Preface to the French edition

Translated by J. Anthony Blair


This Dictionary owes everything to Jean-Claude Anscombre, J. Anthony Blair, Oswald Ducrot, Frans van Eemeren, Jean-Blaise Grize, Rob Grootendorst, Charles L. Hamblin, Ralph Johnson, Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, Chaïm Perelman, Stephen E. Toulmin, Douglas Walton, John Woods — and many others. They introduced new ideas, reconceptualized the field, reconnected it to contemporary scholarship, and opened new fields of research and perspectives whose exploration is far from complete.

Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian are the founding fathers of Western argumentation studies. The historical and cultural differences that separate us from them undoubtedly create an obstacle to reading them. No doubt influenced by the large body of contemporary American studies in rhetoric and argumentation, the definitions included in this Dictionary integrate their insights, at the same level as contemporary works.


The general vision employed in this work makes no claim to originality; it seems to me, largely a posteriori, to be the following. Argumentation is approached as a linguistic activity, and more fundamentally, as a semiotic activity, rooted in the ordinary exercise of language. Ordinary speech has first of all an oral and dialogical existence. Key concepts of discourse and interaction studies can be effectively implemented in the practical analysis of everyday argument. This Dictionary articulates the study of argumentation in the framework of discourse studies, under their two aspects, monologal and interactional. This position agrees, for example, with the framework of discourse analysis as it is elaborated in the Dictionnaire d’Analyse du Discours by Patrick Charaudeau and Dominique Maingueneau (Le Seuil, 2002), to which I contributed the entries concerning argumentation. I owe the idea for the present enterprise to their example.


Arguing is exercising the critical function of language. Full-blown argumentative situations have a characteristic antiphonic structure, where the participants express and balance the pros against the cons.

Argumentation is both monologue and dialogue, and both are language and thought. Argumentation as reasoning in ordinary language should not be seen as the inconclusive, vague, weak and easy counterpart of scientific reasoning. Critical thinking is at work in everyday private and public human affairs as well as in the most recondite scientific disciplines. The acquisition of knowledge begins with the tools of ordinary language and reasoning, and these are forgotten when they are no longer needed. It is an extraordinary characteristic of ordinary language to be thus capable of engendering other languages capable of going where it can never go itself.


This Dictionary is based on the experience acquired in teaching and research seminars on argumentation; certain propositions echo the discussions that took place there. The participants in those seminars were, as they no doubt will continue to be, a mix of experienced colleagues teaching and developing research programs in argumentation, junior researchers, and students beginning to develop their vision of the field. No doubt the odds are against appealing to these diverse groups at the same time. However, it is this triple audience that I constantly had in mind during the preparation of this Dictionary, with special emphasis on the last two.

I hope that consulting this Dictionary will prove useful not only to argumentation theorists, but also to the wide community of people wishing to better articulate their visions and practices of argumentation, and who, for that purpose need a meta-language of argumentation. To argue is, in effect, to express oneself – to speak or write, often both – in a space structured by a question defining an issue. This space is characterized by the presence of opponents, and the activity of arguing necessarily leads the speaker to refer to their discourses, that provide an alternative and distinctly different answers to the question. The arguer is inevitably led to speak about antagonistic discourses, whilst also developing “control loops” within his or her own argument.

Arguing is thus a meta-argumentative activity. The ordinary exercise of argumentation presupposes the systematic usage of a discourse about argumentation, or a sort of ordinary meta-language about argumentation, which theorists will develop into a full theory of argumentation. That’s why we hope equally that the practitioners of argument no less than the theoreticians will take some interest in this Dictionary, and that the observations that it contains will be able to be reinvested in argumentative practice.


Beyond the requests for timely information, which find an answer on the internet, everyone working on argumentation, as in any other field of the human sciences, finds himself or herself confronted by questions of clarification, of definition, and of conceptual coherence.

To answer these questions is not necessarily difficult in an isolated case. But the difficulties increase with the plurality of definitions of the same term, or the plurality of terms corresponding roughly to one and the same definition. Things are further complicated when these definitions overlap, and function in a shifting stylistic continuum, in which, moreover, one may take a certain pleasure. The case of the cluster constituted by the arguments a pari, from similarity, from analogy, from categorization, not to mention per analogiam, is an example of such a situation. If one wants not only to admire, but also to understand, one must sometimes resolve to give up this or that conceptual nuance and accept that certain labels are simple synonyms or translations of one another.

A second major difficulty is that of the global coherence of the definitions. To stick with the example of analogy, one encounters this issue when one adds to the preceding terms the rule of justice and the precedent. Without claiming to give the notional field of argumentation the kind of compact structure that one could dream of in the early days of structuralism, one must not only expose the specificities of the concepts but also their commonalities.

In trying to resolve the first difficulty one runs the risk of arbitrary simplification; to resolve the second, one risks imposing on these notions an arbitrary organization. If one fails in these two ways, one will simply have aggravated the malady for which one was claiming to bring the remedy.


This is not an encyclopedic dictionary that retraces the discussions about each concept, that presents each theory within its historical developments, its current structure and its research program, and that discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each author. The works cited do not claim to constitute a bibliography or a reading list of argumentation studies.

This Dictionary brings together a collection of relatively technical terms which form a vocabulary shared by argumentation studies and implemented in the analysis of argumentative texts and interactions. From Argumentation to Topic and Waste, their degree of technicality is very different.

Certain terms correspond to terms that are used outside the field of argumentation studies. Only the particular meaning that such terms have within the theory of argumentation feature in this Dictionary. In the entry “Pragmatic” one will not find general considerations on pragmatics as a philosophy or a branch of linguistics, but only a definition of pragmatic argument.

This Dictionary presents 301 entries, 223 basic entries, with the addition of 78 secondary entries.

A main entry defines, comments and illustrates a specific concept, and, when necessary a set of closely related concepts.

A secondary entry refers back to a main entry. The main entry may correspond:

(i) To a more usual label equivalent to, or a translation of the secondary entry, for example “Ad Verecundiam Modesty”.

(ii) To an encompassing concept, for example “Amphiboly ► Ambiguity”. The grouping of several secondary entries under the same main, uniting entry prevents dispersions and repetitions and favors the discussion of closely related concepts.

(iii) To a main entry grouping two correlative concepts, which are defined contrastively, for example the secondary entry “Conclusion ► Argument”, “Argument” being an abbreviation referring unambiguously to the main entry, “Argument – Conclusion” (see Conventions, infra).

A system of cross-references connects the entries, to strengthen the conceptual coherence of the whole Dictionary.

The definitions are introductory. According to the fine catachresis used to refer to the items collected in a dictionary, the entries of this Dictionary should straightaway arrange an entrée to the idea. I have sometimes tried to add a bit of spice in the form of a commentary or a note that should open up the idea and prompts a questioning of it.

The examples are of various kinds: some are invented and only aim to give an idea of actual instances of the phenomenon under scrutiny. Others are borrowed from written texts; yet others come from oral exchanges, sometimes from recorded and referenced productions, sometimes simply caught on the fly and noted later; their oral indicators have been retained as much as possible.

The entries are listed according to alphabetical order. The numbering of some entries allows for certain thematic groupings, which should enable the reader to better follow the development of families of related key entries, for example regarding the large issues of argumentative analogy or causality.

One might find it strange that an entry is devoted to this or that minor form: that is because it is not so much minor as overlooked, and because it deserves its proper place in what can be considered the conceptual structure underlying argumentation studies.

The definitions, propositions and assertions presented in this Dictionary are certainly not intended to close down any discussion. They are rather trying to feed the debate, and sometimes to provoke it, pending criticism and improvement. I would be delighted if that were to happen.

Many dictionaries or logical and rhetorical lexicons define certain terms that are relevant to argumentation theory. To our knowledge, however — apart from Sztuka argumentacji – Slownik terminologiczny [The Art of Arguing – Terminological Dictionary] by Szymanek (2004) — there is hardly any other Dictionary of Argumentation.