Conductive Argument

Conductive arguments are defined by Wellman as third kind of argument, parallel to deduction and induction. In view of examples such as those below (my numbering, CP), he notes that, “it is tempting, therefore, to define a conductive argument as any argument that is neither deductive nor inductive” (1971, p. 51):

(1) You have to take your son to the circus because you promised.
(2) This is a good book because it is interesting and thought provoking.
(3) Although he is tactless and nonconformist, he is still a morally good man because of his underlying kindness and real integrity. (Ibid.)

Wellman distinguishes between three types of conductive arguments

(i) “A single reason is given for the conclusion” (id. p. 55), as in

(4) You ought to help him because he has been very kind to you.
(5) That was a good play because the characters were so well drawn. (Ibid.)

(ii) “In the second pattern of conduction, several reasons are given for the conclusion” (id., p. 56), as in:

(6) You ought to take your son to the movie, because you promised to do so, it is a good movie, and you have nothing better to do this afternoon.
(7) This is not a good book, because it fails to hold one’s interest, is full of vague description, and has a very implausible plot. (Ibid.)

(iii) “The third pattern of conduction is that form of argument in which some conclusion is drawn from both positive and negative considerations. In this pattern, reasons against the conclusion are included as well as reasons for it” (id., p. 57), as in

(8) In spite of a certain dissonance, that piece of music is beautiful because of its dynamic quality and its final conclusion.
(9) Although your lawn needs cutting, you ought to take your son to the movie because the picture is ideal for children and will be gone by tomorrow. (Ibid.)

The key characteristic of conductive reasoning appears to be condition (3), where, depending on the speakers, and with the same reasons, the pros can outweigh the cons or vice versa (Blair 2011). From the same data, another speaker might draw the opposite conclusion.

(8.1) In spite of a certain dynamic quality and its final conclusion, that piece of music is ugly because of its dissonance.

The adjective certain seems to be attached to the connective in spite of, indicating that the speaker will not argue on the basis of this argument (will not identify with this voice), S. Interaction, Dialogue, Polyphony.

A conductive argument does not seem amenable to default reasoning. Their conditions of refutation are different. Default reasoning might be updated or changed when new information is accessed, while conductive reasoning does not depend on information as such. A conductive argument typically deals with values, either moral or aesthetic. The specific issue of conduction is the hierarchization, or balance, of values. Whilst some pairs of values will be very difficult, if not impossible, to balance, others will be quite plausibly balanced. So, sentence (8) for example can be plausibly converted as (8.1), because the three implied values cannot, in my view, be hierarchized, whilst (9) invokes values which seem easier to balance:

(9.1) I know, the movie is ideal for children and won’t be showing in the cinema after tomorrow, but you ought to cut your lawn.

Cutting the lawn seems to be a task which is easy to postpone, in view of the children’s education and their legitimate satisfaction, which might be prioritized. So, in the case of (9), the consensus would be that pros clearly outweigh the cons.

In any case, more complex interactional data could provide some clue as to how dissenting speakers fare when dealing with competing values.