Some argumentative questions can be quickly and privately solved (“who is going to take out the trash?”); others cannot be solved so easily and are brought before specialist, established social institutions. An argumentative forum is a more or less institutionalized physical social space dedicated to the treatment of argued issues. Such a space may or may not have a decision-making capacity. Interventions are ruled by the norms and customs that characterize the forum, in the first place the specific codification of the turns at speech as defined by the rights to the floor, S. Rules. Such rules give meaning and consistency to the expression “local rationality”.

The concept of a forum, with its institutional accompaniment and its concrete regulations, must be taken into account for the analysis of the social exercise of argument. This approach enables us to go beyond an idealized view of argumentation as an exercise subject only to the law of dialectical reason, regulating verbal exchanges between two artificially de-socialized actors, S. Roles.
The crucial question of the burden of proof relates not only to the state of opinion (doxa) at the time of the discussion, but also to the forum where the discussion takes place, S. Burden of proof.


Tribunals and political assemblies can be seen as typical forums. There are many others “argument marketplaces”, where viewpoints are calculated, expressed and traded to inform practical decisions, are part of the fabric of democratic societies. Consider the dispute over the legalization of drugs in Syldavia, a true participatory democracy. The issue will be discussed in a huge range of forum, from the subway carriage, to the family table, at the pub on the corner, in the city conference room, by the commissions drawing up the political parties’ official positions, by the National Congress, the Law Commission, etc. Some of these forums are intended for the expression of disputes and have the power to voice a decision or opinion on the matter, others serve simply to amplify and popularize the debate rather than close it.

The following passage is taken from a 2002 speech given by Alfredo Cristiani, President of El Salvador from 1989 to 1994. In 1992, under his presidency, the Chapultepec Peace Agreements were signed, ending a twelve-year civil war between the extreme right and Marxist guerrillas. His 2002 speech was delivered on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of these agreements[1].

We cannot understand the importance of what happened in El Salvador if we limit ourselves to the recent past. The crisis that swept the Salvadorian nation over the last decade did not come out of nothing, nor has it been the fruit of isolated wills. This crisis, so painful and tragic, has ancient and profound social, political, economic and cultural roots. In the past, one of the pernicious flaws in our national form of life was the lack or insufficiency of the spaces and mechanisms [de los espacios y mecanismos] necessary to allow the free play of ideas, the natural development of the various political projects which stem from freedom of thought and to act; in short, the lack of a real democratic living environment.

According to Plato, sophistic discourse reigns over public forums and institutional places, in particular, over the court and the assembly, dominated by professional sophists. That is why Socratic dialectic interaction, oriented solely by the search for truth, takes place in a very special, de-socialized argumentative place, in the natural setting of a locus amœnus: a hot day, a stream, a tree, a light breeze and grass to lie down on:

Phaedrus:    — […] All right, where do you want to sit while we read?[[2]]
Socrates:     — Let’s leave the path here and walk along the Ilisus; then we can sit quietly wherever we find the right spot.
Phaedrus:    — How lucky, then, that I am barefoot today—you, of course, are always so. The easiest thing to do is to walk right in the stream; this way, we’ll also get our feet wet, which is very pleasant, especially at this hour and season.
Socrates:     — Lead the way, then, and find us a place to sit.
Phaedrus:    — Do you see that very tall plane tree?
Socrates:     — Of course.
Phaedrus:    — It’s shady, with a light breeze; we can sit or, if we prefer, lie down on the grass there.
Socrates:     — Lead on, then.
Phaedrus:    — Tell me, Socrates, isn’t it from somewhere near this stretch of the Ilisus that people say Boreas carried Orithuia away?
Socrates:     — So they say.
Phaedrus:    — Couldn’t this be the very spot? The stream is lovely, pure and clear: just right for girls to be playing nearby.

Plato, Phaedrus, I229a-c. CW, p. 509.

[1] (09-20-2013)

[2] The speech of Lysias, that Phaedrus “[holds] in [his] left hand under [his] cloak”.