AskDefine | Define argumentation

Dictionary Definition



1 a discussion in which reasons are advanced for and against some proposition or proposal; "the argument over foreign aid goes on and on" [syn: argument, debate]
2 the methodical process of logical reasoning; "I can't follow your line of reasoning" [syn: logical argument, line of reasoning, line]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /aʁ.ɡy.mɑ̃.ta.sjɔ̃/|lang=fr


  1. argument (process of reasoning)



  1. argument, arguing; a discussion or a quarrel
  2. argument; process of reasoning

Extensive Definition

Argumentation theory, or argumentation, embraces the arts and sciences of civil debate, dialogue, conversation, and persuasion; studying rules of inference, logic, and procedural rules in both artificial and real world settings. Argumentation is concerned primarily with reaching conclusions through logical reasoning, that is, claims based on premises. Although including debate and negotiation which are concerned with reaching mutually acceptable conclusions, argumentation theory also encompasses eristic dialog, the branch of social debate in which victory over an opponent is the primary goal. This art and science is often the means by which people protect their beliefs or self-interests in rational dialogue, in common parlance, and during the process of arguing. Argumentation is used in law, for example in trials, in preparing an argument to be presented to a court, and in testing the validity of certain kinds of evidence. Also, argumentation scholars study the post hoc rationalizations by which organizational actors try to justify decisions they have made irrationally.

Key components of argumentation

  • Understanding and identifying arguments, either explicit or implied, and the goals of the participants in the different types of dialogue.
  • Identifying the premises from which conclusions are derived
  • Establishing the "burden of proof" — determining who made the initial claim and is thus responsible for providing evidence why his/her position merits acceptance
  • For the one carrying the "burden of proof", the advocate, to marshal evidence for his/her position in order to convince or force the opponent's acceptance. The method by which this is accomplished is producing valid, sound, and cogent arguments, devoid of weaknesses, and not easily attacked.
  • In a debate, fulfillment of the burden of proof creates a burden of rejoinder. One must try to identify faulty reasoning in the opponent’s argument, to attack the reasons/premises of the argument, to provide counterexamples if possible, to identify any logical fallacies, and to show why a valid conclusion cannot be derived from the reasons provided for his/her argument

Argumentation and the grounds of knowledge

Argumentation theory was once based upon foundationalism, a theory of knowledge (epistemology) in the field of philosophy. It sought to find the grounds for claims in the forms (logic) and materials (factual laws) of a universal system of knowledge. As argument scholars gradually rejected the idealism in Plato and Kant, and jettisoned with it the idea that argument premises take their soundness from formal philosophical systems, the field broadened. Karl R. Wallace's seminal essay, "The Substance of Rhetoric: Good Reasons," Quarterly Journal of Speech(1963) 44. led many scholars to study "marketplace argumentation," that is the ordinary arguments of ordinary people. The seminal essay on marketplace argumentation is Anderson, Ray Lynn, and C. David Mortensen, "Logic and Marketplace Argumentation." Quarterly Journal of Speech 53 (1967): 143-150. This line of thinking led to a natural alliance with late developments in the sociology of knowledge. Some scholars drew connections with recent developments in philosophy, namely the pragmatism of John Dewey and Richard Rorty. Rorty has called this shift in emphasis "the linguistic turn."
In this new hybrid approach argumentation is used with or without empirical evidence to establish convincing conclusions about issues which are moral, scientific, epistemic, or of a nature in which science alone cannot answer. Out of pragmatism and many intellectual developments in the humanities and social sciences, "non-philosophical" argumentation theories grew which located the formal and material grounds of arguments in particular intellectual fields. These theories include informal logic, social epistemology, ethnomethodology, speech acts, the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of science, and social psychology. These new theories are not non-logical or anti-logical. They find logical coherence in most communities of discourse. These theories are thus often labelled "sociological" in that they focus on the social grounds of knowledge.

Approaches to argumentation in communication and informal logic

In general, the label "argumentation" is used by speech and communication scholars such as (to name only a few) Joseph W. Wenzel, Richard Rieke, Gordon Mitchell, Carol Winkler, Eric Gander, Dennis S. Gouran, Daniel J. O'Keefe, Mark Aakhus, Bruce Gronbeck, James Klumpp,G. Thomas Goodnight, Robin Rowland, Dale Hample, C. Scott Jacobs, Sally Jackson, and Charles Arthur Willard) while the term "informal logic" is preferred by philosophers, stemming from University of Windsor philosophers Ralph Johnson and J. Anthony Blair. Trudy Govier, Douglas Walton, Michael Gilbert, Harvey Seigal, Michael Scriven, and John Woods (to name only a few) are other prominent authors in this tradition. Over the past thirty years, however, scholars from several disciplines have co-mingled at international conferences such as that hosted by the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and the International Society for the Study of Argumentation (ISSA). Other international conferences are the biannual conference held at Alta, Utah sponsored by the (US) National Communication Association and American Forensics Association and conferences sponsored by the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA).
Some scholars (such as Ralph Johnson) construe the term "argument", narrowly, for instance as exclusively written discourse or even discourse in which all premises are explicit. Others (such as Michael Gilbert) construe the term "argument" broadly, to include spoken and even nonverbal discourse, for instance the degree to which a war memorial or propaganda poster can be said to argue or "make arguments." The philosopher Stephen E. Toulmin has said that an argument is a claim on our attention and belief, a view that would seem to authorize treating, say, propaganda posters as arguments. The dispute between broad and narrow theorists is of long standing and is unlikely to be settled. The views of the majority of argumentation theorists and analysts fall somewhere between these two extremes.


One rigorous modern version of dialectic has been pioneered by scholars at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, under the name of pragma-dialectics. The intuitive idea is to formulate clearcut rules that, if followed, will yield rational discussion and sound conclusions. Frans van Eemeren, the late Rob Grootendorst, and many of their students have produced a large body of work expounding this idea.
The dialectical conception of reasonableness is given by ten rules for critical discussion, all being instrumental for achieving a resolution of the difference of opinion (from Van Eemeren, Grootendorst, & Snoeck Henkemans, 2002, p. 182-183):
  • Freedom rule. Parties must not prevent each other from advancing standpoints or from casting doubt on standpoints.
  • Burden of proof rule. A party that advances a standpoint is obliged to defend it if asked by the other party to do so.
  • Standpoint rule. A party’s attack on a standpoint must relate to the standpoint that has indeed been advanced by the other party.
  • Relevance rule. A party may defend a standpoint only by advancing argumentation relating to that standpoint.
  • Unexpressed premise rule. A party may not disown a premise that has been left implicit by that party, or falsely present something as a premise that has been left unexpressed by the other party.
  • Starting point rule. A party may not falsely present a premise as an accepted starting point nor deny a premise representing an accepted starting point.
  • Argument scheme rule. A party may not regard a standpoint as conclusively defended if the defense does not take place by means of an appropriate argumentation scheme that is correctly applied.
  • Validity rule. A party may only use arguments in its argumentation that are logically valid or capable of being validated by making explicit one or more unexpressed premises
  • Closure rule. A failed defense of a standpoint must result in the party that put forward the standpoint retracting it and a conclusive defense of the standpoint must result in the other party retracting its doubt about the standpoint.
  • Usage rule. A party must not use formulations that are insufficiently clear or confusingly ambiguous and a party must interpret the other party’s formulations as carefully and accurately as possible.
The theory postulates this as an ideal model, and not something one expects to find as an empirical fact. It can however serve as an important heuristic and critical tool for testing how reality approximates this ideal and point to where discourse goes wrong, that is, when the rules are violated. Any such violation will constitute a fallacy. Albeit not primarily focused on fallacies, pragma-dialectics provides a systematic approach to deal with them in a coherent way.

Argument fields

Stephen E. Toulmin and Charles Arthur Willard have championed the idea of argument fields, the former drawing upon Ludwig Wittgenstein's notion of language games, the latter drawing from political science and social epistemology. For Toulmin, the term "field" designates discourses within which arguments and factual claims are grounded. For Willard, the term "field" is interchangeable with "community," "audience," or "readership." Along similar lines, G. Thomas Goodnight has studied "spheres" of argument and sparked a large literature created by younger scholars responding to or using his ideas. The general tenor of these field theories is that the premises of arguments take their meaning from social communities.
Field studies might focus on social movements, issue-centered publics (for instance, pro-life versus pro-choice in the abortion dispute), small activist groups, corporate public relations campaigns and issue management, scientific communities and disputes, political campaigns, and intellectual traditions. In the manner of the sociologist, ethnographer, anthropologist, participant-observer, and journalist, the field theorist gathers and reports on real-world human discourses, gathering case studies that might eventually be combined to produce high-order explanations of argumentation processes. This is not a quest for some master language or master theory covering all specifics of human activity. Field theorists are agnostic about the possibility of a single grand theory and skeptical about the usefulness of such a theory. Theirs' is a more modest quest for "mid-range" theories that might permit generalizations about families of discourses.

Toulmin's contributions

Toulmin has argued that absolutism (represented by theoretical or analytic arguments) has limited practical value. Absolutism is derived from Plato’s idealized formal logic, which advocates universal truth; thus absolutists believe that moral issues can be resolved by adhering to a standard set of moral principles, regardless of context. By contrast, Toulmin asserts that many of these so-called standard principles are irrelevant to real situations encountered by human beings in daily life.
To describe his vision of daily life, Toulmin introduced the concept of argument fields; in The Uses of Argument (1958), Toulmin states that some aspects of arguments vary from field to field, and are hence called “field-dependent,” while other aspects of argument are the same throughout all fields, and are hence called “field-invariant.” The flaw of absolutism, Toulmin believes, lies in its unawareness of the field-dependent aspect of argument; absolutism assumes that all aspects of argument are field invariant.
Toulmin’s theories resolve to avoid the defects of absolutism without resorting to relativism: relativism, Toulmin asserted, provides no basis for distinguishing between a moral or immoral argument. In Human Understanding (1972), Toulmin suggests that anthropologists have been tempted to side with relativists because they have noticed the influence of cultural variations on rational arguments; in other words, the anthropologist or relativist overemphasizes the importance of the “field-dependent” aspect of arguments, and becomes unaware of the “field-invariant” elements. In an attempt to provide solutions to the problems of absolutism and relativism, Toulmin attempts throughout his work to develop standards that are neither absolutist nor relativist for assessing the worth of ideas. Toulmin believes that a good argument can succeed in providing good justification to a claim, which will stand up to criticism and earn a favourable verdict. In The Uses of Argument (1958), Toulmin proposed a layout containing six interrelated components for analyzing arguments:
  1. Claim: conclusions whose merit must be established. For example, if a person tries to convince a listener that he is a British citizen, the claim would be “I am a British citizen.”
  2. Data: the facts we appeal to as a foundation for the claim. For example, the person introduced in 1 can support his claim with the supporting data “I was born in Bermuda.”
  3. Warrant: the statement authorizing our movement from the data to the claim. In order to move from the data established in 2, “I was born in Bermuda,” to the claim in 1, “I am a British citizen,” the person must supply a warrant to bridge the gap between 1 & 2 with the statement “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British Citizen.”
  4. Backing: credentials designed to certify the statement expressed in the warrant; backing must be introduced when the warrant itself is not convincing enough to the readers or the listeners. For example, if the listener does not deem the warrant in 3 as credible, the speaker will supply the legal provisions as backing statement to show that it is true that “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British Citizen.”
  5. Rebuttal: statements recognizing the restrictions to which the claim may legitimately be applied. The rebuttal is exemplified as follows, “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British citizen, unless he has betrayed Britain and has become a spy of another country.”
  6. Qualifier: words or phrases expressing the speaker’s degree of force or certainty concerning the claim. Such words or phrases include “possible,” “probably,” “impossible,” “certainly,” “presumably,” “as far as the evidence goes,” or “necessarily.” The claim “I am definitely a British citizen” has a greater degree of force than the claim “I am a British citizen, presumably.”
The first three elements “claim,” “data,” and “warrant” are considered as the essential components of practical arguments, while the second triad “qualifier,” “backing,” and “rebuttal” may not be needed in some arguments. When first proposed, this layout of argumentation is based on legal arguments and intended to be used to analyze the rationality of arguments typically found in the courtroom; in fact, Toulmin did not realize that this layout would be applicable to the field of rhetoric and communication until his works were introduced to rhetoricians by Wayne Brockriede and Douglas Ehninger. Only after he published Introduction to Reasoning (1979) were the rhetorical applications of this layout mentioned in his works.
In Cosmopolis (1990), Toulmin traces the Quest for Certainty back to Descartes and Hobbes, and lauds Dewey, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Rorty for abandoning that tradition.

Artificial intelligence

Argumentation is also a formal discipline within artificial intelligence where the aim is to make a computer assist in or perform the act of argumentation. In addition, argumentation has been used to provide a proof-theoretic semantics for non-monotonic logic, starting with the influential work of Dung (1995). Computational argumentation systems have found particular application in domains where formal logic and classical decision theory are unable to capture the richness of reasoning, domains such as law and medicine. Within Computer Science, the ArgMAS workshop series (Argumentation in Multi-Agent Systems), the CMNA workshop series. and now the COMMA Conference, are regular annual events attracting participants from every continent.

Internal structure of arguments

Typically an argument has an internal structure, comprising of the following
  1. a set of assumptions or premises
  2. a method of reasoning or deduction and
  3. a conclusion or point.
An argument must have at least one premise and one conclusion.
Q. What is an argument that is void of reason ? Is it not just opinion - theory ? One may leap to a conclusion but it must be traced back to the premise and the initial problem by building a bridge of justification else it is just a castle in the sky - an idea, not an argument. The idea may be true or false and may even get common acceptance because it 'feels' right or appeals to expectations. BUT it is not an argument.
Often classical logic is used as the method of reasoning so that the conclusion follows logically from the assumptions or support. One challenge is that if the set of assumptions is inconsistent then anything can follow logically from inconsistency. Therefore it is common to insist that the set of assumptions is consistent. It is also good practice to require the set of assumptions to be the minimal set, with respect to set inclusion, necessary to infer the consequent. Such arguments are called MINCON arguments, short for minimal consistent. Such argumentation has been applied to the fields of law and medicine. A second school of argumentation investigates abstract arguments, where 'argument' is considered a primitive term, so no internal structure of arguments is taken on account.
In its most common form, argumentation involves an individual and an interlocutor/or opponent engaged in dialogue, each contending differing positions and trying to persuade each other. Other types of dialogue in addition to persuasion are eristic, information seeking, inquiry, negotiation, deliberation, and the dialectical method (Douglas Walton). The dialectical method was made famous by Plato and his use of Socrates critically questioning various characters and historical figures.

Psychological aspects

Psychology has long studied the non-logical aspects of argumentation. For example, studies have shown that simple repetition of an idea is often a more effective method of argumentation than appeals to reason. Propaganda often consists of such non-logical argumentation. Nazi rhetoric, and especially that of Adolph Hitler, has been studied extensively as, inter alia, a repetition campaign. Such studies bring argumentation within the ambit of persuasion theory and practice.
Some psychologists such as William J. McGuire believe that the syllogism is the basic unit of human reasoning. They have produced a large body of empirical work around McGuire's famous title "A Syllogistic Analysis of Cognitive Relationships." A central thrust of this thinking is that logic is contaminated by psychological variables such as "wishful thinking," in which subjects confound the liklihood of predictions with the desirability of the predictions. People hear what they want to hear and see what they expect to see. If planners want something to happen they see it as likely to happen. Thus planners ignore possible problems, as in the American experiment with prohibition. If they hope something will not happen, they see it as unlikely to happen. Thus smokers think that they personally will avoid cancer. Promiscious people practice unsafe sex. Teenagers drive recklessly.

Kinds of argumentation

Mathematical argumentation

The basis of mathematical truth has been the subject of long debate. Frege in particular sought to demonstrate (see Gottlob Frege, The Foundations of Arithemetic, 1884, and Logicism in Philosophy of mathematics) that that arithmetical truths can be derived from purely logical axioms and therefore are, in the end, logical truths. The project was developed by Russell and Whitehead in their Principia Mathematica. If an argument can be cast in the form of sentences in Symbolic Logic, then it can be tested by the application of accepted proof procedures. This has been carried out for Arithemetic using Peano axioms. Be that as it may, an argument in Mathematics, as in any other discipline, can be considered valid just in case it can be shown to be of a form such that it cannot have true premises and a false conclusion.

Scientific argumentation

Perhaps the most radical statement of the social grounds of knowledge appears in Gross, Alan G. The Rhetoric of Science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990. Gross holds that science is rhetorical "without remainder," meaning that scientific knowledge itself cannot be seen as an idealized ground of knowledge. Scientific knowledge is produced rhetorically, meaning that it has special epistemic authority only insofar as its communal methods of verification are trustworthy. This thinking represents an almost complete rejection of the foundationalism on which argumentation was first based.

Legal argumentation

Legal arguments (or oral arguments) are spoken presentations to a judge or appellate court by a lawyer (or parties when representing themselves) of the legal reasons why they should prevail. Oral argument at the appellate level accompanies written briefs, which also advance the argument of each party in the legal dispute. A closing argument (or summation) is the concluding statement of each party's counsel (often called an attorney in the United States) reiterating the important arguments for the trier of fact, often the jury, in a court case. A closing argument occurs after the presentation of evidence.

Political argumentation

Political arguments are used by academics, media pundits, candidates for political office and government officials. Political arguments are also used by citizens in ordinary interactions to comment about and understand political events. The rationality of the public is a major question in this line of research. A robust political science research tradition seems to prove that the American public is largely irrational and ignorant of even the most basic knowledge of national or world affairs. Some theorists have inferred from this that only comprehensively trained elites can debate public issues. They point as additional proof to the practice of academic debate in the United States, an activity almost exclusively involving children of the upper middle classes, future lawyers and graduate students, and not ordinary citizens.

Further reading

Flagship journals:
  • Argumentation
  • Informal Logic
  • Argumentation and Advocacy (formerly Journal of the American Forensic Association)
  • Social Epistemology
  • Episteme: a journal of social epistemology
  • Fourteen proceedings of the American Communication Association and the American Forensics Association Conferences on Argumentation at Alta, Utah.
  • Six proceedings of the International Association for the Study of Argumentation (ISSA) conferences, Amsterdam, Holland.
  • Six proceedings of the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation conferences, Ontario, Canada.



  • J. Robert Cox and Charles Arthur Willard, eds. Advances in Argumentation Theory and Research 1982.
  • Dung, P. M. On the acceptability of arguments and its fundamental role in nonmonotonic reasoning, logic programming and n-person games. Artificial Intelligence, 77: 321-357 (1995).
  • Bondarenko, A., Dung, P. M., Kowalski, R., and Toni, F. , An abstract, argumentation-theoretic approach to default reasoning, Artificial Intelligence 93(1-2) 63-101 (1997).
  • Dung, P. M., Kowalski, R., and Toni, F. Dialectic proof procedures for assumption-based, admissible argumentation Artificial Intelligence 170(2), 114-159 (2006).
  • Frans van Eemeren, Rob Grootendorst, Sally Jackson, and Scott Jacobs, Reconstructing Argumentative Discourse 1993.
  • Frans Van Eemeren & Rob Grootendorst. A systematic theory of argumentation. The pragma-dialected approach. 2004.
  • Eemeren, F.H. van, Grootendorst, R. & Snoeck Henkemans, F. et al (1996). Fundamentels of Argumentation Theory. A Handbook of Historical Backgrounds and Contemporary Developments. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Michael A. Gilbert Coalescent Argumentation 1997.
  • Trudy Govier, Problems in Argument Analysis and Evaluation. 1987.
  • Hample, D. (1979). Predicting belief and belief change using a cognitive theory of argument and evidence. Communication Monographs, 46, 142-146.
  • Hample, D. (1978). Are attitudes arguable? Journal of Value Inquiry, 12, 311-312.
  • Hample, D. (1978). Predicting immediate belief change and adherence to argument claims. Communication Monographs, 45, 219-228.
  • Hample, D., & Hample, J. (1978). Evidence credibility. Debate Issues, 12, 4-5.
  • Hample, D. (1977). Testing a model of value argument and evidence. Communication Monographs, 14, 106-120.
  • Hample, D. (1977). The Toulmin model and the syllogism. Journal of the American Forensic Association, 14, 1-9.
  • Trudy Govier, A Practical Study of Argument2nd ed. 1988.
  • Sally Jackson and Scott Jacobs, "Structure of Conversational Argument: Pragmatic Bases for the Enthymeme." The Quarterly Journal of Speech. LXVI, 251-265.
  • Johnson, Ralph H., Manifest Rationality: A Pragmatic Theory of Argument, Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000.
  • Johnson, Ralph H., and Blair, J. Anthony, "Logical Self-Defense", IDEA, 2006. First published, McGraw Hill Ryerson, Toronto, ON, 1997, 1983 (2e), 1993 (3e). Reprinted, McGraw Hill, New York, NY, 1994.
  • Johnson, Ralph H., and Blair, J. Anthony (1987), "The Current State of Informal Logic", Informal Logic, 9(2–3), 147–151.
  • Johnson, Ralph. H. (1996). The rise of informal logic. Newport News, VA: Vale Press
  • Johnson, Ralph. H. (1999). The relation between formal and informal logic. Argumentation, 13(3) 265-74.
  • Johnson, Ralph. H. & Blair, J. A. (1977). Logical self-defense. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson. US Edition. (2006). New York: Idebate Press.
  • Johnson, Ralph. H. & Blair, J. Anthony. (1987). The current state of informal logic. Informal Logic 9, 147-51.
  • Johnson, Ralph. H. & Blair, J. Anthony. (1996). Informal logic and critical thinking. In F. van Eemeren, R. Grootendorst, & F. Snoeck Henkemans (Eds.), Fundamentals of argumentation theory (pp. 383-86). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  • Johnson, Ralph. H. & Blair, J. Anthony. (2000). Informal logic: An overview. Informal Logic 20(2): 93-99.
  • Johnson, Ralph. H. & Blair, J. Anthony. (2002). Informal logic and the reconfiguration of logic. In D. Gabbay, R. H. Johnson, H.-J. Ohlbach and J. Woods (Eds.). Handbook of the logic of argument and inference: The turn towards the practical (pp.339-396). Elsivier: North Holland.
  • Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric, Notre Dame, 1970.
  • Stephen Toulmin. The uses of argument. 1959.
  • Stephen Toulmin. The Place of Reason in Ethics. 1964.
  • Stephen Toulmin. Cosmopolis. 1993.
  • Douglas N. Walton, The Place of Emotion in Argument. 1992.
  • Wenzel, J. 1990 Three perspectives on argumentation. In R Trapp and J Scheutz, (Eds.), Perspectives on argumentation: Essays in honour of Wayne Brockreide, 9-26 Waveland Press: Propsect Heights, IL
  • Woods, J. (1980). What is informal logic? In J.A. Blair & R. H. Johnson (Eds.), Informal Logic: The First International Symposium (pp. 57-68). Point Reyes, CA: Edgepress.
  • Woods, J. (2000). How Philosophical is Informal Logic? Informal Logic 20(2): 139-167. 2000
  • Charles Arthur Willard, A Theory of Argumentation. 1989.
  • Charles Arthur Willard, Argumentation and the Social Grounds of Knowledge1982.

See also


  • Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking
  • International Society for the Study of Argumentation (ISSA)
  • American Forensics Association
argumentation in Norwegian: Argumentasjon
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