ISSA Proceedings 2014 ~ That’s No Argument! The Ultimate Criticism?
Abstract: What if in discussion the critic refuses to recognize an emotionally expressed (alleged) argument of her interlocutor as an argument? In this paper, we shall deal with this reproach, which taken literally amounts to a charge of having committed a fallacy of non-argumentation. As such it is a very strong, if not the ultimate, criticism, which even carries the risk of abandonment of the discussion and can, therefore, not be made without burdening oneself with correspondingly strong obligations. We want to specify the fallacies of non-argumentation and their dialectic, i.e., the proper way to criticize them, the appropriate ways for the arguer to react to such criticism, and the appropriate ways for the critic to follow up on these reactions. Among the types of fallacy of non-argumentation, the emphasis will be on the appeal to popular sentiments (argumentum ad populum). Our aim is to reach, for cases of (alleged) non-argumentation, a survey of dialectical possibilities. By making the disputants themselves responsible for the place of emotion in their dialogues, we hope to contribute to a further development of the theory of dialectical obligations.
Keywords: Abandonment of discussion, Ad populum, Criticism, Dialogue, Emotion, Fallacy, Non-Argumentation, Ultimate criticism
In this paper, we want to study the so-called fallacies of non-argumentation and the corresponding kind of fallacy criticism: the accusation of having presented no argument at all. This may count as a sort of ultimate criticism.
Generally, fallacy criticisms point out a problem and ask for repair so that in a metadialogue (a dialogue about the dialogue) one may deal with the problem. But an accusation of “non-argumentation” denies that there even is an argument. Therefore it seems to leave no room for any amendments or further discussion. Let us look at an example. It’s from the ongoing discussion about gay marriage.
When last year the Republican Senator Rob Portman decided to support same-sex marriage, the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was asked what he thought about that. Boehner then rejected gay marriage by an expression of his gut feelings about it. This again led to an accusation of non-argumentation:
CASE 1: Gay marriage
Asked about Portman’s change of heart, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) explained on ABC’s This Week, “I believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.”
Asked if his position might change, Boehner explained and elaborated (not really):
“Listen, I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. … It’s what I grew up with. It’s what I believe. It’s what my church teaches me. And I can’t imagine that position would ever change.” (Leon 2013, italics as in the original)
Commentator Michael Leon criticizes Boehner by a charge of non-argumentation: Boehner’s repeated assertions that he feels this way because he believes this way is not an argument […] (Leon 2013, italics as in the original).
This case is not so simple as it may appear. For one thing, in order for a fallacy charge of non-argumentation to be appropriate, the accused should be in a position where he or she is indeed expected to provide an argument. A mere expression of one’s opinion, where this opinion has not been called into question, cannot amount to a fallacy of non-argumentation. Leon seems to suppose that in the case he considers this condition has been met; probably, because politicians are supposed to argue. Further, there must really be no reconstructable argument. In Case 1, however, this is doubtful since Boehner invokes the teaching of his church, which amounts to a – be it rudimentary – argument from authority.
In some cases, then, accusing the other of having failed to present argumentation may at first sight seem to the point, but is actually overdoing things. Means of defense are, and should be, available to the accused. Sometimes, it can be explained that actually there is an argument contained in what was labeled as non-argumentation. Or perhaps it can be justified that no argument was needed at this point. Of course, these responses might misfire so that the original critic should have an opportunity to try and dismantle them. As long as this discussion lasts, there has been no “abandonment of discussion” (Fearnside & Holther 1959, Section 39, pp. 132-133). What we want to do in this paper is to investigate the ways discussants deal or should deal with such situations and thus formulate “a dialectic of non-argumentation.”
According to the pragma-dialectical theory of fallacies, the fallacies of non-argumentation constitute a particular kind of violation of Commandment 4 of the Code of Conduct for Critical Discussion, the relevance rule:
Standpoints may not be defended by non-argumentation or argumentation that is not relevant to the standpoint (van Eemeren and Grootendorst, 2004, p. 192).[i]
Fallacies of non-argumentation do not present argumentation. Other violations of the same rule do present argumentation but no argumentation relevant to the standpoint at issue (cases of ignoratio elenchi). So, even though covered by the so-called relevance rule, cases of non-argumentation are not merely cases of lack of relevance.
Characteristically, fallacies of non-argumentation substitute either pathos or ethos for logos (van Eemeren and Grootendorst, 1992, pp. 134-137). In the first case we have a play on the emotions of the audience (argumentum ad populum); in the second case an arousal of emotions of awe or diffidence (argumentum ad verecundiam).[ii] In our paper, we concentrate on the ad populum cases, which may stand proxy for all kinds of non-argumentation.
Since the fallacy of non-argumentation is characterized as substituting emotions for arguments, we are immediately concerned with the role of emotion in argument. We shall deal with this issue from a dialectical point of view (Section 2). Next, we need to circumscribe which moves in an argumentative discussion may – so we propose – count as cases of non-argumentation (Section 3). Having in this way pinpointed the fallacy, we do not want to stop there but continue our study by investigating the (actual or required) means for the critic to protest against it (Section 4). As we think that in some cases these protests can be answered, we turn to the possible reactions of the alleged ad populum arguer to the fallacy charge of his critic (Section 5) and to the critic’s reply (Section 6). Generally, non-argumentation seems a bad thing, and its criticism a good thing. Yet, we shall try to point out some advantages of the former (Section 7) and some drawbacks of the latter (Section 8). Finally, we present a survey of the dialectic of non-argumentation (Section 9).
2. Emotion in argument
One possible view on the place of emotion in argument is to see it primarily as a source of fallacies. However, nowadays a number of subtle accounts of emotion in argument are available that allow for argumentative contributions that are emotional but non-fallacious. For instance, both Michael Gilbert (1997) and Douglas Walton (1992; 1999) have argued extensively that the use of emotions in argument need not be fallacious.
Our use of the term “emotion” is based on the explanation of that term given by Aaron Ben-Ze’ev in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Emotion (2010). Ben-Ze’ev distinguishes between four components of an emotion (p. 47): feeling, cognition, evaluation, and motivation.
Feeling is the only component of emotion that is “non-intentional.” In other words: One may undergo some feeling without the feeling being about something. The other three components are “intentional”: They are always about something. Cognition refers to the information about the object of an emotion; evaluation refers to either a negative or a positive view that is taken of the target of the emotion; motivation refers to how an emotion may influence one’s desires or make one take some action. Compared to emotions, the sentiments are of a more dispositional nature, such as enduring love or grief. Whenever we use the term emotion, we shall refer to both emotions and sentiments in Ben-Ze’ev’s senses of those two terms.
We distinguish between two uses of an emotion in argument that are prima facie of dialectical relevance. The first concerns devices for the presentation of argumentation and the second devices for obtaining concessions from one’s interlocutor. We discuss these two uses in turn.
2.2 Emotion as a presentational device
In one of Gilbert’s examples, Jill asks Jack: “But why should I marry you, Jack?” and Jack answers: “Because I love you as life itself” (1997, p. 83).
We underwrite Gilbert’s view that emotion is “inextricable from the logic of the argument” (p. 40). Nevertheless, we conceive of emotional arguments as grounds that can be evaluated as acceptable or unacceptable and as having, or lacking, sufficient justificatory force. Suppose, Jack utters the words “I love you” in an emotional, non-detached, even somewhat theatrical manner. Then, in so far as the emotion of being-in-love plays an argumentative role, we propose to reconstruct Jack’s argumentation as having the following propositional structure: “(1) Jill, you should marry me because (2) I love you as life itself; and (2) I love you as life itself because (3) I act and speak like someone who is really in love with you.” Jack expresses the basic premise, proposition 3, by making this proposition true by his very behavior, tone of voice, mimicry, and so on. After all, Jill may challenge the acceptability of proposition 3 (“You act like a clown”) or challenge that proposition 3 is a good reason for proposition 2 (“You might just be play-acting”).
2.3 Emotion as a device for obtaining concessions
The second way, for a proponent, to use emotion in argument is to express emotion in order to obtain concessions from the addressees. Suppose for instance that a proponent arouses in his opponent a feeling of fear for nuclear power plants. Suppose further that this emotion suggests the cognition that nuclear power plants involve considerable risks, the evaluation that they are bad things, and the motivation for not letting them be built. Then, in so far as the opponent shows signs of her aroused emotion (she has a fearful look), she conveys her sympathy for these propositions. This may count as implicitly conceding these propositions. By being emotionally aroused, preferably noticeably so, it becomes harder for the opponent to criticize the position of the proponent.
Walton’s (1992,1999) theory of emotion in argument deals mainly with examples of this second usage. Further, he distinguishes between a number of different subtypes of ad populum argumentation (1999, Chapter 7). In our view, some of these subtypes are susceptible to the “that’s no argument” critique, especially if the emotion at hand is used to obtain concessions in a particularly manipulative way, to wit: appeal to popular sentiments; the rhetoric of belonging; common folks ad populum; and mob appeal. Interestingly, none of these types of argument are inherently fallacious, in Walton’s view, even though he identifies possible misuses that may make them degenerate into fallacies. Like Walton (1999), we want to stress that, depending on situational features, ad populum arguments admit of fallacious instances, but also of legitimate ones, such as when they are used mainly as non-manipulative devices for obtaining concessions from one’s opponent, and thereby as legitimate parts of one’s defense.
3. Non-argumentation in argumentative discourse
Clearly, the proponent’s use of emotional appeals would not suffice to speak of non-argumentation. In what kind of situation, then, would this extremely harsh verdict be warranted? We here formulate a set of six necessary conditions, which together delineate those situations in which one could, in our view, arguably speak of a fallacy of non-argumentation:
1. There must be a context of dialogue (explicit or implicit) about some issue.
2. There must be a standpoint presented by one of the discussants.
3. This standpoint must have been called into question.
4. There must be a background of shared material and procedural commitments allowing argumentative exchanges on the issue.
5. There must be a proponent/protagonist who accepts a burden of proof for the standpoint. That is, we want to distinguish the fallacy of evading the burden of proof from the fallacy of non-argumentation. The latter fallacy is committed by an arguer who in principle recognizes his burden of proof, i.e. that he should present an argument, but nevertheless, when the time has come to do so, does not live up to this recognition. According to the pragma-dialectic theory of fallacies, the two fallacies are clearly distinct because they violate different rules and pertain to different stages of a critical discussion (van Eemeren and Grootendorst, 1992, 2004).[iii] All the same, given that arguers normally do not make an announcement to the effect that they do, or do not, acknowledge a burden of proof, it may sometimes be difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between cases of these two fallacies in real-life examples.
6. The proponent tries to make the other concede the standpoint by doing, instead of presenting an argument, something else that he passes off as argumentation. The additional condition
7. Characterizes the ad populum variety of non-argumentation: The means the proponent uses consist of appeals to popular sentiments luring the interlocutor into accepting the standpoint.
4. The charge of non-argumentation
We aim to arrive at a conception of non-argumentation, by examining sequences of dialogue moves that may follow upon an alleged occurrence of non-argumentation. If the opponent is confronted with what she conceives of as an example of non-argumentation, she has a number of possible reactions at her disposal, which we shall list in this section.[iv]
One quite extreme reaction would be to just accept the non-argumentation as if it equaled argumentation. The opponent might even make her acceptance overt by venting an ad populum of her own.
Thus, if the proponent defends his resistance to same-sex marriage by saying “I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. … It’s what I grew up with. It’s what I believe. It’s what my church teaches me,” the opponent may go along with him and try to restore the emotional balance by retorting: “Well, in my Unitarian church, we feel that all you need is love!”
Clearly, such a lenient attitude towards non-argumentation brings the risk that genuine considerations pro and con remain unexpressed. We will not further explore how such dialogues may develop.
To abandon the discussion would be another extreme response. The opponent may explain her abandonment by pointing out that the proponent, by committing the fallacy of non-argumentation, forfeits his chance at “winning” the dialogue.
We are not going to explore how such dialogues may develop either. We cannot, since the dialogue here stops.
Generally, if a proponent has advanced some nugget of argumentation, an opponent can request for an elaboration of the proponent’s case by requesting him to offer more in support of his position. This is, however, not an option for an opponent who believes to have been confronted with non-argumentation. There is, as far as she can see, nothing to fortify.[v] However, it is possible that the opponent reckons with the possibility that she failed to fully grasp the proponent’s response: Did she miss his argument or did he really fail to offer any evidence? In such a case she may request a clarification. This kind of move can be seen as an intermezzo preparing the parties for a critical exchange on the merits of what would turn out to be the proponent’s actual argument.
As soon as it becomes clear to the opponent that the proponent is offering no argument whatsoever, she can inform the proponent that, as far as she reads his response, he failed to provide her with genuine argumentation and, to make an issue of it, say something to the effect of “That’s no argument!” The filing of this charge of non-argumentation needs to be explored in some detail, for the ensuing possibilities for dialectical exchange constitute the gist of our characterization of non-argumentation as a dialectical move.
As a standard, albeit somewhat overly verbose, way of phrasing this kind of charge of non-argumentation, we propose the following: “In your previous move, you ought to have advanced an argument in favor of proposition S, given that earlier you incurred the obligation to defend S and that you even accepted this burden of proof, which has not yet been discharged; however, in your previous move you did not provide any proposition that could constitute (part of) a full-fledged argument, either for S or for something closely resembling S; instead, showing your own emotion and/or arousing my emotions, you invoked either popular sentiments or feelings of awe, or feelings that make laugh, cry, fear, pity, et cetera, acting as if such invocations fulfill the function of an argument in favor of S.” We abbreviate this message as: “That’s no argument!”[vi]
This message can be presented in different ways and we want to point out three variants. First, it can be presented in a straightforward manner, more or less instantiating the standard phrase that we introduced above but often doing so rather bluntly as exemplified by Leon in Case 1, above.
Second, a charge of having committed the fallacy of non-argumentation can be phrased in a more rhetorically apt manner: “As far as I can see, your last contribution might amount to no more than non-argumentation. Can you show me wrong?”
Third, the same message can sometimes be conveyed by means of a counter-ad populum. Above, we used the Unitarian church response as an example of a response that is extreme because it deals with non-argumentation as if it were simply acceptable. However, the same sentence can be used ironically. In that case, the proponent must interpret her “ad populum” as an attempt at refutation by parity of reasoning: “I respond in this non-argumentative way and this is a clearly unacceptable way of responding. My response and your response are relevantly similar. Therefore, your response is unacceptable.”
An example of this ad populum charge by means of parallel reasoning occurred in a recent performance of Theo Maassen’s, a Dutch comedian known for his coarsely formulated criticisms (Case 4).
CASE 2: Black Pete
In the Netherlands, the feast of St Nicholas is among the most popular feasts, and it involves besides the character of St Nicholas, the character of his black servant: Black Pete (also plural: black Petes). The black Petes act as St Nicholas’ helpers, acting in funny, not too smart, formerly quite threatening, but nowadays mostly extremely friendly ways. In the last few years, this character of Black Pete has been increasingly criticized as a racist element in the festivities.
Now, someone might argue that Black Pete should be with us to stay because he is providing a larger number of people pleasure than that of the people he is providing pain. In his televised New Years Eve show of 2013, Theo Maassen classified this line of reasoning as non-argumentation:
But that is no argument, right? Because then we should also accept that collective rape should be with us to stay. (Maassen, 2013, quoted from memory, our translation)
If, in one way or other, a charge of non-argumentation has been presented, the next question is how to respond.
5. Reaction to the charge of non-argumentaton
For a proponent confronted with a charge of having committed the fallacy of non-argumentation, there are in principle two options:
The proponent may either concede to have committed the fallacy or criticize the charge. In the first case, the proponent ought to retract or repair his fallacious move. In the second case, when he criticizes the charge as being unjustified, the allegedly fallacious move is retained.
Like other fallacy charges, charges of non-argumentation (“That’s no argument!”) have the force of assertions that may be called into question. When this assertion is called into question (“Why is it no argument?”), the burden of proof lies on the disputant who advanced the fallacy charge, i.e. the original opponent – now acting as the proponent of the charge; it is up to her to show, in a metadialogue, that there really was no argument offered in the original dialogue. In Case 2, Theo Maassen, as an opponent of the standpoint that Black Pete should be with us to stay, is clearly aware of this burden of proof and tries to discharge it by a parity of reasoning argument. It may of course be doubted whether he demonstrated that there was really no argument at all; perhaps he only made it plausible that the argument given was no good.
There is, in the metadialogue, no burden of proof on the original proponent to show that his alleged argument (decried as non-argumentation) is after all really an argument. But the proponent could voluntarily take on such a burden of proof saying, “But it really is an argument” and then, instead of retracting it, explain how his original contribution could be interpreted as presenting an argument or as a part of one. He could do so, for instance, by making the propositions expressed by the cognitive, evaluative, and motivational components of his emotion more explicit, or by elaborating other nuggets of argumentation contained in his emotional presentation.
6. Defending one’s charge of non-argumentation
Suppose, the original proponent challenges the original opponent’s charge of non-argumentation; how can the opponent defend her charge to be correct? We distinguish between two ways she can do so.
First, she can hold that the proponent’s contribution at issue did not express a proposition, either explicitly or implicitly, and without any proposition, there cannot have been an argument. This could be a plausible defense when the proponent simply laughed off the opponent’s doubts about his thesis or when he merely yelled in response to her challenges. In cases such as these, although the proponent clearly shows emotion, the emotion remains rudimentary and is not connected with any clearly cognitive, evaluative, or motivational component.
Second, the opponent can hold that the proponent’s contribution does not contain argumentation, because – although it is expressive of one or more propositions – the propositions expressed do not exemplify any known argumentation scheme.[vii] Note that this second defense of the charge of non-argumentation fits the characterization by van Eemeren and Grootendorst of non-argumentation as a contribution “that does not allow the reconstruction of an argument scheme that would establish an argumentative connection between the propositional content of the argumentation[viii] that is advanced and the proposition that is expressed in the standpoint” (2004, p. 171).
Of course, such a defense of the opponent’s charge of non-argumentation is vulnerable to the reply that even though the argument does not fit any known (deductive or defeasible) argumentation scheme, it is an argument all the same, and –the proponent could add– in fact a good one.
In both cases, the proponent can criticize the opponent’s defense of the fallacy charge, by challenging the opponent to make it plausible that no proposition has been expressed, or that no known argumentation scheme has been exemplified. However, he also has the option to explain to the opponent what proposition he intended to express or what familiar argumentation scheme he tried to exemplify or what his argumentation, though not exemplifying any familiar scheme, amounts to.
7. Advantages of non-argumentation
Generally, non-argumentation is thought of as the bad guy and criticism of non-argumentation as the good guy. But some qualifications are in order.
Might not a non-argumentative contribution have virtues of its own, possibly even dialectical virtues? We think so. First, the proponent may feel the need to vent his emotions or to arouse the opponent’s emotions so as to clear the air, aiming to continue the exchange of reasons and critical responses as soon as both participants are rightly attuned to resolving their dispute. A good laugh, or a good cry, even if it happens to constitute non-argumentation, might be needed for the parties to accept one another as dialogue partners and to facilitate their argumentative exchange. Second, the aroused emotion, even if constituting by itself a fallacy of non-argumentation, can nevertheless be useful in so far as it may dispose a participant to raise the level of attention, and thus prepare her to seriously consider argumentation that will be presented later (cf. Rehg 1997). Third, the proponent may want to adjourn the current argumentative exchange and replace it by an emotional exchange because he supposes that an emotional intermezzo will, in the end, enhance a later argumentative discussion. Fourth, it may be advantageous to abandon the argumentative dialogue without intending to resume it, for the reason that other purposes prevail over dialectical ones. Not all disputes need to be resolved on the basis of arguments and critical tests and the participants could be right in supposing that they had better settle their current dispute by means of a non-argumentative exchange of emotions. For example, a valuable friendship or a love affair may sometimes best be served by leaving a dispute unresolved.
8. Drawbacks of criticizing non-argumentation
Generally, criticism, also fallacy criticism, is a good thing that helps to keep the argumentative process on track. But there is always the danger that the emotions that go with one’s criticism will lead the interlocutor away from seriously considering the criticism and even make him abandon the discussion. This is especially the case when emotion-related fallacies such as non-argumentation are criticized. We do not want to say that one should never express a fallacy charge but rather that in many cases it may be worthwhile to consider whether other means are not more efficient to reach the goal of conflict resolution on the merits.
In the case of the ad populum variety of non-argumentation, one may think of first having a careful check whether the expressed popular sentiments do not serve one (or both) of the two legitimate purposes discussed in Section 2: Perhaps they serve as a mode of presentation of an argument or as a request to obtain concessions.
But even if no such function can be ascribed to the proponent’s expression of popular sentiments, one may still opt for the strategy of asking for clarification (see Section 4) rather than for that of putting forward a fallacy charge. Clarification by the proponent could yield an argument – perhaps one that was not really there before – and thus the discussion would be put back on the argumentative track. After all, if no argument results, it will still be possible to charge the proponent with the fallacy of non-argument.
In case these attempts seem futile and the opponent decides that she wants to put forward the “That’s no argument!” charge, she should consider the best way of presenting the charge (Section 4). Putting forward a fallacy charge of non-argumentation is extremely risky but if one has to do it, one should take care to do so in a rhetorically apt and face-saving way.
It is clear that emotions can be used in argumentative dialogue in a manner that is congenial to or at least consistent with the arguers’ dialectical purposes but also as a substitute for genuine argumentation that leads the dialogue astray. In real-life cases, this is often a subtle issue and in order for the dialogue participants to deal with doubtful cases, they need to be able to raise and discuss a “point of order” (Hamblin, 1970). For such cases, the rules of dialogue need to provide the option of a charge of non-argumentation, as well as a framework allowing a reasonable examination of the issue. In this paper, we have explored the options of the dialogue participants within such a setting, summarized in Figure 1, and thus given an outline of the dialectic of non-argumentation.[ix]
We hypothesize that a normative model for argumentative discussion that aims to include rules for dealing with non-argumentation as well as the examination of charges of non-argumentation, needs to provide the participants with such prima facie rights and obligations as make it possible to execute the dialogues indicated in the branches of this profile of dialogue. Thus, the model would implement the dialectical ideal that the discussants themselves are iIn charge of the place of emotion in their dialogues.
We thank the members of our audience at the 8th ISSA conference for their useful suggestions.
i. In an earlier publication, the fallacies of non-argumentation were labeled as those using “nonargumentative means of persuasion,” and Commandment 4 was formulated as Rule 4 of the Rules for Critical Discussion (van Eemeren & Grootendorst 1992). According to the pragma-dialectical theory, violations of this Code of Conduct constitute fallacies in the sense of being a hindrance for resolving a conflict of opinion by argumentation.
ii. There are other kinds of ad populum and ad verecundiam, which are not specimens of non-argumentation. For instance, the present kind of ad populum should not be confused with that which consists of an appeal to the large number of adherents to an opinion in order to justify the opinion (appeal to popularity). This latter kind of ad populum amounts to a violation of the Argumentation Scheme Rule (van Eemeren and Grootendorst, 1992, pp. 161, 165-168, 213).
iii. Evading the burden of proof is a fallacy of the opening stage whereas non-argumentation is one of the argumentation stage (van Eemeren & Grootendorst, 1992, pp. 209, 210; 2004, pp. 167-168, 171, 191-192). Van Eemeren and Grootendorst (1992, p. 209-210, 216) mention appeal to diffidence (“personal guarantee of the rightness of the standpoint,” “Argumentum ad verecundiam2”), but not appeal to popular sentiments, as a way to evade the burden of proof. Both are mentioned as variants of non-argumentation (1992, p. 210, “parading one’s own qualities” and “ playing on the emotions of the audience;” p. 216 “Argumentum ad verecundiam3;” p. 213, “Argumentum ad populum2”).
iv. Note that from a theoretical viewpoint what she conceives as non-argumentation could be just a case of very weak or bad argumentation, or even a completely legitimate move, instead of non-argumentation.
v. In his criticism of Case 1, Leon disregards a nugget of argumentation based on the authority of the church, i. e. he does not consider it as an argument.
vi. We recognize that the utterance “That’s no argument” can be and is also used to charge the interlocutor with having provided argumentation that is probatively irrelevant or argumentation that, though relevant, is overly weak. In this paper, we restrict our attention to occurrences of this charge in which the opponent can be taken to mean literally what she says.
vii. We use argumentation scheme in an inclusive sense to encompass both deductively valid patterns of reasoning as well as merely defeasibly valid (or cogent) patterns of argumentation.
viii. I.e. the set of alleged reasons.
ix. For brevity, we omit some options relating to clarification and abandonment.
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