ISSA Proceedings 2014 – The Very Idea Of Ethical Arguments

Abstract: If non-cognitivism is true, an ethical argument cannot be a sequence of propositions as traditionally understood. I take steps towards developing an account of ethical argument that, as far as it goes, is, I believe, compatible with a particular version of non-cognitivism, namely expressivism.
Keywords: attitudinal consistency, attitudinal relevance, attitudinal validity, cogency, expressivism, non-cognitivism, propositionalism.

1. Introduction
I begin with an account of non-cognitivism:
According to non-cognitivism, there are no moral facts or truths…. Moral judgements don’t attempt to, and don’t ever, state facts. Their purpose isn’t to describe any sort of moral reality. Instead, they serve as expressive vehicles, primarily giving vent to our emotions, prescribing courses of action, or expressing our non-cognitive commitments. As such, they aren’t the sort of things fit to be considered either true or false. (Shafer-Landau, 2003, p. 18)

[F]or… non-cognitivists, there is nothing that can make moral judgments true – no moral facts or moral reality that they could possibly correctly represent, nothing they are true of (ibid., p. 20, note 8).

Starting from the idea that there is no moral reality that agents are trying to appreciate or depict in their moral judgements, non-cognitivists have analyzed such judgements as the expression of non-cognitive states (ibid., p. 153).

This last point is worth emphasizing. Non-cognitivists don’t start with the claim that moral judgments are expressive vehicles; rather, their expressive analysis of moral judgments is their alternative to the view that the purpose of moral judgments is to describe some sort of moral reality, and is motivated by their metaphysical claim that there is no such reality.
If, as non-cognitivism holds, moral judgments (or ethical judgments – I will use these terms interchangeably) are neither true nor false, then they aren’t propositions as traditionally understood, for as traditionally understood a proposition is either true or false, and this is the view I will take here.
If ethical judgments aren’t propositions, then ethical arguments aren’t arguments in what Woods, Irvine, and Walton (2004) call “the narrow sense,” namely “sequences of propositions, one of which is the argument’s conclusion, the rest of which are the argument’s premisses” (p. 2). There are more than a few textbooks which take arguments as such to be propositional. If arguments as such are propositional, then ethical arguments are impossible if noncognitivism is true. On one view, this is a problem for textbooks that take arguments as such to be propositional; on another view, it’s a problem for non-cognitivism. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2014 – The Synthetic Function Of Doxastic Dialectics

Abstract: Regarding the synthetic function of doxastic dialectics, the present investigation will approach a single aspect: the metaphysical transubstantiation. We intend to explain, in personal terms, this idea which was introduced by P. Grice (1991) and to which we have briefly made reference several times. Grice’s idea supports our hermeneutic argument: the semantic nature of belief, crystallized by the dialectical mechanism of controversy, acquires persuasive prestige owing to a paradigmatic transfer: from a discursive paradigm to an axiological one. The demonstration will develop the thesis according to which belief has a self-referential dimension.

1. General remarks
1.1. Remarks regarding doxastic dialectics
At the beginning of our exploration of doxastic (/belief) field (Amel, 1999), we took for granted the cognitive autonomy of an alternative to epistemic truth, that of doxastic truth, which we call the persuasive truth[i]. In contrast with the epistemic truth, which represents the logical determination of episteme, the doxastic truth represents the ontological density of doxa, intelligibly perceived in its meaning. We should emphasize the following two aspects: a. regarding the field of investigation – in our opinion, doxastic dialectics does not refer to the pre-epistemic stage of truth, but is limited to the field of supersensible reality (the ‘reality’ of values), a cognition meaning-oriented; b. regarding participants’ bona fide – the condition, in virtue of which doxastic dialectics develops its investigations, excludes the premise that notices a cleavage of justification, as A.Kasher calls it[ii] (1986), namely, excludes any kind of contextually distorted utterance of belief.

The remarks regarding doxastic dialectics are selected from our previous studies about the respective issue (Amel 1999, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014):
1. Doxastic dialectics is the exclusive procedure that establishes the fundaments of axiology.
2. Generally speaking, the dialectical study of persuasive truth is a kind of semantic logic, trying to explain how to determine the doxastic meaning.
3. The semantic logic compatible with the doxastic field is based on a rational procedure that follows, in hermeneutical terms, the process of understanding (the meaning), not knowing (the truth).
4. From the philosophical point of view, the rationality of the meaning investigation is pursued dialectically in both senses of the concept of ‘dialectics’:
a. ‘dialectics’ as antithetic reasoning, challenging the subjects’ cognitive intentionality;
b. ‘dialectics’ as a formative process, during which the pragmatic subjectivity gets phenomenological dimension.

1.2. The goal of the present investigation
1. The investigation has in focus the synthetic mechanism of doxastic/belief dialectics.
In the first study about doxastic dialectics (Amel, 1999), we have mentioned three theoretical functions of doxastic (/belief) dialectics: the dissociative, the justificatory and the synthetic function.
2. Having in view the subjective and rhetorical involvement of the persuasive truth, we find profitable to approach the ‘rationality’ of doxastic thinking in phenomenological terms. With Husserl, belief is a thetic act, namely a ‘speech act’ in consciousness. Phenomenology acknowledges the cognitive priority of belief (Husserl, 1931: 301), a definition that supports our dissociative approach. From cognitive point of view, the dissociative function proves its importance, because it establishes cognitive intervals between belief – an idea posited in consciousness, doxa – the conceptual representation of the respective idea of value in reason, and opinion – corresponding to the discursive, namely the contingent form of belief. In our previous studies the attention was especially focused on the mechanism of decidability in doxastic dialectics, by demonstrating that the justificatory procedure requires operations on the three levels mentioned above.
3. The present investigation, which has in focus only the synthetic mechanism of doxastic/belief dialectics, will approach a single aspect: the metaphysical transubstantiation. We intend to explain, in personal terms, this idea which was mentioned by P.Grice (1991) and to which we have briefly made reference several times. Initially, the concept of metaphysical transubstantiation gave us the possibility to offer a general explanation of the dialectical mechanism of doxa. Grice’s idea supported our hermeneutical argument: the semantic nature of the ‘truth’ of beliefs, structured by antithetic rationality, gets persuasive prestige owing to a paradigmatic transfer: from a pragmatic paradigm to an axiological one. Due to the phenomenological perspective in which our enterprise approaches the doxastic dialectics, the concept of metaphysical transubstantiation will be treated inside the laboratory of the hermeneutical synthesis, which is the human consciousness. The metaphysical transubstantiation becomes the explanatory key of the meaning enquiry of beliefs, by revealing the rationality of the hermeneutical mechanism.
4. For a comprehensive understanding of the doxastic rationality, our demonstration will develop the thesis in conformity with which belief has a self-referential dimension. During doxastic dialectics, subjectivity acquires cognitive dimension, progressively becoming conscious of it. In phenomenological terms, subjectivity represents the origin of the thinking activity. It holds the power of translating the sensitive matters into intelligible ones. The beliefs’ contents, experienced and assumed by the subject/the speaker in his consciousness, represent thetic acts (acts in consciousness). The reference to the metaphysical transubstantiation supports the phenomenological explanation of the MORAL OBJECT[iii]. During the doxastic dialectics beliefs acquire ‘objectivity’. If Grice’s concept regarding metaphysical transubstantiation is conceived ‘in extenso’, the cognitive dialectics – meaning oriented – goes through more than one operation of cognitive synthesis. The self-referentiality of belief is finally crystallized in the form of the MORAL SUBJECT (=self-consciousness), ontologically reoriented.
5. The deep logic of belief dialectics explains the dynamics of self cognition. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2014 – What Could Virtue Contribute To Argumentation?

Abstract: In this paper[i] I argue that a virtue approach to argumentation would not commit the ad hominem fallacy provided that the object study of our theory is well delimited. A theory of argumentative virtue should not focus on argument appraisal, but on those traits that make an individual achieve excellence in argumentative practices. Within this framework, argumentation theory could study argumentative behaviour in a broader sense, especially from an ethical point of view.

Keywords: ad hominem, arguers, ethics, informal logic, pragma-dialectics, virtue.

1. Introduction
A virtue approach, characteristic of ancient ethical theories, such as Plato’s, Aristotle’s and the Stoics’, is agent-based instead of act-based; it does not assess the moral value of isolated actions performed by an individual, but focuses instead on the character and traits of an individual that make her either virtuous or vicious. Within this paradigm, the crucial question is not “What should I do in this situation?” but “What kind of person should I be?”.

Virtue ethics revived in the second half of the 20th century, attracting interest to the notion of virtue from within other fields than ethics. The most remarkable success is the case of virtue epistemology. Arguably, several of the virtues proposed in virtue epistemology – such as intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance and, most conspicuously, fairness in argument evaluation (Zagzebski, 1996, p. 114) – are not only epistemic but also intellectual in a broad sense, and thus it should come as no surprise that this approach has finally caught the attention of argumentation theorists. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2014 – Don’t Drink That Water!: The Role Of Counter-Intuitive Science In Conspiracy Arguments

Abstract: In this essay, we focus on one of the most persistent examples of the ‘intuitive validation of conspiracy’ type of argument—the conspiracy theory that claims that fluoridating public water supplies is an attack on public safety. We argue that the controversy surrounding water fluoridation highlights the potential for conspiracy proponents to supplant complicated phenomena with intuitive observational data used to support the opposite of the scientific consensus.

Keywords: conspiracy theories, counter-intuitive arguments, water fluoridation

1. Introduction
How could President Kennedy’s head move backward if he was shot from behind? How could the American flag wave on the moon if there was no atmosphere to move it? How could the Twin Towers have collapsed on 9/11 at the speed of free fall if there were no bombs in the buildings? Although these three conspiracy theories span decades of history and locations to the moon and back, they all share a common argumentative feature: they rely on intuition to argue against the scientific explanations for the complicated phenomena involved. In this essay, we focus on one of the most persistent examples of this ‘intuitive validation of conspiracy’ type of argument – the conspiracy theory that claims that fluoridating public water supplies is an attack on public safety. We argue that the controversy surrounding water fluoridation highlights the potential for conspiracy proponents to supplant complicated phenomena with intuitive observational data used to support the opposite of the scientific consensus. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2014 – Conductive Argumentation, Degrees Of Confidence, And The Communication Of Uncertainty

Abstract: The paper argues that there is an epistemic obligation to communicate the appropriate degree of confidence when asserting conclusions in conductive argumentation. Contrary to the position of some theorists, we argue that such conclusions frequently are, and should be expressed with appropriate qualifications. As an illustration, we discuss the case of the Italian scientists tried for failing to convey to the public appropriate warnings of the risks of the earthquake in L’Aquila.

Keywords: conductive argumentation, judgment confidence, expression of uncertainty

1. Prologue
On April 6, 2009, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck L’Aquila, Abruzzo, resulting in considerable devastation and the death of 300 people. Seven Italian officials and scientists were subsequently put on trial for manslaughter. The accusation was that scientists presented incomplete, inconsistent information which falsely assured the public and caused the deaths of 30 residents. The usual practice when an earthquake was likely was for residents to sleep outside, but it was alleged that because of the assurance, these individuals remained in their houses and were killed in the quake (Ashcroft 2012). The prosecution argued that the assessment of risk communicated to the public was unjustifiably optimistic and that lives could have been saved had people not been persuaded by the assurances to remain in their houses (Hooper 2012). In 2012, the scientists were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison.

We will return to this case later. We have no intention to try to evaluate its merits, but we shall examine the issues it raises regarding the obligation to communicate an appropriate degree of certainty or uncertainty in one’s judgments. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2014 – The Integration Of Pragma-Dialectics And Collaborative Learning Research: Argumentation Dialogue, Externalisation And Collective Thinking

Abstract: This paper describes extensions of pragma-dialectical theory for analysing learning processes in students’ argumentation dialogues. It is argued that although pragma-dialectics is the most appropriate theory in this context, it needs to be ‘psychologised’ by the consideration of additional discursive, dialogical, epistemological, interpersonal and affective dimensions of dialogue. In conclusion, prospects for new rapprochement between argumentation theory and psychology are discussed.

Keywords: collaborative learning, argumentation dialogue, pragma-dialectics, psychology, externalisation principle

1. Introduction
Over the past two decades, a specialised subfield of collaborative learning research (Dillenbourg, Baker, Blaye & O’Malley, 1996) has emerged, called “collaborative argumentation-based learning” (see, for example, the collective works: Andriessen & Coirier, 1999; Andriessen, Baker & Suthers, 2003; Muller Mirza & Perret-Clermont, 2009). Its general aims are to understand how and what students could learn (apart from argumentation competencies themselves) from engaging in pedagogical activities based on argumentation, such as debates, writing argumentative texts, or joint problem-solving that involving spontaneous phases of argumentative interaction. However, collaborative argumentation-based learning research has been mostly carried out either on the basis of everyday notions of what “argument” is, or else by drawing on a limited set of argumentation theories (e.g. the model of Toulmin, 1958) that that are not necessarily well adapted to the task at hand, i.e. analysing argumentative interaction.

This paper explores the relevance and utility of the pragma-dialectical theory of argumentation (e.g. van Eemeren & Grootendorst, 1984) for analysing students’ argumentation dialogues in a way that brings to light interactive learning processes. I propose firstly that the pragma-dialectical theory of argumentation is the most appropriate approach to analysing students’ argumentation dialogues given — quite simply — that it is a theory of argumentation in dialogue, and that the components of the theory are generally applicable to the data. Secondly, I propose that in order to understand collaborative arguing to learn, within a specific domain, notably with respect to conceptual elaboration, a broad pragma-dialectical framework is also well fitted to the task, provided that additional dimensions of social interaction are taken into account. For the empirical support of the relevance of these dimensions to analysing students’ argumentation dialogues, this paper draws on the author’s previously published work (for example, Baker, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2009) on the analysis of corpora of students’ problem solving dialogues in physics, biology and geography. Read more

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