3quarksdaily: Arguing about Argument

A lengthy discussion from a stellar blog–reviewing a new book titled Why We Argue (And How We Should): A Guide to Political Disagreement. Consider the worthy art of persuasion, skills of rhetoric, and the necessity of learning how to argue so as to get things done–as opposed to argue for argument’s sake or to simply blow off steam or make a facile point:

From this contrast, several others come into view.  First, on the rhetorical conception, an argument fails whenever it fails to move one’s audience; there could be no argumentative success that is not also a move towards greater consensus.  The epistemic view rejects this; we hold that the success of an argument has to do with the relation of the conclusion and the best reasons and evidence.  A good argument might not convince one’s audience; indeed, a good argument could result in greater disagreement than there was before.  Second, the rhetorical view charges arguers with a “take whatever you get” approach to their audiences.  The rhetorical arguer treats the views already popular among the audience as his or her raw material, ingredients out of which to cook up consensus.  The rhetorical arguer does not evaluate these popular views but simply works with them, employing whatever means they allow reasoned persuasion.  As epistemic arguers are concerned with truth, they are concerned with the quality of the premises from which their audience begins.  Accordingly the epistemic arguer shows a concern not only with the rationality of an audience’s move from existing beliefs to the arguer’s favored conclusion, but with the audience’s overall rationality as well.  Finally, the rhetorical conception sees argument as a one-way street.  Again, we argue on this view as a way of overcoming practical obstacles to achieving our plans.  Pushback from the audience functions on this view as new information about how the rhetorical arguer should frame his or her case; but there is nothing in the activities of argument that could require a rhetorical arguer to relinquish his view.  The epistemic view is dialogical.  It seems argument as the give-and-take of reasons, and it understands that in the course of this process, both arguers and their audiences could discover new reasons to change their views.  That is, pushback from the audience can constitute a refutation of the epistemic arguer’s view.  In this way, on the epistemic view, argumentation is a collective activity involving mutual risk — in undertaking to convince you of one of my beliefs, I expose myself to your rational scrutiny and thus recognize the possibility that my beliefs might be incorrect.

via 3quarksdaily: Arguing about Argument.


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