Manifesto

ArgLab is a research unit within the larger research-oriented Institute for the Philosophy of Language (IFL) at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas) of the New University of Lisbon (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), Portugal. In the research unit, international doctoral and postdoctoral researchers are led by senior researchers from the Institute for the Philosophy of Language.

In our research, we systematically analyse and evaluate various forms of public argument aiming at supporting a decision (no matter how complex this decision might be), in order to shed light on the rational and strategic aspects of public argumentative practices and their products. In our analysis and evaluation, we examine public argumentative practices from the perspective of their internal and conversational structure, namely their linguistic, logical, dialogical and rhetorical dimensions. Furthermore, we employ a contextualised perspective to the study of argumentation, in which argumentation is viewed as a communicative activity that always takes place in a certain more or less clearly delineated context – be it a small talk over coffee, an online discussion, a parliamentary debate or a legal trial. Consequently, alongside studying arguments as constellations of premises supporting a conclusion, we methodically examine the conditions and procedures under which real-life argumentation is characteristically performed.

We pursue three basic goals. First, we aim at acquiring better empirical insight into the shape and quality of arguments in different spheres and fields of life where decision are called for, while paying special attention to the public and legal sphere in which a great many fundamental societal and political decisions are made. Second, by undertaking contextual analyses we provide continuous feedback to the Theory of Argumentation. Ordinary contextual complications of public argumentation, such as the phenomenon of many-to-many deliberation, of pursuing many (often conflicting) goals by arguers, are still not properly theorised. To increase the empirical adequacy and applicability of Argumentation Theory we thus attempt to give such phenomena a consistent theoretical shape. Finally, and most crucially, all of our tasks converge on the goal of improving public debate, in Portugal and elsewhere. With a strong theoretical background, well-developed empirical tools and a clearly defined object of study, we aim to narrow the gap between ideal models and actual practices of argumentation.

Focusing on Practical Reasoning and practical Argumentation (in their various forms and contexts), three issues in Argumentation Theory are central to our own studies: interpretation of argumentative discourse, evaluation of reasons offered in justification of positions, and the analysis of the strategic part of argumentation. Interpretation, crucial for all studies of language, is even more important for argumentation, as it guides not only our proper understanding of arguments, but also paves the way for their precise evaluation. In our work, we therefore pay particular attention to the processes of utterance-interpretation, e.g., as methodically described in pragmatics, philosophy of language, and legal hermeneutics. In regards to argument evaluation, conditions of correctness for argumentative processes are usually approached through several distinct tools: formal rules of logical validity, informal rules of argument schemes, pragmatic rules of speech act performance, or norms of discourse ethics. But, our working hypothesis is that something else is still needed: preferences, values and choices, and the correspondent conceptual tolls they give rise, should also be included, if we want to produce a more complete account of correct argumentative processes of the practical sort. To contribute to the elaboration of a conceptual framework where each of these tools has its well-defined role, is an important aim of ours. Finally, by looking closely into various argumentative strategies we intend to enrich our analysis of argumentation with rhetorical insights.

Our research is governed by some basic theoretical commitments. We view argumentation as a communicative process in which various positions are discussed in interactive exchanges of arguments and objections. Therefore, while internal reasoning and monological chains of inferences are a necessary element of argumentation studies, they are not all that is relevant to appraising argumentation. Approached from the perspective of the pragmatics of ordinary language, argumentation arises only in the situation of (possible) disagreement and thus can be defined as a communicative act. Moreover, such acts are characteristically strategic in that they are aimed at convincing others that the position advocated by the speaker is better justified than other contradictory or competing positions. On such a view, argumentation is part of a complex fabric of communication where multiple, intricately related goals that speakers pursue are all achieved by means of arguing, that is, presenting reasons that are meant to support their position and objecting to reasons presented by others. This strategic process of arguing and counter-arguing takes place in various contexts of daily life – from largely informal (a family discussion regarding where to have dinner tonight) to highly formalised (a decision of the Supreme Court to abandon a given law as unconstitutional). We find such pragmatic and strategic concerns not only relevant, but necessary in a practically meaningful and theoretically comprehensive approach to argumentation. Such theoretical commitments first emerged in the long tradition of argumentation studies delineated by the logical, dialectical and rhetorical investigations. Today, they are broadly shared in the major contributions to argumentation theory.

One of our crucial theoretical, indeed meta-theoretical, goals is to creatively combine insights from well-articulated theories of argumentation such as the Pragma-Dialectical Theory (of Van Eemeren and others) and the Dialectical Logical Theory (of Walton and others) in search for what may be seen as the common agenda underlying much of the theorising within argumentation studies. We do so by critically investigating both theories with a view to exposing their productive commonalities rather than intractable differences. Moreover, rather than simply comparing the two in abstractum we put their theoretical and methodological apparatus to work in the analysis and evaluation of concrete instances of practical argumentation. Such work is conducive to articulating the common core of the two theories and thus, in a broader sense, to bridging the tradition of the European pragma-dialectical approach and the North-American informal logic approach. The other of our crucial theoretical, indeed philosophical, goals is to progressively combine whatever are the results of the first goal with (some specific) philosophical approaches to values, preferences and choices. Thus we assume that interpreting the layout of practical argumentation processes and assessing their correctness, as aimed by any theory of practical argumentation, can only be done when properly supplemented by an account of the roles played by the values, preferences and choices of the intervening arguers

 

Institutions

IFIL FCSH/NOVA
Faculdade de Direito Universidade Nova de Lisboa
FCSH
UNL
FCT