ArgLab • Colloquium

Katharina Stevens

Argument-Design through Role-Taking

The norms by which we evaluate arguments are highly context-dependent. Some of this context is self-made: If we choose, for example, to engage in an argument resembling one Waltonian dialogue-type rather than another we are making structural argument-design decisions. These decisions are not only functionally and strategically, but also morally significant. Through them we influence the participants’ ability to give effect to their reasons in the argument: Not only will they reach their argumentative goals more or less securely. Each participant may also have strategic reasons to prefer decisions that will advantage her, and moral reasons to prefer decisions that will not disadvantage her interlocutor(s). One way to deal with the normative importance of these choices is by stipulating that they must be made through consensual agreement. This is attempted through the inclusion of an opening stage, as it exists in the pragma-dialectical school and Walton’s new dialectic.  However, the idea of an opening stage has been subjected to strong criticism. Jacobs (2017) argues that argument-design decisions are usually made non-verbally, during the object-level argument. I agree that we need to abandon the idea of an independent opening stage in which arguers make design-decisions consensually. However, because of the functional and moral significance of structural design-decisions we need alternative conceptual tools with which we can theorize normatively about them. These tools should do justice to the descriptive insights about argument-design made by design theorists, but also serve to formulate a normative theory that reflects their functional and moral importance. In this talk, I suggest that the concept of argumentative roles can fill this need and that we can use insights from role-ethics to deal with the normative implications of structural design-decisions in argument.


Katharina Stevens, University of Lethbridge, Canada