ISSA Proceedings 2006 – Accepting Premises And Systems Of Belief

logo  20061. Introduction
Many informal logic texts inform their readers to test premise acceptability in order to determine whether or not support or justification for a conclusion in an argument is cogent or warranted (MacKinnon, 1985, Govier, 1985, for example). In some logic texts, premise acceptability is the first test which precedes and takes logical priority over tests of premise relevance and an adequate set of acceptably relevant premise to establish sufficient evidential grounds for a cogent argument. So, for example, Trudy Govier (Govier, 1985) argues for a priority ranking of the cogency test that she calls the A acceptance, R relevance, and finally in priority order the G or grounds test for argument cogency. One of the standard tests for premise acceptability is whether a premise satisfies the common knowledge condition. However, this test is considered potentially problematic because it is believed that common knowledge varies by context and situation. Some theorists, such as Bruno Snell in the Greek Mind and Julian Jaynes in the Origin of Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind (Harvard, 1986), argue for a psychological or in the latter case a psychophysical origin for historical variations in the common sense belief set. Common beliefs change over time, change by audience, and change due to varying knowledge conditions, as argued by N.R. Hanson in the Patterns of Scientific Discovery and Thomas Kuhn, in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (1972) his ironic contribution to the Encyclopedia of the Unified Sciences. So, according to these views, there is little ‘common’ about common knowledge.
At the same time, there seems to be the prevalent countervailing belief that common knowledge is universal; that is, there are some common beliefs that do not vary by time, context or situated knowledge base. There have been few thorough and systematic attempts to demonstrate the theoretical underpinnings of such claims to universal, common knowledge as the foundation for the presumptive acceptance of basic premises. James Freeman in his book Acceptable Premises: An Epistemic Approach to an Informal Logic Problem (2005) offers a considered and sustained attempt to provide a critically argued philosophical foundation to test for the acceptability of universal common knowledge in order to provide the theoretical protocol for the common knowledge acceptability test. While generally supportive of Freeman’s efforts (see my review of his text in Choice, November, 2005), I will (following his suggested approach) provide some critical challenges that could hopefully provide the means for useful changes to the text, both in terms of additions and re-thinking of some aspects of his common sense foundationalism in theory and practical application.

2. Freeman’s Foundationalism
Freeman argues for an epistemic foundation for common beliefs. These beliefs ground what he calls presumptively reliable premises in an argument, premises if denied shift the burden of proof to the challenger since they have common sense epistemic and pragmatic theoretical warrant (Freeman, 2005, 21-72). The basic beliefs can be about experiential matters of perceptual fact, subjective introspective reports, the motive(s) of other minds which account for their successful behaviour and judgements and intuitively-based ethical values behind a sense of common conscience (Freeman, 2005, 369-371). Such beliefs, claims Freeman, are basic if they are immune to a plausible challengers’ criticisms. In a dialogical context, when a proponent asserts a basic belief, which has pragmatic consequences for making successful judgements in an argument, the burden of proof to defend the basic claim moves to a challenger. The failure of a challenger to refute the fundamental premise establishes its contingent [subject to other possible challenges] presumptively reliable accountability. Freeman defends his analysis of common knowledge using Reid’s notion of common sense. Freeman’s trump on plausible objections to common sense conditions for universal claims about perception, introspection and ethical intuition is to theorize that each of us is equipped with a life design plan, (Freeman, 2005, 43-56) a natural (principle of our) human constitution (Freeman, 2005, 191, 212-213, 239, 242), or a moral conscience (Freeman, 2005, 274-275) which grounds common sense beliefs.
Freeman’s account is detailed, and technically thorough, providing a needed theoretical foundation for presumptively reliable premises. However, following his own analysis, it will still be useful to present some critical challenges to his foundationalism. These challenges are intended to open up some further possibilities for enhancing his views. The challenges will be of two general kinds – theoretical and practical. The theoretical challenges should help to illuminate both inherent critical issues and some of the practical problems in applying his views to arguments in the public domain. Arguments that occur in this domain occur in public debates about what policies or decisions should be made that involve the public good. These arguments have take place since the earliest discussions in the market place of Athens. Hence identification of theoretical challenges in this general context should help us to understand problems with the practical application of some of Freeman’s claims about common or universal basic beliefs as they underpin arguments. This also follows Freeman’s practical claim that we must consider the pragmatic consequences of accepting or rejecting any basic belief or premise. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – Duets, Cartoons, And Tragedies: Struggles With The Fallacy Of Composition

logo  2006A fundamental problem arises concerning much of our language about groups. The problem is this: we apply to groups the intentional language of emotions, attitudes, and beliefs. Such language is paradigmatically individual in application and yet we apply it to groups of all sizes – small, medium, large and very large – and of varying degrees and kinds of organization. In important contexts, we refer to groups not only as doing things and being accountable for what they do, but as having attitudes and intentions related to their actions. Groups may be said not only to undertake actions but to be resentful, hateful, generous, compassionate, accepting, suspicious or trusting. They may be said to hold beliefs and make value judgments, and reach decisions on the basis of these. Corporate boards and parliaments, for example, are organized groups empowered to act for still larger groups. They take decisions and act – and when they do so, it is on the basis of beliefs and attitudes which underpin their intentions and actions. Suppose, for instance, that a corporate board reaches a decision to spend millions on exploratory drilling in some area of the Arctic. Why? Its decision is made intelligible on the grounds that it knows the price of oil to be high and rising, and has evidence implying that the area in question contains oil. Or a parliamentary body might reach a decision to send peacekeeping troops to a particular country, on the basis of beliefs about the risks and needs of the people in that country, and the feasibility of its troops making a constructive difference in that context.

For those who contest the observation that intentional language is commonly applied to groups, I suggest a reading of journals and magazines containing commentary about economic and political affairs. You will find many attributions of actions to groups and you will find that these actions are rendered intelligible in much the way we make individual actions intelligible, namely by attributing beliefs, attitudes, and values to groups. My particular interest in this area stems from work on challenges of political reconciliation, and from seeing how questions about compositional attributions arise in that context. However, as the preceding examples will show, compositional attributions are by no means restricted to that sort of context.
For convenience, let us call the application of intentional language to groups the compositional phenomenon. The compositional phenomenon strikes many people as highly problematical. Many have raised difficulties about it, saying that it cannot possibly make sense for groups to think, feel, believe, and decide. Why not? Because groups are not conscious; there is no group mind. Some go even further, contending that groups cannot do anything, qua groups, and cannot properly be held accountable for their actions. (Miller 2001) This claim strikes me as implausible to the point of perversity, and I will not explore it here. I will assume that groups, small or large, organized or not, can do things. In fact there are some things that can only be done by groups – performing choral works, reaching a jury decision, winning a soccer game, and passing laws in parliament being obvious examples.
In discussions of group conflict and its resolution, the compositional phenomenon is quite conspicuous. We find, for example, allusions to distrust, trust, apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation as phenomena in politics, in the relations between groups. (Govier 1997) Does such discourse make sense? Can we engage in it without systematically committing mistakes of logic and metaphysics? These questions will be the focus of this presentation.What I have in mind here is the Fallacy of Composition, in which we mistakenly infer conclusions about wholes or groups from premises about parts or individuals.

In this presentation, I consider a number of themes related to the compositional phenomenon. First, I consider several responses that would purport to eliminate it. I then move on then to set it in the context of theory of argument. The view I will take is that there really is a problem here, the Fallacy of Composition is genuinely a fallacy, and an important one – but that the gap underlying this fallacy can be plausibly bridged in some cases. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – The Invocation Of Time Within Argumentative Discourse In An Asynchronous Internet Environment

logo  2006Interactive online environments often contain arguments. Research has been conducted on flaming behavior (Lee, 2005), but other linguistic elements of online conflict do not receive much attention. One such element is the invocation of time. While such a move makes use of a solitary concept, this strategy is one that has yet to be examined. It is useful to understand what takes place when people invoke time in order to have a better understanding of online argumentative discourse in general.
Several different areas of theoretical research provide ways of understanding possible ways to examine how people introduce and use time within online argumentative discourse. These include linguistics (Clark, 1992; Lakoff, 1987), chronemics (Bruneau, 1977, 1979; Laguerre, 2004), pragma-dialectics (van Eemeren, Grootendorst, Jacobs, & Jackson, 1993), and strategic maneuvering. The discursive inclusion of time may in fact prove to be fallacious, which requires a further theoretical understanding of fallacy theory.
To examine the invocation of time requires acknowledging that time can be considered a distinct linguistic category. Cognitive linguistics provides a way to examine categorization. Lakoff (1987) broke from previous theories regarding language and categorization by using examples to demonstrate that language categories are linked to human cognition. These examples led to a final dismissal of elements of classical categorization in exchange for a theory of categorization based on internal cognitive models. While Lakoff’s work has limited applicability to argumentation theory as a whole, it does shed light on how certain words or phrases may connect logically to one another to create an overall argument. This cognitive linkage suggests that more difficult to follow metaphors and language use can also be examined based on the way that concepts are categorized in order to understand the rationale behind the argument.

Chronemics was initially conceived as a way to examine time as a variable influencing human communication (Bruneau, 1977, 1979). He defined chronemics as “the study of human temporality as it relates to human communication” (Bruneau, 1977, p. 3), later expanding the definition to include the influence and interdependence between temporality and communication. In his examination of chronemics, he defined eight interdependent levels of time-experiencing. Despite these levels, Bruneau (1977) opened chronemics as an area for further research without creating any definitive way to categorize time.
Later Bruneau (1979) studied chronemics relative to organizational communication, further developing the understanding of time to include the relations between personal, group, and organizational time. Ballard and Seibold (2004) also worked in organizational communication, demonstrating that variation in three communication structures associated with organizations influenced the way people perceived time on numerous dimensions. The way work members perceived time was created through interaction and their intersubjective experience.
While this research focused on organizational communication, it is important to note that there may be competing ideas about time. The multiple dimensions of time lead to different reasons for people to invoke time. Other research has also demonstrated the possibility for competing conceptions of time to create conflict (Jaffe, 1975). This conflict demonstrates the cultural construction of time, which may influence how time is invoked and understood within argumentative discourse. Therefore, time contains several complexities that may influence its invocation.

The advent of the Internet also influenced the category of time. Laguerre (2004) examined the notion of the cyberweek and how it compared to our previous understanding of the civil week. The cyberweek is further broken down into the concepts of ‘cybertiming’ and ‘flexitiming’, which blur the boundaries between work and leisure time, the workweek and the weekend, and public and domestic spheres online. Using the idea of an interactional model, with the cyberweek being both part of the civil week and apart, a cyberweek is defined as “a set of times electronically produced through the intervention of a human agency – measured with no reference to the rotation of the moon or sun – all of which are equivalent and contained in linear or non-linear sequences, or in both, in a flexible, cyclical temporal domain” (Laguerre, 2004, pp. 226-227). While it does not take temporal aspects like time zones into account, virtual time is still rooted in civil time. For example, responses across time zones may take a while because the receiver is sleeping while the sender works.
While Laguerre’s (2004) focus on the cyberweek is more concerned with its connection to organizational matters, other researchers examined virtual time in a more general manner. Lee (2005) demonstrated that asynchronous written communication on the Internet might also affect the expression of hostility. McMillan and Hwang (2002) pointed out the importance of the time something takes to load on interactivity, an aspect that does not factor as much into other discussions on time. While the authors studied interactivity related to advertising, this could have an impact on how people invoke time in argumentative discourse in other places.
The realm of invocation occurs within an overarching interaction. Clark’s (1992) arenas of language use provide a way to examine how this discursive move affects the interaction between the participants. In this pragmatic approach to the collaborative nature of language use, arenas of language use are considered structural arenas of actions. There are three properties of arenas of language use: participants, social processes, and collaborative actions. These properties demonstrate that there are multiple people directly involved to accomplish some social process working independently and together, which create the setting for language use. Therefore participants are responsible for managing both the content of the conversation as well as the process. There cannot be argumentation between arenas as there are in fields of argumentation (van Eemeren et al., 1993) because arenas include all of the participants within the discourse. However, from Clark’s standpoint argumentation may be a possible arena. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – Managing Disagreement In Multiparty Deliberation

logo  20061. This paper examines a case of deliberation that took place during a meeting among community leaders and representatives for a land-housing development firm. The meeting involves a speech, made by one of the developer’s representatives, and the subsequent discussion of what is put forward among the community leaders and representatives of the development firm. The participants’ discussion moves following the speech provide an opportunity to reflect on a practical problem faced by parties to a deliberation: how to enable the expression of sufficient disagreement among participants while preventing the unlimited expansion of disagreement. Observations of the meeting based on a transcript made from an audio-recording will first be described followed by a discussion of the implications of these observations for further understanding how disagreement is managed in multiparty deliberation.

2. The meeting where the deliberation takes place involved eight members of the community’s government (the mayor, four council members, planning board chair, and borough attorney) and five representatives of the development firm (main speaker, his assistant, firm’s attorney, the president of the corporation’s regional division, and the vice-president of land development for the region). The meeting was held as a broader controversy related to the development discussed in this meeting emerges in the community about appropriate land-use and development. The official status of the meeting is not clear since no record of the meeting was available until it was discovered during the pre-trial phase of a lawsuit related to the development discussed during this meeting. The speech lasts nearly 18 minutes and the ensuing discussion lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The speech begins with preliminaries that update those present about matters that the developer has been “studying.” The speaker defines the land under contract (161 acres) and describes the availability of the adjacent pieces of property. He points out their goal to build 350 units, which is the maximum allowed by the Borough’s ordinance, as a senior lifestyle community with recreational amenities. He also points out that there are several “outside forces in flux” including the determination of the protected wetland boundaries on the property and the borough’s ordinances. He then previews the main points of the presentation as real estate taxes, infrastructure costs, and ordinances. He defines these as “three kinds of global issues” on which the developer “needs some feedback.” The speaker then makes a prediction that the borough residents will realize a “25-42 percent” real estate tax decrease depending on how many units can be developed and how the project is put together. The speaker puts forward a theory of how to make the project successful and thus attain that tax benefit for the whole community. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – Modern Rhetoric And The End Of Argument

1. Introduction
A remarkable number of critics and historians have asserted—sometimes with dismay, sometimes with delight—the death of rhetoric. The exact time of this termination and the precise cause of the capitulation are matters of considerable conjecture. Yet there is perhaps a consensus that after a long and celebrated life rhetoric died sometime between the end of the eighteenth and middle of the nineteenth centuries. Thus for Tzvetan Todorov the history of rhetoric is one of “splendor and misery” and for Roland Barthes the same history is “triumphant and moribund.” In his Figures of Literary Discourse Gérard Genette offers what he calls a “cavalier account” of these developments which ends with the “great shipwreck of rhetoric” (p.114).
For Genette, rhetoric’s career has been a “historical course of a discipline that has witnessed, over the centuries, the gradual contraction of its field of competence…from Corax to our own day, the history of rhetoric has been that of a generalized restriction (pp. 103-104).”  For Genette, this “generalized restriction” is a movement from rhetoric, classically conceived, to a theory of figures, to a theory of tropes, to a final “valorization” of metaphor as the surviving heir of the rhetorical tradition.

Like Genette and others Paul Ricoeur also sees rhetoric as having followed a course of gradual decline from its classical origins to its present moribund state. In The Rule of Metaphor, Ricoeur offers an account of rhetoric’s career that concludes with its “dying days” (p. 28). One cause of rhetoric’s death was its reduction to “parts,” that is, the figures. Ricoeur decries the taxonomic tendency of rhetoric, as exemplified by the lists of figures, largely because these taxonomies are, in his view, “static.” The more crucial problem is that the taxonomies contributed to rhetoric “severing” itself from argument. Ricoeur recognizes that Greek rhetoric was “broader, more dramatic, than a theory of figures” (p.12). After all, says Ricoeur, before taxonomy there was Aristotle’s Rhetoric (RM, p.12). And, moreover, says Ricoeur, “before rhetoric was futile, it was dangerous” (p.11).
Ricoeur agrees with Genette’s thesis that “the progressive reduction of the domain of rhetoric” was its undoing (p.44). Ricoeur agrees with Genette that “since the Greeks, rhetoric diminished bit by bit to a theory of style by cutting itself off from the two parts that generated it, the theories of argumentation and of composition. Then, in turn, the theory of style shrank to a classification of figures of speech, and this to a theory of tropes (p. 45).”
This interpretation of rhetoric’s history as a “progressive reduction” in its scope away from invention and argument in favor of a limited view of tropes has gained considerable currency. It is probably appealing to scholars of argument to believe that abandoning invention and argument led directly to the demise of rhetoric. And while the “progressive reduction” position is plausible, it may not be historically accurate. For if Genette and Ricoeur are correct rhetoric, or at least rhetoric with a significant inventional component, should no longer be evident by the second half of the nineteenth century. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – Argumentation, Keywords And Worldviews

logo  2006The aim of this paper is to show how the semantics of natural languages implies some consequences which are basic to the very definition of argumentation and to the analysis of the structure of arguments. I am particularly interested in emphasizing how the persuasiveness of any discourse, observed in its concrete effectiveness, relies for the most part on the semantic flexibility of keywords, that is, of those concepts which articulate the main structural components of the argumentation: the analytical question and the thesis (Dell’Aversano & Grilli 2005, pp. 555-564; 169-211). My work has developed as an effort to pin down some implications of the theory of argumentation set out by Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca in their Traité de l’argumentation. Theirs is an avowedly asystematic model: in delineating dichotomy between argumentation and demostration they are well aware of the complex interplay of linguistic and pragmatic factors which contribute to the functioning of an effective argumentation. Demonstration is not open to dispute, while an argumentation cannot achieve its persuasive aim without the voluntary engagement of its audience. This is because, from the semantic viewpoint, a demonstration links concepts whose definition is completely explicit, unambiguous and context-independent, while argumentation not only allows for the semantic variability of its keywords but is actually, as I will show, dependent on it for its efficacy. Not surprisingly, the Traité keeps itself clear of any perscriptive ambitions: its authors do not look for rules but are interested in explaining the way individual argumentations work with reference to the objects of prior agreement which their audiences share with their authors. Their method is based not on a general reflection on abstract models but on hundreds of enlightening and painstaking analyses of real argumentative texts which are examined against the background of their cultural contexts. Following their example, my own reflections will not take the shape of a systematic classification, but will simply put forward a description of some peculiarities of the structure of argumentative texts starting from some concrete examples.
The most important theoretical element which I derive from the Traité de l’argumentation is the notion of prior agreement. As the Traité repeatedly emphasizes (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca 1958, pp. 65-66), no argumentation is possible unless the speaker be able to rely on some shared foundation on which he can build his relationship with the audience. More specifically, this notion can be used to define an effective argumentation as a discourse which modifies the boundaries of the prior agreement by extending them: the result of an effective argumentation is that an element which was external to those boundaries (the thesis which the speaker upholds) will eventually be included within them, as a part of the notions speaker and audience share.

As a first step towards a better definition of the role of keywords in argumentative dynamics it will be useful to introduce a distinction according to where keywords are situated in relation to the boundaries of the prior agreement connecting the speaker to the argumentative community before which he is arguing. Keywords may accordingly be divided into conventional and original concepts: the first category will include all concepts which, because they belong to the vocabulary the speaker shares with his audience, can be used to refer in a recognizable way to any element included within the boundaries of the prior agreement. The category of original concepts includes concepts which are absent from that shared vocabulary, and which are therefore not included among the objects of prior agreement, and cannot be assimilated to them. This distinction can be made clearer by quoting an example from a historical monograph by Philippe Ariès:

In medieval society the feel for childhood did not exist; which does not mean that children were neglected, abandoned or despised. The feel for childhood is not identical with the affection for childhood: it entails the awareness of the peculiarities of childhood, peculiarities which essentially distinguish children from adults, however young. This awareness did not exist. Accordingly, as soon as children were able to survive without the constant care of their mothers or nannies, they belonged to adult society and were no longer distinct from it. This adult society often appears childish to us: this is no doubt a consequence of its mental age, but also of its biological age, because it was in part composed of children and youngsters. The language did not give the word “child” the specific sense I now attribute to it: “child” was the equivalent of our “boy”. This indeterminacy with respect to age extended to the whole of social activity: games, trades, weapons. There is no collective representation where children, younger or older, do not have their place, huddled, sometimes, two at a time, in the trousse which hangs from the women’s neck, or portrayed while they urinate in a corner, or while they play their part in a traditional pageant; as apprentices in shops, as pages waiting on knights and so on.(Ariès 1962, p. 145) Read more

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