This examination process will be staged in 5 levels:

1st) Theoretical. PDT and AST conceptions of a rationally acceptable argument will be scrutinized and confronted;

2nd) Modelling. The PDT-model and the AST-model both resulting from differently integrating the descriptive and the normative elements of argumentations will be articulated and contrasted;

3rd) Empirical. Three different kinds of contexts will be examined by the PDT and AST models: political discussions at European Union Parliament; “Economist Debates on line”; sentences, together with their respective argumentations, pronounced by the Portuguese judges;

4th) Analytical Reconstruction. The PDT and the AST models will be scrutinized in detail for the respective ability to cope with real argumentative processes, to describe their relevant features, to produce an informative analysis of them and to evaluate the actual arguments sorting out the good from the bad ones;

5th) Practical. The PDT and the AST models will be exploited to see if, and how well, they permit to develop a sort of ‘manual of good practices for arguing’ eventually enriched by the processes that took place at level 4.

An important novelty of our proposal lies in the assumption that level 4 is to be considered the crucial stage of confrontation between PDT and AST, and also the locomotive of innovation in the field of Dialectics. All important theoretical and practical decisions made at other levels are to be tested against the evidence of their respective ability to deal with real complex arguments.

The general expected results of this five level examination process consist in identify and clearly articulate:

-       the merits and demerits of both PDT and AST;

-       the necessity of amendments and reformulations of each of them;

-       the possibility of tandem explanations where both theories contribute;

-       the wrong aspects to be disposed;

-       the necessity and place of ‘contributions from outside’: Rhetoric, other Dialectic theories, and classical theories such as Aristotle’s, Cicero’s or Quintilian’s;

-       the necessity of conceptual and methodological innovation: new, non-existing, concepts and tools to be created.


Research Plan and Methods

The Project’s main research problems are: What is today’s philosophical knowledge about argumentations as far as they can be interpreted as rational processes of conflict resolution? And, in what direction should we evolve in order to substantially increase that philosophical knowledge?

The challenges associated with these twin problems are, first, to righty evaluate current philosophical theories of argumentation and, second, to make room for innovation within the range of these theories.

Since argumentations are not only rational processes of conflict resolution, but they also contain and exploit persuasion elements and mechanisms, this Project will eventually pick up this subject and approach it in order to complement the evaluative or the innovative features of the research. And since currently Philosophy is not alone in striving for constructing a good explanation of argumentative processes, the Project will eventually make room for particular contributions from outside Philosophy.

In fact, the study of argumentation has had its origins in Plato’s dialogues, Aristotle’s Logic, Dialectics and Rhetoric, the works of Cicero and Quintilian, the Mediaeval Logic and Rhetoric, and was somehow reborn with Chaim Perelman and Olbretch-Tyteca’s New Rhetoric, and with Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Arguments. But what is today called “Argumentation Theory” has largely surpassed the work of these philosophers, and is a rich interdisciplinary area of research spanning Philosophy, Communication Studies, Linguistics, Computer Science and Psychology.

The contribution of Philosophy to this area is still rightly equated with the two disciplines created by Aristotle: Dialectics and Rhetoric. They grew up separate ways, but currently they complement each other. Logic is used too, but only as part of the dialectic framework and as a tool for empirical research. 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, based on Dialectics, that considers real argumentations, where situated rational communicants do the best they can to justify their standpoints.

Currently there are two Dialectic theories that can be considered the most comprehensive, influential and well-accepted: the Pragma-dialectics Theory (PDT) of van Eemeren and others, and the Argumentation Schemes Theory (AST) of Douglas Walton and others. It is these two philosophical theories that this Project is going to contrast and assess. And it is relative to the scope of these two theories that innovation will be tried. The contributions of other disciplines will be orbital to PDT and AST.

The importance and interest of the problems we will be approaching drive directly from the importance of argumentative processes themselves.

Human beings, perhaps differently from other animals, are aware about the possibility of being mistaken about a belief, and of being wrong about a decision or of having performed an action with unforeseen undesired consequences. Human beings, unlike gods, don’t have access to omniscience or to future telling. So they are condemned, so to speak, to pursuit the truth in all corners, never being absolutely sure that they got it, and having to justify it when they believe they do.

The importance of these communicative-argumentative processes is huge. Parental and school education, all sorts of personal, political, medical and legal decisions, in short, every justified human belief, decision or action is, or can be formulated as being, the result of an argumentative process. Argumentation is at the very heart of human condition.

The Project proposes to assess how good is the philosophical approach to argumentation, what next steps should be made, and will try even to make some of these steps. The main original idea underlying this Project consists in evaluating the two leading philosophical theories (PDT and AST) not, as usual, through a purely theoretical debate, tainted with sparse examples, but through a detailed and very carefully performed analysis of how PDT and AST fare when they cope with data they are supposed to explain; only here these data are not chosen examples that each theory somehow picks up to illustrate its merits, but they are real, long, complex, sophisticated argumentations of the highest quality and addressing issues considered of great interest for today’s society. When such an empirical application takes place it is sure that several important unforeseen problems will pop up and confront the theories has they are currently formulated. These problems will be relative to the minutiae of the reconstructive analysis and to the evaluation of real arguments.

As far as we know, and in spite of recent empirical work done by the proponents of both PDT and AST, no enterprise of this magnitude was attempted and we strongly feel that both theories have reached a maturity state that makes them deserve that confrontation.

The general methodology to adopt in this Project, as described in the 5 Tasks, is: 1st) to get a canonical formulation of PDT and AST that will be certified by their very authors, respectively, van Eemeren and Walton (Task 1); 2nd) to empirically confront the canonical formulation of each theory with real highly complex argumentations stemming from three different very important areas (Politics, Law, and Socio-Economics) and to press the theories as much as possible to explain, evaluate and even (in a sense) to predict the data by stating what are the right / the best argumentative moves to make (Tasks 2 to 4); and, 3rd) to cash out the results of that empirical confrontation both in terms of the merits and demerits of each theory and in terms of what still lacks to be made (Task 5).

The 3rd aspect motivates concept and method construal. Since problems and gaps have been identified and explained in the previous stages, we will now be in a position to try to create new concepts that help to extend the reach of theoretical explanation, and new methodological tools that allow a more fine-grained analysis of argumentations where a need for that was felt.

The methodological attitude is constructive: we will try to preserve and take advantage of as much elements (conceptual or methodological) of each theory (PDT and AST) as we can, and we will also try to build from both tandem elements when we find that possible at all. Working within this spirit, we will keep tentative innovation to the minimum needed to improve the theories only were their malfunctioning was spotted.

Other important ideas that we have from the start are:

1.     To use of logical analysis to improve the notion argument scheme;

2.     To use conceptual framework stemming from Philosophy of Language and Pragmatics the clarify the relevance of the context to the notion of defeasible argument;

3.     To use of contemporary research methods in Rhetoric (such as frame analysis) to fill some explanatory gaps we are very likely to find in both theories;

4.     To have recourse to classical works of Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian, if / when they motivate conceptual innovation;

5.     To use available software tools to display argumentative strategies as they are account for by both theories;

6.     To punctually allow for foundational exploitations of cognitive science and psychology.

Again all 1-6 are driven by focused analysis of the two dialectic theories: PDT and AST.

The main expected results are:

1.     A Portal (in English and in Portuguese) called “Argumentation, Communication and Context Portal”, the ACC-Portal for short, where all relevant information and results are displayed and participation from outside is welcome;

2.     A short Manual on AST and PDT (resulting from Task 1);

3.     2 sets of critical essays one assessing AST, the other assessing PDT;

4.     1 set of exploratory papers proposing new concepts and particular methodological tools found necessary to foster the explanatory status of philosophical explanation of argumentation.

Two final very important features of the Project we would like to stress are:

1. the building of a team working in Portugal with solid expertise in Argumentation Theory, having shared knowledge (see Tasks 1 and 5) and also specializations (see Tasks 2 to 4);

2. the creation of an international network were this Portuguese team is included side by side with the leading figures of the area (including those that have created the theories and that will be acting as consultants of the Project).


Literature Review

One can hardly exaggerate the importance of argumentations for human life. In fact, as far as humans are considered rational agents, all their beliefs, choices and actions are subject, at least in principle, to rational justification. These justifications, in turn, are couched in language, and communicated to others, thus being made available to public evaluation under the form of argumentations.

Argumentation Theory stems from classic work done by Aristotle [1984], Cicero [1949] and [1954], and Quintilian [1980]. It also incorporates the work of the ‘modern classics’ as Toulmin [1958] and Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca [1958]. A comprehensive view of this theory, its roots, and current ramifications is to be find in van Eemeren, Grootendorst, R., and Henkelmans, F. (eds.) [1996]. Today it is a rich interdisciplinary area of research where Philosophy is the matrix thanks to: Logic (Kahen, H., Cavendel, N.M. [2004], Lepore, E., and Cumming, S. [2009]), Dialectic (van Eemeren, F. (ed.) [2009a], van Eemeren, F. and Garssen, B. (eds.) [2009c]), Rhetoric (Schiappa, E. [2000], Herrick, J.A. [2004], ), and Philosophy of Language (Prayer, G. and Peter, G. (eds.) [2007]; Szabó, Z. (ed.) [2007]; Korta, K. & Garmendia, J. (eds.) [2008]). It studies how one can identify, analyze, interpret, evaluate (accept/reject) and construct arguments.

Although there considers 3 kinds of reasoning underlying arguments: deductive, inductive and defeasible (Adler, J. and Rips, L. (eds.) [2008]), it is one our Project working hypothesis that in real life argumentation processes the first two kinds never occur in a ‘pure state’ and the third kind always includes fragments of deductive inferences, and sometimes also of inductive ones. And since we are interested in these real life argumentations, we will focus on defeasible arguments and defeasible argumentation processes and tackle the others only insofar as they occur embedded in the defeasible ones (Prakken, H. and Vreeswijk, G. [2002], Walton, D. [2006]).

Also, we are interested in arguments mainly as reasoned justifications for endorsing a certain standpoint, and in argumentations as rational actions for resolving conflicts between different standpoints. So we will concentrate on Dialects. Incursions on other the other mentioned above disciplines will be made only in the orbit of our just stated interest.

Focusing on Dialects, our Project will analyse, assess and confront the two most comprehensive, influential and well-accepted current theories in this area: the Pragma-Dialectics Theory (PDT) of van Eemeren and others (van Eemeren, F. and Grootendorst, R. [2004], Houtlosser, P. and van Rees, A. (eds.) [2006]), and the Argumentation Schemes Theory (AST) of Douglas Walton and others (Walton, D., Reed, C. and Macagno, F. [2008a]). These theories behave has friendly rivals.

The AST-model for studying argumentations is certainly less constrained by a priori assumptions then the PDT-model; and, in a sense, the first is also less systematized then the second (see: Walton [2006] vs. van Eemeren et alt. [2004]). On its turn, the PDT-model doesn’t seem to be so well suited to an all contexts application as its AST counterpart (see: Walton [1997], [1999], [2000], [2008b] vs. van Eemeren, F.; Grootendorst, R.; and Jackson, S.; and Jacobs, S. [1993] and van Eemeren, F.; Garssen, B. and Meuffels, B. [2009b]).

Any theory candidate for an adequate theory of argumentation should be able to articulate a descriptive feature, which hooks the theory to real arguments, together with a normative feature, which enables the theory with a method for sorting out good arguments from bad ones. So, in a sense, the treatment of fallacies is the ‘acid test’ for any theory of argumentation. From this point of view, what divides AST and PDT can be attributed to the fact that the latter, but not the former, has at its core a set of 15 (kind of a priori) rules (van Eemeren et alt. [2004]). The fallacies are thus explained (away), according to PDT, as violations of these rules. By contrast, AST proposes a trinomial approach to this subject: there are argumentation schemes, critical questions and contexts of use; according to the way a concrete instance of an argumentation scheme responds to the relevant critical questions, we have a good use of that scheme, or a fallacious use of it (Walton [2008a]).