ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Arguing For Bakhtin

ISSAlogo1998“Bakhtin’s thought is so many-sided and fertile that he is inevitably open to colonization by others.” David Lodge, After Bakhtin.

In a recent paper, J. Anthony Blair (1998) laments a proliferation of terms that appear to be employed without discrimination or distinction: ‘dialogue’, ‘dialogical’, ‘dialectic’, ‘dialectics’, and ‘dialectical’. While he doubts it will occur, Blair proposes that ‘dialectical’ be reserved for “the properties of all arguments related to their involving doubts or disagreements with at least two sides, and the term ‘dialogical’…for those belonging exclusively to turn-taking verbal exchanges.” Setting aside his pessimism, what Blair identifies amounts to a clear trend toward ‘dialectical’ or ‘dialogical’ models of argumentation, a trend that has become more pronounced particularly among informal logicians in the last few years (Cf. Gilbert, 1997; Johnson, 1996; Walton, 1996, 1997).[i]
Of course, emphasizing the two-sidedness or turn-taking nature of argumentation may not amount to very much. Douglas Walton’s centralizing of ‘dialogue’ in his pragmatic account means that the dialogue provides the context which will determine the argument by virtue of telling us how the set of inferences or propositions at its core is being used (1996:40-41). And Ralph Johnson’s recent focus on a dialectical tier exists in relation to an underlying illative tier which is the premise-conclusion part of the argument’s structure (1996:264). But with these senses, it is possible (though not necessarily the case) for dialogue-focussed or dialectical argumentation to involve no more than an exchange of distanced, monological positions (perhaps through turn-taking, perhaps in whole), where each side presents its argument for acceptance or rejection (Shotter, 1997). Were such to occur, the current drive for a more genuinely interactive or ‘involved’ perspective might be lost.[ii]
It is here that the dialogism of Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) seems particularly appropriate and in many ways an anticipation of current trends in argumentation theory (as with so much else). Shotter (1997) turns to Bakhtin’s views for an understanding of dialogical communication and argument within actual communities. I want to take this further and look for an actual perspective on argumentation, one that really captures the interactive nature of dialogue.

While Bakhtin was a philosopher of language and literature, it is primarily the latter that has been championed in the west where his theory of the novel has been particularly influential. But for argumentation theorists, there is much more to be culled from his ideas on language and communication generally. This paper will both explore what ‘arguing’ is for Bakhtin, showing how his general theory of speech and meaning implicates a particular concept of ‘argument’, and argue for Bakhtin’s role as an important figure in argumentation studies. I will approach the first task through paying attention to special features of Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism (here understood provisionally as the relationship of every utterance to other utterances). Extending beyond Shotter (1997), I derive a concept of argument totally embedded in context (no detached reconstruction of premises and conclusions can be true to it), where even the situation itself enters as a constitutive element. Arguments are essentially co-operative enterprises, opening up meanings to mutual (and third party) understanding, exploring others’ positions, and developing consensus.
Limited by the constraints of time and page-length, I illustrate the prospects for success with the second task by exploring ways in which Bakhtin anticipates an important aspect of Perelman’s work. In particular, I discuss Bakhtin’s treatment of audiences and the importance for him of the “hovering presence” behind conversation of a third part “superaddressee” (1986, 126)[iii]. This concept and Bakhtin’s associated discussion has compelling and instructive parallels with the “universal audience” of the New Rhetoric. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Usefulness Of Platitudes In Arguments About Conduct

ISSAlogo1998Excerpt from a School Board Election Debate
We need leaders who will listen and work with parents, teachers and administrators to provide the best possible education for our kids. Our children should always be the focus of our efforts, not Board behavior. Imagine the possibilities if we could tap the vision of every concerned parent, teacher and citizen to come up with a school system that reflects the best of all tha- that all of us have to offer. Sounds better than fighting with each other doesn’t it? In elections for public office, a candidate’s record of conduct will influence how citizens vote. Whether consideration of conduct (i.e., character, personality, communicative style) is reasonable and should affect citizens’ votes, or whether it should not, is neither an easy judgment call nor one about which involved parties usually agree. As a consequence, making arguments about others’ conduct can be delicate business. The purpose of this paper is to take a close look at one community’s arguments about conduct. The site: A school board election in a medium-sized school district in the Western United States. In this election that set records for voter turn out and spending, candidates did not agree as to what were (or should be) the focal issues. Incumbents considered substantive concerns about directions for education as the main issue; the non-incumbents considered process problems – how school board members had been and should be conducting themselves in making decisions – to be the main issue. The election resulted in a decisive victory for the non-incumbents.[i] As the local newspaper proclaimed in a front page quote from one victorious challenger: “I think this election result really sends a message that rudeness is something people don’t want to see in local officials.”[ii]
After providing background on the school district, the materials, and some key events that preceded the election, I focus on the debate that occurred among the seven candidates. In particular, I show that the non-incumbents’ arguments as to why they should be elected (and the incumbents defeated) were heavily reliant on platitudes about conduct. Platitudes, I claim, are useful, perhaps even necessary conversational devices, when a candidate is criticizing a fellow candidate’s conduct. They assign responsibility without explicitly so doing, they evoke particular events for an audience yet do not explicate how a person’s handling of the event was inappropriate, and they minimize the likelihood of counter charges.

Rocky Mountain School District’s School Board
Rocky Mountain School District serves a population of a quarter of a million people. Its main city of roughly 100,000 is the home of a research university that educates a good number of the teachers and administrators that staff its schools. The district is geographically diverse, including not only the university city that is the hub, but bedroom suburbs of the city, and difficult-to-reach mountain towns. Twenty-five thousand children attend its 54 different schools. School board meetings are open to the public, occur twice a month, and are broadcast on a local public channel. Meeting involve school board members, the superintendent, the school system’s attorney and other school district officials, as well as members of the public. The Board is comprised of seven members elected for four year terms, with half of the board up for election every two years. Following each election, the Board selects its president and other officers. In the November 1997 election that is the focus of this paper four positions were at stake with seven candidates running (one district had an uncontested election). Although candidates were required to live in the district from which they ran, citizens voted in every district’s contest. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Sustainable Development: New Paradigms In Discourse Linguistics

ISSAlogo1998The main concern of this presentation is to outline those tendencies in linguistic approach to discourse analysis as they are seen from the perspective of the new ideas of open systems. First, there will be discussed some major facts that are taken into account as background for dynamic analysis of texts: the idea of the Noosphere, preference of the term paradigm applied to dynamic analysis . Then we shall deal with three main tendencies in discourse linguistics connected with open systems which are all connected with reconstruction of discourse configurations that have an integral character. Finally we shall dwell on the main similarities that of discourse paradigms.

1. Sustainable development is a term and concept that implies certain interdisciplinary global approach of vision of nature and man by both sciences and the humanities. This term is one of the most radical ones that allows Prothagor’s old formula. ‘Man is a measure of all things’ to be understood in a different way at the turn of this millenium – man, being the measure should be concerned with reasonable attitudes to natural and social spheres of his activity so that man sustains his development. Antropocentric ideas of communication turn to Noocentric founded on the basis of dialogue systems. Modern complex social and political configurations in contemporary society bring forth the problem of communication on a very specific level – dialogue is considered to be not only an interactive means of information exchange between people but as a means of interactive activity between men, nature and mind. This interaction is carried through the language. The language becomes a certain liaison between man and different forms of life thus reflecting changes in types and methods of communication.
In Russia the idea of reasonable attitudes is connected with the concept of the Nooshere (“the sphere of reason”). The term was suggested by Eduourd le Roy (1870-1954) and Pierre Teilard de Chardin (1881-1955) and taken by Vladimir I.Vernadsky (1863-1945) when he came to Paris to work in Sorbonne. According to Vernadsky the Noosphere is a new evolutionary condition of the biosphere in which there should be met certain ecological and social orders. Vernadsky wrote that from evidence of global upheavals in both the natural and social indivisibility the only imperative is uniting humanity under the auspice of science. It was science that he ascribed a special role to in the transition to the Noosphere.
He thought that science has a strongest universal binding force as being the realm where humanity has appeared to make continuous progress. This sounds very idealistic, of course, but it should be born in mind that Vernadsky was the man who launched research programs on radioactivity and radioactive elements by founding the Radium Research Institute and he was very much concerned with the utilization of atomic energy. His theory thus stands at the very intersection of the most powerful trends of the modern and postmodern world. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Quotations As Arguments In Literary Reviews

ISSAlogo19981. Introduction
Literal quotations can be used by reviewers to substantiate their value judgements on the novel[i] they discuss. Quoting is one of the four ways of presenting data that support these judgements. Besides quotations, reviewers can also use non-literal examples, such as ‘The characters are stereotypical’ to argue that the book is not very original (stereotypical characters being an example of an unoriginal book). A summary of the story is another way of supporting the judgement. Showing that a book is not very original can also be done by paraphrasing and thus summarising the story; the same story which may have been used in other novels. A fourth kind of data reviewers can present, is an ‘abstracted summary’. In that case reviewers abstract from what is going on in the novel to what the novel is about. They focus on themes and motives: ‘The novel is about personal freedom, conflicting with social norm and values”.
Quotations can be seen as the ‘purest’ kind of data that can be used to substantiate the judgement in literary reviews because they are the most factual and less interpreted. Therefore, theoretically, quotations are ‘necessary’ for resolving the dispute between reviewers and the readers of their article. The reason for this necessity is that the readers do not know anything about the object being judged (a new novel). Therefore, reviewers should present the data on which they base their judgement. Otherwise, readers cannot adopt a critical attitude towards the arguments that reviewers present to support their value judgements, nor can they decide whether they accept the reviewer’s argumentation, disagree with reviewers, or form their own opinion about the reviewed novel. In addition, reviewers cannot make their standpoint acceptable if their discussion partners do not know the data on which the judgement on the novel is based.
According to F.H. van Eemeren and R. Grootendorst it is essential for resolving a dispute that the discussion partners share common starting-points: jointly accepted propositions or propositions which can be made acceptable by testing them, for example by consulting an encyclopedia or a dictionary. Without these common starting-points it will not be possible to decide when the antagonist is obliged to accept the argumentation of the protagonist, and thus the protagonist will not be able to defend her/his standpoint successfully and the dispute cannot be resolved.
“If applying this procedure (intersubjective identification procedure or intersubjective testing procedure, TU) produces a positive result, the antagonist is obliged to accept the propositional content of the illocutionary act complex argumentation performed by the protagonist. If on the other hand it produces a negative result, then the protagonist is obliged to retract his illocutionary act complex” (Van Eemeren & Grootendorst, 1984: 165-168).
Quotations can also be used purely informative, and interpretative. For example, a reviewer may quote a passage to give the reader an impression of the style of the book. Informative quotations characterise of the book without judging it. Quotations can also be used to support an interpretation. In that case a quotation is an argument that substantiates a claim about a characteristic which does not clearly appear from the novel, without judging it. Interpretative quotations are presented to show that the interpretation is correct, that it is allowed to characterise the (aspect or part of the) book in this way. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – On Conversational Constraint

ISSAlogo1998In this paper I discuss what I believe to be a serious problem in our understanding of conductive arguments. This is the problem of deep disagreement. I then consider, only to reject, the proposal that we handle deep disagreement by means of Conversational Constraint. A better title for my paper would have been “Against Conversational Constraint”.
Conductive argument is now recognised as a separate kind of argument, distinct from deductive, inductive and analogical arguments. We have a good account of the structure of conductive arguments and helpful suggestions as to how they should be evaluated. Anyone who has tried to teach the analysis and evaluation of arguments to students will admit that this is progress. We can now actually say something about a simple argument like the following: “Hume is not a sceptic, for although he argues that our basic beliefs are not rationally justified, he rails against classical sceptics, and he maintains that we are as much determined to believe as we are to think and feel.” This example of a conductive argument is due to Trudy Govier, who has done a splendid job of rescuing Carl Wellman’s “unreceived view” on conductive argument. Wellman gave his account of conductive argument in the early 1970s. (Wellman 1971). Somehow, it never caught on. In her 1985 paper “Two Unreceived Views About Reasoning And Argument” Govier introduced conductive argument to informal logicians. (Govier 1987). Subsequently she developed and refined our understanding of conductive argument well beyond Wellman’s original efforts. Obviously, Wellman and Govier – and some others – did not discover or invent a new kind of argument: conductive arguments have always been around, in the guise of “good reasons arguments” or “pros and cons arguments”, but they were just not given the attention they deserved.
What, then, is a conductive argument? My brief sketch is based on Govier’s discussion in her A Practical Study of Argument. (Govier 1996: 388-408) The salient points are:
Firstly, a conductive argument has a convergent – as opposed to a linked – support pattern. This means that each premise supports the conclusion on its own and independently of any other premises. Removal of a supporting premise, however, weakens the argument; addition of supporting premises strengthens the argument. The question may be raised why we should regard a convergent argument as a single argument rather than as two separate arguments for the same conclusion. One answer is that in fact the two premises are offered jointly. A better answer, though, is to point out that when we want to decide whether the premises indeed support the conclusion we cannot but consider them jointly. Although independent, the premises somehow add up.
Secondly, the premises of a conductive argument do not entail the conclusion. This should be apparent from my Hume example. The premises could be true and the conclusion unacceptable or false. However, the premises are relevant to the conclusion; and the premises certainly make the conclusion plausible. A good conductive argument is not – this should be stressed – a valid argument in disguise. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Rational Comprehension Of Argumentative Texts

ISSAlogo1998The goal of this paper is to sketch a new method of analytical comprehension of theoretical texts in humanitarian sciences. The proposed method of research is based on semiological principles of text comprehension. Both content and form are essential for comprehending argumentative texts. A text recipient is viewed as a rational subject trying to detect all the components of the argument he/she considers and thus to see if the argument is logically consistent. Elementary and higher level argumentative units of the text are discovered by applying a modified S.Toulmin’s model of argumentative functions (Toulmin, 1958).
Studying the problem of understanding depends on a method accepted, on a researcher’s background, and on a field of research. Thus, approaches in psycholinguistics can differ from those in hermeneutics, literary criticism or philosophy. Scientific method is not the only one to be applied in solving the problem of the essence and mechanisms of understanding; it can be supplemented by other methods. All that means that both the topic and the object of research matter in studying understanding. By the topic I mean a particular kind of message for understanding. By the object I mean a chosen method and particular aspects of the message to be studied.
The topic of my study is a research text in humanitarian sciences. The object of my study is a problem of understanding a research monologue text. By text I mean the written form of discourse, as opposed to speech as its oral form. A research text is organically argumentative, i.e. constructed on the basis of certain principles of reasoning (irrespective of the field it belongs to). That is why research text understanding is essentially understanding of the text argumentation. By argumentation I mean reasoning, both in its formal-logical and informal-logical aspects (rhetoric is thus excluded from argumentation, which is conditioned by the specific topic under consideration). Argumentation is viewed here as a social symbolic sub-system, with the system being a language – natural or artificial, depending on which version of argumentation is chosen for consideration. Like any human knowledge, argumentation as a symbolic sub-system is generated by the power of human mind. Constructive sign-forming abilities of cogitant individuals are unitary. This, however, does not mean that all cogitant individuals create identical cognitive structures: variety of constructs at an abstract level reflects specific categories managing the process; these categories can be purely logical or argumentative.

An important factor in producing or changing symbolic systems is acceptance or refutation of a knowledge structure, respectively. If an old system of knowledge is refuted or is found inapplicable for describing or explaining an object, it is substituted by a new or a modified one. Being social (inter-personal), such competitive cognitive systems are applicable for describing and explaining phenomena. Therefore it is possible to postulate coexistence of competitive cognitive structures/systems, none of which, as a product of human mind and interaction, can be absolutely true. Consequently, argumentation theories can be object-oriented and object-specific; they can also be competitive and differently plausible/valid for a specific object (some of them can be better, others worse).
A modification of rationalism is taken as a basis of method here. The modification states that though there is truth, it is practically unattainable. The theories can and must be discussed and refuted since any of them is only a further step to attaining the truth. Falsifiability of theories leads to falsifiability of particular claims and judgments. Taking into account the unique character of personal experience, we can state the uniqueness of scholars’ theories. Read more

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