Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Characterising approaches to argument

It is generally considered that there are three types of academic argument: classical - aka Western, or Aristotelian - argument (Excelsior Online Writing Lab, 2020; Macauley, 2020); Toulmin argument (1958; read more here); and Rogerian argument (aka 'persuasion'; Nordquist, 2019).

However, across these three types, there are also a few characterising approaches to argument. Those are considered to be structural; pragmatic; and the cluster of inductive, deductive and conductive (McKeon, 2020), as follows:
  1. Structural: this is the "if this, then this" type of argument. This type of argument can be displayed in standard form: Premiss 1, Premiss 2, Premiss 3, Therefore: Conclusion (p1, P2, P3, C). This is used a lot in science, often paired in hypothesis testing research.  There is no 'why': there is only evidence. 
  2. Pragmatic: this is where a 'reasoner' proposes several premisses as supporting reasons, and explanations of 'why', "to rationally persuade an audience of the truth of the conclusion" (McKeon, 2020; Pierce, 1908).  We gain an understanding of other perspectives, but also have to be alert to the reasoner's aims in case they differ to our own, or are contrary to reality.
  3. Inductive/deductive/conductive:
    1. Deductive: basically, if the premisses are true, then the reasoner's argument should be valid; a step by step, known outcome model. McKeon provides an example: "It’s sunny in Singapore. If it’s sunny in Singapore, then he won’t be carrying an umbrella. So, he won’t be carrying an umbrella" (2020). We talk a lot about validity here. This is a mathematical argument (even though this is often called 'mathematical induction'). We can see how this fits with structural argument.
    2. Inductive: this is where, if  the reasoner's argument is strong enough, then the argument is likely to succeed. You can hear the probabilities whirring in this one! As McKeon illustrates, "For example, this is a reasonably strong inductive argument: Today, John said he likes Romona. So, John likes Romona today. (but its strength is changed radically when we add this premise:) John told FelipĂ© today that he didn’t really like Romona" (2020). Ouch for Romona. We talk about reasoning here. This is a humanistic, social sciences, management-style of argument. We can see how this fits with pragmatic argument. 
    3. Conductive: the reasoner provides "explicit reasons for and against a conclusion, and requiring the evaluator of the argument to weigh these competing considerations, that is, to consider the pros and cons" (McKeon, 2020). Provide all the arguments and let the audience decide for themselves. We can see how this too fits with pragmatic argument. 
And then I read a great piece by Patters on retroductive argument (Thompson, 1999), which is also known as abductive argument. This is where "an explanation is proposed to account for an observed fact or group of facts, [...] i.e. any type of similarity or co-occurrence, including (but not limited to) location in space and time. For example, 'Jones was in the building at the time of the murder. Perhaps he is the killer,' or 'The blood on the victim's shirt matches Jones' blood type. Perhaps Jones is the killer.' In the second example, the similarity of blood type is the concomitance on which the inference turns" (Thompson, 1999). Lovely.

So retroduction - aka abduction - is where we take an "observation or set of observations and then seek[...] to find the simplest and most likely conclusion from" them (Leslie & Van Otten, 2020): an Occam's Razor approach, if you will (though we do need to be careful of affirming the consequent). What I also find useful is how well abduction fits with Pierce's pragmatic approach (Commens Digital Companion to C. S. Peirce, 2020). What is also interesting is that 'abduction' is thought to be a corruption of retroduction. Conduction is not mentioned anywhere. It seems that, for Peirce, retroduction is conduction. Different schools, maybe.

We could plot the characteristics of argument on a continuum and see the shift from absolutism to fuzzy logic, as is shown in the accompanying illustration. I suppose someone has done this before, but it was new to me :-)




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