Location

McMaster University

Document Type

Paper

Start Date

1-6-2005 9:00 AM

End Date

1-6-2005 5:00 PM

Abstract

One result of successful argumentation – able arguers presenting cogent arguments to competent audiences – is a transfer of credibility from premises to conclusions. From a purely logical perspective, neither dubious premises nor fallacious inference should lower the credibility of the target conclusion. Nevertheless, some arguments do backfire this way. Dialectical and rhetorical considerations come into play. Three inter-related conclusions emerge from a catalogue of hapless arguers and backfiring arguments. First, there are advantages to paying attention to arguers and their contexts, rather than focusing narrowly on their arguments, in order to understand what can go wrong in argumentation. Traditional fallacy identification, with its exclusive attention to faulty inferences, is inadequate to explain the full range of argumentative failures. Second, the notion of an Ideal Arguer can be defined by contrast with her less than ideal peers to serve as a useful tool in argument evaluation. And third, not all of the ways that arguers raise doubts about their conclusions are pathological. On the contrary, some ways that doubts are raised concerning our intended conclusions are an integral part of ideal argumentative practice.

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Jun 1st, 9:00 AM Jun 1st, 5:00 PM

Arguments that Backfire

McMaster University

One result of successful argumentation – able arguers presenting cogent arguments to competent audiences – is a transfer of credibility from premises to conclusions. From a purely logical perspective, neither dubious premises nor fallacious inference should lower the credibility of the target conclusion. Nevertheless, some arguments do backfire this way. Dialectical and rhetorical considerations come into play. Three inter-related conclusions emerge from a catalogue of hapless arguers and backfiring arguments. First, there are advantages to paying attention to arguers and their contexts, rather than focusing narrowly on their arguments, in order to understand what can go wrong in argumentation. Traditional fallacy identification, with its exclusive attention to faulty inferences, is inadequate to explain the full range of argumentative failures. Second, the notion of an Ideal Arguer can be defined by contrast with her less than ideal peers to serve as a useful tool in argument evaluation. And third, not all of the ways that arguers raise doubts about their conclusions are pathological. On the contrary, some ways that doubts are raised concerning our intended conclusions are an integral part of ideal argumentative practice.