Topos, Topic —  Commonplace — Argument Scheme — Argument Line

1. Topic

In general vocabulary, the word topic refers to (MW, Topic):

  • 1 a: one of the general forms of argument employed in probable reasoning
    • b: argument, reason
  • 2
 a: a heading in an outlined argument or exposition
    • b: the subject of a discourse or of a section of a discourse

The two meanings of topic go from topic1 a formal, inferential pole (meaning (1)) to a substantial pole (meaning (2)). They fit with the two different meanings of argument used in their definition, S. (To) Argue, Argument:

— Topic1: According to (1), in a “reasoning” context, argument means “argument1”. Correlatively, a topic1 is here an argument1 scheme or an argumentation derived from such a scheme. With this meaning, it can be considered a translation of the Greek word topos.

— Topic2: According to (2), in an “exposition” and “subject” context, argument means argument3. Correlatively, a topic2 is an argument3, that is to say, the matter, the content of a discourse.

2. Topos

In contemporary English, the word topos is defined as “a traditional or conventional literary or rhetorical theme or topic” (MW, Topos).

2.1 Topos as “argument scheme” and “topic1

In Greek, the word topos (pl. topoi) has the basic meaning of “place”. In argumentative rhetoric, topos is used metaphorically to refer to “the place where arguments are found”; a topic is an argument scheme. So, topos is translated as topic by Freese and as argumentative line by Rhys Robert in their respective translations of Aristotle’s Rhetoric.

In Latin, the corresponding word is locus (pl. loci), which also means “place”, translated as topic by Hubble in his translation of Cicero’s Topica, and as “presumptive proof” by Caplan in his translation of the Rhetorica ad Herennium. In a famous metaphor, Cicero defines the argumentative places (Lat. loci, sg. locus) as “the name given by Aristotle to the ‘regions’ from which arguments are drawn” (Top, I, 8, p. 387). “Region” translates Lat. sedes, which also means “position, ground”; the loci are the foundations or “pattern” of arguments (id., I, 9, p. 389).

In the Argumentation within Language theory, the concept of inferential topos is re-defined as a pair of semantically associated predicates, S. Topos in Semantic.

2.2 Topos as “topic2

In the substantial sense, a topic (topos, commonplace) is an endoxon, a formulaic element corresponding to an answer to a “topical question”; or the whole discourse developing such a formula, “the lawyer developed the topos of the well-known peaceful character of the Syldavians”, S. Doxa. Such discourses are suspected to be fake and insincere, because traditional:

it is not easy to distinguish fact from topos in these documents (OD, Topos)

2.3 Topos in literary analysis

The concept of topos (pl. topoi) has been introduced by Ernst-Robert Curtius in literary analysis, to refer to a substantial, traditional thought that the writer develops, comments on and magnifies in the light of the circumstances. From a cultural and psychological perspective, a topos is “an archetype, […] a representation of the collective subconscious as defined by C. G. Jung” (Curtius [1948], vol.1, p.180). For example, the topos associating “the old man and the child” is consistently exploited in advertisements for wealth management and inheritance arrangements.

The topoi can be used to fill a compulsory discursive slot. Thus, to close a presentation, a speaker declares that “he submits quite willingly to possible negative observations, objections or even refutations, which will be truly considered to be help to understand his own data better”.

Curtius’ proposals have given rise to an important research trend on the topoi, especially in Germany (Viehweg, 1953; Bornscheuer 1976, Breuer & Schanze 1981).

3. Common place

1. In argumentation theory, the expression commonplace corresponds to the Latin locus communis, which translates as the Greek topos.

— Often reduced to place (locus, pl. loci), an inferential common place is an inferential topos, or argument scheme.

— A substantial common place is an endoxon, a formulary expression of common thought. Traditional rhetoric specialized in the argumentative use of Substantial Common Places.

2. In the general vocabulary, the expression commonplace is synonymous with cliché, both have the same depreciative orientation. Topos can be used with the same value.

3. In literary analysis, a commonplace is a “substantial topos”, in the sense of Curtius [1948].

4. Argument schemes

The designations, argument type, or argument scheme, or presumptive proof unambiguously designate a general, formal, inferential scheme.

The words topic and commonplace are ambiguous between a formal and a substantial meaning.

The expression argument line is somewhat ambiguous, as it can be used to refer to an argument scheme or to a whole, coherent argumentative strategy, S. Argumentation Scheme; Collections (I).

4. Argument line

The phrase argument line can refer:

— To an argument scheme.

— To a discourse developing a series of co-oriented or convergent arguments, developed by the same arguer to support a conclusion.

— To a corpus of discourses developing a series of co-oriented arguments, presented by allied arguers to support their common conclusion, either in the same interaction or in different verbal or written interventions.