The intention of this text is to examine briefly some basic concepts Argumentation Theory operates with quite often. Let it be said that, although the main tone of the text will be decisive, the issues presented here are in fact bones of contention in many works and textbooks. Our first main need is to explain them in “average” form, to apprehend their main, bottom line significance.
Normal language argumentation is a covert operation, a sheltered complex speech act in which spoken and unspoken parts are juggled around so that most of the time it barely hits rock-bottom explicitness. I recently read a passage where an author was remarking how casting doubt upon a standpoint could be done just by raising an eyebrow at the right time (and casting doubt is a major communicative step). Although communication rules view explicitness as “normal” or “correct” and implicitness as the “exception”, the fact is that in ordinary everyday practice the poles are reversed. Nobody argues with fully fledged syllogisms or any form of symbolic logic for that matter, just as nobody accuses speakers of not entirely verbalizing their thoughts or their speech acts. But if one admits that (and it has been admitted since Aristotle’s concept of enthymeme[i]), one must also admit the perils surrounding this issue.
Before we go on with this short analysis on implicitness, we must ask ourselves: (1) why do people do that and (2) where does implicitness appear? First off, why does one (consciously or not) chooses to erase certain expressions from his speech (especially if it’s a central part of the argument) and why doesn’t the hearer feel any need to air grievances about this deletion; one can of course charge the unexpressed content, and often does, but seldom does one complain about the act of not-stating-something. Secondly, as it may be obvious that we cannot find unexpressed anything or randomly unexpressed speech acts, we have to find out what parts of argumentation are suited for implicitness or even expected to be thus.
Let us attack the first question. Aristotle put it this way: “for if any of these propositions is a familiar fact, there is no need even to mention it; the hearer adds it himself”[ii]. Centuries later, after the Gricean revolutionary view upon communication, the same statement was to be put in terms of relevance and sufficiency. Analyzing a simple piece of argumentation “Angie is a real woman, therefore Angie is nosy”, Eemeren and Grootendorst explained that “In this example, the speaker is acting on the generally understood assumption that real women are, indeed, nosy, then the performance of the speech act ‘All real women are nosy’ is superfluous. If made, the utterance would be an infringement of the third rule of communication”[iii]. In other words, we normally prefer being unexplicit (and by doing so, putting forward apparently invalid deductive arguments) and lay our hopes upon the hearer’s adding – to use Aristotle’s explanation, rather than being superfluous (“pointlessly” putting forward “already accepted and shared” premises). Of course, the quotation marks inside the last bracket mark the hot spot of the enthymematic reasoning: but are they already accepted? Isn’t the universal statement All real women are nosy something the hearer would want to object to? Besides, it is quite a different thing to use an unexpressed premise such as ‘Snow is white’ and to use an unexpressed premise such as ‘All real women are nosy’. Common knowledge assurance[iv] doesn’t cover the left-unsaid in the latter. Even more one could ask himself, isn’t the speaker begging the question (taking for granted something which is at issue)? We will leave aside these questions and return to them in due course. We can now attack the second question with which we began our text.
After our first grasp upon the question why do people refrain from fully verbalizing their reasoning paths when arguing, we should be able to move on to the next issue: where does implicitness occur? In addition to enthymemes – in fact, before we should even go thus far – some other sort of implicit usage of language occurs in at least three main locations.
I. Phrasal implicitness, one that concerns rhetorical figures of omission. There are many ways in which something missing would not be regarded as a grammatical error, but rather as an adoption of a rhetorical speech. For example the famous asyndeton of Caesar “Veni, vidi, vici” is obviously forgetting some conjunctions or the commonly used ellipsis in some phrases like “John forgives Mary and Mary, John” (where a comma or another punctuation mark signals what has been elided).
II. Implicit speech acts, ones that have been introduced primarily by J.L. Austin, and systematically studied afterwards by John Searle or Paul Grice. Some speech acts have their illocutionary force (or communicative function) explicit (‘I promise you that’, ‘I bet you on this’) and some do not; when we say “Hi, John!” we are performing the speech act of greeting, or when we say “Could you pass the salt?” we are making a polite disguise of a type of speech act called directive. Some speech acts could be stated both explicitly and implicitly (“Sorry for bothering you” and “I apologize for bothering you”) and some speech acts don’t even have a possible explicit formula: it would be very odd to be part of an angry dispute and say ‘I insult you!’ Complex speech acts usually do not have explicit formulas, or they have one but they sound emphatic (‘I explain that’ or ‘I protest that we want better salaries’ etc). Argumentation is to some extent a typical non-explicit complex speech act. We recognize it by some specific verbal indicators (“for”, “because”, “since” etc), by some background knowledge and contextual information, or by explicit characterization of the complex speech act by means of simple speech acts (‘My argument for this is that…” or “I shall defend the standpoint of …” etc)[v].
III. Indirect speech acts, which are the most complex form of implicit usage in language. Past this point, of course, there are always non-verbal indirect “speech act” (for example the previously mentioned raised eyebrow). The way in which we analyse their “indirectness” is based on the Gricean Communication Principle and the concept of implicature[vi]. The CP could be resumed to “Make your conversational contribution such as is required” or could be split into 4 maxims:
1. QUANTITY: make your contribution as informative as is required for the purpose of the exchange
2. QUALITY: do not say what you believe to be false or that for which you lack adequate evidence
3. RELATION: be relevant
4. MANNER (regarding how is said, instead of what): Avoid obscurity, avoid ambiguity, avoid unnecessary prolixity, and be orderly.
By following those maxims, we say that someone stated p and/but implicated q, provided that we have no reason to think he would opt out from the CP (therefore, his violation is only apparent). The speaker knows that we are capable of “reanalyze p as q” (that is to say, that relevant contextual and background knowledge is available for the hearer), and he also knows that q is required in orther for CP to obtain. We are now able to see how one can make the indirect speech act of a request (mother to son, for example to do the homework), only by uttering: “John …!” It would be obscure and poorly informative if it would be to be understood literally. Another example, in a dialogical context, when someone asks: “Can you please turn down the TV?” he performs the direct speech act of asking a question, and the indirect speech act of politely requesting an action. If the answer sounds like: “Last time I checked America was a democracy” or
“I like news”, they would both count as rejecting although it would only be so by drawing conversational implicature because literally we are only faced with the an assertive (ironical assertion of “America is a democracy”) and an expressive (“I like news”).
IV. Unexpressed premises. Now it’s the time to attack some of the questions hastily formulated in the previous paragraphs where we discussed the “why” part of implicitness. Besides some eccentric step-asides in considering unexpressed premises[vii], we should be able to make here a sketchy account of the main axis of analysis:
to be continued
[i] ARISTOTLE, Rhetoric, translated by W. Rhys Roberts, book I, chapter 1, 1357a, source. Aristotle not only points out these form of discourse (enthymeme as a “sort of syllogism” or a “rhetorical syllogism” – namely the one with a missing premise or a missing conclusion), but regards them as “the substance of rhetorical persuasion”.
[iii] EEMEREN, Frans H. van, GROOTENDORST, Rob, Argumentation, Communication and Fallacies – A Pragma-Dialectical Perspective, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers, Hillsdale New Jersey, 1992, p. 62
[iv] “These might be assumptions like, ‘Snow is white’, or ‘Los Angeles is in California’. Because such a statement is acceptable as common knowledge, it does not have to be proved in the normal course of the argumentation. This account suggests that common knowledge as used in a type of argumentation like a critical discussion is based on common acceptance of assumptions that are not worth challenging because no party to the dispute has any interest in challenging them”, WALTON, Douglas, The three bases for the enthymeme: A dialogical theory, in “Journal of Applied Logic”, Volume 6, Issue 3, September 2008, p. 361-379
[v] for the roles of simple speech acts in argumentation, see EEMEREN, Frans H. van, GROOTENDORST, Rob, A Systematic Theory of Argumentation – The pragma-dialectical approach, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, p. 67
[vi] GRICE, Paul H., Logic and Conversation, in Studies in The Way of Words, Harvard University Press, London, 1989, first published in “Syntax and Semantics”, 1975 after William James lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1967.
[vii] LEVI, Don S., The Case of the Missing Premise, in “Informal Logic” Vol. 17, No.1, 1995, p.68 “It is tempting to suppose that it makes no difference whether a [syllogism] is contrived or a restatement of actual rhetoric because in either case we have a claim, the conclusion, that is provided with support, the premises. But however tempting, it is wrong”. He then argues the major role of rhetorical context in analizing “missed premises”, and therefore, the major shortage of previous analyses is that the requirement itself (that the unstated must be stated) is erroneous in some respects.