Chapter 1 The feature that most distinguishes humans from other creatures is the capacity for using symbols. Suzanne Langer declared, “[Language is]… that great systematic symbolism… that sets men apart from their zoological brethren. The line between animals and men is, I think, precisely the language line.”1 As James R. Hurford further explained: “Human language is qualitatively different from animal communication systems…. Human languages contain tens of thousands of arbitrary learned symbols (mainly words). No other animal communication system involves learning the component symbolic elements afresh in each individual’s lifetime, and certainly not in such vast numbers.”2 Symbols can be defined as special types of signs. As the name implies, “signs call attention to significances: they relate to what has been perceived; they point to, indicate, or denote something other than themselves.”3 Symbols are the primary building blocks of our language system; they allow us to name objects, emotions, and actions, and to share our thoughts and feelings with others. The ability to share in a symbol system permits us to build social communities and to solve problems jointly in order to improve the quality of our lives. This symbolic capacity also puts us in touch with the past. Through the sharing of significant symbols (both orally in the form of stories and through personal journals, books, manuscripts, and even films), we learn of the events, values, and experiences of those who lived before us. Thus, humans have the complex and sophisticated ability to symbolically experience the past and to anticipate the future. As symbol users we are constantly seeking ways to improve the quality of our lives. No matter how satisfying our current situation, we are apt to imagine ways in which our lives, our society, and our world can be improved. Much of our symbolic “tinkering” is designed to achieve such improvements. We inevitably will also encounter problems that demand resolution as we find ourselves interacting and negotiating our experiences and our needs with members of our family, friends, teachers, coworkers, and employers. The complex web of interpersonal and professional relationships that we must create and sustain poses new problems and issues that must be resolved if we are to enjoy harmonious and productive lives.
Many of the problems that we encounter are not only ours personally—they are also shared social problems that we understand and relate to because of our intrinsic capacity to use symbols. For example, in the course of our life we encounter illnesses and diseases that cause us pain and suffering. We also observe how illnesses and diseases diminish the quality of, and even end, the lives of loved ones, neighbors, friends, and colleagues. Experiencing such suffering motivates us to search for cures and to symbolize about the importance of healthy lifestyles. Likewise, we see and hear about problems in our schools and are motivated to search for strategies to improve the quality of our educational system. We observe the personal and social destruction caused by drug abuse; as a result, we come together individually and socially to discuss alternative solutions. We see damage to our environment, and we look for ways to conserve and better manage our resources. Our attention is captured and our fears are aroused by terrorist acts, and we are thus motivated to find ways to better protect ourselves so that we may lead safer lives. In all of these activities, we use symbols to name the problems that we face, to develop common understandings, and to propose and evaluate solutions. Because humans are fundamentally social beings, we derive satisfaction from our interactions with others. Throughout history humans have improved their condition in life by pooling their knowledge and sharing their discoveries with each other. Despite this instinctive pull to interact with other people and to build social communities, we often pursue objectives that seem fundamentally incompatible with those that are pursued by others. In personal and public lives, in relationships between friends and lovers, and in relationships between nations and cultures, the problems that we confront sometimes seem so great as to be insolvable and beyond our ability to find a suitable compromise or to reach an amicable accommodation. From personal experience as well as from the accumulated understanding of history, we have learned that when communication fails and people cannot reach accommodation with each other, the potential for conflict and even war increases dramatically. We have also learned, however, that the situations that spark conflict will never disappear. Learning how to identify, analyze, name, reach understanding about, and then solve the problems that we individually and collectively face is essential if we wish to live in harmony. This book provides the communication skills required for human problem solving and decision making and for the maintenance of effective and harmonious social relations. This book is about arguments—the claims that people make when they are asserting their opinions and supporting their beliefs—and arguing—the process of resolving differences of opinion through communication.
problems, and they must weigh the costs and benefits of different solutions. Advances in all aspects of human intellectual life evidence the creativity and the reasoning capacity of humans as they reach decisions. Our intense desire to understand our world and to improve our condition in it combined with our ability to reason and to evaluate opinions through argument prompt us to assert our knowledge claims about the world that we inhabit. Then, we continually find ourselves testing and challenging these knowledge claims as they are subjected to new events, new information, new problems, and new interactions with others who may see the world differently than we do. We know that people respond to problems in a variety of ways. As a result of differences in their experience, culture, education, values, interests, objectives, economic circumstances, and so forth, people will isolate and assign priority to different problems and will propose different solutions. The problems that are of greatest concern to well-clothed, well-fed, and well-housed Americans might seem trivial to impoverished American citizens. Thus, Even within the same culture and/or political community, profound differences can be found. Political liberals and conservatives have deep differences of opinion both about the problems they believe are most important in society and about the possible solutions to those problems. Likewise, those who adhere to fundamentalist Christian doctrine often hold markedly different theological beliefs than do those who follow more liberal or reformed religious doctrines. Some of these differences of opinion may be highly technical in nature, as is the case, for example, when scientists argue about alternative approaches to the conduct of their research or when literary or visual arts critics comment on the value and/or meaning of a particular artistic creation. We are thus exposed to myriad alternative arguments and symbolically expressed claims each day of our lives. In a robust, pluralistic, and democratic society these different claims and opinions compete for our attention and acceptance. We sort through them all and manage to form our own beliefs and to determine our own course of action because we come to understand that not all opinions or claims are deemed to be equal. We grant some opinions and some arguments more credibility than we do others. Our differences cause us to identify and form opinions in unique ways, and those differences also cause us to evaluate arguments differently. The “marketplace” of ideas is thus a marketplace of competing arguments, where “sellers”—arguers hawking their worldviews—seek to find “buyers” who will accept their claims. The argumentative marketplace, much like the economic marketplace of modern capitalism, is not always a place of free and fair competition. Not all arguments are given an equal opportunity to be aired or considered, and some arguments are much more likely to receive a favorable hearing than are others. Particular argumentative positions may be more likely to be presumed as true because, for example, they are advocated by persons perceived to have greater competence or credibility, because many people already believe them, or because they have been accepted as probably true for a long period of time. Some arguments are not given a “fair” hearing, perhaps because they represent distinctly minority viewpoints, because those who are perceived to be experts in the relevant fields do not accept them, or because they counter accepted historical understandings. Even though the argumentative marketplace may be less than perfect, arguments do compete against each other. Some arguments
will win support and perhaps gain wide public agreement, while other arguments will fall by the wayside and eventually be forgotten. Why some arguments win support while others fail is among the primary issues discussed in this book. The second sense of the term argument, which can be called argument2, refers not to the statements and claims that people make, but rather to the type of interactions in which these claims are developed. This sense of the term argument refers to an interaction characterized by disagreement. To argue is to have a dispute with someone. From this perspective, an argument does not exist until some person perceives what is happening as an argument.5 Most of the other textbooks in argumentation emphasize the first sense of the term argument and not the second sense. These books primarily want to help people learn how to become better arguers—meaning more insightful or analytical arguers. While this is also one of our primary goals, we believe the second sense of the term argument is also important. The ability to conduct a civilized and polite argument with someone—the ability to argue and disagree with others while also managing to protect your relationship with them—is one of the most important things people must learn. The two senses of the term argument are: Argument1: Claims offered by arguers (in a later chapter we will distinguish between arguments and assertions). Example: Access to health care is a right that should be enjoyed by all people regardless of their income or ability to pay for the services they need. Argument2: Types of interactions in which people engage. Example: The dispute that would occur when someone disagreed with the above stated claim. For instance, someone could respond to the claim offered above by arguing that health care is a privilege and not a right, and thus it is the responsibility of all people to provide for their own health care needs and for the health care needs of their family. They might support that argument by claiming that if people were able to access the health care system without needing to pay they would perhaps overuse doctors, hospitals, and prescription drugs to treat only very minor ailments thus taking up valuable resources that could be devoted to other, sicker patients. Or they might argue that providing access to health care for all citizens might be so very expensive that it would require a very steep tax increase and raising taxes would damage the economy and lead to a loss of jobs and new investments for business development that could grow the economy and create more economic opportunities for all citizens. It is possible to make arguments (argument1) without engaging in disputes or disagreements (argument2). If everyone agreed that it would be a wise policy to assure access to health care for all people regardless of their ability to pay, for example, there would be no argument2. However, it is not possible to have disputes (argument2) without making claims (argument1). Disagreements are therefore expressed through argument1. The distinction offered here between argument1 and argument2 is important because it illustrates that argumentation is not merely a problem-solving capability. Argumentation is a very basic social and communication skill, and it has profound importance for the quality and character of our interactions with others.
Many people have been taught and have come to believe arguments are unhealthy, destructive of human relationships, and thus should be avoided. Indeed, to describe someone as “argumentative” is generally not considered flattering. Those who are too quick to argue, too intense or passionate in their arguments, or too unwilling to surrender their positions when confronted by superior arguments are often viewed as disagreeable or even as unpleasant people.6 Although the US culture is certainly more argumentative and more confrontational than some other cultures (e.g., most Asian cultures), even among people living in the United States there seems to be a strong presumption that arguments are not good for human relationships. For example, the Internet can link you to websites that will help you learn how to avoid arguing, and many such sites claim that “arguing destroys relationships.”7 The linguist, Deborah Tannen, laments that an “argument culture” causes people to “approach the world— and the people in it—in an adversarial frame of mind.”8 Tannen protests that this human tendency toward argument accentuates differences, discourages compromise, falsely polarizes opinions, and encourages aggressive behavior. Although Tannen does not mention it, we cannot help but note the irony that exists when she offers such forceful arguments to support her case about the dangers and negative consequences of this argument culture. Given the nature of our book, readers will not be surprised to learn that we disagree with most of the arguments that Tannen advances. While Tannen worries that humans are too quick to argue, we believe our language system actually conditions us for analysis and gives us the tools to reach agreement. We believe arguing can be—and often is—healthy both for relationships and for societies. People argue to negotiate their social perspectives with others and to enhance their understanding of complex problems. They argue to resolve their disagreements and problems and to make tough decisions about how to move forward. The problem, as we see it, is not that arguments per se are unhealthy; rather, too many people have never learned how to argue in a constructive and socially beneficial fashion. Our goal for this book is thus to help students learn some strategies and techniques that will enable them to improve their argumentation skills and to argue constructively. Constructive arguments permit disagreements to surface so people can examine alternative ways of viewing problems, identify different solutions, and select from the competing positions those that are most compelling. We believe relationships and communities are created through communication and, yes, through argument. The ways in which people come together to share their opinions, offer reasons in support of their beliefs, and hopefully listen to and deliberate together with friends, relatives, colleagues, and fellow citizens shape the values of the community. As Richard Graff and Wendy Winn noted, “Human communities are constituted and defined by the values around and through which they commune; and they are sustained through public discourse in which adherence to these values is reinforced and, also, through the public argumentation in which these values are deployed or put to the test.”9
shaping our lives. Should I go out with my friends or stay home and study? What college should I attend? What should be my major? Should I buy a car? Do I have the money to take the vacation that I have planned? For whom should I vote? Should I accept the job offer that will require me to move across the country and away from my friends and family? All of these decisions, and thousands like them that we make every day, test our analytical and argumentative abilities. Whenever we are compelled to carefully consider alternative choices and to make decisions, we make use of arguments. Thus, as a problem-solving activity, argumentation may involve decisions and choices that are distinctly personal in nature, many of which we might not even bother to disclose to our friends or families. Often, however, we are called upon to discuss and even to account for our decisions. In such discussions we explain our actions to those people whose opinions matter to us. We want them to understand why we made the choices we made, and often we seek their approval of and respect for our decisions and our reasoning processes. We make our choices based on our understanding of the unique problems we face, our knowledge and view of the world, and our goals and values. We strive to be rational, and we want others to validate our rationality and to confirm that our choices were, in fact, the right ones. Depending on the nature of the decision, we may be accountable to a wide range of different people. For example, most of us are accountable to our parents because even after we are adults, we are driven by the desire to please them and to make them proud of us. We are also accountable to our lovers and spouses, to other family members, to friends, to teachers, to coworkers, and to our employers. Thus, even intensely personal decisions may be argued or reasoned out with an assumed audience in mind. ■ Argumentation and Democratic Decision Making The ability to argue is a fundamental survival skill for life in a democracy. The mastery of subject matter knowledge, the ability to reason and articulate our opinions, and the ability to defend them when others may disagree with us become important to the empowerment of us as deliberating citizens. Democratic political systems assume that citizens have the knowledge and the ability to decide complex issues and to evaluate competing arguments involving both values and public policy. The continued health and vitality of any democratic government depend on the respect that citizens have for each other and for a democratic process that permits people to express their opinions, register their disagreements, evaluate the alternatives available to them, and then select a policy and move forward. A democratic political system requires an informed, capable, and interested citizenry that will deliberate about their political choices. The preservation of democracy also demands that people meet certain accepted standards of civility and decorum in their public lives. Positive models of deliberative civic discourse are needed to help citizens learn techniques for appropriate and productive argumentation and to help people make well-reasoned decisions. As Mary E. Stuckey and Sean Patrick O’Rourke argue, “Most obviously, rhetoric, community, and civility are united in the idea that ‘good rhetoric’ requires good faith, and that such rhetoric somehow involves the avoidance of willful deception and the readiness to speak and to listen with respect.”10
It is unfortunate that many of our contemporary political candidates spend so much of their time and energy on negative attacks and scurrilous charges, because such tactics do not foster productive political deliberations, and indeed serve as very poor models for citizen-arguers. While it may be funny to watch baseball managers kick sand onto the umpire’s pants and gesture wildly while protesting a decision, these same tactics would alarm us if they occurred, for example, in the halls of Congress. Indeed, in 2009 there was a remarkably uncivil outburst in the House of Representatives. During a speech that President Barack Obama was delivering to Congress, calling for health care reforms, Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled out: “You lie!” The outburst caused Obama to stop, look over at the heckler, and respond “that is not true.” Other legislators from both sides of the aisle condemned the outburst as inappropriate and rude. Representative Wilson apologized the next day.11 Some have argued that the current political culture in the United States has become so focused on negative and attack-style messaging that such disrespectful arguing is now more common than ever before.12 Others refute this position and argue that political arguments in the United States have throughout history been marked by instances of incivility. They cite as an example the fact that Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA) delivered a speech in 1856 that was sharply critical of slavery and that mocked slaveholders. Two days later, Representative Preston Brooks (D-SC) attacked Sumner with a heavy cane in the Senate chamber badly injuring him.13 Although it is hard to dispute the claim that perhaps things were once even worse than they are today, and that there was indeed less civility in political arguments in the run-up to the Civil War, this does not seem to us to be a very convincing counterargument to the position that we would offer, namely that citizens and their elected officials should conduct themselves in a respectful manner that honors the worth of other people’s opinions and that includes the capacity for respectful listening. We also want to emphasize, however, that calls for civility and decorum can be used to silence those who hold minority opinions. Participating in protests and offering dissenting views are legitimate ways to participate in democratic decision making. Certainly attempting to silence such expression by saying it lacks civility or decorum is also contrary to the goals of a democracy.14 The notion of civility that we embrace therefore demands that all persons be encouraged to exercise their right to speak, offer their opinions, and be respectfully listened to and welcomed into a civic dialogue. The relationship between citizens and their elected officials is one that depends upon well-nourished forms of communication and public deliberation. As citizens of a democratic nation we surrender certain powers to our elected officials. We acknowledge the right of these officials to set limits on how fast we may drive, to assess taxes, to determine what chemicals we may freely ingest, and so forth. The elected officials must, however, convince us that they are acting in our best interests. If a majority of our citizenry (or even a substantial, well-organized, vocal minority) decided not to accept the legitimacy of the established political order or the correctness, fairness, and justice of the laws, our society would quickly disintegrate. Given that people do not always agree and that there are always differences of opinion about what the government should do, argumentation is the primary means for shaping the course of public policy. As citizens, we participate in public debates, express our opinions, and listen to and evaluate the arguments made by competing
politicians. Ultimately, we pledge our support to one candidate or another and to one political position or another by the way that we cast our vote. Lively public arguments occur around almost all of the complex policy issues that shape our daily lives. Issues such as abortion, gun control, immigration rights, or capital punishment, for example, are sure to spark spirited debates. Political candidates seek to create arguments that will attract public support and win elections. They must listen to public arguments in order to understand and to best carry out the will of their constituents. Public policies are formed, deliberated upon, and ultimately passed or rejected by decision makers engaged in the creation and evaluation of arguments in legislative hearings and in debates on the floor of Congress, in state legislatures, or in city council chambers. Argumentation skills are important for our political life because they enable us to express our opinions in a coherent manner, to make ourselves understood, and to convince others they should share our beliefs. These same skills also help us as consumers and critics of public arguments. People who understand argumentation principles are more careful and critical audiences for arguments. We are exposed to myriad different arguments on a daily basis. Advertisers, political leaders, newspaper reporters, and so forth, all attempt to influence our opinions. Knowledge of argumentation theory should make you a more skeptical listener who is better able to analyze the merits of the arguments you hear. Obviously such knowledge will make for an informed electorate—one that is less susceptible to the deceptive or exaggerated claims made by political demagogues. ■ Argumentation and Values As we have mentioned, people are continually trying to make sense of their worlds by naming and structuring their experiences. Kenneth Burke, a noted rhetorical theorist and literary critic, observed: One constructs his [sic] notion of the universe or history, and shapes attitudes in keeping. Be he poet or scientist, one defines the “human situation” as amply as his imagination permits; then, with this ample definition in mind, he singles out certain functions or relationships as either friendly or unfriendly. If they are deemed friendly, he prepares himself to welcome them; if they are deemed unfriendly, he weighs objective resistances against his own resources, to decide how far he can effectively go in combating them…. Our philosophers, poets and scientists act in the code of names by which they simplify or interpret reality. These names shape our relations with our fellows. They prepare us for some functions and against others, for or against the persons representing these functions. The names go further: they suggest how you shall be for or against. Call a man a villain, and you have the choice of either attacking or cringing. Call him mistaken, and you invite yourself to attempt setting him right.”15 The very act of naming—the choice of one symbolic referent over another—helps to form our attitudes and values. It thus should come as no surprise that all arguments, to some extent, concern human values. Certainly some arguments concern more important or substantive values than do others. For example, an argument about who makes the best pizza in town may center
on the value of thin versus thick crust. Perhaps to the true pizza aficionado this is a value of great significance, but most of us can enjoy both thick- and thin-crusted pizzas. On the other hand, an argument about abortion will involve assessments of such competing values as a woman’s right to control her own body and to privacy versus the need to protect the life of the unborn. These are certainly more significant and complex value questions. Arguments can become even more “sticky” and difficult to resolve when the symbols themselves provoke intense feelings or emotions. An example would be the public debate over “late term” abortions. Such abortions have for many years been allowed by law when they were deemed medically necessary, either due to the discovery of a severe fetal abnormality or to protect the health of the mother. When opponents of abortion chose to label these procedures “partial-birth” abortions, however, they sparked an even more intense public debate. This debate further polarized public deliberations about the legality and morality of abortion. What was perhaps obfuscated by the intensity of this public debate, however, was that these “late term” abortions, though long accepted as an appropriate or medically necessary treatment in some cases, were very rarely undertaken. The declaration that all arguments concern human values does not suggest that all values are equally significant. Still, issues of value underlie virtually all concerns about which people are inspired to argue. This also means that some issues will prove especially difficult to resolve, because they reveal fundamental differences in the ways in which people conceive of themselves. Milton Rokeach defined “values” as “abstract ideals, positive or negative, not tied to any specific attitude, object or situation, representing a person’s beliefs about ideal modes of conduct and ideal terminal goals.”16 Although persons hold many different attitudes and beliefs, Rokeach argued that they include only a few, perhaps a dozen, core values.17 Our values are formed very early in our lives. While they may be changed by our education and experience, they are for the most part stable touchstones from which we can draw lessons and create meanings for our experiences.18 We learn values from our parents, our schools, religious instruction, and the mass media. We also learn them by experiencing day-to-day life in our culture. Thus, to grow up in the United States is to be influenced by the US value system. However, there is not just one US value system; rather, there are many different and often competing conceptions of values that exist and even thrive in different communities.19 For example, the values that guide daily life in the rural Midwest may be quite unlike those operating in a city on the East Coast or in the suburbs of a city on the West Coast. The extent of these differences is often revealed in the public debates about hotly contested issues, such as whether or not the right to marry should be limited only to heterosexual couples or whether this right must be extended to all couples both gay and straight. There also may be important differences in values that are reflected in particular socioeconomic experiences, ethnic communities, subgroups, or families. Furthermore, people acquire their political beliefs and values as they acquire a vocabulary of symbols that carry ideological meaning. A citizen who has acquired the values that are deemed appropriate to their culture has also learned how to function as an effective, although not necessarily compliant, member of that society.20 Values dramatically shape the arguments people make and the arguments they will find convincing. We argue in accordance with those truths that we accept.21 The
values to which people cling are also influenced by how people conceive of their own self-interests. Because our values are shaped by the situations in which we find ourselves, our objective both in making and in evaluating arguments will be to improve our place in the world and to reinforce our conceptions of ourselves. It makes intuitive sense, therefore, that young, single women may be more inclined to favor a pro-choice position on abortion, and that middle-aged and older men may be more inclined to oppose the right of a woman to choose abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy. It is reasonable to assume that poor citizens may be inclined to support increased government spending on social programs to help provide for human needs, while affluent citizens may be motivated to cut such programs in order to keep their taxes as low as possible. People are influenced by values, and their values are in part shaped by the particular problems and needs they face as they attempt to create a more perfect and satisfying life for themselves and for their loved ones. Acknowledging the role of human values in argumentation also helps make us aware that while arguments may be designed to reach the truth, there may be more than one “truth.” Our opinion regarding what constitutes a truth is given shape by our values and experiences. Thus, complex value questions are often complex precisely because there is no single true answer. Reasonable people can and do differ on issues such as abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and access to pornography. Arguers who choose to participate in the public dialogue on these issues should recognize the role of their values in shaping their arguments. Arguers debating such controversies should also be aware that the persons with whom they are arguing might see the world through very different value structures. The values people hold also shape what claims they see as worthy of argument. The claim that the government should not concern itself with regulating the safety of food or prescription drugs might not spark much controversy at a convention of the American Libertarian Party, but it would probably seem preposterous to most of the delegates at a Democratic Party convention. Democratic delegates would probably not take this idea seriously, and thus might not even deem it worth arguing. As another example, Democrats might actively support legislation to set aside more wilderness areas in the West to protect them from future development, while Republicans might support selling land that the government already holds so that it can be developed. The values people hold function as lenses through which they view their world, and the way in which one views the world largely determines what one accepts as true and what one believes must be contested. Our values are shaped by our awareness of our position in society and our position in an economic and social hierarchy. Because we experience new events and day-to-day uncertainties, our values are subjected to new challenges. We may evaluate and change our values when we encounter new information, live new experiences, confront new realities, and acquire new perspectives. Values also play a dramatic role in determining argumentative sufficiency. It should be easier to convince a farmer that the government should set minimum price supports for agricultural products than to convince the urban consumer who would have to pay the resulting higher prices. The farmer presumably would value most the financial security for producers that the government price supports provide, while the consumer presumably would value most the competitive free market in which products are sold at the lowest possible prices. When people have fundamentally different
values there will be more conflict, and it will be far more difficult to reach agreement. Likewise, arguers facing audiences that hold fundamentally different values from their own will find it especially challenging to persuade those audiences to support the positions they are defending. We often hear it claimed that when values come into conflict we might as well forget about arguments—that people cannot, or will not, reason about issues of value. Although arguing about values is not easy, there is no satisfactory alternative.22 We know from many experiences that value disagreements cannot be ignored. If the underlying differences in values are substantial, they may eventually lead to armed conflict. The situation in the Middle East provides an example. The Israelis and their Arab neighbors have been in or near a state of war for almost 70 years as a result of unresolved conflicts concerning religious beliefs, cultural traditions, political autonomy, national and cultural identity, economic equality, and history. Young Arabs and Israelis have been raised in a climate of fear and distrust. The creation and maintenance of an effective argumentative dialogue given the magnitude of such long-standing problems, although enormously difficult, is clearly better than the alternative: the building of high walls, terrorist assaults, the bulldozing of homes, and other acts of violence that could potentially escalate to a full-scale war that might kill thousands of people. The fact that all arguments are to some extent shaped by human values suggests people must learn how to reason about issues, even when those issues are characterized by profound differences in values.23 (We will discuss propositions of value in chapter 5.) When we use reason, we attempt to discover and account for value differences, to accommodate people who hold values different from our own, and to preserve a sense of civility and respect—acts that make for a far more hospitable and even safer world. ■ Ethics and Argumentation We have already made several references to the importance of maintaining a climate of civility and decorum when you are engaging in an argument. Decorum and civility are foundations for the conduct of ethical argumentation, and we believe the issue of ethics is of vital concern for any student of argumentation theory and practice. Ethics can be understood as a philosophy of human action, as a set of rules for appropriate conduct, and as a way of being and relating to others.24 Examining ethics in argumentation generally means considering the motives and means used by an arguer. Vincent Ruggiero has argued for what he calls “a values-based” form of ethical reasoning: Values-based ethical reasoning involves determining whether an action is right or wrong according to whether or not the action in question conforms to certain values, such as truthfulness, responsibility, justice, temperance, courage, self-control, wisdom, magnanimity, pride, ambition, gentleness, frankness, self-interest, fidelity, gratitude, benevolence, self-improvement, non-maleficence, reparation, care, compassion, sensitivity, reciprocity, generosity, modesty, kindness, respect, patriotism, chauvinism, equality and so on. The supporting general principle would be something like “It is morally right to be truthful,” or “It is morally wrong not to accept responsibility for your own actions.”25
As we have already argued above, the values people hold dear are a product of their upbringing, culture, religious training, and even their ideology. We would submit, however, that most of the values such as those identified above transcend the particularities of culture, faith, and ideology. Truthfulness, justice, kindness, respect, and so forth, are, or certainly should be esteemed by all arguers and thus these values should guide our argument choices. Wayne Brockriede, a distinguished argumentation theorist, suggested that the images that arguers have of each other are particularly important in shaping the nature of argumentative exchanges. Brockriede argued that it is important that arguers not see those with whom they are arguing as objects or as inferior human beings that they can coerce or manipulate. Such arguers, Brockriede claimed, focus so much on prevailing in the argument and on achieving their desired outcome that they may humiliate their opponents, damage the possibilities for future interactions, create a climate of conflict, and indeed undermine the possibility for trust in the relationship.26 Brockriede also warned that some arguers seek to take advantage of others through charm or deceit. Such arguers may attempt to beguile others by misrepresenting themselves or their positions so that they can pursue their own objectives without regard for the desires, feelings, wishes, needs, or emotional consequences that these deceptive strategies might have for other people.27 What both of these types of arguers have in common is a belief that they know what is true and correct and, therefore, if someone disagrees with them, the second person is, by definition, wrong. If an individual is certain he or she alone knows the truth, then the person doesn’t have to listen to other people. The individual can interrupt, bully, and silence the other. Or he or she can pretend to care about the other person, and pretend to listen to what the other person is saying, in order to deceive and manipulate the other person. To refuse to even consider the perspectives of others is to deny their humanity. Brockriede emphasized that arguers should attempt to see others as humans and not as objects and that people should seek power parity rather than a power advantage. The goal for arguers should thus be to develop argument strategies, techniques, and goals that will enable people to discover mutually beneficial outcomes that help people and communities develop positive, continuing, and mutually reinforcing ongoing relationships. Ethical arguers have to enter the interaction with the recognition that the other may have a better conception of truth, that truth might lie somewhere between the two perspectives, or that neither has truth. Arguers who have respect for those with whom they argue, acknowledge that those persons have the intellect, ability, and wisdom to decide themselves what they wish to believe after being exposed to all of the competing arguments. Those who argue from this perspective are willing to put themselves on the line for the positions they believe in, and they argue with a sense of genuineness and conviction that demonstrates argumentative integrity. The arguers also come to understand that they could lose the argument and thus have to confront the fact that their beliefs and/or long-standing opinions might be in error. Brockriede’s perspective on these different argument styles is persuasive. All of us would prefer to engage in arguments with people who value and respect us rather than seeing us as objects only to be used. How can you create such a climate for argumentative encounters? We suggest a principle much akin to the “golden rule” that you
learned about in childhood: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or “if you want a friend, be one.” Although some manipulative and unethical arguers will always exist, we think the best way to overcome them is to be certain that you do not resort to the same tactics. By living up to high ethical standards yourself you will encourage others to do the same. If enough people embrace this philosophy there will be fewer unethical, deceptive, and coercive arguers in our society, and the contrast between those who conduct themselves in an ethical fashion and those who do not will create strong social pressure to interact honorably. Ethical arguers are honest arguers. They seek to discover and to investigate the relevant facts carefully. They do not misrepresent those facts; they do not conceal information that would cause people to interpret their arguments differently; and they do not attempt to persuade others to embrace positions or viewpoints they themselves know are not true. Ethical arguers do not try to get people to do things that work against their best interests, or, at a minimum, they freely acknowledge the possibility that if certain actions are taken they could prove incompatible with those interests. Walter Fisher argues that our ethical standards are “intersubjectively created and maintained through symbolic transactions over time. They are neither irrational nor rational; they are historically, and culturally created ‘goods’ we acquire through socialization, the stuff of the stories we tell, hear, read and enact everyday.”28 Ethical arguers respect the views of others. They enter the argumentative marketplace with the assumption that others who are selling their own ideas are persons of integrity and good will, persons who will be open to other ideas. They acknowledge that force and coercion do not lead to effective decisions and that people will make the best decisions if given the opportunity to consider the issues on both sides of a question carefully and systematically. Learning how to argue effectively means learning how to argue in an ethical and positive manner. We believe if you set high standards for yourself as an arguer and treat others with respect and dignity, they will be more likely to treat you in the same way. In the process, the argumentative marketplace will become a more civilized and valuable place for the free exchange of ideas and for the pursuit of policies and programs that will improve all our lives. SUMMARY The ability to argue is necessary if people are to solve problems, resolve conflicts, and evaluate alternative courses of action. While many people are taught that arguing is a counterproductive activity and that arguments should be avoided, we believe arguing is an essential and fundamental human activity. Learning how to argue effectively entails learning not just the strategies and principles of analysis and logical reasoning but also the importance of arguing in a positive and socially constructive fashion.
KEY TERMS arguing symbols arguments values ethics
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