ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Shifting Legitimation Strategies In The Public Sphere: The Case Of The National Endowment For The Arts

ISSAlogo19981. Introduction
Public discourse surrounding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is both perplexing and complex. This discourse is marked as argument and is further characterized by a principle of dissensus (Willard, 1986). The disagreement is increasingly debated publicly (most visibly in the American press and United States (US) congressional hearings) where differing parties oftentimes exchange vitriolic and polarized arguments concerning the legitimacy of the NEA. This battle is often demarcated along political, economic, cultural, and ideological lines, which address the interests of the US government in subsidizing non-profit art. Analysis demonstrates that these arguments address the most powerful and influential groups in the public sphere; accordingly, analysis also uncovers the characteristics of the particular public whose set of knowledge, symbols, and ideas are most legitimate. An understanding of these arguments is informed by Jurgen Habermas’s conception of the bourgeois public sphere (1962/1995), further elaborated to include differing and contending publics.
Yet, analysis of the public discourse concerning the NEA indicates that strategic arguments are employed in a manner less indicative the idea of a consensus building process: the idea resting on a “communicative practice…that rests on the intersubjective recognition of criticizable validity claims” (1981, p.17). Instead, the NEA employs a legitimation strategy that shifts its arguments towards the public who hold the most power in the public sphere. The strategy of the arguer to tailor a message to pre-conceived publics also points to a process wherein publics hold and loose legitimacy. In this respect, legitimation tends to mean the process whereby one public’s set of symbols, knowledge, and ideas, gains power and influence over another public or other publics. Also inherent in this process is the de-legitimation of the public losing power and influence in the public sphere. I will show that investigation of the NEA’s case is best informed by an emphasis upon such legitimation strategies.

The American Canvas report released by the NEA on 16 October 1997 is a policy proposal whose rhetorical nature employs strategic appeals to the most influential and powerful segments of the public sphere. The American Canvas is a document widely distributed, free of charge, and described as an “analysis and distillation of the major issues we face in the non-profit arts….[raising] red flags about the current state of the arts in America….[concluding] with challenges and opportunities for everyone in the arts to consider” (Larson, 1997, p.6). The American Canvas and other texts indicative of this public issue serve as the main data for this project.
The crux of the disagreement concerns the role of the United States’ government funding for the non-profit arts. Currently, for the Fiscal Year (FY) 1998, the NEA received the same budget ($99.5 million) as it did in the two previous fiscal years; however, appropriations have dramatically dropped from an all time high of $175,954,680 in 1992 (NEA Annual Report, 1996) [inflationary adjustments not factored in my account of appropriation figures from FY1966-1996]. NEA appropriation hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate for FY 1998 were marked by conflicting motions of re-authorization, phasing out, and termination, and the resulting budget was still 39% less then the amount  requested by President Clinton. And although the NEA’s total budget accounts for “less than one one hundredth of 1% of the federal budget” (, 6/10/1998),  these debates are quite impassioned and highly publicized. Many officials and constituents still adhere to the message of the NEA’s foundation in 1965; detailing that support for the arts and humanities are “appropriate matters of concern to the national government” (National Foundation of the Arts and the Humanities, 1965). Yet others see no place for the government in the funding of the arts, which represents yet another example of the over-reaching hand of government in a realm which would do fine if left to private sector funding. The issue most central to this paper concerns the NEA’s legitimacy among the conflicting artistic “elite” public and the “populist” public. This question will be addressed in detail below. But all these concerns contribute to a legitimation crisis for the NEA. Even if pending appropriation bills are passed reauthorizing the NEA, questioning the NEA’s legitimacy has become an annual drama that has pervaded many dimensions of discourse in the public sphere. Examining this public discourse is critical, for the outcome of these deliberations involve real decisions and real choices, arguably with major cultural and economic implications. Ultimately, they define the role of governmental support for the non-profit arts in American society.
This paper has two main parts. First, I will define and operationalize my inquiry of argument in the public sphere. Second, I will demonstrate how the American Canvas represents a strategic shift from an “elite” public towards a “populist” public as indicative of a process of legitimation. Read more

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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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