolution. Jean-François Leyotard, for instance, introduces the concept of a différend as “a case of conflict,  between (at least) two parties, that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgment applicable to both arguments.” When “a universal rule of judgment between heterogeneous genres is lacking in general,” a “wrong” would necessarily result from the fact that “the rules of the genre of discourse by which one judges are not those of the judged genre or genres of discourse” (1988: xi). Even Jügen Habermas has acknowledged that his earlier formulation of a “discourse ethics,” based on the principle that “a norm can be considered objectively right if it would be consented to in free discussion by all concerned as consonant with their interests,” fails to take into proper account “the power of history over against the transcending claims and interests of reason,“ the “ideas of the ‘good life’” which “form an integrated component of the particular culture,” and “Sittlichkeit, the concrete customs of a community” (Dews 1986: 17-18).

And anthropologists lend further support to this general skepticism with vivid stories of their personal encounters with other cultures. Clifford Geertz, in an account of how, during a 1971 trip to Indonesia, he had a “debate” with a local religious master over the issue of whether American astronauts had indeed landed on the moon, shows what an impossible task it could be trying to argue with people locked in an acutely different cultural framework. The setting was a religious school in Sumatra. His opponent, the teacher-director of the institution, opened with the declaration that “no Muslim could believe [the moon-landing],” because the Prophet was “held to have said that an enormous ocean lies between the earth and the moon and this was the source of [Noah’s] flood.” If the Americans had indeed gone to the moon, then
1. they “would have put a hole in this ocean and a flood like Noah’s” would have ensued and would have drowned us all;
2. they would have proved that the Prophet was wrong, which was impossible;
3. what they did was most likely to be a trick played by God who “had constructed a fake moon off to the side somewhere for them to land on.” Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Rhetorical Prolepsis And The Dialectical Tier Of Argumentation

ISSAlogo1998In contemporary studies of argumentation, no development is more important than the decline of the formal deductive model and the rise of informal logic. The formalist prospective, dominant through most of this century, holds that an argument consists of propositions related to one another as reason or reasons to a conclusion. Thus, Irving Copi, in a classic formulation of this concept, defines an argument as “any group of propositions of which one is claimed to follow from the others, which are regarded as providing evidence for the truth of that one” (Copi 1961: 7). Conceived in these terms, arguments exist in isolation from their contexts and are to be studied in terms of the formal relationships between reasons and conclusion. Their social and political dimensions are set to the side.
Over the past several decades, in a broad interdisciplinary and international movement, the formalist approach has been criticized by scholars interested in developing a more flexible and more socially responsive approach to argument. Proponents of this approach do not deny the existence and significance of formal structure, but they insist that form alone is not adequate to give a realistic account of how arguments work. From this perspective, argument should be studied through an informal logic that considers the motives, goals, and social contexts that condition the process of arguing. Thus, Trudy Govier, defines argument as “a set of claims that a person puts forward to persuade an audience that some further claim is true” (Govier 1987: 1).[i] On this account, and in contrast to Copi’s position, arguments are used for and by people; someone is trying to do something to others, and the agents and audiences involved in this activity are essential rather than incidental to the nature of argument.
An important corollary of this approach is that arguments must be studied within two tiers. The first tier relates to core structure and yields a formal account of an argument as a product. But this tier cannot account for rational persuasion, the goal of argument as process, since arguments actually surface within a competitive field.

As Ralph Johnson has explained, the participants in any argumentative situation “know that there are objections to the Arguer’s position. Indeed the Arguer must know this herself and so it is typical to attempt to diffuse such within the course of argument. If she does not deal with the objections and criticisms, then to that degree her argument is not going to satisfy the dictates of rationality…. Hence if the Arguer really wished to persuade the Other rationally, the Arguer is obligated to take account of these objections, these opposing points of view, these criticisms” (Johnson 1996: 354; see also Walton 1990). In short, beyond the structural level, an argument must engage a dialectical tier in which it competes with other arguments for rational assent.
On Johnson’s account, argumentation must be dialectical if it is to be rational, and the dialectical process entails positioning and structuring arguments within a controversy. This view explicitly stresses the agonistic dimension of argument and implicitly recognizes its grounding in social situations, and both of these features indicate a strong affinity between dialectical argumentation and rhetoric. In fact, Johnson’s description of the dialectical tier in argument seems to echo one of the traditional precepts of rhetorical lore – the figure of thought most often called prolepsis. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Teaching Logic: How To Overcome The Limitations Of The Classroom

ISSAlogo1998Dobie Gillis: You mustn’t take all these things so literally. I mean this is just classroom stuff. You know that the things you learn in school don’t have anything to do with life.
Polly Espy: Dicto Simpliciter (Shulman 1951: 61).

Dobie has been devoting their dates to teaching Polly the informal logic that he thinks she needs in order to be up to his standards. When he finally is satisfied with her progress and tries to transform their relationship from “academic to romantic,” she frustrates him by finding fallacies in all of his overtures. Out of desperation, he attacks his own lessons by warning Polly against treating as fallacious outside the classroom something that is fallacious inside of it. His warning comes too late. Nevertheless, if she is serious in labelling his romantic overtures as fallacious, then she is wrong to do so because Dobie is only expressing his interest in her and hoping that she will return it, not arguing for anything. If Polly has misused his lessons, Dobie bears some responsibility for it because, in common with many other teachers, he has not tried to compensate for the fact that lessons on the fallacies are likely to encourage students to look for mistakes even before they consider what the speaker or writer could be saying or doing.
In this paper I make some suggestions as to how logic teachers can overcome the limitations of the classroom. The first section proposes that students consider the significance of the results that cognitive psychologists have obtained when they give subjects certain logic problems to solve. When students see how predictable it is that mistakes will be made, they may want to ask how the classroom contributes to their own failure to master logic. The second section proposes that students be given lessons that are self-critical or critical of other lessons in logic. An ingenious and imaginative way of introducing logic is offered as an illustration of the kind of lesson that students be asked to critique. The third section is about how to teach students to give a critical reading to an argument. A letter to the editor is quoted, and, to overcome the limitations of the classroom, it is proposed that students be assigned the roles of different parties to the argument. The paper concludes with some observations about the values that should inform critical analysis of argumentation.

1. Why do students do so badly in logic?
Students in a formal logic class have problems that can be surprisingly persistent, and these problems tend to be the focus of our pedagogy. They struggle with negations in compound statements, applications of the concept of validity, the truth table for the conditional, and equivalences that involve the use of ‘only’, ‘if’, and ‘unless’. Some students, notably those with backgrounds in mathematics or science, don’t have these problems. Nevertheless, research reveals that almost everyone, even teachers of logic, fail the Wason Selection Task, and some cognitive psychologists have concluded that we are programmed to be in cognitive dissonance with how we should be thinking, a matter thoughtfully discussed in Manktelow and Over (1990: 149-58).
I invite my students to think critically about this research by including versions of the Selection Task on the ‘pre-test’ given to the students. For example:
Shown below are drawings of four cards. Each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other side. Here is a rule about these cards: if there is a vowel on one side, then there is an even number on the other side. Which of the cards do you have to turn over to decide whether the rule is true or false?
E – K  –  4  – 7
Because most students do not give the ‘correct’ answer, ‘E’ and ‘7’, and because they give so many different answers, they will be interested in thinking about why they go wrong. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Argumentative Analysis Of Literary Works And Its Importance In Teaching Argumentation

ISSAlogo1998Teaching argumentation not only serves the purpose of making us aware of the ways we use to resolve controversies in a rational manner. It also aims at making us more reflective about the general understanding we have of things. In order to achieve this it is convenient to put argumentations in a different context and treat them as part of a process in which different protagonists make known and defend their points of view. In other words, each argumentation should be considered as a segment of a longer dialogue in which the participants not only accept that their points of view can be questioned, and, eventually, refuted, but also submit themselves to critical norms in order to reach this goal.
My purpose is to show that establishing this frame of reference for argumentation analysis takes the form of a philosophical dialogue.

In a philosophical dialogue it is assumed that the arguers are motivated by the search of truth and, consequently, are interested in determining whether their points of views are indeed correct. In view of this objective they seek the interlocutors’ collaboration, expecting them to provide alternative points of view and in this way enrich the questioning of the arguments offered. From this perspective, arguments come to be part of a cooperative dialogue in which, together with offering reasons, the interlocutors’ objections have to be pondered. This dialogue is philosophical in that it leads to a broader reflection on the subject in question, that is, it leads to questioning ourselves about all possible viewpoints on the subject, not just the ones originally formulated. Moreover, dialogue has thus a specific direction: it is aimed at providing a global overview of all the aspects that ought to be considered in analyzing a given argumentation.
Therefore, in teaching argumentation, a reconstruction effort is required. When examining argumentation, one ought to act as if between the proponents of the argumentation and oneself a dialogue was taking place and one should, consequently, be able to question them. This can be accomplished by means of presenting alternative arguments and making conjectures about the possible answers to those objections. By means of this procedure, some presuppositions can be made explicit which permit to reflect about what really is at stake in the proposed argumentation. Thus, the teacher can guide a process of reflection that emerges from the discussion. If, on the other hand, the teacher fails in conducting this process, the student tends to close his/her mind. In other words, instead of getting a broader vision of things, that leads to a better understanding of the problems, the student usually learns the strategies that serve to reinforce his/her own beliefs, without having to submit them to critical questioning. The student doesn’t feel stimulated to develop a process of reflection that allows him/her to critize his/her own prejudices. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – How (Not) To Argue With ‘Fundamentalists’. On The Problem Of Arguing Without A Shared Basis

ISSAlogo1998In 1997 the German philosopher Hubert Schleichert published a book, which became a kind of philosophical bestseller in Germany. It is titled Wie man mit Fundamentalisten diskutiert, ohne den Verstand zu verlieren. Anleitung zum subversiven Denken (Schleichert 1997)[i]. Schleichert’s book sketches a general theory of argumentation and offers a conception of subversive argumentation as a means to deal with the problem of fundamentalism. His discussion of this problem primarily deals with historical examples, in particular the fight of the Enlightenment against Christian dogmatism. One of Schleichert’s heroes is Voltaire, who seems to exemplify what Schleichert means by subversivity.
In this paper I will outline and discuss Schleichert’s approach with respect to some systematic conceptual issues, concerning in particular the problem of argumentation without a shared basis. After discussing Schleichert, I will briefly give some suggestions for a more adequate approach to this problem.

1. Schleichert s approach
1.1 A positivist concept of argumentation
It is obvious that Schleichert adopts a “positivist concept of argumention”. At the outset he introduces a distinction between the normal standard-case of argumentation and the non-standard-case. In the standard-case a thesis is logically derived from a set of sentences, i.e. the arguments. An argumentation is correct if the arguments are true and the inference is logically valid, or can be transformed into a valid one by adding acceptable premisses. In order to convince someone by argument, there have to be at least some sentences which are already accepted or turn out to be acceptable. These sentences, shared by both sides, constitute the argumentation-basis and may function as a resource for reasons and objections. Schleichert regards in particular sentences which express fundamental values, judgements, beliefs and principles as belonging to the argumentation-basis.
If there is no sufficient argumentation-basis shared by the opponents we have the non-standard-case. However, the positivist concept of argumentation rules out this non-standard-case as a case of argumentation in the strict sense. The lack of a shared argumentation-basis must, at the end, lead to a breakdown of the discussion. And, indeed, this often is the case. The fact that people, at least sometimes, continue to argue without a shared basis appears as a curious phenomenon in the positivist framework. From a logical positivist point of view, the efforts of these people are hopelessly in vain.
It is one of Schleichert’s merits that he, in spite of adopting the positivist view, does not stop at this place. Instead, he asks for an explanation of this curious phenomenon and distinguishes four lines of explanation. We may, first, assume that the discussants simply overestimate the possibility of argumentation and are victims of this illusion. Second, the participants may mutually negate their principles. But this kind of external criticism is not really argumentation, since it can neither hope to convince the opponent, nor rest on a commonly shared principle. Both explanations of the phenomenon remain compatible with the positivist picture according to which real argumentation is impossible in non-standardcases. What is explained, here, is why the participants may falsely believe to have a discussion while, in fact, there is no argumentation at all. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Normative Structure Of Adjudicative Dialogue

ISSAlogo1998If you ask them, most people will say that disagreements should be resolved through dialogue. If you ask them what this means, however, you are less likely to get a straightforward answer. While commitment to dialogue as a mode of conflict resolution is widespread, most of us are less than clear about what this commitment entails. What does it mean, exactly, to discourse dialogically?
In the heat of discursive contestation, we tend to focus on the matter at issue, and attend little, if at all, to the normative structure of dialogue itself. This contributes, I think, to a general lack of clarity concerning the norms in question. Here theory can aid practice by shedding light on the norms that govern adjudicative discourse. By stepping back from particular disputations and articulating the otherwise tacit knowledge that underlies and structures them, the theorist can sharpen and reinforce basic intuitions about the process. In this paper, I aim to show that resolution-oriented discourse has a distinctive normative structure that is partially subject to theoretical explication.
It is not an ethic of disputation, but a logic of disputation, that I am after here. I am interested in how various dialectical gambits alter the structure of obligations and alternatives that disputants face as the dialogue unfolds. Like any other logic, a logic of disputation must strike a balance: it must capture some of the richness of the practice being modeled, yet still cast core structures into bold relief; it must be relevant to concrete discursive contexts, yet abstract away from the particularities of such contexts; it must do justice to the complexity of reason-giving discourse, while bringing simplicity and clarity to our understanding of it.
A good way to reconcile these constraints is to model reason-giving discourse as a kind of game. After identifying a useful typology of moves, we clarify the conditions under which moves of each type are permitted. Finally, we characterize the normative implications of each move-type in terms of its “effects” on the distribution of discursive commitments and entitlements. Such a logic, I believe, can facilitate what Robert Brandom calls “deontic scorekeeping” – the keeping track of discursive commitments and entitlements (Brandom, 1994). Since this is an important part of resolution-oriented discourse, a logic of disputation can actually enhance our capacity to resolve disagreements dialogically.

Dialogical disputation begins when one party to a discussion expresses disagreement over, or an inability or unwillingness to go along with, some claim or assumption made by another. Before describing the process that ensues, we need to identify the dialectical resources available to the disputants. Already we know something important about this, for in order even to disagree, the interlocutors must first share a language. Donald Davidson has shown us that, to share a language, people must share a large number of beliefs in common (Davidson, 1984). To share a language is also to jointly recognize a large number of what Brandom calls “material inference proprieties” (Brandom, 1994). Put simply, there will be a variety of inferential transitions that both participants will be predisposed to recognize as appropriate or valid. We can depict this shared background – or “common ground,” as I like to call it – using a Venn diagram, as the intersection of two necessarily overlapping belief-sets. It is to elements of this set that participants must ultimately appeal in their attempts to gain dialectical leverage. Read more

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