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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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Concept Of Argumentation In Peter Singer’s ‘Practical Ethics’

Peter Singer’s “Practical Ethics” is – at least in Germany – one of the philosophical books of the last decades having gained the biggest public attention. It is discussed rather controversly by people with most different accademic and social backrounds. But so far, it seems to me, there hasn’t been an elaboration from the perspective of argumentation theory. This is surprising as Singer explicitly conceives ethics in a way that “allows reason an important role in ethical decisions.”(PE 8)
I agree with Singer on this as far as the words used are concerned; but I am not sure, if we understand them in the same way. There are several related questions to answer that will help to understand, what it may mean to allow reason i.e. argumentation an important role in ethical decisions: How does Singer argue himself? What emerges thereby as his notion of argumentation? Are there alternatives? What are the effects of the different conceptions of argumentation on the notion of ethics?
As these questions mix very much I won’t be able to answer them separately one by one. Starting with the first I will touch the others in order to come up with a more or less round picture of the whole issue.
My paper has four sections. The first section extracts argumentative traits from Singer’s book. The second one introduces two concepts of ‘argumentation’. The third section will confront the argumentative traits with these concepts revealing differing evaluations. In the last section I will show relations between formal argumentative aspects of the “Practical Ethics” and material ethical ones.

1. Argumentative Traits in Singer’s “Practical Ethics”
There is one pivot in Singer’s ethical thinking. It is what he calls “the principle of equal consideration of interests” (ECI). The ECI, he asserts, is the adaequate expression of universalisability and a sound basis of equality. (PE 19) It formulates the ethical postulate not to be selfish and it incorporates – and by this is intended to be resistent against – the fact that men are individuals and differ as such.
Singer grounds this principle on a kind of utilitarianism enabling him to say: “The essence of the principle of equal consideration of interests is that we give equal weight in our moral deliberations to the like interests of all those affected by our actions.” (PE 19) Singer renounces arguing profoundly for his utilitarian position. He admits that his view “is not the only possible view of ethics” (PE 8) and he maintains that it “may be treated as no more than a statement of the assumptions” (PE 8) on which his elaborations are based. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – You Think, I Know: Argumentation In Self-help Counseling

ISSAlogo19981. Introduction
As a hortatory genre, self-help counseling books aim at influencing readers’ conduct. Regarding their obligatory semantic structure (Halliday & Hasan 1989), these texts are characterized by four main components:
a. establishment of the authority/credibility of the author,
b. presentation of a problem/situation,
c. issuing of one or more commands,
d. resort to motivation (Meurer 1998).
In this paper I explore the role of evaluative strategies typically occurring within two of these semantic components of the hortatory schema: motivation for readers to accept authors’ arguments and establishment of authors’ credentials.
I focus on the notion of status evaluation (Hunston 1993a, 1993b, 1993c, 1994), applying it to the analysis of a typical sample of self-help books, namely, Calm Down: How to Cope With Frustration and Anger, (by Paul Hauck, an American clinical psychologist. Sheldon Press, London, 1974, 8th impression, 1993). The analysis investigates how this author uses explicit and implicit evaluative strategies in order to
a. strengthen his Proposed Claims and thus motivate readers to adopt them,
b. establish and maintain his credentials as a counseling persona.

What follows is subdivided into four sections: section 2 discusses the notion of evaluation; section 3 investigates the role of evaluation as a form of reader motivation in the conflict between Hauck and characters presented in case histories reported in the book; section 4 investigates aspects of evaluation and its relation to authors’ credentials; and section 5 presents the concluding remarks.

2. Evaluation
The term evaluation has been adopted in a number of strands of discourse analysis to encapsulate the general notion that, in addition to information, every utterance carries a certain ‘orientation towards or an opinion about that information’ (Hunston 1993a: 98). Ten years ago, as also observed by Hunston, Stubbs (1986) urged linguists to provide – ‘in a matter of prolonged field work’ – for a description of language use that would ‘take into account the attitude or evaluation that is encoded in every utterance’ (Hunston 1993a: 98). Hunston (1993a, 1993b, 1993c, 1994) has proposed a model of analysis where evaluation is ‘operated along three different parameters’: status or degree of certainty (certain-uncertain), value (good-bad), and relevance (important-unimportant). For the purposes of this paper, I will explore the notion of status evaluation only.
Status evaluation has to do with how certain or uncertain the author believes a given proposition in her/his text is regarding the type of information or knowledge represented by that proposition. Hunston (1993c: 120) defines status evaluation this way: ‘The status assigned to a proposition indicates where it is located in terms of the process of knowledge construction, for example, whether it is an observation, an experimental result, an interpretation or a conclusion.’ To grant higher status to a proposition is to evaluate a claim as superior to another claim based on its higher degree of certainty as a piece of information or a particular instance of knowledge. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Science And Rationalism In Warranting Assent: Examination Of Congressional Environmental Arguments

ISSAlogo1998In 1994, the new Republican majority in Congress began an effort to shift America’s environmental policy. The Republicans offered Americans a “Contract With America” (CWA), a list of legislation the Republican’s vowed to pass. The “Contract” offered among other things, promises of a balanced budget, a scaling down of bureaucratic regulations and most important to this project, an alteration in environmental policy (Gosselin, 1995; Phillips, 1995). Republicans argued that rollbacks in environmental legislation were made in order to offset the waste of governmental over-regulation (Byrne & Rebuffoni, 1995, p. 1A). It was proposed “that local people are better stewards of the land, that environmentalists care more about nonhumans than humans and that cutbacks would help balance the budget” (Byrne & Rebuffoni, 1995, p. 1A). Regulatory reform was argued as a way to loosen environmental regulations and cut cleanup aid, in order to stimulate economic growth and control governmental spending (Rebovich, 1995).
The purpose of this essay is to analyze the argumentative strategies of the environmental debate in the 104th Congress. It will examine how the Republicans used the concept of “Sound Science,” as a catalyst for environmental reform. Specifically, two questions are posed:
(1) What role does “Sound Science” serve in altering environmental legislation. Specific attention will be paid to how “science” as a rational enterprise serves to justify environmental rollbacks and decenter environmentalists’ claims.
(2) What role does “definition” play in public argument.
In making these arguments, this project examines Republican’s rhetoric in the Congressional Record from November 1, 1995 to 1996 – the beginning of the use of “Sound Science” to the end of the 104th session of Congress. This study will first discuss the role of definition in argument. It will then turn to a detailed examination of how the term “Sound Science” was rhetorically constructed and employed in environmental debate during the 104th Congress. It will be argued that “Sound Science” was a justification for repealing environmental legislation. Finally, some important theoretical explanations for argumentation scholars will be suggested.

1. The role of definition in public argument
The purpose of this section is to reveal how definitions are used and their implications in public argument. The intent is to focus on how definitions become epistemological, creating and maintaining public knowledges. Additionally, this section will evaluate how definitions serve to legitimate and marginalize particular perspectives.
There are several implications to the study of definition in public argument. Initially, definition provides a way of knowing. Herrick (1995) posited that: “To define is to advance a meaning or classification for a word, person, object or act” (p. 143). However, the complexity of symbolic meanings extends beyond the act of individuals attributing meaning. Edelman (1964) explained that: The meanings, however, are not in the symbols. They are in society and therefore in men [sic]. Political symbols bring out in concentrated form those particular meanings and emotions which the members of a group create and reinforce in each other. There is nothing about any symbol that requires that it stand for only one thing. (p. 11) Our knowledges become integrally intertwined with the terminology that we use. Insofar as we can shift our term usage, we would correspondingly shift our orientation and knowledge toward an object or action. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Denying The Argument Of Indifference: Reclaiming The Possibility Of Intimacy In Discourse

ISSAlogo1998Contrary to the cliche, technology has been successful in making the world a much larger place. Technology has opened up places and interfaces where, literally and figuratively, no person has gone before. From collaboration within multi-cultural task forces, to empowering the oppressed through education, to debating the succession of the next Dali Lama, we are inundated with intriguing information and we have relatively informed opinions about what we know. In turn, the way we “read” each other, our skills in relationship and our competence in conflict become more and more crucial to productive, if not always peaceful progress. We are, individually and as social groups, involved in more and various critical situations than we have ever been before.
As the future promises more opportunity for diverse interaction and as technology falsely promises to bring us closer together simply because we have greater access to one another, it is up to us as social and political beings to work out how that access will transfer (or not) to intimacy, and conflict to productivity. The task that obviously follows such opportunities and challenges is one of argument: How do we communicate what we believe is best and respond productively, in turn, to the conflicts that such beliefs engender? One branch of argument theory has tended to overlook the quality of relationship between interlocutors in its attempt to reduce such relationships to formal logic – overlaying a mathematical function on the face of humanity. Another branch of argument theory (following the lead of other academic scholarship) has given itself over to a postmodern ethic where any notion of objectivity is simply the fool of subjectivity’s reigning court and competing ideals and truths are no more than socially constructed opinion.
Relying upon formal logic, conflict is simply an error; using the postmodern ethic to inform argument studies, conflict is all that’s possible. The problem here is that our theory often leaves us unwittingly empty handed. Argument theory that attempts to allow real solutions to real problems emerge, must do more than figure or tolerate; it must, by definition, be discontent with passive disagreement.
I would like to make a case for the possibility of intimacy in argument – one that affirms the possibility of knowing the other in meaningful, if imperfect ways. I suggest that we adopt an epistemological model that rejects the false dichotomy which characterizes knowing the other as either impossible or inevitable. We might embrace, instead, intimacy, or a willingness to fully engage the other, even (or especially) in conflict. This model of knowing would recognize the other as an integral, autonomous member of a community of fellow truth seekers, willing and capable of the intercourse of productive dialogue. Intimacy requires that we recognize that we are in relation, and yet also in relationship.
At the time I began to study argument in earnest I also began an intensive study of Paulo Freire’s theories of education. Freire devised a method of teaching illiterates in the North East of Brazil based upon his philosophy that, in learning to read and write, students and teachers could become active participants in their education by thinking and acting as subjects of their own existence, not objects of someone else’s. Freire describes a “culture of silence” of the dispossessed, and he challenges students to think critically about their selfhood and the social situation in which they find those selves. Read more

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