Developing and criticizing arguments is an essential part of what philosophers do and argumentation marks the character of the communicative exchanges they have with their peers. Yet, it is easy to recognize that argumentation is not a specialized skill: argumentation of some sort is pervasive not only in philosophy and science, but also in collective deliberation in justice, politics and business as well as in our interpersonal, private interactions. Argumentative abilities seem to develop early and are richly documented in pre-school children. Recently, evolutionary psychologists have argued for the primacy of argumentation in the pursuit of social interaction goals over individual cognition in explaining how human explicit reasoning abilities arose.
In the second half of the XXth century, scholars motivated by a concern for the quality of public deliberation and the ability of resisting propaganda found that the formal logic of the time was ill suited for direct application to the analysis and quality assessment of ordinary argument in public life. Together with a few hasty dismissals of logic and formalization, this movement produced an enduring and more productive interest in the recovery of what the Classical, Medieval and Renaissance had to say on the dialectical and rhetorical aspects of reasoning. Perhaps the most significant development of this line of research was the realization that pragmatic notions developed in linguistics and the philosophy of language provided insightful tools for understanding features of argumentative exchanges that are critical for reconstructing their inferential functioning and their suitability for their alleged social purposes. Today research in the pragmatics of argumentation is blooming, fueled by its applications to discourse analysis in a variety of social contexts, by the argumentative turn in evolutionary psychology, by a plethora of efforts in Artificial Intelligence and Computational Linguistics aimed at automatically extracting and analyzing arguments from texts on a large scale for the purpose of monitoring discussion in social life and create effective debating agents.
Having introduced briefly the domain of pragmatics and the development of the study of argumentation, the course builds on two related ways of understanding arguments pragmatically: (I) as “attempts at rationally resolving differences of opinion”, and (II) as “invitations to inference” to provide an overview of the key notions in the pragmatics of argumentation, providing an essential pragmatic toolbox for taking part in the above-mentioned research endeavors.
The course includes two seminars by invited lecturers. Prof. Frans H. van Eemeren will lecture on the Pragma-Dialectical theory of argumentation, while Dr. Dima Mohammed will offer a seminar on the analysis and evaluation of public political arguments.
Course evaluation will be based on two papers.
50% of the grade will be based on a short analytical paper presenting an argumentative reconstruction and evaluation of a piece of ordinary argumentative discourse to be agreed with the lecturer (e.g. a policy document, a financial reporting or analysis, a public report on matters of common interest, a parliamentary or electoral debate, a journalistic opinion piece, ec.).
50% of the grade will be based on a research paper discussing one of the issues in pragmatics and/or argumentation theory examined during the course, with the agreement of the lecturer. Methodologically, article can involve a literature review, conceptual analysis as well as recourse to corpus evidence.