People make arguments when they express, justify, or explain their opinions. These arguments both reflect and have implications for the values people hold. Arguments have value implications because they reveal how people have constructed their views of the world and how they have interpreted and assigned meaning to their experiences. Consequently, an examination and analysis of arguments tells us a great deal about the people who created them, those who accept them as convincing, and the societies and/or cultures in which those people live. People are continually challenged by new experiences and situations that they must interpret and make sense of in order to make their way in the world. Events acquire meaning as we think about them, interpret them, and most importantly, as we talk about them with others. It is through discussing our experiences that human culture is created, shared, and thereby re-created. Human values develop as they do, largely because those who came before us have witnessed and learned the utility of living their lives in accordance with certain principles. Some of these principles are revealed through the teachings of religious prophets, priests, and other clergy. We also learn values from the proverbs, fables, and historical lessons we are taught. Still other values are taught by our parents, our teachers, and by civic and community leaders. Finally, our values are shaped and influenced by our experiences and our interactions with our friends. That people’s values differ reflects how their experiences and cultures differ. This chapter considers how values influence how people select and evaluate arguments and the formation of the argumentative marketplace. We believe people come to understand their world and their values in narrative (or storytelling) form. Throughout our lives we both hear and tell stories. Some stories we believe, enjoy, and find useful; because we find them appealing, we repeat them. Other stories we find unbelievable; we discredit and discard these stories. Through storytelling we give form to the world around us. The stories we tell do more than merely reflect our views of the issues we regard as significant; they become our reality. Some stories are simple and straightforward, such as those learned in childhood. These stories often contain moral lessons that are intended to guide us in our life deci
sions. For example, all of us can probably recall the story of the three little pigs. The first pig built a house of straw, a second pig built his house of sticks, and the third pig labored long and hard to build a sturdy structure of bricks and mortar. Only the pig that took the time and effort to build the secure brick home had shelter when the wolf came by and after taking a deep breath blew the houses of straw and sticks away. Obviously, the point of the story goes far beyond the relative merits of alternative porcine dwellings. The intended moral is that hard work will be rewarded, one should anticipate the possibility of adverse conditions and circumstances (perhaps not just wolves but nasty winds or raging fires!), and people, like pigs, need to exert the energy to prepare for their future. From such stories, children learn important lessons that should help them later in life, and they learn them in ways that are easily comprehended and remembered. It is in narrative form that we learn about several core values that should guide our lives. For example, from childhood fables most of us learned the importance of doing good deeds for others (e.g., the child who removes the thorn from the paw of the angry and wounded lion is not only spared injury, he makes a friend), about what happens to those who would raise a false cry of danger (e.g., the boy who always cries wolf discovers that no one takes him seriously when he really needs assistance) and, about the importance of telling the truth (e.g., the story of George Washington admitting to his father that he chopped down the cherry tree, and as a result of his honesty he is not punished). The exposure to so many different stories teaches us how to craft and tell our own stories as well has how to reason in narrative form. As our intellects develop and as the problems we face become more complicated, so too our stories become more complex, requiring a greater degree of nuance in order to account for situations that are morally ambiguous. They almost certainly entail more sophisticated language, storytelling techniques, and plot devices. Despite these developments, however, the nature of the narrative reasoning remains fundamentally the same. In March 2014, Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula. In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev, as leader of the Soviet Union, ceded Crimea to the neighboring Ukraine. At that time Russia and Ukraine were yoked together under the ruling Communist Party in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The peninsula was transferred from the Russian Republic to the Ukraine Republic with little fanfare via a simple official declaration: Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet transferring Crimea Province from the Russian Republic to the Ukraine Republic, taking into account the integral character of the economy, the territorial proximity and the close economic ties between Crimea Province and the Ukraine Republic, and approving the joint presentation of the Presidium of the Russian Republic Supreme Soviet and the Presidium of the Ukraine Republic Supreme Soviet on the transfer of Crimea Province from the Russian Republic to the Ukraine Republic.1 The situation had clearly changed 60 years later. Khrushchev’s generosity no longer seemed to fit the demands of the current moment. When the Communist Party lost control in the Soviet Union and the nation collapsed, Ukraine and several other republics broke away and became independent nations. Ukrainians took Crimea with them when they left the Soviet Union. But despite Khrushchev’s gift of the territory, the Crimean Peninsula had long been considered part of the Russian homeland. In 1954
there were three ethnic-Russians living in Crimea for every Ukrainian, and that was still the case in 2014. Although there was no land connecting Crimea to Russia, several large Russian military installations on the peninsula served as the home base for Russia’s strategically important Black Sea fleet. In 2014, Russian leader Vladimir Putin took advantage of political disruptions in Ukraine to encircle Ukrainian armed forces inside their own Crimean bases. He then demanded a public election to poll Crimean residents on whether they would prefer to remain in Ukraine or become part of Russia. The election, which many in the West protested as unfair, went Russia’s way. Putin announced he would accept the outcome as the will of the people and he welcomed Crimea into the Russian Federation. He also promised to begin construction on a bridge to connect the peninsula to the Russian mainland.2 Recognizing they could not match the military power of the Russians, the Ukrainians eventually conceded and developed a plan to evacuate their own forces and shutter their bases in Crimea.3 While the United States and most European governments protested Russia’s heavy-handed tactics in seizing the territory of a weaker neighbor, Putin’s popularity at home soared. “Recovering the region that was part of Russia for centuries has boosted Putin’s standing among countrymen nostalgic for Moscow’s lost superpower status.”4 Perhaps expressing the strongest political language to protest the events in the Ukraine, former Secretary of State and anticipated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used a historical narrative to explain the significance of Putin’s aggressive military strategy: Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s… all the Germans that were… the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people, and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.5 Clinton’s comparison of Putin’s actions to those of Hitler certainly stirred the international and domestic tensions about the significance of the Russian actions, and her comments received significant attention in the media. The invocation of Hitler in a foreign policy argument was not, however, all that unusual for an American politician. President George H. W. Bush invoked the Hitler analogy to justify his decision to send US troops to the Middle East in the “Desert Storm” war, the first war conducted against Iraq in 1991. Bush argued that the troops were necessary because the United States had an obligation to counter the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. If we did not intervene, he argued, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would eventually try to capture Saudi Arabia and the other nations of the region. Hussein’s goal, according to this story, was to capture all of the oil reserves in the region so he could hold the United States and other oil-dependent countries hostage. Furthermore, he sought to oppress the people in the region. President Bush claimed that Hussein was utterly ruthless and had no respect for the sanctity of human life. Hussein was said to have seized power by force, to have silenced all of his critics, and to have used chemical weapons against the Kurdish citizens of his own nation. US military forces, and those of other nations who joined in the war effort, quickly ejected the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait and inflicted severe damage on the retreating armies. President Bush chose to end the conflict without capturing the Iraqi
capital of Bagdad, however, and without toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime. The reasoning offered at the time was that capturing the city would result in a terrible loss of life and it was believed Hussein’s grip on power would be so weakened by the battlefield losses, he would likely be toppled by his own citizens. President Bush also believed overthrowing Saddam Hussein was beyond the scope of the mission agreed to by our allied partners and might have ended up splitting the coalition and thus causing political tensions to worsen in the region.6 A dozen years later, in 2003, President George W. Bush, the son of President George H. W. Bush, invaded Iraq to finish the business his father had begun. Saddam Hussein had not only managed to hang on to his power in Iraq, he had continued to stir up trouble in the region, and was even believed to have plotted an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the first President Bush.7 President George W. Bush, the devoted son, again developed his argument for war in a narrative that emphasized Saddam Hussein as an evil actor, a dictator who oppressed and murdered his own citizens, and someone who, because he possessed weapons of mass destruction, also represented an existential threat to the United States and to our allies in the region. Although the claim regarding the weapons of mass destruction was never substantiated, and no such weapons were ever discovered, the narrative of Saddam Hussein as a villain rang true for many Americans, and Bush won significant public support for his decision to invade Iraq and overthrow the regime.8 There have, however, been countless other brutal dictators in the world that the US government not only tolerated but befriended and claimed as allies. For example, men such as August Pinochet of Chile, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, and Chiang Kai-shek of China (eventually he was forced to flee the mainland for Taiwan) were also capable of great cruelties and/or corruption, yet all received vast amounts of military and economic assistance from the United States. Indeed, in previous years even Saddam Hussein had been depicted as a US ally, no doubt in part because his opposition to Iran was seen as furthering US strategic interests. Yet, more recently he was depicted as a cruel villain. How were these apparent inconsistencies reconciled? Furthermore, why did the United States intervene and overthrow the brutal dictator Muammar Gaddafiof Libya in 2011 but not intervene against the equally brutal Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria, in 2013? Certainly the decision to invade or not invade is made following a pragmatic analysis of how important a particular nation is to the interests of the United States and how likely it is that an intervention would result in a successful outcome. We would argue, however, that public support for military action would almost certainly be stronger if the public becomes convinced that the enemy leader is an immoral actor who poses a threat to the peace and security of the United States. The American people, or at least a significant percentage of them, were convinced that Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddaficonstituted such a threat. They were not convinced that Bashar al-Assad did. One reason for the different outcomes probably was the power of the stories that were circulating to justify intervention. Adolf Hitler is arguably the most notorious figure in history. He embodied deliberate evil in its most horrific form. The claim that Hussein was another Hitler gained its power by encouraging the American people to recall the lessons of World War II. These lessons were relived in the stories of that great conflict. World War II stories
almost always begin with accounts of how the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sought to appease Hitler and to negotiate with him in order to prevent a broader conflict. Ultimately, of course, Hitler could not be appeased, and a total and complete state of war was necessary to unseat the German dictator and to thwart his deadly territorial ambitions. Surely, the lessons of history tell us, it would have been better had Great Britain, France, and the United States responded more aggressively to Hitler much earlier, before he had acquired so much power. A columnist in the London Daily Telegraph drew the following conclusion: “A pre-emptive strike against Hitler at the time of Munich would have meant an immediate war, as opposed to the one that came later. Later was much worse.”9 Thus, if we were to extend the comparison between Hitler and Hussein, it would seem desirable to respond to Hussein’s aggression before he managed to further consolidate his power and strengthen his control over captured Kuwait and the other nations in the region.10 The power of the “Hussein as Hitler” narrative is obvious. Hitler, the most heinous of modern villains, was capable of outrageous acts of genocide, and was completely beyond the reach of any rational argument. He was willing to destroy his own people and his own nation in the pursuit of his delusional, grandiose plans. Hitler was stopped only by extreme force. If Hussein is akin to Hitler, then he is also an evil force who must be dealt with quickly and definitively. As James Fallows argued: “Nazi and Holocaust analogies have a trumping power in many arguments, and their effect in Washington was to make doubters seem weak—[the] Neville Chamberlains versus the Winston Churchills who were ready to face the truth.”11 Fallows further argued, however, that the Nazi analogy paralyzed the debate about Iraq rather than clarifying it. Like any other episode in history, the Iraqi situation was both familiar and new. In the ruthlessness of the adversary it resembled dealing with Adolf Hitler. But Iraq, unlike Germany, had no industrial base and no military allies nearby. It was and still is split by regional, religious, and ethnic differences that are much more complicated than Nazi Germany’s simple mobilization of “Aryans” against Jews.12 Yet, as was demonstrated as the crisis unfolded, arguments that asserted that Hussein was in reality not a mad Hitler clone, or that Iraq was no Nazi Germany, seemed less persuasive because they lacked the narrative appeal of the Hitler analogy. As these examples demonstrate, people naturally seek to understand current world events by comparing them to previous events from history. As we apply the lessons of history, the historical stories that we swap become the lens through which we view our current situation. Those historical stories that have acquired meaning in our life provide the patterns for our reasoning and problem-solving deliberations. It is in this sense that people can be said to reason through narrative structures. A related example of an attempt to explain a contemporary event by searching for an appropriate historical narrative is provided by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001. The events of that day, now widely known in the public lexicon as 9/11, were so dramatic and terrifying that ordinary citizens, media spokespersons, and elected officials alike searched for the appropriate historical narratives to explain them. Many storytellers, including President George W. Bush, likened these terrorist attacks to the Japanese attacks on the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which began World War II. As a result, many of these storytellers declared that
the United States should respond to the 9/11 attacks with a declaration of war and a strategy of total military conflict. These storytellers noted that the events were similar because both attacks represented an assault on US soil and because they occurred without warning and without specific provocation. What these storytellers seemed to miss in making the analogies between the two events, however, was that the recent attacks were not made by a nation or by the airplanes and personnel of a standing army. Instead, they were the work of a loosely structured terrorist network. Consequently, a declaration and pursuit of war might not be either as appropriate or as effective as it was in World War II. The terrorist network that created the contemporary attacks operated in a number of different nations in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and even Europe. Was the United States military to engage the terrorists in open and declared warfare in all of these locations? There was convincing evidence of collusion between the terrorists and the ruling Taliban government in Afghanistan that made that nation a logical primary target for a military response. But what about those nations where the evidence of official cooperation with the terrorists was present but less overwhelming? What should the United States’ response be in these cases? Indeed, it soon became clear that many of the terrorists who hijacked the airplanes that were used to crash into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were citizens of Saudi Arabia, a nation that the United States had long considered a close ally. What was the appropriate response in a situation such as this? Furthermore, President Bush declared that the United States was engaged in a war against terror. But terror is an emotion. The strategic device used by terrorists is to create fear. So how does a nation use its military to declare a war on fear? How does one determine that such a war has been successfully concluded? When people no longer have fear? We believe that such a day will most likely never come. As a result, the United States committed its forces by definition to a war that was unlikely to ever be clearly resolved. Our point is that although stories can serve as powerful resources in the construction of narrative understandings of events, storytellers also need to recognize that the selection of a particular narrative may lock people into worldviews and resulting policy actions that might be ill-suited to those events if they are seen from the perspective of an alternative narrative. Stories also serve an important formative purpose both for the people who choose to tell them and believe them and ultimately for the cultures that come to accept them. For example, as US citizens, many of us have developed an understanding of our identity as a nation on the basis of stories about our founding fathers and, though far too infrequently, stories about our founding mothers. In elementary school we were taught to respect George Washington’s honesty, Benjamin Franklin’s inventiveness and ingenuity, Thomas Jefferson’s concern for equality, and Abraham Lincoln’s humility. Our teachers did not dwell on the facts that George Washington padded his expense accounts, that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were philanderers, or that Abraham Lincoln was a successful corporate attorney (representing the railroads, the most powerful corporations of the day). These aspects of our founding fathers’ life stories are not recounted as frequently because they serve our contemporary needs less well. In short, the stories that are retold time and again are those that fulfill contemporary needs.
The telling and retelling of the stories of our birth as a nation and the accounts of the personal lives and achievements of our founding fathers invites collective identification among US citizens with their government. It also helps citizens identify the morally correct course of action. It is fully consistent with our self-image that freedom-loving Americans—a people descended from the patriotic and selfless Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Lincoln—will unite to help eliminate evil in the world. Whether the evildoer is Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar Gaddafi, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the current leader of the Islamic State), or any other terrorist or dictator intent on killing innocent people and thwarting the free will of people, the United States has asserted that it has the moral authority, and perhaps the diplomatic and military might, to help end oppression. The confidence that we, as US citizens, have in the moral certainty of our actions is thus a result of our own narrative experience—we have created our world to fit our stories, as much as we have created the stories to fit our world. The purpose of this discussion is not to discredit the stories that make up US history, nor do we see the process as a negative one. All humans reason through narratives, which helps to explain why the citizens of Iraq, and apparently of many other Middle East nations, believed in the legitimacy of Iraq’s takeover of Kuwait, admired the courage of Saddam Hussein, and advocated that the sanctions against Iraq be ended. How could these other nations, many of which are also our allies, maintain a sympathetic view of a man whom we depicted as the modern Hitler? Why is it that young people in the streets of Pakistan’s largest cities burned George W. Bush in effigy while holding posters that proclaimed Osama bin Laden to be a hero? How is it that terrorist actions such as those that occurred on September 11, 2001, are seen as clearly reprehensible in one society yet deemed fair, just, and appropriate to another? How can international diplomacy be conducted and reasoned arguments occur when people tell such completely different stories—and as a result construct their reality in such incompatible ways? One lesson that quickly becomes apparent from an attempt to answer the above questions is that those patriotic stories that on the surface seem so positive to the formation of values of a political culture may have negative consequences. For example, the stories about Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Lincoln previously discussed may have led many Americans to have an unquestioning faith in the legitimacy of the American experience. Such stories may cause Americans to be either unwilling or unable to see the faults in our nation. This in turn may cause many Americans to believe what is good for the United States’ interests is also good for everyone else’s interests. Americans may be too inclined to believe the American way is the best way, if not the only way to solve problems. This argument is sometimes referred to as “American exceptionalism.”13 Can Americans who largely live lives of prosperity and privilege in a nation that cherishes pluralism and democratic values really anticipate they will tell the same stories, live the same experiences, and share the same worldviews as do those who live in repressive, undemocratic, tribal, or impoverished nations? Before you surrender to the belief that all attempts at reasoned discourse are futile, however, it is important to recognize that it is quite possible for people to critique and evaluate the quality of the stories they hear and tell. When comparing the rival stories that compete for acceptance as people seek to explain themselves and express their convictions, one can gain insight into the underlying differences in cul
tures, values, political conditions, and experiences that shape human life. Narrative arguments are rational arguments, and we can learn a great deal about how people reason through stories. Knowing more about the narrative reasoning process will help us to learn how to tell better—that is, more convincing, credible, and compassionate—stories. ■ The Narrative Paradigm We are exposed to literally hundreds of different stories in any given week. We hear stories in conversations with friends and family members, we hear them on the news, we watch them unfold in television programs, and we read them in books, newspapers, and magazines. How do we determine which are true and should guide our lives and which are not true and should be dismissed? One criterion that we can apply is to determine whether the stories were intended as fictions. However, the line between real and fictional accounts often becomes blurred. Some fictions come to be accepted as truths and are especially useful in shaping our lives and helping us make sense of our experiences. Perhaps one of the best-known examples of a work of fiction that was taken as truth was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a story about the experiences of slavery told through the eyes of a slave family. This book had a tremendous impact on public attitudes toward slavery and came to be accepted as fact, despite its fictional characters. Indeed, the book was sometimes credited with having so inflamed abolitionist attitudes that it may have sparked the Civil War. Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, President Lincoln is purported to have said: “So this is the little lady who made this great war.”14 People will accept stories as true if these stories speak to them and account for their experiences. Walter R. Fisher has argued that people reason through narratives. He referred to this mode of reasoning as the narrative paradigm, which he summarized as follows: (1) Humans are… storytellers. (2) The paradigmatic mode of human decision making and communication is “good reasons,” which vary in form among situations, genres, and media of communication. (3) The production and practice of good reasons are ruled by matters of history, biography, culture and character… (4) Rationality is determined by the nature of persons as narrative beings— their inherent awareness of narrative probability, what constitutes a coherent story, and constant habit of testing narrative fidelity, whether or not the stories they experience ring true with the stories they know to be true in their lives…. (5) The world as we know it is a set of stories that must be chosen among in order for us to live life in a process of continual re-creation.15 Fisher claims that human reasoning need not be bound to argumentative prose, or to clear-cut inferential or implicative structures, because it is typically achieved through the stories that people tell. Viewed from this perspective, virtually all arguments can be understood and evaluated as stories. One of the most noteworthy aspects of this theory of argument is its assumption that ordinary people who are untrained in argumentation techniques are capable of resolving complex problems
because they reason through narrative structures. For purposes of clarification, we will look at both the tests of arguments and the criteria for evaluating “good reasons” that Fisher mentions. People first assess arguments by evaluating their narrative probability. This concept refers to whether a story seems coherent. Is the argumentative structure of the story satisfying and complete? Does the chronology of events seem credible and convincing? Does the story seem to account for the material facts of the situation in a satisfying manner? How do the primary characters in the story acquire their dramatic motivation? Do the heroes behave in ways that are appropriately heroic? Do the villains behave as villains are expected to behave? Are the actions of the characters reliable? Do their actions seem to follow from the plot that has been developed in the narrative structure? Do their behaviors seem consistent with the values that the plot attributes to them? In our earlier discussion about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, for example, we noted that both presidents named Bush cast Hussein as a notorious villain. Using the test of narrative probability would encourage arguers to question whether Hussein indeed lives up to our expectations for a villain. Was he the “Beast of Baghdad”? Or was he a patriotic and heroic Iraqi strongman who earned the admiration of his own citizens and of others in the region by standing up to the developed Western powers? Did the United States fight to secure the freedom and self-determination of the people of Kuwait? Or did we merely try to secure our access to cheap oil? Were the economic sanctions that the United States placed on the government of Iraq an appropriate strategy to attempt to rein in the aggressive ambitions of Saddam Hussein? Or did those sanctions unfairly punish the people of Iraq, for example, denying them access to pharmaceutical products that could reduce diseases and save lives? Was the decision to intervene in Iraq and depose Hussein’s regime moral and legitimate? Or did the George W. Bush administration exaggerate the danger that Iraq posed to the world? What are people to make of the fact that the “weapons of mass destruction” that we were told Hussein possessed were never found? Many stories depend upon the credibility and good character of the key actors in the narratives. Actors seek to win our trust and support by emphasizing that they share our values. Political candidates, for example, frequently build their entire campaigns on the notion they are people of character. Senator John Walsh (D-Montana) was appointed to fulfill the term of another senator who left office early to become ambassador to China. The governor in making the appointment emphasized Walsh’s character and his distinguished record of military service. During his campaign to win election to his own full term of office, however, it was discovered that Walsh had plagiarized much of his thesis paper that earned him a master’s degree from the US Army War College. This blow to his character certainly undermined his credibility and diminished public perceptions of his suitability for public office.16 Character and integrity are important resources that are essential to one’s power and credibility as a storyteller. Consider the case of Brian Williams, the former news anchor on NBC Nightly News. Over many years Williams told different versions of a story in which he claimed to have been in a military helicopter in 2003 when covering the war in Iraq. Williams claimed that the helicopter was struck by fire and forced to land. The pilot and crew that flew the helicopter on which Williams was a passenger
remembered the situation differently, however, and claimed that their helicopter did not take fire and was not forced to the ground. Indeed, they claimed that they did not arrive upon the scene where other helicopters had been forced to land until 30 minutes after the attack occurred. Although Williams eventually apologized claiming that his memories were simply an honest mistake and a product of “the fog of memory,” others saw them as a deliberate attempt to inflate the significance of his own role in the war by exaggerating his experience. Critics argued that his deceptions, and his woefully inadequate explanation and apology, undermined his credibility and represented “an unmitigated disaster for NBC,” because “an anchor’s No. 1 requirement is that he or she has credibility. If we don’t believe what an anchor tells us, what’s the point?”17 People seek stories that do not leave loose ends untied. We prefer stories that offer resolution and satisfy our need to understand rapidly developing and complex issues and events. For example, have you ever watched a film that left you dissatisfied because the plot did not hang together very well? Although audiences enjoy films with surprise endings, the best of such films are carefully planned so when they are finished, the audience can look back and discover the clues that were available all along. Our interest in compelling and satisfying stories is no less intense outside of books or films. Most Americans did not wish to fight a war in the Middle East until they were convinced that the conflict was unavoidable, the objectives were moral and justified, and the probability of victory was high. The second test of stories, narrative fidelity, concerns whether a story represents accurate assertions about social reality.18 This dimension of narrative reasoning is firmly rooted in the human capacity for making judgments about issues of value. Fisher argued that people seek to make their decisions in accordance with the values they hold. They also seek to determine if the “facts” revealed to them in the stories they encounter are indeed facts, if they are reliable and relevant, and whether they have been taken out of context. People thus consider the degree to which any new story seems consistent with the stories they have heard before and have already accepted as true—stories they have used to explain their past experiences. The “Hussein as Hitler” story, for example, fares well in a test of narrative fidelity for many Americans. This is not a story, however, without some fairly obvious flaws. First, Iraq is not Nazi Germany. While President Bush pointed out that Iraq fielded one of the world’s largest armies, the Iraqi forces lacked the discipline, training, or weapons systems to put up much of a fight against US and allied forces. Second, Nazi Germany was a nation with a strong industrial base and very well-educated scientists, engineers, and other professionals. It also boasted a very well-trained industrial workforce. Third, for all of his flaws, there is little evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein was the driven megalomaniac dictator that Hitler was. Still, many Americans no doubt came to believe a negotiated settlement with Iraq was as doomed to failure as were attempts to make peace with Hitler. In addition, Hussein’s willingness to bomb clearly civilian targets in Israel, his killing of innocent women and children in his own nation, and his policies against any who opposed his regime suggested that he may have harbored the same blind hatreds and hostilities that Hitler did.19 As we have already mentioned, Fisher argued that the capacity for narrative argument is present in all humans, because all of us are socialized and taught through sto
ries. The power of this form of argument is often illustrated in the courtroom. Lance Bennett and Martha Feldman, in their analysis of courtroom arguments, observed that jurors were able to make sense of complicated and sophisticated legal arguments when they evaluated these arguments as stories.20 A prosecutor, for example, must fashion a structurally complete and internally consistent story that takes into account all the evidence in the case.21 A defense attorney can succeed if he or she can find a way to reveal flaws in the prosecutor’s story. These flaws might involve such issues as evidentiary inconsistencies, locating new evidence that is important to the case yet fundamentally incompatible with the prosecutor’s story, or the construction of a rival story that seems equally or more probable. Human nature causes people to accept stories that fit their own needs or further their own interests. For example, a political candidate’s story containing promises to fund increases in social programs while also decreasing taxes may appeal to voters because it promises benefits without pain. A rival story that says these benefits will require an increase in taxes may be less appealing to many voters. Only when the first political story is refuted by material evidence in the form of data that will convince people the story cannot account for the observed facts will people be inclined to reject it. As we have already argued, stories must meet the tests of narrative probability and fidelity, but sometimes people will work harder to convince themselves that a story that seems to serve their interests is true while one that does not is inaccurate. The appeal of some stories, and the lack of appeal of other stories, is closely connected to the values and life experiences of people and of the cultures in which they live. Those stories people tell and come to believe as probably true give form to their lives and thus help to shape their values and their self-conceptions. Fisher argued that people seek out stories that confirm their sense of themselves. Those stories that justify people’s behaviors and motives, and make them feel important and worthwhile, have an easier time gaining public acceptance than do those stories that negate their self-image. People are more readily compelled to action on the basis of stories that make such action and their own conduct seem appropriate and just. Skilled storytellers understand that people seek stories that affirm their self-concept. For example, when political candidates go before groups like the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars, they appeal to the veterans’ sense of pride in their patriotism, their love of country, and their feelings of camaraderie with fellow veterans. A politician who wants to refute a story that we can increase spending on social programs and also lower taxes might stress the fact that the numbers have been “cooked” and that the result would be an increase in the budget deficit. Then this arguer could claim that the budget deficit might make it more costly for the government to borrow money and to service the new debts that are incurred. The arguer could then suggest that our decision to live beyond our means today shifts our burdens onto the backs of our children. This appeal to the obligation that today’s citizens have to future generations is persuasive because it addresses our desire to nurture and protect our offspring. The concern for the health and welfare of children is a natural human emotion, and thus a form of argument that will appeal to audiences across a wide span of time and a wide range of specific issues. As a result, it is also a recurring theme for stories. More than 2,500 years ago, Aristotle wrote that happiness, justice, courage, fear, praise, sympathy, and empathy (among others) are common issues that
are capable of influencing the opinions formed by listeners to public arguments.22 Listeners might thus be motivated to accept certain stories as more probably true than others, simply because these stories appeal to their values, emotions, sense of virtue, or instincts. If all humans possess an almost instinctive ability to engage in narrative arguments—to tell stories, and to evaluate and choose between the stories they are told— what need is there for a course in argumentation? The answer, we believe, lies in the fact that although all people are capable of arguing through stories, some people are better storytellers than others. Although everyone can tell a story, not everyone can write a poem, a novel, or even a short story. The assumption we make is that by learning certain argumentative principles people can hone their storytelling skills and learn how to become better storytellers (advocates) and better critics of the stories that they are exposed to on a daily basis. The next section is devoted to the benefits of learning argumentation theory. ■ The Limits of Argument One clear measure of a competent arguer is the ability to recognize when to argue and when to remain silent. Another measure is the ability to recognize a superior argument. A competent arguer knows when an adversary has presented arguments that are superior to his or her own. Learning when to argue and when not to argue will not only make you a more convincing advocate for the positions that you espouse, it may also help you to preserve your friendships. Although we will discuss the relationship between argumentation style and interpersonal relationships in greater detail in the last chapter, at least brief attention is devoted to this issue now, because it is so important to developing the skills of effective argumentation. Often we find ourselves in conversations where someone makes a statement that we disagree with, but our disagreement is so trivial that we need to decide whether the relational tension that might result from a public disagreement is warranted. Sometimes arguments are not worth the effort because the issue about which we differ is not very significant. It may not seem worthwhile, for example, to argue that the color of a couch you admired in a furniture store was turquoise, if your friend insists it was teal. Obviously both turquoise and teal come in many different shades, and our ability to distinguish between them may be limited, as may be our ability to recall what we saw. Breaking into a full-fledged dispute over precisely what the color was may simply not be worth the effort. The decision to argue (to engage in argument2) over every trivial difference of opinion will obviously impair your relationships with others. None of us choose as friends, lovers, or even close colleagues, people with whom we find ourselves in constant disagreements over trivial issues. The tension level that results from such disputes can begin to undermine even otherwise healthy relationships. Still other arguments are not worth having because they do not concern questions that can be readily resolved through disputation, regardless of the relative skills of the competing arguers. For example, an argument over which college football team has gone to the Rose Bowl more often, the University of Southern California or Ohio State
University, is not a dispute that can be resolved through arguments (although such arguments have certainly occupied the time of many a sports fan!). This is an empirical question that can be answered with a simple Internet search. If, however, the argument concerned which school had established the better football tradition, it would be resolvable only through argument. Empirical evidence to support your position would certainly be helpful to resolve such a dispute, but the nature of the question would also require the evaluation of argumentative claims. For example, in answering this question, evidence of Rose Bowl participation would be relevant, but not sufficient to prove one football program superior to another. One might also be motivated to make and evaluate arguments about the appearance in other bowl games over the years, the respective strength of the conference and nonconference schedules, the quality of the coaches, consistency over a wide span of years, the number of Heisman trophies won, the number of former players who make it to the National Football League, the number of national titles earned, recent performance on the gridiron, and so forth. All of these arguments and the empirical evidence that supported them might provide grounds for making claims about the relative merits of the two football powers. Still another type of argument that might not be worth making is an argument directed toward changing the mind of a genuinely and firmly committed ideologue. Some people hold beliefs so strongly that they are not open to critical reflection. Many arguments over the merits of particular religious philosophies are of this type. Someone who is, for example, a committed Roman Catholic, and who faithfully adheres to the teachings and philosophies of that faith, is not likely to be very open to arguments about its flaws or errors. Such arguments would be especially difficult to accept if they came from someone outside of the faith, since one might question both the arguer’s knowledge of the religious teachings of Catholicism and his or her motives for seeking to discredit the faith. Similarly, arguments between intensely committed political conservatives and equally committed political liberals are often not worth spending the time and energy on, because so little of their disagreement can be resolved through dispute and reasoning. For an effective argumentative exchange to occur, both parties must be open to arguments. They need not have suspended their beliefs and become what is known as tabula rasa or “blank slates,” but they must be willing to confront the possibility that the beliefs they hold could indeed be demonstrated to be wrong. For this reason, all arguments entail risk for those who engage in them.23 Our goal is not to discourage you from forming strong opinions or from engaging in arguments with others who also hold such opinions. Instead, our point is that some assessment of the nature of the argumentative climate is important. Arguers need to make conscious decisions concerning whether participation in any given argument will serve their interests. They should ask themselves: will having this argument damage my relationship with this person? And, will the arguments we make really resolve the dispute? It is, of course, often difficult to predict the outcome of a disagreement or to determine in advance how it will affect our relationships. Nevertheless, sometimes we can predict quite accurately if we take the time to weigh the potential consequences of our words carefully and deliberately before we speak or write them. We believe arguers should choose their arguments carefully, based on their own sense of where each is likely to lead, and not permit themselves to be ruled only by their tem
pers. We believe this selectivity, along with the equally careful selection of the situations in which they will argue and the habit of keeping an eye on argumentative strategy, are all traits of effective arguers. ■ The Study of Argumentation The study of argumentation we undertake in this book will help you to further develop your arguing and critical analytic skills. In the remaining chapters we will consider the following topics: • What issues are worth arguing over and what issues are beyond argument? • How can arguers adjust their arguments to suit their audiences? • What is the relationship between argumentation and critical thinking? • What are the various forms of argument? • What role does evidence play in argumentation? • How do I best refute the arguments offered by others? • How do the forms and types of arguments that occur differ by context or situation? The techniques for argument do, of course, vary from situation to situation. We have taken the position that most arguers reason primarily from a narrative perspective and that most arguments are presented as stories. However, not all argumentative contexts or situations demand the same kind of stories. In fact, certain argument situations, and certain communities of arguers, have created their own standards for arguing. Thus, the arguments that are developed in the courtroom are substantially different from those developed in a legislative hearing, an academic debate, a classroom, a business meeting, a religious conference, or a discussion between friends or family members. Learning the techniques for effective arguing therefore means developing one’s sensitivity to the demands of a wide variety of different argumentative contexts. One of the primary objectives of this text is to help you to explore resources that may be useful to you as you are called upon to develop arguments in a variety of contexts. We will consider how one finds, selects, and develops appropriate evidence; how this evidence is used to support the analysis and reasoning that strengthens claims; and how these arguments are best organized. We will also be focusing on techniques that will enable you to refute the arguments offered by others and to defend and rebuild your own arguments after they have been refuted. Finally, we will offer suggestions that will help you to analyze your audience, enabling you to make the strongest possible case in support of your position. By adapting your arguments to your audience you can present a case that is not only well reasoned, well evidenced, and well organized, but also well suited to the interests, values, and experiences of those who are evaluating your arguments. SUMMARY We believe all people have the capacity to argue and to evaluate arguments, because people are by nature rational beings. The primary mode for the creation and evaluation of arguments is through storytelling, and our stories are tested through an
evaluation of their narrative probability and narrative fidelity. Despite the fact that we all have the capacity for arguing, we can improve our argumentation skills by learning conventions and norms for arguing effectively in particular contexts—and by recognizing that some arguments will not result in agreement, may erode relationships, and hence should be avoided.
KEY TERMS narrative stories narrative fidelity storytelling narrative probability
At Solution Essays, we are determined to deliver high-quality papers to our clients at a fair price. To ensure this happens effectively, we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees. This guarantees will ensure you enjoy using our website which is secure and easy to use.
Most companies do not offer a money-back guarantee but with Solution Essays, it’s either a quality paper or your money back. Our customers are assured of high-quality papers and thus there are very rare cases of refund requests due to quality concern.Read more
All our papers are written from scratch and according to your specific paper instructions. This minimizes any chance of plagiarism. The papers are also passed through a plagiarism-detecting software thus ruling out any chance of plagiarism.Read more
We offer free revisions in all orders delivered as long as there is no alteration in the initial order instruction. We will revise your paper until you are fully satisfied with the order delivered to you.Read more
All data on our website is stored as per international data protection rules. This ensures that any personal data you share with us is stored safely. We never share your personal data with third parties without your consent.Read more