Argumentation analysis has been intensely and specifically investigated since the post-second world war period (references infra).
The bi-millennial framework of logic as an “art of thinking” in natural language has been taken up and reworked in the new intellectual framework of the post-Fregean mathematical logic as a Substantial Logic, an Informal Logic, or a Natural Logic.
A new vision of argumentation as discourse orientation has been developed in the semantic theory of Argumentation within Language.
Ancient rhetoric has been reshaped into a New Rhetoric. Dialectics has been revisited in relation to pragmatics and speech acts theories, and expanded into a powerful critical instrument within the Pragma-dialectic framework.
The prospects of rhetoric and dialectic are now ubiquitous in contemporary studies and teaching programs on argumentation. The links between rhetoric, text linguistics and discourse analysis have been recognized and rearticulated.
The spectacular results obtained in interaction analysis have opened the immense field of everyday conversational interactions as a specific investigation domain, where argument as “dispute” intertwines with argument as “good reason”.
The different theories of argumentation developed in the late twentieth century are based on different visions and definitions of their objects, methods and goals. Given this diversity, and the apparent and real discrepancies between definitions, there is a real temptation of synthesis, that is, to look for a definition which, while not trivial, will restore order, unity, simplicity and consensus.
Experience shows, however, that many new definitions meant to supplant older ones, merely add to the existing lists, thereby further aggravating the problem that they were intended to solve.
Another solution could be to start with things as they are, that is, to admit that the field of argumentation studies does not develop in the hypothetical-deductive style, starting from an overwhelming “master definition” and deriving its consequences, but rather in a more empirical, data driven, manner.
In practice, this suggests that one can very well start with a corpus of definitions of the concept of argumentation in order to identify the points of consensus and divergence, while emphasizing the points of view that have proven to be the most fertile
1. Rhetorical argumentation, an instrument of persuasion
Socrates considers and rejects rhetoric as an enterprise in social persuasion through speech. He shares this definition with his opponents, in particular with Gorgias:
Gorgias — I’m referring to the ability to persuade by speeches judges in a law court, councilors in a council meeting, and assemblymen in an assembly or in any political gathering that might take place. (Plato, Gorgias, 452e; p. 798)
Socrates — Well, then isn’t the rhetorical art, taken as a whole, a way of directing the souls by means of speech, not only in the law courts and on other public occasions, but also in private? (Plato, Phaedrus, 261a ; CW, p. 537)
This defines the common use of the word rhetoric in ancient Greece, what people call rhetoric.
Now what rhetoric is, in its substance — or lack of substance — is another story:
By my reasoning, oratory is an image of a part of politics. (Plato, Gorgias, 463d; CW, p. 807)
Politics is defined as the craft of addressing “the soul » (ibid, 464b, p. 808), and rhetoric is disposed of as an unsubstantial “image”, an eidolon, a counterfeit of politics. Socrates unreservedly condemns rhetorical discourse aimed at persuasion, as a lie, an illusion, a manipulating enterprise, antagonistic to truth-seeking philosophical discourse.
This unqualified and irrevocable condemnation of rhetoric as a fake is at the root of the popular negative meaning of the word, and this obviously includes argumentative rhetoric as well. The criticism of rhetoric is part of the field of rhetoric, and the same applies to the field of argument.
Aristotle positions rhetoric not as a counterfeit but as “the counterpart of dialectic” (Rhet, I, 1, 1354a1; RR p. 95) and defines it as an empirical techne, a craft, oriented towards the study of specific cases:
Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion (Rhet, I, 2, 1355b25; RR, p. 105).
Cicero follows this functional definition:
Cicero Junior: — What is an argument?
Cicero Father — A plausible device [probabile] to obtain belief.
Cicero, Part., II, 5; p. 315
Crassus — As becomes a man well born and liberally educated, I learned those trite and common precepts of teachers in general; first, that it is the business of an orator to speak in a manner adapted to persuade. (Cicero, De Or., I, XXXI; p. 40)
Likewise, the “New Rhetoric” of Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca focuses on persuasion:
The object of the study of argumentation is the study of the discursive techniques allowing us to induce or to increase the mind’s adherence to the theses presented for its assent. (, p. 4; italics in the original)
By focusing on “discursive techniques” and on “the mind’s adherence”, this definition re-builds argumentation studies on the same basis as those of the Aristotelian argumentative rhetoric, persuasive speech. It re-connects contemporary understanding of argumentation with the experience gained throughout two millennia.
Thesis, mind, presented, assent, discursive techniques: this definition articulates the core concepts of what could be called “the argumentation movement” as a vision of man and discourse in modern democratic societies.
— The claims are theses. This is a philosophical term; the issues covered by argumentative interventions are complex and high level, “the most rational” (id., p. 7). The Treatise keeps its distances from everyday argument and minds: it does not address the ignoramus, and more: “there are beings with whom any contact may seem superfluous or undesirable…” (id., p. 15).
— These theses are presented to and not imposed on the audience.
— Moreover, they are presented to the audience’s mind, that is to say to men and women endowed with a choice and decision-making capacity; and living under social conditions that allow them to fully exercise this capacity.
This action upon minds can be opposed to the manipulation of souls and bodies: souls with their capacities of emotion and sensibility / sensitivity to romantic or mystical appeals; bodies which can be forced to march or vibrate in unison under a musical mantra or image.
— The assent results from an explicit judgment of a free and conscious mind. Assent can be given or withdrawn. Expressing one’s assent is opposed to producing a response under the causal pressure of a stimulus.
— Finally, argumentation is a discursive technique, that is, a form of speech in which speakers can practice and improve.
— The Treatise does not deal with fallacies, but the evaluation of argument is a key issue of the book. The sound criticism and evaluation of arguments is not a matter for the orator, but for the partner audiences, particular and universal.
2. Argumentation as a way to deal with stasic situations
The Rhetoric to Herennius by an unknown author of the first century BC (formerly attributed to Cicero) articulates argumentative rhetoric with the key concept of stasis. In court, the contradiction brought by one party to another party determines the “point to adjudicate” and produces a stasis, which defines an argumentative situation:
The Point to adjudicate is established from the accusation and the denial, as follows: Accusation: ‘You killed Ajax.’ Denial: ‘I did not.’ The point to adjudicate: Did he kill him?
(To Her., I, 17; p 53)
Argumentation can be thus defined in general as an institutional instrument developed institutionally to deal with and settle stasic situations. S. Argumentative Question.
3. Argumentation as “substantial logic” and default reasoning
According to Toulmin’s “layout of argument”, the argumentative passage is defined by its structure.
— A speaker puts forwards a Claim, based on Data oriented by general rules or principles, the Backing, and the Warrant, defining the monologal assertive component of argumentation.
— The Claim is defeasible under certain Rebuttal conditions, expressed by a Modal affecting the Claim. This reservation component refers to a dialogic and critical approach of argumentation.
The combination of an assertive and a refutative components into an “argumentative cell”, both linguistic and cognitive, defines reasonable-rational discourse.
The assertive component layout develops the deep structure of the current ““Data, Claim” argument:
Slavery was abolished, why not prostitution? I do believe in the progress of civilization.
When snakes come out, it’s going to rain. We know that from experience.
Toulmin makes no reference to rhetoric. But as Bird has pointed out (1961), with his warrant and backing, Toulmin has “re-discovered” the more than two-thousand-year-old concept of topic, fundamental to the rhetorical theory of argument.
This approach is entirely compatible with a class of classical definitions of rhetorical argument, such as the following:
Cicero Senior — I take it that what you desire to hear about is ratiocination, which is the process of developing the arguments. […]
Cicero Junior — Clearly that is exactly what I require.
Cicero Senior — Well then, ratiocination, as I said just now, is the process of developing the argument; but this process is achieved when you have assumed indubitable or probable premises from which to draw a conclusion that appears in itself either doubtful or less probable.
Cicero, Part., XIII, 46; p. 345-347; my italics
How to make the doubtful a little less doubtful? Like Toulmin, Cicero sees argumentation (“ratiocination”) as a technique to reduce uncertainty.
4. Argumentation as saying and schematizing
According to Jean-Blaise Grize,
As I understand it, argumentation considers the interlocutor not as an object to manipulate but as an alter ego with whom a vision has to be shared. To work on him means to try to change the various representations attributed to him, by highlighting certain aspects of things, hiding others, proposing him new perspectives, and all this with the help of an appropriate schematization. (Grize 1990, p. 40)
Arguing consists in schematizing, or framing the situation for the interlocutor.
Such a generalization extends the concept of argumentation over the whole act of saying something to somebody:
Arguing amounts to putting forward some assertions that we choose to compose in a discourse. Conversely, asserting (saying) amounts to arguing, simply because we choose to say and put forward some meanings rather than others. (Vignaux 1981, p. 91)
This vision of saying as essentially a rhetorical argumentative activity has deep roots in the rhetorical tradition.
It may be compared with what Quintilian presents as the essence of rhetorical argumentation:
The art of speaking well. (IO, II, 15, 37)
This famous formula is often quoted in Latin, rhetoric is the “ars bene dicendi”; the definition is complemented by the definition of the orator as “a good man speaking well”.
Argumentative rhetoric becomes the legislative technique of persuasive speech, guaranteed by the quality of the speaker, S. Ethos.
This vision of rhetoric constitutes the backbone of the classical humanities
Compared with Grize — who, to my knowledge, never quotes Quintilian, no more than Toulmin referred to the classical science of topoi — the only difference is that Quintilian stresses the educative dimension of rhetoric, whereas Grize simply analyzes argumentation as found in natural discourse.
This line of thought generalizes rhetoric to all forms of controlled expression, thus founding a Rhetorik der Sprache (Kallmeyer 1996), a “rhetoric of speech”.
5. Argumentation as orientation
Anscombre and Ducrot’s theory of Argumentation within Language is based on the fact that, in natural language, the argument as a statement is linguistically linked to the conclusion, defined as the following statement:
A speaker argues when he presents a statement S1 (or a set of statements) as intended to make acceptable a new one (or a set of new ones), S2. Our thesis is that there are linguistic constraints governing this presentation. For a statement S1 to be given as an argument supporting a statement S2, it is not sufficient that S1 gives reason to admit S2. The linguistic structure of S1 must also meet certain conditions to be able to constitute, in a speech, an argument for S2. (Anscombre & Ducrot 1983, p. 8)
This approach results in a redefinition of the concept of topos, as a semantic link between two predicates, S. Topos in Semantics.
By re-defining the argumentative constraint as an inter-statements linguistic constraint, Anscombre and Ducrot generalize the concept of argumentation as a property of the linguistic system (langue and not parole “speech”, as defined by de Saussure).
6. Argumentation between monologue and dialogue
Argument seems to be a mode of discourse which is neither purely monologic nor dialogic. (Schiffrin 1987, p. 17)
[I have defined argument as] a discourse through which speakers support disputable positions. (Id., p. 18)
Schiffrin’s work is not primarily devoted to argument. This succinct definition, however, perfectly express the mixed character of the argumentative activity.
7. Argumentation, a discourse submitted to a rational judge
Argumentation is a verbal and social activity, aiming to strengthen or weaken the acceptability of a controversial point of view from a listener or reader, advancing a constellation of proposals to justify (or disprove) that view before a rational judge. (van Eemeren & al. 1996, p. 5)
This definition summarizes the rhetorical and dialectical positions. It re-defines the position of the third party, the judge, not as an empirical, institutional figure, arguing on the basis of the legal corpus of law and jurisprudence shaped by history and sociology, but instead as a normative rational figure, arguing on the basis of a set of independently defined rational principles, S. Norms; Evaluation and Evaluators.
8. Guidelines adopted in this dictionary
(i) An argumentative situation is defined in the Ad Herennium style: a complex dialogic situation opened by an argumentative question.
(ii) An argumentative question is a question to which the arguers (the debaters) give argued answers, possibly both sensible and reasonable, but incompatible, organized in pro- and a contra-discourse.
(iii) These answers express the conclusions (points of view) of the arguers about the issue. The elements of pro- and counter-discourse which support these conclusions have the status of argument for their respective conclusions.
(iv) Argumentative situations come in a variety of degrees and types of argumentativity, according to the kinds of relationship established between the pro- and counter- discourses and to the interactional and institutional parameters framing the exchanges.
Points (i) to (iv) define the external argumentative relevance, as the relevance of a conclusion for a question.
(v) An argumentation, in the monologic sense is defined as the “argumentative cell”, as represented in Toulmin’s layout.
In the broad sense, the word argumentation covers all the verbal and semiotic activities produced in an argumentative situation.
(vi) An argument is an implicit or explicit combination of statements supporting a conclusion.
(vii) The internal argumentative relevance, as the relevance of an argument for a claim is defined in relation to an argument scheme.