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Analyzing Arguments

by Placement FactoryPlacement Factory
Type: NoteSpecialization: Logical ReasoningOffline Downloads: 7Views: 400Uploaded: 2 months ago

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1 IDENTIFYING AND ANALYZING ARGUMENTS IN A TEXT In this paper, a survey of the main tools of critical analysis of argumentative texts of discourse is presented. The three main tools discussed in the survey are: (1) argument diagramming, including automated systems for argument visualization, (2) argumentation schemes and (3) dialogue typologies. The focus of the discussion is on defeasible argumentation schemes rather than on deductive or inductive forms of argument. The main objective is to present an outline of a methodology for the task of analyzing argumentation in a given text of discourse from a critical point of view. Typical of the task of argument analysis is activity of the kind that takes place in a critical thinking course where the instructor and the students analyze an argument taken from a text of discourse in everyday conversational argumentation, for example an argument found in a newspaper article or some similar media source. These tools are then applied to the perennial problem of enthymemes, arguments with an unstated premise, or unstated set of premises, or an unstated conclusion. The problem is to find some technology for filling in the missing parts, or at least for assisting a human user with this task. This problem is a hard one, and remains unsolved so far, but here, very briefly, a direction for research is indicated. Finally, some remarks are made about how situating a given argument in a conversational context should be seen as part of carrying out the task of analyzing the argument. 1. Defining ‘Argument’ as a Type of Speech Act The term ‘argument’ is often used in loose way in conversational practice, a practice that also often finds its way into logic textbooks, such that no clear distinction is drawn between it and what is called ‘reasoning’. In (Walton 1990, p. 411) a distinction was drawn between reasoning and argument, based on the assumption that reasoning does not always, or exclusively, occur in arguments. For example, a player can reason in game of chess, where the reasoning need not necessarily be in an argument. On this way of viewing the matter, reasoning can be used in speech acts other than that of putting forward and argument, as in the speech act of offering an explanation of something. Another distinction (p. 411) is that reasoning can be aimless, whereas argument is essentially goal-directed. Putting forward an argument should be defined as a type of speech act in a dialogue in which two parties participate. In an argument there is always a claim made by the part called the proponent, and this claim is to be identified with the statement that is designated as the conclusion of the argument. It is typically marked by the textual indicator word ‘therefore’, or some comparable word. An argument is a set of statements, as we are so often told, and the remaining statements are premises, meant to support the conclusion, or give reasons for the respondent to come to accept it. The purpose of putting forward the argument is to get the respondent to come to accept it, for the primary characteristic of an argument is that the respondent doubts the claim made by the proponent. In some, but not all instances, the respondent even presents an opposing claim. What distinguishes an argument from an explanation is that in an argument, the conclusion is subject to doubt, and the purpose of the argument is to remove that doubt. In an explanation, in contrast, the thing to be explained, called the explanandum, is accepted by both parties as factual, as an event that really happened, or as some statement
2 that really is true. The purpose is not to remove the respondent’s doubt, but to help him come to understand the event or statement in question. Thus the speech act of putting forward an argument is different from the speech act of asking a question. The aim of asking a question can also be to remove the speaker’s doubt, but the structure of how this aim is implemented is different than in the case of an argument meant to remove doubt. In putting forward an argument, the speaker is trying to get the hearer to accept something he didn’t accept before, by presenting reasons why he should accept it now.1 The ultimate aim is to remove the hearer’s doubt and settle the unsettled issue in the larger dialogue that speaker and hearer are taking part in. In asking a question, the speaker is not generally trying to do anything so positive, although some questions function very much like arguments, viz. loaded questions and the like. The extreme case is a rhetorical question, which has the surface structure of a question, but from a speech act point of view has a function of making a statement or of putting forward an argument. Other borderline cases include indirect speech acts, like ‘Can you pass the salt?’, that are superficially questions but typically function as a request. 2. Asking Questions Argumentation as a field should not be just about arguments. It should include not only explanations and some other important kinds of speech and acts. It should also include a study of the asking of questions. Argumentation, of the kind that is important to use critical argumentation to assess, is not just made up of propositions and inferences. It is also made up of questions. Questions are used to respond to arguments that are put forward, called critical questions. And it is the connected sequence of questions and answers that make up the dialogues that are the contexts in which arguments are used. Questions often seem innocent and harmless enough, you might think, from a viewpoint of critical thinking. After all, questions don’t make assertions, in the way statements are typically used to do, and questions don’t have premises and conclusions, the way arguments do. Perhaps for these reasons, the systematic study of questions has not been taken seriously enough, as a branch of logic or critical argumentation. But this branch of critical argumentation is especially important in public deliberations of the kind vital to a democracy. For as Best (2001) pointed out, intelligent planning in a democracy needs to be based on social data collected by statistical methods based on polls. The polls are based on questions. But by manipulating these questions, the media, politicians and social activists can push and massage statistics and even create social problems artificially. The structure and wording of questions can have highly significant effects in statistical polls and surveys, and on the inferences drawn from them. The outcomes of statistical polls are heavily influenced by significant “response effects” stemming from the positive or negative connotations a word has to the respondents, or from how the term is defined for statistical purposes. For example, in making a statistical survey on poverty or unemployment, the outcome can be that a statistical finding is moved upwards or downwards, depending on how ‘poverty’ or ‘unemployed person’ are defined. Just as statements and terms can be loaded to one side of an argument, producing a biased argument, questions can also be loaded in much the same way. A loaded question may 1 The exception is the case of putting a hypothetical argument to explore something rather than advocating it (or advocating it very strongly).
3 not make an explicit assertion, but it does have a bias or spin on it that can suggest a proposition indirectly, by implicature and innuendo. Questions, in many cases, are not as innocent or harmless as they might seem. In fact, asking the right questions, and responding to them the right way, can be enormously influential in steering a dialogue in a direction that may go towards (or away from) the goal the dialogue is supposed to fulfill. For all these reasons, learning skills of questioning and answering is one of the most important aspects of critical argumentation. The skills that need to be taught include the following: learning how to detect hidden and tricky implications of questions, learning how to respond in a rational and constructive way to such questions, learning to recognize different kinds of questions, and learning how to answer them, when not to answer them, and how to reply when an answer is not appropriate. 3. Explanations One of the most common kinds of explanations found in everyday conversational discourse is the type meant to answer a question about how something works. For example, suppose Bob does not understand how to copy a document on both sides using the office photocopy machine, and he asks Arlene to explain how to do it. Neither are experts, but she has used it many times before, and he assumes she knows how it works. The aim is not to produce a scientific explanation of the process of photocopying. What Bob needs is to understand the sequence of actions he needs to perform in order to get the machine to do this type of job. He asks her, “How do you make it copy on both sides of the page when the originals are one-sided?” Arlene’s explanation tells Bob the sequence of actions he needs to perform in order to get that job done. This how-to-do-it type of explanation runs through a sequence of actions that needs to be performed in order to achieve an outcome. The features of an explanation generally are that it occurs in a dialogue in which one party understands how something works while the other party (the questioner) lacks such understanding. When the explainer offers an explanation, the questioner may simply accept it, or he may ask further questions about the explanation. The questioner can express his specific gaps of understanding, and the explainer can tailor her efforts to addressing the aspects the questioner fails to understand. Such an explanation requires that some understanding of the thing to be explained is already shared by the questioner and the explainer. But there is also a gap. To be successful, the explainer’s explanation must remove the questioner’s expressed lack of understanding. Speech Act Conditions for Explanation (Walton, 2004, p. 83-84). Dialogue Conditions Dialogue Precondition: the speaker and the hearer are engaged in some type of dialogue that has collaborative rules and some collective goal. Question Condition: The hearer asks a question of a specific form, like a why-question or a how-question, containing a key presumption. Presumption Condition: The presumption in the question can be expressed in the form of a proposition (statement) that is assumed to be true by both parties. The presumption is a common starting point, or a
4 previous commitment of both parties. It is a “given”, or data that is not in question, as far as the dialogue between the two parties is concerned. Understanding Conditions Speaker’s Understanding Condition: the speaker has some kind of special knowledge, understanding or information about the presumption that the hearer lacks. Hearer’s Understanding Condition: the hearer lacks this special knowledge, understanding or information. Empathy Condition: the speaker understands how the hearer understands the presumption, premises and inferences, understands how the hearer expects things to normally go, and what can be taken for granted in these respects, according to the understanding of the hearer. Language Clarity Condition: in special cases, the speaker may be an expert in a domain of knowledge or skill in which the hearer is not an expert, and must therefore use language only of a kind that the hearer can be expected to be familiar with and can understand. Success Conditions Inference Condition: the speaker is supposed to supply an inference, or chain of inferences (reasoning), in which the ultimate conclusion is the key presumption. Premise Understanding Condition: the hearer is supposed to understand all the premises in the chain of reasoning used according to the inference condition. Inference Understanding Condition: the hearer is supposed to understand each inference in the chain of reasoning. Transfer Condition: by using the inference or chain of reasoning, the speaker is supposed to transfer understanding to the hearer so that the hearer now understands what he previously failed to understand (as indicated by his question). Understanding is a hard concept to define, because the circular question, ‘How can we understand understanding?’ is posed. Rather than confronting the question directly, it is better to ask how gaps in understanding can be filled, based on common knowledge and lack of knowledge. Research in AI and cognitive science tells us that agents can communicate and understand the actions of other agents because they share “common knowledge” of the way things work in everyday life. Such common knowledge can vary, and gaps that one person has may be need to be filled in by knowledge that another has. For example, Arlene can have some grasp of what Bob may be expected to know about the photocopy machine, and also what he may be expected not to know about it. As Schank (1986, p. 6) put it, understanding is a “spectrum” admitting of gaps and gradations. One agent’s finding the explanation offered by another useful is possible because both share routines of acting and thinking in stereotypical situations both are already familiar with (Schank and Abelson, 1977). They both know about these things to some extent, but one may also learn that she knows some things that the other does not. Transfer of understanding is filling such gaps. Arlene can transfer understanding of special features of a situation or problem that she possesses but Bob lacks, as shown by his question. She can answer his question successfully by transferring such understanding to Bob. Thus we can approach the defining of ‘understanding’ by the negative route, if

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