Monday, February 22, 2010

"Persuasion and Argumentation," Centre de Recherches sur les Arts et le Langage, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, September 7–9, 2010.

Persuasion has long been opposed to argumentation. From this standpoint, conviction would pertain only to argumentation because it is based on reason, whereas persuasion would rest on techniques of manipulation aimed at producing an effect on the audience. Perelman, for instance, even though he put emphasis on the importance of the audience, nevertheless defended a universally valid conception of rationality whose goal is to convince a universal audience, whereas persuasion is oriented toward a particular audience. Yet this opposition has been qualified by what is called, since Hamblin’s seminal work, the “pragmatic turn” of argumentation, as argumentation always occurs in a given context, limiting its scope to the context in which it occurs. Nowadays, many distinct and even conflicting conceptions are held in the field of argumentation, among which persuasion is one of the most debated. For the epistemic trend (John Biro and Harvey Siegel), persuasion and argumentation remain quite distinct, for even if it is allowed that persuasion may sometimes be the aim of argumentation, proponents of this position nevertheless consider that the validity of an argument must be evaluated through epistemic criteria only. Based on a different analysis, Marc Angenot arrived at the same conclusion in his latest book (Dialogue de sourds, 2008): for him, argumentation rarely leads to persuasion, so that they should be radically separated. At the other end of the spectrum stands Douglas Walton’s position, as he considers persuasion to be one of the different kinds of dialogue that constitute argumentation as a whole. Between these extreme positions there is room for many intermediary ones. The pragma-dialectical approach, for instance, evolved. In 2004, it insisted on the opposition between, on the one hand, the process of persuasion, centered on the effect to be produced and therefore on the rhetorical categories aimed at influencing effectively a given audience and, on the other, on the process of convincing which rests on how an arguer can resolve a difference of opinion by means of an argumentative discourse. Van Eemeren and his coauthors consider now that these two elements are always present to some degree in every argumentation. Their concept of “strategic maneuvering” is intended to take these two complementary but different aims of argumentation into account: both the dialectical objective of reasonableness and the rhetorical objective of effectiveness. Strategic maneuvering is also directed at reducing, within argumentative practice, the potential tension resulting from these opposed aims. On the other hand, according to the informal logic approach (Tony Blair and Ralph Johnson), persuasion and argumentation are not really opposed. Hence Johnson’s definition of the aim of argumentation as that of a “rational persuasion.” The objective of this conference is to review the controversial relationship between persuasion and argumentation within the different theories of argumentation. Several lines of research might be explored, among which:
  • examining the importance of context in persuasive practices, when they are considered context-dependent;
  • understanding how these practices appear in different disciplines, in so far as there are also forms of persuasion in scientific argumentation, for instance, so that persuasion would not be the prerogative only of the literary and the visual arts; a comparative study of different persuasive practices would be particularly fruitful;
  • articulating persuasion and argumentation more in detail instead of considering them as opposed. While it is clear that all persuasion processes do not fall within the province of argumentation, some could match the epistemological and cognitive criteria governing argumentation as a rational enterprise;
  • from this point of view, integrating some persuasive techniques into the field of argumentation would make it possible to take into account different kinds of discourse which are still too often excluded from the field of argumentation precisely because they would be more persuasive than argumentative: literature, advertising, political propaganda, visual argumentation.

Participants are welcome to deliver their papers in French or in English. Abstracts (c. 300 words) and provisional titles should be submitted, together with a brief résumé (one page) in Word format, to Georges Roque ( no later than February 15, 2010. The final decision of the selection committee will be communicated by February 28, 2010.

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