ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Slippery Slopes: The Reciprocal Of A Node On A Curve Or Surface

ISSAlogo1998The idea of slippery slopes is a commanding and attractive metaphor. Indeed, speaking in this way has become commonplace in contemporary work in biomedical ethics.[i] It would be interesting to know whether this metaphor has a load-bearing role in philosophical analysis; whether, that is, it is anything more than une façon de parler, a figure of speech.[ii] In work underway I pursue this question in three theoretical contexts:
1. analogical arguments,
2. sorites arguments, and
3. the analysis of taboos.
Unless I am mistaken, we shall hit paydirt in the third context, and this is the context I wish to explore in this paper.

Slippery slopes in relation to taboos
In one of its meanings, a taboo is a deep cultural protection of a value, underwritten by broad and largely tacit societal consensus. In my usage here, a taboo is always an ordered pair X in which P is a principle protecting a value – usually a prohibition – and X is an exclusion, an embedded practice which excludes P itself from free enquiry, from the rough-and-tumble of dialectical probing. Sometimes the X-factor also precludes the mention in polite society of the practice prohibited by P; but its more general implication is averting discussion of P’s merits, of whether it is a justified principle and if so by virtue of what. If, for example, P is the principle that prohibits cannibalism then X is the determination not to expose P to critical reflection or scrutiny. Indeed if X is the present-day taboo against Holocaust revisionism, the X-factor operates so tenaciously as to make of the mere raising of the revisionist possibility, no matter how tentatively, an immediate self-disqualification.[iii] In the absence of the X-factor, P cannot be a taboo. In societies such as ours there is a principle which strenuously disenjoins urinating in public, but it is no taboo. Except in the most delicate of circles, there is no corresponding bar against explanation and justification, or meeting arguments which might be marshaled against the prohibition (e.g., that there is no such prohibition for males in Japan). Taboos, then, are special cases of principles or points of view attended by dialectically weak – or even non-existent – track records. Of course, there are whole classes of dialectically impotent statements, whose lack of justificatory vigour is a reflection of the fact that they are seen as not needing defence or justification. They are “self-evident”, or “common knowledge”, or some such thing. With taboos, however, dialectical impotence is less a matter of judging that a defence is not needed than that it should not even be attempted. (I return to this point.)
Many taboos were once religious proscriptions. This helps in understanding both the X-factor and the dialectical impotence that attaches to taboos even after they have lost their religious sanctions. Though shorn of this expressly religious backing, we seem to retain them out of culturally transmitted habit. When they were religious laws, they required no justification by us; indeed to raise the question of whether something commanded by God might require our justification is to risk the sin of hubris. These features are retained as the X-factor and, relatedly, a pallid dialectical track record. Other taboos such as the one against the eating of pork may be seen as risk averse generalizations from genuinely factual data, a stong induction from an occassional upset tummy.[iv] Epistemically, the generalizations are hasty; prudentially they are safe. Risk averse behaviour is tailor-made for taboos. In fact, a good deal of risk averse behaviour involves the holding of generalizations that we don’t know how to justify, or which we subconsciously see as having no inductive justification. (Of course, it doesn’t follow that risk averse behaviour is likewise without strategic justification). Thus our disinclination to raise the question of how these generalizations are justified, and the consequent lightness of the dialectical track record. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Effects Of Dialectical Fallacies In Interpersonal And Small Group Discussions: Empirical Evidence For The Pragma-Dialectical Approach

ISSAlogo19981. Introduction
Since Brockriede (1975) and O’Keefe (1977) publicly recognized the importance of studying arguments as they are made in the context of everyday discourse (O’Keefe’s argument2), argumentation scholars have been increasingly interested in studying the phenomenon in terms of its value as a communication activity rather than a logical exercise. Rhetoricians have long been interested in the function of argumentation in persuading an audience but it has only been recently that argumentation scholars have taken up the task of examining how patterns of reason giving are created and used by those involved in everyday conversation. Scholars such as Jackson & Jacobs (1980), Trapp (1983), Walton (1992), and van Eemeren and his colleagues (e.g., van Eemeren & Grootendorst, 1992; van Eemeren, Grootendorst, Jackson, & Jacobs, 1993) have extended the study of  argumentation from the study of formal and informal logic structures to the study of the ways in which arguments function in resolving disputational communication.
One of the first and most productive lines of inquiry regarding the study of argumentation as it occurs in discourse has been the pragma-dialectical approach originating with van Eemeren & Grootendorst (1992). The pragma-dialectical (PD) perspective extends the traditional normative logical approach of evaluating arguments by creating standards for reasonableness that have a functional rather than a structural focus. An argument is evaluated in terms of its usefulness in moving a critical discussion toward a well reasoned resolution rather than concentrating exclusively on the relationship of premises to conclusions. The PD approach recognizes the importance of normative standards for judging the strength or cogency of single argumentative acts but in addition recognizes that arguments are constructed in order to achieve a communicative goal.
As evaluative criteria for the quality of arguments, the PD posits several normative guidelines for how communication in resolving or managing a dispute should proceed. While several argumentation scholars have elaborated, extended, or some way adopted portions of PD (e.g., Walton, 1992; Weger & Jacobs, 1995), there has been little direct empirical research seeking to verify that the violation of the kinds of discussion rules identified by van Eemeren & Grootendorst (1992) indeed causes problems in the management of disagreements. The purpose of this essay is to examine empirical research in interpersonal and small group argument in order to discover what harms, if any, result from the violation of rules for critical discussion. The essay will begin by examining the effects of following and violating discussions rules on the ability to resolve disputes and the quality of the decisions that result. The next section of the essay will examine the interpersonal and relational outcomes that are associated with following or violating discussion rules as articulated by van Eemeren and his associates.

In Argumentation, Communication and Fallacies, van Eemeren & Grootendorst (1992) lay the foundation for the pragmadialectical approach to argumentation study. They begin by arguing that the standard treatment of argumentation and fallacies either ignores the communicative functions in favor of examining reason/claim relationships or abandon entirely normative standards of evaluation in favor of examining whether the argument achieves the goal of gaining the acceptance of an audience. The traditional logical approach evaluates arguments based on decontextualized, abstract structural features of arguments that are applied across situations. The rhetorical perspective, on the other hand, tends to evaluates the quality of an argument in terms of its persuasiveness. PD provides an advance on these perspectives by suggesting that normative guidelines for evaluating the quality of an argument requires attention to the communicative functions served by arguing as well as the logical structure of the lines of reasoning used in the dialogue.
The functional perspective on argument is based first on the belief that argumentation is a communicative activity. And second, it is based on a functional view of communication in which messages are studied in terms of the purposes they serve and the goals they achieve. At its most fundamental level, the purpose of argumentative dialogue is the resolution and management of real or potential disputes. Therefore, it is a mistake to evaluate arguments out of the context in which they are used or in a way that looks only at the logical structure without a description of the way certain argumentative moves effect the ability to manage or resolve a dispute based on good reasons. A functional perspective requires that arguments be studied, in part, by how they contribute to the communicative goals of resolving or managing a dispute. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – On The Role Of Ethical And Axiological Arguments In The Modern Science

ISSAlogo1998Can the modern science remain “neutral” with respect to ethics and values? The last decades have shown this question to become an object of intent discussions. The involvement of a man in understanding such complex objects as atomic energy, unique objects of ecology, gene engineering, microelectronics, informatics, cybernetics and computer technology which a man himself is involved into as well as wide introduction of robots and computers in manufacturing and various life spheres of a man and society make the thesis of “ethic neutrality” of modern science questionable. The natural scientific knowledge nowadays is much more closer to humanitarian sciences in terms of investigation strategy than in the previous periods of the history development. The fabric of the modern natural scientific knowledge search‘ is enriched with categories of duty, moral, good, values, etc. unusual to traditional approach.
The mechanisms transforming the ideals of the scientific knowledge argumentation enter the science more intensively in the second half of the XXth century by developing the noosphere concept and ideas of non-linear “highly unbalanced” thermodynamics, synergetics, modern cosmology and by expanding the system and cybernetic approaches, ideas of global evolutionism and the so called “antropic cosmological principle”. Some of these concepts are considered hereafter in order to highlight the modern science specific features.

The application of “man-centered” arguments and parameters is distinctly observed first of all in the noosphere concept of a well known Russian scientist Vernadsky that is based on the integrity idea of a man with the outer space as well as on the modern science integrity where the borders among its individual branches are obliterated and the specialisation takes part rather by problems than by certain sciences. Vernadsky wrote in 1926 in its work “Thoughts of the modern meaning of the history knowledge” that “the XXth century brings increasing radical changes in the understanding of a new time”, that it is a time of “an intensive reconstruction of our understanding of the World, ourselves, our environment, search for the sense of being”. These processes connected to the revolutionary changes and developments in physics, chemistry and astronomy change not only our notions of the matter, energy, space and time, but they represent also a specific turn of the scientific creative work in the other area – in the area of “place understanding of a man within the World order created on the scientific basis”. What consequences and regulation means which go beyond the scientific notions are formed within the noosphere concept and form new ideals of World understanding and search for the sense of being. Firs of all, the task to build a world by renouncing a man himself and attempting to find any world understanding independent on the man nature is above the man’s power, it is illusion. An observer himself, a subject, is obviously incorporated in the picture of the reality under study, in the Nature itself. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – The Final Days: The Development Of Argumentative Discourse In The Soviet Union

ISSAlogo1998The value of argument in the public sphere and its relation to social change is a concept that is shared by most communication scholars: the idea that argument in some form is an intrinsic part of democracy or at least that it is a necessary concomitant to democracy. In Johnstone’s words, “[d]emocracy rests upon the use of discourse as an instrument of political change” (1974:320). Indeed, the very attempt “to marshal public opinion or public support for some policy” implies acceptance of “forms of political action that prevail in a democratic society” (Johnstone, 1974:318). Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969:55) take this position a step further: “[t]he use of argument implies . . . that value is attached to gaining the adherence of one’s interlocutor by means of reasoned persuasion.” We suggest that the Western tradition of democracy entails the notion of doing the public’s business in public. This is an important concept, one that marks a fundamental distinction among societies. While recognizing that even in the most stable democracies little of what is considered the public business actually is conducted in the open, one must nevertheless keep in mind the fact that in many authoritarian or totalitarian states there has existed no concept of the public’s business apart from the government’s affairs, so there is no thought of addressing concerns in the open.
This notion [i] that some essential portion of civic business should be played out in public is the concept that provides the philosophical ground upon which policy argument may occur: in a real sense it creates space for policy argument to exist. Argument, then, may be seen as a necessary part of the process of doing the public’s business; where the ground for that argument does not exist, it must somehow be created.[ii] But where there is no history of such a process, how does the concept develop, how does the tradition take root?

Many of the observations made in reference to Western pluralist societies assume even greater significance when applied to the role argument has played in the socio-political changes that have in  recent years transformed the former Soviet Union. In this paper we intend to explore some of the ways in which social change and argumentation interact: in particular, we will consider the way governmental information policies, accepted argumentative structures, and the whole notion of public discourse develop as society undergoes fundamental transition.
By way of background we shall review the beginnings of pluralist public policy argumentation in a specific society where none had existed previously: the Soviet Union of the pre-disintegration period. Before turning to more contemporary events, we will concentrate on two critical media incidents: the 1983 downing of the Korean airliner and the 1986 Chernobyl explosion. One must keep in mind that, all other differences notwithstanding, most political communication in the former USSR, as in the USA, was and is a mediated phenomenon that relies on mass dissemination. For that reason we will focus on the media as the purveyor of the readily available accounts of the transmission of information and opinion formation. Our methodology is historical/critical, and our corpus is drawn primarily from official print media during the period 1983 through 1991.
Of particular relevance to this discussion is the process whereby public argumentative space comes to be created. In this presentation, we explore at least one of the ways this may happen: in the movement from an authoritarian to a pluralist form of government, the space for public argument arises from the citizens’ loss of faith in the existing governmental structure.[iii] As this loss of faith intensifies, the ground for argument begins to expand and continues expanding until the process becomes self-sustaining. At this point, every incremental change in the amount of public argument intensifies the loss of faith that initiated the process, because groups and individuals begin seriously questioning the ability of their government to secure the welfare of the people. The process is recursive: opposition becomes more influential as it becomes more frequent, providing ever greater opportunities for the continued extension of argumentative ground. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – From Topos To Locus To Topos: Between Aristotle And Ducrot

ISSAlogo1998You may know – or you may not know – that the basic thesis of Ducrot’s theory of argumentation in the language-system (TAL) is that certain argumentative features are inherent to the language as a system. That means that language as a system, as an abstract, general structure (as defined by de Saussure), in itself possesses or contains some argumentative potential, some argumentative force and certain argumentative orientations, and not only language in action, its use in discourse and as a discourse. For example, there are certain language structures that (restrictively) impose certain argumentative orientation on the discourse, or in other words, language as an abstract system (at least partly) controls what discourse can say, and sets its limits. If that sounds too obvious (language controling what discourse can say), let me illustrate what I mean with a few examples. Suppose someone says to us (one of Ducrot’s favourite examples)

(1) It is 8 o’clock.

Is this an argument? Why would anybody be telling us that it is 8 o’clock? Just to let us know what time it is? Not likely, unless we wanted to know what time it was. But suppose we didn’t want to know what time it was, suppose somebody just said to us (1). Why would anybody want to do that? Obviously, because he or she, by saying (1), wanted to tell us something else. But, what possible follow-up(s), what possible conclusion(s) could such an utterance lead to? In a situation where we don’t know what the exact co(n)text is, there are many possibilities:

(1a) It is 8 o’clock Hurry up!
Take your time!
Turn on the radio!
Go brush your teeth!

Now, let us see what happens if we introduce two modifiers to (1), already and only respectively, as in

(1’) It is already 8 o’clock


(1’’) It is only 8 o’clock..

All things equal, from (1’) we can no longer conclude, “Take your time” (as we could from (1)), but only, “Hurry up”; on the other hand, from (1’’) we can no longer conclude, “Hurry up”, but only, “Take your time”. And why is that supposed to be so surprising? Because (1), (1’), and (1’’) refer to the very same (chronological) fact, namely, that it is 8 o’clock: while (1) allows a multitude of conclusions, (1’) only allows conclusions oriented in the direction of lateness, and (1’’) the conclusions oriented in the direction of earliness. How is that possible if (1), (1’) and (1’’) refer to the same chronological fact, if the basis of (1), (1’), and (1’’) is the same state of affairs? Well, this “same state of affairs” is viewed from different angles: in one case, (1’), 8 o’clock is viewed (and represented) as late, in the other, (1’’), 8 o’clock is viewed (and represented) as early. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 1998 – Linguistically Sound Arguments

ISSAlogo1998The centuries-long discussion as to what constitutes “good” argument has often found supporters and opponents on the basis of the standards selected to evaluate argument. Ancient standards of technical validity have been the subject of some twentieth-century scrutiny. No issue is more fundamental to the study of argumentation than the question of what constitutes good argument. Our legitimacy as critics, practitioners and teachers of argumentation rests upon our ability to evaluate, construct and describe good arguments. Historically, argument scholars have relied primarily upon formal standards borrowed from the field of logic to provide necessary evaluative criteria. In the latter half of this century, however, those criteria have increasingly been attacked as being inappropriate or, at least, insufficient for the study of both public and personal argumentative discourse. Stephen Toulmin has suggested we replace the mathematical model of argument with one from jurisprudence, thus focusing on the soundness of the claims we make, especially as we use argument in “garden variety discourse.”(Toulmin, 1958). Other theorists quickly followed Toulmin’s lead.

1. Recent Interpretations of Good Argument
While a few theorists (Willard, 1979) have gone so far as to reject logical standards, most others continue to recognize their usefulness as a part of broader schemas for evaluation of argument. Toulmin’s dissatisfaction with the rigidity and formalism of logic led him to propose a more open and flexible model of argument and to suggest that the evaluation of arguments involves the application of both traditional field invariant standards and previously overlooked field specific standards (Toulmin, 1958). Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca have advanced the concept of the universal audience composed of critical listeners, which presumably restrains advocates from making spurious arguments. At the same time, they suggest we consider adherence as the goal of argument, a focus on the intersection of psychological effects and logical strength (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969). Drawing on the work of earlier scholars, McKerrow describes a good argument as one  which provides “pragmatic justification (McKerrow, 1977). This interpretation places emphasis on the “rational perusal of arguments” by an audience in a dialectic-like relationship. Farrell interprets validity in terms of “soundness” of a rhetorical argument. An argument is sound if it conforms to three conditions:
1. is addressed to an empowered and involved audience,
2. conforms to the consensual standards of the specific field, and
3. is consistent with social knowledge (Farrell, 1977).

Zarefsky defines good argument as one that is “reasonable,” and one is reasonable if “the form of inference is free of obvious defects, and the underlying assumptions of the argument are shared by the audience” (Zarefsky,1981:88).

Collectively, these authors and others suggest that good arguments are ones that have, at least, some claim to rationality and are based upon premises and standards acceptable to the specific audiences being addressed. While these conditions serve as minimal standards for good argument, they are, in our judgment, incomplete and lacking in explanatory power. What is missing from current analyses is a consideration of the role of language. Careful language usage is necessary for the construction of sound arguments, and effective language is the key to persuasive argumentation. We define a good argument as one that is linguistically sound. The term “linguistically sound” is intended to encompass three conditions. A linguistically sound argument:
1. conforms to the traditional field invariant standards of inductive and deductive argument,
2. is based upon data appropriate to the audience and field, and
3. is expressed in language that enhances the evocative and ethical force of argument.

In the sections that follow, we will demonstrate how each of these conditions is linguistically based and how a linguistic perspective helps to explain the strength of the argument. Read more

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