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Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 09:07:44 -0700 (PDT) From: Eileen Smith Subject: A Systematic Theory of Argumentation: The pragma-dialectical approach
AUTHORS: Grootendorst, Rob; van Eemeren, Frans TITLE: A Systematic Theory of Argumentation SUBTITLE: The pragma-dialectical approach YEAR: 2004 PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
Eileen Smith, Language Arts Division, Shasta College
The pragma-dialectical approach to argumentative discourse provides a model for a regulated exchange of ideas in which the participants critically and systematically analyze the acceptability of positions on an issue with the shared goal of arriving at a resolution. The pragmatic aspect manifests itself in the performance in argumentative discourse of a complex speech act which is as an interactive speech event that takes place within a specific context and situation. The dialectical dimension to evaluating argumentative discourse concentrates on ways in which standpoints can be critically evaluated. The model combines applied research in empirically-based linguistic descriptions, especially work in discourse analysis, with philosophical and theoretical work from formal logic. In this approach, argumentative discussion, both as communicative process and product, is part of normative pragmatics or ordinary language use as viewed from a critical perspective. In the 196 page-book, the authors delineate a complete approach to argumentation studies that provides tools for the production, analysis, and critical evaluation of argumentative discourse. In the course of eight chapters, the authors first provide their definition of argumentation, survey the background and history of theory underlying their approach, and identify four problem areas within argumentative discourse that provide the framework for the model; then, they provide an explicit description of the model with all its theoretical and practical ramifications.
Chapter 1. Introduction (pp.1-8) Chapter 1 defines argumentation and gives an overview of the scope of the book. The chapter begins with a stipulative definition of argumentation that emphasizes its two key aspects, process and product. As process, argumentation is a goal-oriented activity that functions on verbal, social, and rational levels: verbal because it involves language use; social because it is directed at another person; rational because it is an intellectual activity. The goal of the activity of argumentation is to convince a critic of the acceptability of a position or stance. The critic to be convinced is assumed to be reasonable. The product is the argument itself, expressed in the form of propositions. One strives to convince the critic by putting forth propositions that justify or refute the position or stance. The distinction draws on speech act theory, specifically Searle's distinction between communicative force and propositional content (Searle 1969: 29-33). Overall, argumentation theory research focuses on the production of argumentative discourse, both written and oral, along with its analysis and critical evaluation. Four problem areas surface in this research: unexpressed elements in argumentative discourse, argumentation structures, argument schemes, and fallacies. Only the pragma- dialectical approach has succeeded in providing solutions in all four of these problem areas. Finally, the content of chapters 2-8 is briefly summarized.
Chapter 2. The realm of argumentation studies (pp.9-41) In this chapter, the authors justify the linking of pragmatics and dialectics and define the domain of argumentation studies. They argue that the two areas in the pragma-dialectical theory, normative idealizations and empirically-based descriptions of speech acts, complement one another. In linguistic analysis, the moral and practical challenges that surface from empirical descriptions of real life argumentative practice provide the motivation for theorizing about argumentation. Conversely, while the normative rules and procedures of argumentation function in reflective, idealized situations, they must also stand the test of discursive reality. Systematic linking of the pragmatic and dialectical aspects of the argumentative process produces a model that avoids the limitations imposed by one area of research or the other. Examination ensues of the five estates or areas of research that contribute to argumentation theory and constitute a complete program of argumentation study: the philosophical estate, the theoretical estate, the analytical estate, the empirical estate, the practical estate. The pragma-dialectical approach integrates the five estates as follows: a critical-rationalist philosophical position combines with a pragma-dialectical theoretical position; an analytical position centers around the resolution of differences of opinion; an empirical position orients toward the process of convincing; and a practical position aims at stimulating reflection.
Chapter 3. A model of critical discussion (pp.42-68) The authors trace argumentation studies from the classical roots of the theoretical work that ground their theory to the present day. Since antiquity, dialectical approaches have concentrated on ways to critically evaluate positions or stances in argumentative discourse. Greek writings on syllogistic logic (analytica), dialectic (dialectica), and rhetoric (rhetorica) remain relevant today. Aristotle's Topica (1928b), De sophisticis elenchis (1928a), and Rhetorica (1991) are essential reading for students of argumentation theory. During the first century B.C.E. the Roman, Cicero (1954, 1949, 1942), also made significant contributions. In the early 19th century the U.S. experienced a revival in interest in rhetoric, loosely defined as the use of the most suitable means to convince a particular audience. A demand for practical, success-oriented applications followed, and U.S. interest in rhetoric has continued to grow. In the 1950's, the work of Toulmin (1958) and that of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1958) garnered much attention, but neither provides a sufficient framework to supply a justified evaluation of the ways the argument schemes serve as warrant. Arne Naess (1953, 1966) and Rupert Crawshay-Williams (1957) made significant contributions in the area of formal dialectics. The major theorists whose work underlies the pragma- dialectic approach fall into two areas, pragmatics and dialectics. In pragmatics, they include the theory of speech acts as expounded by Austin (1962) and Searle (1969); and Grice (1975, 1989) for his work in verbal exchanges. In dialectics, the theorists include the formal dialectics of Barth and Krabbe (1982) along with the critical rationalism of Popper (1972, 1974) and Albert (1975). Four meta-theoretical principles of pragma- dialectics derived from underlying theory serve as essential methodological guidelines in the pragma-dialectical approach: functionalizing (every language act is purposeful), externalizing (public commitments entailed by language acts), socializing (interaction), and dialectifying (resolving differences according to norms of reasonableness). Finally, in constructing a model of critical discussion, the authors identify four dialectical stages in the process of resolving a difference: confrontation, opening, argumentation, concluding. Four types of speech acts of Searle's typology of five (1979) that can contribute constructively to critical discussion are discussed: assertives, commissives, directives, and declaratives. The chapter concludes with an extended model of a critical discussion, showing the four dialectical stages with a distribution of speech acts.
Chapter 4. Relevance (pp.69-94) Scholars in different disciplines approach the issue of relevance from varying perspectives; however, some unifying principles exist that link these different views of relevance and irrelevance. Foremost is the notion of coherence, including both discourse and textual coherence. Secondly, relevance and irrelevance pertain to a particular stage in the discourse. Thirdly, relevance and irrelevance stem from relations between parts of discourse or text that are functionally connected with the aim of realizing a goal. Different approaches to relevance exist as well between analysts, depending on their particular purpose and the way in which they perceive functionality. Analysts with a linguistic perspective use the interpretive (descriptive) approach; analysts who prefer formal or informal logic use the evaluative (normative) approach. These two approaches interconnect. For instance, anyone performing a speech act making a request wants not only that it be understood, but also granted. Every interpretation of an individual speech act presumes that an evaluation or judgment follows; every evaluation presupposes an interpretation. Therefore, any analysis of discourse must make meaningful connections between the interpretive and evaluative aspects. The pragma- dialectical model integrates these two aspects.
Utilizing an analytical a priori approach, the pragma-dialectical approach integrates the work of Searle (1969) and Grice (1989) into relevance criteria. It does not draw upon a posteriori descriptions of the interpretative procedures used by speakers from an internal perspective, what Pike (1967) termed 'emic' approaches. Instead, a systematic analytical or etic (Taylor and Cameron 1987) approach is adopted, one based on externalized textual features. No knowledge of the cognitive processes involved in the interpretation process is needed. The model adopts Searlean emphasis on the communicative function of speech acts, as determined by the intentions of the speaker or writer and the conventions for language use in the performance of speech acts, and Grician interactional aspects, such as the notion of reasonableness. The model adopts and adapts Grice's Cooperation Principle, specifically the notions of clarity, honesty, efficiency, and relevance, in a broader Communication Principle composed of five rules of speech acts for argumentative discourse. Three dimensions of relevance are defined: contextual domain, or relevance as linked to a particular stage of the discussion; the verbal component, or relevance of a specific element within a speech act; the relational aspect, or relevance of one speech act to another. The authors then illustrate how a relevance issue can be identified in the pragma- dialectical approach by analysis of a fragment of an argument exchange.
Chapter 5. Analysis as reconstruction (pp.95-122) Reconstruction of argumentative discourse entails systematic analysis of all components (speech acts) of the argument that contribute to and are relevant to the resolution of the disagreement. The relevance of each speech act relates to the purpose of each of the four stages of a critical discussion in the process of resolution of differences. Such an analytic overview provides the "deep structure" of a discourse or text. The pragma- dialectical model specifies what kinds of speech acts can productively contribute to each step of the process. However, certain complications can arise in the analysis process. As per the ideal model, an antagonist in a discussion must unequivocally express doubt about a position. In practice, this does not always occur. Typically, much of the purpose of interactional or communicative discourse remains implicit. Also, most often no formal recognition is given to identify movement from one stage in the discussion to another. Actual targets of the argumentative discourse, those whom the participant wishes to convince, may also be veiled. For instance, in a political debate, while two parties engage in argumentative discourse, both parties may actually direct their comments to a larger viewing audience. With an awareness of these possible pitfalls to reconstruction of an argumentative discourse, the model can serve well as a useful guide to reconstruct an analytic overview.
A sample of a critical discussion ensues, followed by a model of a pragma- dialectical reconstruction. The process proceeds in two phases: reconstruct the critical discussion and make an analytic overview. Phase one has two operations. First the pragmatic aspect of discourse analysis comes into play with the reconstruction of the relevant parts of the speech acts of a critical discussion. Four transformations apply: deletion (elimination of items irrelevant to the argumentation); addition (making implicit features explicit); substitution (replace ambiguous or vague formulations); permutation (rearrange parts as needed to make the process of resolution apparent). Then the analytical aspect serves in the sorting of the reconstructed parts of the speech acts into the four stages of a critical discussion: confrontation, opening, argumentation, concluding. In phase two, an analytic overview that summarizes the critical discussion around six principles is constructed. It states the standpoints held by participants, the roles (protagonist -antagonist) assumed by each, the point of departure of the discussion, the various arguments offered in support of each position, the structure of argumentation (simple or complex), and the argument schemes that connect the different arguments.
Chapter 6. Rules for critical discussion (pp.123-157) The term "reasonable" plays a crucial role in the pragma-dialectical approach that holds to a critical-rationalistic view of reasonableness. First, it must be differentiated from the term "rational." The definition of "reasonable" adopted in the model shares all the properties of the definition of "rational," with the addition of the aspect of critical judgments that are sound. Opposing schools of thought exist as to the notion of soundness in argumentation: formal logic applies a formal criterion for validity and emphasizes relevance of the argumentation to the point in question; the anthropological approach applies a validity criterion based on purely empirical grounds and equates soundness with its effectiveness on judges in particular cases who represent community consensus. The authors follow the critical view of reasonableness, one attributed to certain logicians, that values both the shared knowledge that is necessary to achieve consensus and the formal properties of arguments. A critical rationalist systematically scrutinizes all aspects of human thought and activity towards the resolution of differences. The underlying assumption is that all human thought is fundamentally fallible. The point of departure for reasonableness is critical discussion using the dialectical approach, to which critical insights from dialectics, geometrical insights from logic, and anthropological insights from rhetoric contribute. This approach satisfies problem-solving needs and intersubjective acceptability.
The pragma-dialectical discussion procedure is rule governed, consisting of a system of regulations that cover all speech acts required to carry out a critical discussion. Fifteen rules apply to all four stages of the discussion: confrontation, opening, argumentation, and concluding. The rules constitute a necessary condition for the successful resolution of opinions, but not necessarily a sufficient condition. The rules fall generally into two categories, when one is entitled or obliged to perform a particular speech act. Participants are entitled to challenge, calling into question the propositional content and the force of justification or refutation of every complex speech act. Participants are obliged to defend their assertions against a challenge, maintain their pro and con roles throughout the discussion, agree upon the rules of procedure, and retract the initial position when one participant has proven a standpoint conclusively.
Chapter 7. Fallacies (pp.158-186) As a result of objections to the traditional definition of a fallacy that involved notions of subjectivity and validity, revision has occurred. The historical precedents underlying and leading up the current theory include work by Aristotle (1928a, 1928b), Locke (1961), Whately (1848), Hamblin (1970), Barth and Krabbe (1982). The current preference is to regard fallacies as deficient moves in argumentative discourse. Accordingly, fallacies are defined by negation as argumentative moves that the rules of argumentative discourse *cannot* generate. Fallacies violate the rules of argumentative discourse as laid out in Chapter 6, thereby obstructing or complicating the resolution of differences between participants in a critical discussion. The pragma-dialectic concept of fallacy facilitates the analysis of informal fallacies that have created problems for analysis in traditional approaches to fallacies as invalid arguments. Violations can take various forms on the pragmatic level, centering on the speech act itself, the performer of a speech act, or the performance of the speech act at the right stage in the critical discussion. A systematic survey of the kinds of violations that can obstruct critical discussion during each the four stages of a critical discussion -- confrontation, opening, argumentation, and concluding -- follows. Analysis of two well known fallacies, petitio principii (begging the question) and argumentum ad hominem, illustrates how each violates particular discussion rules. The analysis of the begging-the-question fallacy illustrates the advantages of the pragma-dialectical approach. Since the fallacy is logically valid, it cannot be analyzed using the traditional method as an invalid argument. However, the fallacy violates rule 3 of the discussion procedure, identifying it as obstructive to argumentative discourse, hence a fallacy. The model allows for the analysis of the whole range of classical fallacies.
Chapter 8. A code of conduct for reasonable discussants (pp.187-196) This chapter discusses the internal conditions that are desirable on the part of a participant for a reasonable discussion attitude. It describes the characteristics of reasonable discussants and provides ten commandments for reasonable discussants. While participants share the goal of resolving differences, the primary aim of the activity is not total agreement but rather critical questioning and testing of positions for their acceptability. In order for the rules to work, participants must meet certain criteria. They must be prepared to play by the rules. They must express their intentions as clearly as possible and try to not misinterpret the opposing view. Participants respect each other's right to propose a standpoint and to challenge an opposing view, as well as respect the obligation to defend a standpoint when called upon to do so. Attacks must relate directly to the standpoint put forth with no distortions of an opponent's standpoint. No rhetorical devices such as pathos or ethos for the original standpoint (logos) will be tolerated. Exaggeration must be avoided. No ambiguous language can be used, or deliberate misinterpretations of another's standpoint made. Both sides must agree on where the starting point of the discussion lies. Reasoning presented as formally conclusive must be proved valid in the logical sense. For instance, a reconstruction may be required to incorporate an unexpressed premise. In the opening stage, participants must agree on argument schemes and abide by the choices. To conclude, both parties must agree on the success or lack of success of the defense of an argument.
Anyone engaged in studies of argumentation theory or in analysis of argumentative discourse would be well served to carefully read and reflect upon the pragma-dialectical model for its practical approach to resolving differences with civility. In argumentative discourse, which aims to convince a reasonable but doubtful critic of a particular standpoint, differences naturally arise. With its focus on resolution through acceptability criteria and mutual cooperation, the pragma-dialectical approach succeeds in providing the means to overcome doubt regarding the acceptability of a position and ultimately resolve a difference of opinion.
As the title suggests, the book emphasizes the interface in argumentation studies of the work of philosophers and logicians with the expertise of linguists and empirically-oriented social sciences, especially those engaged in discourse analysis and communication studies. Linguists may find the pragmatic aspect of the model interesting since methodical discussion moves are described in Searlean (1969) terms as the performance of speech acts in a specific cultural historical context. Implicit within the model is a code of conduct, the Communication Principle for reasonable discussants, derived from the Cooperation Principle outlined by Grice (1989). At the core of the pragma-dialectical model lies the concept of personal responsibility as an underlying principle that unifies the model. The well-defined system of stages, participant roles, parameters of the performance of speech acts, and rules of conduct with the view of resolving differences of opinion only function if the participants in a critical discussion intersubjectively accept the rules of engagement. Once the participants agree to abide by the rules, all of the components of the model function as intended. The explicitly formulated discussion procedure provides a normative model for discussion moves that build towards constructive resolution of a difference of position on an issue. Conversely, obstacles or destructive moves such as fallacies that the block constructive resolution can be identified simply as violations of the rules. The latter in particular is useful in that it eliminates lofty notions in logic of "absolute" mistakes.
The book presents the culmination and an impressive distillation of thirty years of research by two widely-recognized argumentation scholars in critical theory and praxis in the pragma-dialectal approach to argumentative discourse. The model itself is simple and accessible, with practical uses. While I found the book to have both positive and negative qualities, the positive far outweigh the negative. The only negative aspect of the book, in my opinion, lay in a tendency towards repetition, especially in the beginning. This made for tedious, somewhat laborious reading at the onset. However, as I read on, I found that I appreciated the repetition of key concepts as my understanding of them grew exponentially with each new application. Positive qualities abounded. I found it to have outstanding organization. The research goals, background information, and the step-by-step explanation of the model were very easy to follow. Explanations of theory and its history were authoritative. For example, the discussion about the notion of reasonableness proved to be both informed and informative, beginning with coverage of three views of reasonableness according to Toulmin's Acting and Knowing (1976): the geometrical attempts to show what is (incontrovertible certainty -- step by step); the anthropological view which holds that reasonableness is culturally-bound and relative; and the critical view that maintains skepticism and systematic analysis of opposing views. The authors offered some keen insights into weaknesses in Toulmin's position while they also distinguished between the anthropologico-relativistic position (in which what is considered reasonable is a function of the group and the time concerned) and the critical perspective. Throughout the book, clear examples served to illustrate various points. Ample use of analogy was notable, such as in discussion of the various estates in Chapter 2, in which the polder region as well as extended application of the rabbi anecdote served as examples to illustrate, and in Chapter 4, the X-ray.
Today, manuals of informal logic used in "critical thinking" courses in U.S. universities still bear traces of classical logic and dialectic. Almost all have sections devoted to the practical applications. The pragma- dialectical model offers a clear distinction between the persuasive or the epistemo-rhetorical approach to argumentation that is accompanied by combative, success-driven attitude toward practical applications, and argumentative approaches that strive for resolution of conflict through understanding by appeal to the intellect. Those of us engaged in teaching argumentative discourse know that our aim is to provide students with skills to help them learn how to think, not what to think. In the culture of success-driven argumentative schemes so prevalent in so many parts of the world today, the pragma-dialectic approach brings fresh insight into ways to accomplish this goal.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Eileen Smith has a Ph.D. in linguistics and currently teaches a variety of courses involving critical reasoning and writing at Shasta College, in Redding, California. Eileen's research interests center on critical discourse analysis as applied to literature, focusing on strategic language use in the interplay of language and power.