Argumentation, Communication, and Context

In everyday life humans make decisions that decisively affect their future, individual and collective. They: vote in crucial issues; decide to adopt (or not) a set of global measures to preserve the environment; decide to start a certain medical treatment that has an uncertain outcome; switch off a machine supporting the life system of someone in deep coma; decide that someone is guilty and put that person in jail for years; choose (if they can) to pay a huge sum for their children’s education having the free public education at their disposal; buy and sell all sort of things and services. They do all that, and more, believing that they are serving their own best interests, or of their families, or of some group.

Albeit all these decisions are supposed to be rationally grounded, they are taken in a way that: tangles up reason and uncertainty; allows for better or worse; requires context sensitivity; calls for ceteris paribus considerations; is, in short, defeasible.

Conscious of the defeasible nature of their reasons for or against a particular standpoint, people verbally articulate these reasons and subject them to public discussion. These public argumentative transactions form the intersection plane of human reasoning with human verbal communication. They are present even when, trying to rationally ground a decision, we are thinking alone and in silence.

Context here makes all the difference between the classic un-parameterized approach to argument forms, solely based in the laws of Logic, and the modern approach that considerers real argumentations, where situated rational communicants do the best they can to justify their standpoints. The interpretation and analysis of agent’s utterances throughout these argumentative communication processes and the fair evaluation of what is the best justification of a given standpoint should, of course, be parameterized to the contexts of occurrence of those communication events.

Dialectics (including the Topics and the Sophistic Refutations) and Rhetoric were the two philosophical disciplines created by Aristotle to approach argumentation. They grew up separate ways, and more recently they rejoined forces under the title: Argumentation Theory. Dialectics approaches argumentations seeing them as processes of conflict solution of (at least) two antagonistic standpoints on a particular issue; Rhetoric approaches these same processes considering the persuasion mechanisms that they use and exploit. They complement each other.

The main purpose of our Project is to analyse, assess and confront the two most comprehensive, influential and well-accepted current Dialectic theories: the Pragma-dialectical Theory (PDT) of Frans van Eemeren and others, and the Argumentation Schemes Theory (AST) of Douglas Walton and others. more...

Research Group