OSSA Conference: Virtues of Argumentation

The Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA) is holding its annual conference at the University of Windsor (Ontario, Canada) on May 22-25, 2013. This year, the theme of the conference is “Virtues of Argumentation.”

Keynote speakers include Daniel H. Cohen, Marianne Doury and G. Thomas Goodnight. Other speakers include Anthony Blair, Frans van Eemeren, Robert Ennis, James Freeman, Trudy Govier, Leo Groarke, Donald Hatcher, Ralph Johnson, Robert Pinto, Robert Rowland, Harvey Siegel, Jean Wagemans, Douglas Walton, and many other thought leaders in the field from around the globe.

I have been invited to provide commentary on a paper by Dmitri Bokmelder on the subject of “Cognitive biases and logical fallacies.” Here is the abstract of his paper:

Cognitive biases identified in psychology are indications of imperfect reasonableness of… Continue reading

An Argumentative Theory of Reasoning

In October, I had the pleasure of attending a symposium on the “Argumentative Theory of Reasoning” at which the keynote speaker was psychologist Hugo Mercier, co-author with Dan Sperber of a landmark paper published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 2011 entitled “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory.” Mercier’s presentation was organized by the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation and Rhetoric at the University of Windsor (Ontario). In this post, I’ll summarize in my own words the key points and lines of argument in Mercier’s presentation. (More details can be found in the original Sperber-Mercier paper, available online).

What is Reasoning?

According to Mercier, reasoning is the cognitive process in which reasons are used to weigh decisions and justify beliefs. As such, reasoning is not… Continue reading

Argumentation Styles in Political Debate – Explaining Communication Failure

When was the last time you won a political argument, i.e., when you convinced someone to change their mind to your way of thinking? When was the last time someone changed your mind? If you’re like me, it’s been a long time. Why is the sort of belief accommodation that happens in other contexts rarely (by comparison) happens political discussions? Why should it be so hard to have productive conversation about politics? For the last fifteen years or so, I’ve been observing political debate on the Internet, on TV, and talk radio, with the goal of understanding why political conversations between people who disagree are unproductive or difficult, and I have come up with a theory that explains it.

The basic idea this this: people tend to debate… Continue reading

“Intellectual Battle” – Why We Love the Adversarial Paradigm of Argumentation

Expressions like “intellectual battle,” “culture war,” “winning an argument,” or “attacking faulty reasoning” employ adversarial metaphors suggestive of something rather removed from Raphael’s depiction of philosophical dialog in his famous painting, School of Athens (shown cropped in the banner of this blog). Surrounded by a collection of other intellectuals of the period, the two men at the center of that work — Plato and Aristotle –– are shown having a discussion. This is the leitmotif of what Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins dubbed “The Great Conversation.” This is a conversation about the “great ideas” that have shaped the intellectual history of the West over the last 2,500 years.

The Great Conversation is an example of the “dialectical paradigm” of argumentation. This paradigm makes certain assumptions about the ability… Continue reading