Graduate Studies

Speaker Series Winter 2021

Speaker Series Archive for Winter 2021

January 8th, 3pm
Dr. Catherine E. Hundleby

Argument Repair: Teaching Interpretation

An “Adversary Method” that prioritizes a modus tollens logic of refutation has been observed by Janice Moulton (1983) and others to dominate the discipline of philosophy and undermine its epistemological and moral-political functioning.

Hundleby 2010 analyzes critical thinking textbooks written by philosophers to provide evidence in favour of Moulton’s view. It also suggests a way to limit the problematic dominance of the Adversary Method while still retaining a place for it.  Philosophers may better equip students to engage various forms of reasoning by adopting how Richard L Epstein (2013) presents “charitable interpretation” as the consideration of rules for “Argument Repair.” “Argument Repair” guides student interpretation of arguments in a way that accommodates various standards of inference and evidence but prevents the Adversary Method from acting as the default.

January 15th, 3pm
Dr. Daniel Cohen

You Can't Judge an Argument By Its Closure

It may be a commonplace that bad arguments can have good conclusions, but it is a lesson more easily taught than learned. One of the reasons that it may be easier to appreciate in theory than practice is that its range of application extends beyond the narrow logicians’ sense of arguments as inferences, where the possibility of true conclusions from invalid reasoning is unproblematic, to include the whole gamut of desirable outcomes for argumentation, from demonstrable truths and optimal solutions to instances of rational persuasion and even the mutually satisfactory resolution of a difference.

There is much to recommend appeals to arguer satisfaction as a criterion for argument evaluation, especially when proponents, opponents, judges, audiences, and everyone else who engages with the argument – including its critics – is counted among the arguers. Any critical objection to an argument is eo ipso evidence that not all the arguers are satisfied. There is, however, also something worrisome about arguer satisfaction as a criterion. It is relative to the contingent complement of arguers involved. 

Relativizing argument evaluation in this way leaves open the possibility that while all the arguers might be satisfied, perhaps they ought not be and the reasons for this would not be accessible to them. Nor would it be visible to any critical examination of the argument itself. That is, two arguments reaching the same conclusion by the same means – arguments that are word-for-word identical down to the last speech act of each and every participant – could still merit different evaluations. The characters of the arguers need to be taken into account, even if the character differences do not manifest in the specific argument at hand.

January 22nd, 3pm
Dr. Christoper Tindale

Is Argumentation Theory WEIRD?

In The Enigma of Reason (2017), Mercier & Sperber raise a version of this question, concluding that “Reasoning and argumentation are found everywhere, as we should expect if reason is an evolved module and if the production and evaluation of argument is one of its two main functions” (286). The extent to which we might agree with this judgment, is the extent to which we can agree with how the terms “reasoning” and “argumentation” are being understood. By way of analysis, and to mark the publication of The Anthropology of Argument (Routledge 2021), I review some of the arguments I advance in the book, particularly as they relate to the assumptions underlying how argumentation theory has been both disseminated and adopted as a tool of evaluation. This involves shifting the discussion to whether and how argumentation theory has flourished beyond its WEIRD instantiations. I end with some comments on appropriation, offering a dissociation of the term.

This begins our Alumni Month!

January 29th, 3pm
Dr. Katharina Stevens

Argument is Moral - Using Walton's Dialectical Tools to Evaluate Argumentation from a Moral Perspective

Douglas Walton’s dialectical theory of argumentation, developed in a swath of papers and several monographs, most central of which are The New Dialectic and, co-authored with Eric Krabbe, Commitment in Dialogue, is one of the most thoroughly developed, detailed and fruitful theories of argumentation available. But Walton’s dialectical theory of argumentation is valuable not only as a comprehensive framework. It is also contains important insights fit to illuminate and answer questions that arise outside of his framework and that he may or may not have intended to address. Here, I will sketch how Walton’s concepts of dialogue types and dialogue shifts, which allowed him to build a highly original fallacy theory, can be used for constructing a method of argument-evaluation from a moral perspective.  Walton has the goal of making it possible to evaluate argumentation without needing to attempt a determination of the arguer’s intentions, which he thinks would require too much psychological speculation. It may seem that the moral evaluation of argumentative behavior requires exactly this. However, I argue that Walton’s method of grounding argument evaluation in the goals of argumentative dialogues can be adapted by identifying moral goals of argumentation associated with harm avoidance and respect for dignity. This makes it possible to determine whether argumentative behavior is desirable or undesirable from a moral point of view without needing to inquire into an arguer’s intention. Crossing that line is only necessary if we want to determine whether moral blame should be put on the arguer.

February 5th, 3pm
Dr. Patrick Bondy and Dr. David Godden

Rebuttal and Counter-Rebuttal in Argument

The standard forms of argument rebuttal are three: to argue against the truth of another argument’s premises; to argue against the adequacy of the connection between another argument’s premises and its conclusion; and to argue that there are better reasons for a contradictory conclusion. Defeasible arguments are uniquely susceptible to the latter two kinds of rebuttal, as given by Pollock-Pinto defeaters: overriders and undercutters. In this talk we present a model of rebuttal as counter-argument, understood as argumentation that somehow counts against some target argument. On this model, counter-rebuttal can then be modeled as a counter-argument of a counter-argument, permitting an exhaustive taxonomy of the kinds of rebuttal and counter-rebuttal. We close by speculating on how our model of rebuttal and counter-rebuttal might inform an answer to the question of when counter-rebuttal has a strengthening or merely a restorative effect on the strength of some initial, rebuttable, argument.

February 12th, 3pm
Dr. Michael Baumtrog

Designing Critical Questions for Argumentation Schemes

This paper offers insights into the nature and design of critical questions as they are found in argumentation schemes. In the first part of the paper, I address some general concerns regarding their purpose and formulation. These include a discussion of their evaluative function, their relationship with the patterns of reasoning they accompany, as well as the differing formulations of critical questions currently on offer. I argue that the purpose of the critical questions for humans ought to be to provide the means for a scalar evaluation of the reasoning at hand. To do so, critical questions should be closely paired with individual premises in the accompanying pattern of reasoning. Doing so allows the roles of raising considerations relevant for the reasoning and scrutinizing those considerations to be clearly distinguished. In the second part of the paper, I offer a positive methodological proposal for the construction of questions and premises that aims at overcoming a number of the individual and systematic shortcomings of extant question styles. The paper concludes by arguing that the new approach is both normatively strong and practically useful for argumentation in context.

February 26th, 3pm
Dr. Linda Carozza

Diversity, Conflict Resolution, and (Dis)agreement

This paper explores whether reaching an agreement between interlocutors is necessarily a product of good arguing methodology. When we are open to diverse modes of arguing, and different cultural norms of arguing, it becomes challenging to assume that a particular argumentation theory will be adequate. In addressing disagreements between interlocutors, particular conflict styles, for example, may/may not be conducive to successful persuasion amongst arguers – regardless of an accepted argumentation theory. Mediators are trained to be neutral facilitators with a range of diverse strategies for resolving disagreements; however, parties in conflict can derail a mediator’s trajectory in helping all involved i) understand different positions and ii) develop possible, mutual, resolutions regarding the agreed upon understandings. This paper discusses different attitudes toward conflict and how they intersect with the resolution of disagreements. An openminded, flexible, approach to the nature of argumentation is assumed. However, even so, disagreements may remain as such - largely due to conflict styles. Conflict styles that may fall outside the parameters of yielding appropriate argumentation maneuvers are explored and suggestions for the argumentation community to consider when faced with disagreements that suffer from attitudes towards situations of conflict, rather than arguing style, are put forward. 

This concludes out Alumni Month!

March 5th, 3pm
Dr. Sally A. Jackson

Argumentation in Health Controversies

The term controversy is commonly used to refer to sustained differences of views in which various actors see difference of opinion as an obstacle or a threat to their own goals. Controversies always involve disagreement, but to be recognizable as a controversy, the disagreement must be sustained and (more importantly) consequential for at least a subset of actors. Controversies are of particular value for development of argumentation theory. Not only do they generate many, many individual arguments, but they also progress and regress over time, creating frequent opportunities for inventive new moves. They are not, however, easy to study!

My particular focus in this talk will be health controversies. A health controversy is a sustained set of disagreements about practical choices to be made regarding human health, such as the infamous controversy over MMR vaccination and the much more recent controversy over strategies for managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Building on Aakhus and Lewiński's concept of argumentative polylogue, and on my own prior work on naturally occurring arguments, I will describe empirical methods suitable for studying argumentation within health controversies and show a sample of the interesting findings that these methods can produce.

March 12th, 3pm
Michael A. Yong-Set

Some Critical Thoughts on Critical Thinking: A Blooming Taxonomy of Game-Adjacent Ideas for Education

The domains of Argumentation Theory, Informal Logic and Critical Thinking have many points of contact despite their differences. While precise delineations are unsettled, one aspect they share is an intersection with pedagogy and education. Notably, achieving 'critical thinking and problem-solving skills' is now a common learning outcome and degree level expectation at higher institutions.

This interest in 'critical thinking' alongside the increasingly recognized limitations of static teaching strategies have motivated educators and theorists to develop alternatives for delivering critical thinking education. The use of 'games in education' is one such candidate. It is predicated on the prospect of harnessing the demonstrably enormous enthusiasm young people have for gaming and refocusing that towards learning.

There is potential in leveraging the resources of 'games' to enhance critical thinking and its pedagogy. However, this is a challenging approach - partly because 'games' and their adjacent ideas are nebulous. In this presentation, I share some insights and offer preliminary organizational tools for approaching the issue of 'games in education.' I conclude with remarks about how my conception of 'critical thinking' motivates my optimism for 'games' cultivating the higher-order traits that characterize 'critical thinkers' worthy of the name.

March 19th, 3pm
Justin Eckstein

The Parkland Kid’s Sound Tactics

On February 14th, 2018 Nikolas Cruz entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, opened fire, killing 17, and injuring many others. Students convened a massive, nationally televised, public protest event in response (March For Our Lives). Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the shooting, gave the last speech of the event. The central moment of her speech was an abrupt turn to silence lasting the exact amount of time as the school shooting providing evidence of what it felt like to be there and persuading them of the need for meaningful gun reform. I contend that this use of silence constituted a powerful form of public argument that I call a sound tactic, which uses relations of time and intensity to emplace in the school. I will use this case study to advance an understanding of sound tactics and the potential for rhetorical invention. 

March 26th, 3pm
Waleed Mebane

Allsembly: Software for computer support of large-group, collaborative public policy justification

Online forums for discussion on issues of public concern have the potential to enable pervasive public involvement in democratic decision-making by facilitating communication across distance and time, but they have to be able to promote on-topic contribution and resist the influence of misinformation. The software prototype that I will present implements a system that is rule-based in a way similar to debate (and unlike informal discussions) and is also game-like.  Automatically enforced rules are designed to regulate participants' contributions toward successfully meeting the goal of justifying a policy.

Participants gain points by contributing and endorsing assertions that the preponderant weight of evidence (its amount and persuasiveness) is found to support by the set end time for concluding the exercise.  This promotes on-topic and significant contributions and honest assessments of confidence in assertions.  The current state of justification of action proposals and of each assertion is displayed in an interactive argument diagram, so participants will always know which statements are in need of evidential support and which are well supported.  Misinformation may often not be supported.  When it is, the bases for its persuasiveness will be exposed and can be critically tested.