Jun 29, 2010
Jun 26, 2010
|Critical discussion||Discussion critique|
|Resolve a difference of opinion||Résoudre un conflit (une divergence) d’opinions|
Advance/Express a standpoint
Cast doubt upon/Challenge a standpoint
Put forward arguments
|Position/Point de vue |
Mettre en doute une position
Avancer des arguments (en faveur d’une position)
Metha-theoretical starting points:
Les postulats méta-théorétiques
|Speech acts||Des actes de langage|
L’étape de la confrontation
|Rules of a critical discussion||Les réglés de la discussion critique|
”Fallacies as moves that violate the rules of a critical discussion”
Arguments that seem valid but is not
”Les paralogismes sont des procédés argumentatifs qui constituent une violation spécifique d’une des réglés de la discussion critique” (44)
”Des arguments qui semblent valides sans l’être”
Ajustement stratégique (!)
Reconstructing argumentative discourse
Reconstruire le discours argumentatif
Source: Eemeren, F. H. van & Houtlosser, Peter. (2004) “Une vue synoptique de l’approche pragma-dialectique”, in Doury, Marianne & Moirand, Sophie (eds.) L’argumentation aujourd’hui: Positions théoriques en confrontation, pp. 45-77
 « qui renvoie au caractère raisonnable … et donc moins fort que rationality »
Jun 24, 2010
Title: Rhetorical Argumentation: Principles of Theory and Practice
Author: Christopher W. Tindale
Publisher: SAGE Publications
This is the first of a two-parted review of Tindale’s Rhetorical Argumentation. This will be the uncritical one, in which the datum is presented and explained; accordingly, the next post will contain my biased, peevish skirmishes with some of the contentions advanced in the book. As a general remark, I’ll say this: no matter how hard one tries, the rhetorical aspect of argumentative communication still feels the ‘less rigid’ one among fellow viewpoints. Perelman & Olbrecths-Tyteca’s (1969) endeavor to commute the irrational implications of terms such as “rhetoric” and “persuading an audience” into something less depreciated is a valuable if somewhat unavailing endeavor. Though revolutionary in its own sense, informal logicians and (pragma-) dialecticians still had the opportunity to review The New Rhetoric as highly relativistic, given its audience-related notion of reasonableness. Christopher Tindale notices this consensus and sets himself about swimming against the current by proclaiming: “argumentation is essentially rhetorical” (p. 22). Let us then look into this effort, because the “sink or swim” situation – one must admit, regardless of the result – is intriguingly difficult at the outset. The author did not sank, this is clear, but – as I hope to show in the next post – he did not swim the whole course. Some dialectical lifeboats might have eased the struggle.
A threefold division of viewpoints upon argument is still largely applicable to argumentation theories: argument-as-product (the logical viewpoint), argument-as-procedure (the dialectical one) and argument-as-process (the rhetorical one). Some attempts had been made to cross the borders between these, but the two attempts cited by Tindale – Johnson’s Manifest Rationality (2000) and Eemeren & Houtlosser’s concept of strategic maneuvering – have proved unable to make a “further step” from the “traditional separation” (p. 12). The – let’s call it – dialectification of logic (inserting the “dialectical tiers” into the theoretical apparatus and thus bringing it closer to the practice of everyday reasoning) and the rhetorification of dialectic (the acknowledgment, by the pragma-dialectical approach, of the rhetorical aims of participants in a discussion) are noteworthy step-ups, but – as Tindale finally suggests – to juggle the three viewpoints is to admit the prominence of the third:
The fuller picture requires all three perspectives, with none reducible to another. In that full model though, the one which is both fundamental and most indispensable is the rhetorical (p. 180)
The type of argumentation Tindale proposes is an “invitational” one, which means that the speaker “invites an audience to come to conclusions through its own experiencing of the evidence” (p. 24) In this, argumentation is always dialogical. Not in the dialectical sense which, in principle, pays “attention to the two-sidedness or turn-taking nature of argumentation” thus being “still possible for dialogue-focused or dialectical exchanges to involve no more than an exchange of distanced, monological positions” (p. 90). The dialogical aspect of argumentation (a term borrowed from Bakhtin’s theory of communication) lies in the fact that there is always an audience to which a discourse is addressed (this feature is called addressivity) and that audience is not a passive spectator in the process of communication. It (almost literally) “completes the discourse and arguments” (p. 97), making itself a part utterances which thus accommodate its possible responses. As Tindale puts it, “the situation enters into the utterance (my italics, ibid.)” An argument, in this view, is “co-authored” by the arguer and audience. This partnership does not begin after the act of producing that argument, but “[b]efore the argument has arisen to the level of product, it is already infused with the characters of its participants – their beliefs, attitudes and understanding” (p. 104).
Rhetorical argumentation is neither new nor forgotten. It is argued that sophistic practices of argumentation (although belittled by the Platonic-Aristotelian mainstream) brought about the rhetorical conception of argument. Their unrestrained “exhibitive logic”, besides making the big step from the mythic-poetic tradition of “mere telling”, had sometimes evinced a theory of logos (as is the case with Protagoras’s philosophy) which is still valued for its orientation towards the audience. Gorgias’s apagogic method, for instance, is seen as a way of “inviting the audience to think counterfactually” (p. 46) and therefore “if they [the audience] are to be persuaded, they will be so on their own terms, from a perspective they have helped construct and see as plausible, rather than one imposed on them” (p. 54).
The argument is thus rhetorical, the other way around being equally possible. Rhetoric is, in some instances, an argument. Rhetorical figures are argument schemes not only in that they are “structures transferable to other contents” (p. 61) but in that they “serve as arguments” (my italics, p. 63) in that they draw the strength from the premises to the conclusion. This complies with the general thesis moreover since the “strength” is not to be understood necessarily as “more persuasive”. Other aims function inside an “argumentative site” and those can be understanding, insight, agreement, recognition, knowledge-producing etc.
As regards evaluation, the rhetorical perspective brings forward and restores Perelman’s concept of “universal audience” which must be seen as the most sought for collaborator/co-arguer. Positing this as the goal of argumentation, “no sacrifice of rationality or reasonableness is involved” (p. 181), you know why?, because “universal audiences are repositories of reason, sources of what is reasonable” (p. 184). The fact that we can step out of our understanding and recognize the merits of another point of view is then a clue to the fact that we can be inside the universal audience. Once arrived, the “principle of reason within us – which is not always activated, but arises on the occasion when this recognition [of another point of view] operates – is what we share over and above the particularities that distinguish us” (ibid.)
[Yes, this is how I ended it. The fruitful ambiguity is purposely kept for it to be debated in the next post.]
Jun 14, 2010
The fact that we convey other messages than those we are explicitly uttering is not at all puzzling. This, I think, is because I can silently stick out my index finger and point it towards a glass of water, thus asking for liquids or describing thirst. And I am only 2 (or 98) years of age. The other way around is also not that baffling: if I am 3 years old, my mother will understand my message and kindly bring me the glass of water. What seems to be puzzling is that I can say something and mean something else, and moreover since the connection between my explicit utterance and my implicit meaning is conventional (like when I say “You dog!” to my friend who recently embraced a piece of carnal information with his female partner…). And, finally, the most troublesome thing happens when one understands Y instead of X, when I am really uttering X instead of the performed Y.
John R. Searle (to whom we pray for this and this) answers these last questions from within speech acts theory. So “How is it possible for the hearer to understand the indirect speech act when the sentence he hears and understands means something else?” (p. 31) I’m short of imagination today, so I’ll henceforth stick with Searle’s examples. The first one:
A: Let’s go to the movies.
B: I have to study for the exam.
No mystery, while A’s invitation is literally an invitation, B’s answer is not literally a rejection (i.e. a commissive) of that invitation, but a statement about one’s schedule (i.e. an assertive).How does the hearer get from B (which Searle calls the secondary illocution) to B’, which would be more or less “I refuse to go with you” (the primary illocution)? Through several steps. One should note that no normal, sane human being is taking each of these steps consciously. Searle’s main thesis is this: B rejected A’s proposal by indirectly referring or alluding to one of the conditions of such a rejection (either a preparatory, a propositional content or a sincerity condition). In our case, “A preparatory condition on the acceptance of a proposal, or on any other commissive, is the ability to perform the act predicated in the propositional content condition”, and “Therefore, I know that he has said something that has the consequence that he probably cannot consistently accept the proposal”, “Therefore, his primary illocutionary point is probably to reject the proposal“ (p. 35)
There are many ‘idiomatic’ instances of indirect illocutions with which one is highly accustomed and therefore unable to “detect” the secondary illocution by means of which are conveyed.
Can you reach the salt? (as means of asking for the salt)
Have you got change for a dollar?
I would like you to go now
I'd be very much obliged if you wouldpay me the money back soon
[and commissives as primary too, for example:]
I am sorry I did it (as an apology)
Can I help you ?
Would you rather I came on Tuesday?
Idiomatic or not, every indirect speech act, Searle suggests, could be explained by the following 10 steps:
Step 1: Y has asked me a question as to whether I have the ability to pass the salt (fact about the conversation).
Step 2: I assume that he is cooperating in the conversation and that therefore his utterance has some aim or point (principles of conversational cooperation).
Step 3 : The conversational setting is not such as to indicate a theoretical interest in my salt-passing ability (factual background information).
Step 4: Furthermore, he probably already knows that the answer to the question is yes (factual background information). (This step facilitates the move to Step 5, but is not essential).
Step 5: Therefore, his utterance is probably not just a question. It probably has some ulterior illocutionary point (inference from Steps 1, 2, 3, and 4). What can it be ?
Step 6: A preparatory condition for any directive illocutionary act is the ability of H to perform the act predicated in the propositional content condition (theory of speech acts).
Step 7: Therefore, X has asked me a question the affirmative answer to which would entail that the preparatory condition for requesting me to pass the salt is satisfied (inference from Steps i and 6).
Step 8: We are now at dinner and people normally use salt at dinner ; they pass it back and forth, try to get others to pass it back and forth, etc. (background information).
Step 9: He has therefore alluded to the satisfaction of a preparatory condition for a request whose obedience conditions it is quite likely he wants me to bring about (inference from Steps y and 8).
Step 10: Therefore, in the absence of any other plausible illocutionary point, he is probably requesting me to pass him the salt (inference from Steps / and 9).
From 6th step downwards, things depend on the condition that the speaker chooses to bring into conversation (preparatory – as in our case -, propositional content condition – e.g. questioning the condition, as in Aren’t you going to eat your dinner?, sincerity condition – e.g. stating that the condition is fulfilled, as in I would like you to go now)
There are some problems to this – which Searle tries answer at the end of the essay – but they do not affect his main hypothesis and his main arguments for it.
One final question: why do people use indirect speech acts? Most commonly, out of politeness: “The chief motivation - though not the only motivation - for using these indirect forms is politeness. Notice that, in the
example just given, the "Can you" form is polite in at least two respects. Firstly, X does not presume to know about Y*s abilities, as he would if he issued an imperative sentence; and, secondly, the form gives - or at least appears to give - Y the option of refusing, since a yes-no question allows no as a possible answer. Hence, compliance can be made to appear a free act rather than obeying a command” (p. 48)
And that’s it.
Jun 12, 2010
It’s improbable, I know, but I think this next fellow might have taken into consideration the sort of general fluttery glee of pragmatics and pragmatic analysis, the spirited forage for new or odd or simply less-considered language behavior, the passionate interest in defining, categorizing, explaining, analyzing – not to mention the ordeal of formalizing – language use. I say this because just this morning, when I was cleaning up my spam folder, the next title caught my eye irremediably: “Affirmations don’t work?” You don’t just delete this sort of stuff when you’re, if nothing else, at least marginally interested in pragmatics, do you?
Not only that I did not dismiss the prying spam, but I took a keen interest in it. It took me to this rough-looking site about affirmations which, by the 1999-ish looks of it, seemed like another hit from the Expert Persuader. I know what you’re thinking: “Like, when one… asserts something?” That is what I had in mind, but no. Apparently, to affirm is when you say to yourself: “I am beautiful”, “I have money”, “I have a great job” and so on, precisely when and if you do not have neither money nor a great job, and you look like Shane MacGowan. One should affirm things every once in a while, and here comes the vital piece of information: not only to boost one’s morale but to… make things happen. Ooh, you mean to affirm-affirm! I see… (If one had scanned my brain with those high-tech machines at that very moment, the high-tech screen would have looked like this:
First, there was a five-point explanation for the inefficiency of some unfortunate affirmators (It’s not racial…) who were simply doing it wrong.
- “They say them in the future or conditional tense as opposed to present tense.” Poor neophytes… “‘I’m going to be rich’ will never work. Instead you say, ‘I am rich.’” And more, “This is why saying ‘I hope I make more money this year,’ or ‘I wish I could lose weight,’ won’t work as affirmations. They are conditional, wishy-washy… Saying an affirmation in conditional tense isn’t giving the universe a firm command.” [my aghast italics, of course]
- Secondly, “Most people say them once and think it’s going to work. You have to say them over and over and over again.” Fair enough. Fair enough. Fair enough. Ah… why? I’ll tell you why, “The way the Universe is hardwired is that it won’t pay attention to one affirmation.” Oh, right, yes.
- And you know what else? “They don’t believe in the power of mind” Silly bastards…
- You might say they’re thinking what they’re thinking, but they’re actually thinking the very opposite of what they’re thinking! “When you’re not aware of your thoughts, they tend to be negative. […] When you’re not aware of your dominant thought, you put yourself in a downward spiral and the negative/stinkin’ thinking gets worse and worse.” Stinkin’ thinking – If any of as anytime soon writes a book about fallacies and sophists and unreasonableness and all that, I assure you this would be the perfect title, I mean marketing-wise.
- Finally, the classic beginners’ mistake: “People get so caught up in the present that they don’t think their affirmations will work. They look into their present circumstances and give up too quickly”
This is not immunizing your standpoint(s). This is building a friggen stronghold around it! Now that the “OK, enough with the scolding, tell us what to do!” feeling is deeply seeded, let’s look at the five-point to-do list entitled “Why affirmations, When Used Correctly, Do Work. Here’s The Top 5 Scientific Facts About Affirmations And How to Make Them Work For You!”:
- “A study [ah, the “a study” argument…] done at the National Science Foundation discovered that deep thinkers [?] think around 50,000 thoughts a day. That's a lot of thinking! This study also cited that the majority of what people think is negative...up to 95%!!!! That's 47,500 negative thoughts....and that's a lot of ‘stinkin' thinking.’ AND Here's the kicker. [bazinga?] They concluded that about 90% of what you thought one day is carried over to the next. How do we stop the insanity? By consciously taking control of your thoughts with Affirmations [notice the caps?]. They work! [oh…] In addition, every thought you think effects the 70 trillion plus cells in your body. How do you think all those negative thoughts are affecting your cells and your well-being? It all comes back to doing affirmations throughout the day. The bottom line is they work [oh…] and you are taking conscious control of your thoughts and destiny.”
Ok, you’ve got the nameless study about the stinky thinking, but why do affirmations work? Well,
- “Albert Einstein, Niels Borh (Nobel Prize winner in 1922) [now we’re talking business], and others discovered, basically, that everything in this universe is made up of energy. EVERYTHING —including thoughts. This energy then vibrates at a frequency which joins together with energies of the same harmonious frequency to form what we “perceive” to be reality. This all determines what we experience in the physical world. Affirmations tap into that subatomic frequency because it’s putting quantum energy into your thoughts. It’s bringing those vibrational frequencies together—your thoughts and the manifestation of them in the physical universe. In short, affirmations are helping you tap into the most basic source of creative power in the Universe. Good things explode into reality when all frequencies are vibrating on the same wavelength and through the same particles”
Ok, so this basically says: “Your thoughts are made out of energy. The world is made out of energy. Therefore, thoughts can make reality”. Of course they can. If I have the idea of making a coffee, I think about it, then I’m doing it, my idea turned into a coffee. BUT I AM CAUSING IT. I’m pretty sure that, as much as I think of Italian Mafia bombing my neighbour with macaroni&cheese… it won’t happen! Rhetorically, nonetheless, this is very well written:
- Notice the smooth passage from the cool, unassuming “join together”, “bring together”, “tap into” and then all of a sudden “Oooh, my gosh, ‘explode into reality’”?
- Notice the smooth passage from “what we experience” and “what we perceive” (let’s not say ‘thoughts’, let’s say ‘sense-data’) to “manifestations of them [thoughts]” and straight-forward “things” (i.e. objects, happenings)?
- Notice how there’s no real ‘why-answering’ involved? The Fallacy Ambulance needs to bring to life the unexpressed premise of “If two things are made out of energy, one can influences the other” and then say “And this is because…”>
- > “…It is the most powerful force in the Universe and simply means that you attract what you think about - whether you want it or not. Like the law of Gravity the Law of Attraction is always working. So if you wake up and say you will have a bad day, guess what, you will have a bad day. On the other hand, if you wake up and say something great is going to happen today, it will. Every thought you think is creating your future. So be careful what you think about because you are attracting things into your life with each thought.”
I actually have nothing to say to this, because the main point of the paragraph could be summarized: “Well, it does, because it’s a law”. I do, however, want to take a keen look at “means that”. The air around “means that” breathes “definition”, therefore “explanation” and “elucidation”. See? No “arguing”. Anyway, the immunizing process is definitely still on. “Did something bad happen to you? Well, you though of it!” “Did something good happen to you? Well you thought of it?”
[OK, small but very important parenthesis. When I say “immunize”, I mean “against falsifiability”. Mr. Expert Affirmator here put forward a series of claims which make up his theory. And they all clearly support each other and are not self-contradictory. But what else one needs is the possibility to test the theory by failing to prove it wrong. So what we would need is the possibility of an instance: “The subject X thought them affirmations the right way, present simple and all, repeated them as often as needed (“no minimum, no maximum, though…” shut up!), profusely believed they could work, had no dominant negative thoughts… and the thing didn’t happen” Now how could one possibly verify what’s on the left side of the “… and”?]
“The affirmation is the consideration that puts action into the physical universe. You can’t make anything happen without thinking about it first. You can’t scratch your hand unless you think about scratching your hand. You can’t get up and go to the store for some ice cream unless you think about it first. Affirmations are vital in that they are the thought that comes before the action. You can’t have a life of abundance if you don’t think you have a life of abundance first. When you have confidence from your affirmations prosperity and abundance will start to manifest in your life.”
As you can notice, the story is the same here, which makes me unwilling to go any further. The ‘why-answering’ never happens. However, the paragraph is pragmatically interesting. Why? Well, notice that the assertions on point 4 are clear as a bell for anyone who is a human being and has experienced life. “You can’t scratch your hand unless you think about scratching your hand”, “You can’t scratch your hand unless you think about scratching your hand” etc. However, they could not be entirely useless in such a highly motivated text. My opinion is that the point of those statements is to somehow convey the negation of the converse: “You can scratch your hand if you think about it”. Using their terms (‘scratch hand’, ‘think about scratching hand’) it is again pretty obvious. But if we generalize this beyond causal differences, the reader will easily arrive at the point of those statements and that is “You can have more money if you think about having more money” – which, since I don’t give money to myself (when is this phrase going to end?!), is less acceptable, let alone obvious.
Hey, wait! Wait! Isn’t that … affirming the consequent ?!?
If you did it, you must have thought of it. You have thought of it, you made it. Yupeee!
They are selling a book, btw, if you’re interested, visit www.bestaffirmations.com
Reviewed here: Oswald Ducrot, (2004) “Argumentation rhétorique et argumentation linguistique”, L’Argumentation aujourd’hui : positions théoretiques en confrontation, Presse Sorbone Nouvelle.
We have encountered Anscombre & Ducrot’s theory of argumentation in language before. In this little review of Ducrot’s Slovenian Lectures (2009), I undertook to sketch the outline of TAL and its main concepts (argumentative orientation, topoi, polyphony, and a few others). In principle, the Slovenian lectures were meant as an endeavour in linguistics or, to be more specific, a certain type of semantics named argumentative semantics. The article I will swiftly present now is more plainly connected to problems of argumentation theory. Ducrot’s “radicalism” is still present – in tone as in ideas – and one could describe Ducrot’s present purpose as daring as the one set forth in the Slovenian lectures: “linguistic argumentation has no direct relation to rhetorical argumentation”. Before anything, separating the two terms seems relatively unproblematic:
By “rhetorical argumentation” I understand the verbal activity intended to make someone believe something. (p. 18)
[By “linguistic argumentation”,] a discourse-segment formed by a chain of two propositions A and C, linked implicitly or explicitly by a connector of the type therefore, so, consequently… I will call A the argument and C the conclusion (pp. 18-19)
So basically, while the first “argumentation” is used to describe something that happens at a discursive level between two interlocutors, the second “argumentation” describes something that happens at a linguistic level between two propositions. “It would seem naturally,” Ducrot continues, “that the linguistic argumentation would be the most obvious means of making someone believe something […]” By this, the author means something like: if one wants to convince an interlocutor of some conclusion C, the first thing to do is present the argument A as increasing the acceptability of C, right?
Wrong. There are several reasons why linguistic argumentation “A therefore C” is not only insufficient for the “rhetoric activity” (i.e. attempt to persuade), but, Ducrot argues, the notion of logos itself, the idea that there is a certain rationality which manifests itself within such linguistic chains is illusionary.
- A therefore C is never valid. You need something to authorize the step from A to C (what Toulmin would call a ‘warrant’);
- Assuming you supplement your chain with the ‘warrant’, this would be a general statement and, unlike formal fields of argumentation, in everyday logic general principles admit exceptions;
- Assuming you supplement your chain with the ‘warrant’ and you are most probably not in one of the exceptional cases, your terms would still be ambiguous. The author uses an example where terms like jealousy and love make up the general principle.
- To these three reasons, we add the fact that most of the times presenting a reason is not ‘contextually’ enough. One sometimes needs to ‘develop in the interlocutor the desire to believe such and such is true’ (pathos) or ‘create a feeling of confidence in the speaker’ (ethos).
Ducrot’s thesis (which could be brutally resumed thus: no word or expressions could be described as ‘dictum’, as ‘expression standing for object’ and the fact that a proposition had become an utterance is the first step towards receiving an argumentative orientation) is applied here to “A therefore C” constructions. Since “the meaning of A contains in itself the indication that it must be continued with C”, and since “one cannot establish the definition of A independently of the fact that A leads to C”, consequently one cannot, properly speaking, identify a step from A to C. In other words, there’s no “transport of truth or validity” from A to C because “one cannot understand [the argument] but by linking it to the conclusion” and both “contain the entire chain”.
In our opinion, there are argumentative chains embodied in the meaning of words themselves. This being said, all forms of speech – whether or not with an argumentative intention – alludes necessarily to argumentations
Now, this is spooky. For someone accustomed to the evaluative habits of Anglo-Saxon theoreticians (“How is it that A leads to C?”, “What does the speaker hold as a warrant for that step?”, “Is it a cogent argument?”, “Is it a sound inferential process?” and many, many others), professor Ducrot may seem like sending a dismayingly novel message. ‘No logos? No proof? The inference is already in the argument?’ Luckily for us, the author is long acquainted with querulous comments (I guess) so he sets out to answer the exact question one startled reader might ask: “Alors, à quoi servent ces argumentations?” or, less of a tongue-twister, “Why use them in the first place?”
Feeble motives, I’ll say. For instance, one could use such chain in order to make a smart concession (i.e. ‘I know that Z, but nevertheless, X therefore Y’), the speaker offering arguments for C will seem open to discussion and gaining the prestige of a admirable ethos (really?), the speaker may use this to engage the listener into what seems like a critical discussion (“force the interlocutor, in turn, to respond with an argument”), or to put him into a difficulty – given that the conclusion is, so to speak, embodied into the words themselves.
When arguing (in the linguistic sense), one can always present his speech as an explication of the meaning of words, as compelling as the word itself. Mr. Larousse is always right, all the more reason for relying one’s discourse on him, while of course presenting oneself as a mere user of this common thesaurus (p. 31)
[I have very strong differing thoughts about all this – most of them stemming from a doubt that Ducrot’s term ‘argument’ has the same meaning throughout the theoretical elaboration. I plan on inwardly chewing them a bit longer before evincement]
Jun 8, 2010
Now, I would say he kind of asked for it. If you really want to formulate an uncomfortable question, you don’t just go willy-nilly with “What do you have to say about…?”. The guy was being affectedly modest (and a bit twitchy, if you watch his hands carefully) but when he had prepared his question I’m assuming he wasn’t in such state.
LE: Wait a minute.
My approval of Dawkins’s witty “oh, bite me!” tactics just went from ‘Yeah’ to ‘What?’. Not only that he sighs audibly as if the unseemliness of the question is unbearable, not only that he uses the International God Catalogue again as an argument for the gawky human mind, but… he does not answer the question! He answers the question “Could you be wrong?” with a well-rigged “We could all be wrong”, and then goes on with his ‘check out these crazy cultures’ speech. But that weren’t the questions! The question was: “What if you are wrong?”, not “Is it possible that you could be wrong”, nor “Is it possible that any of us is right?”.
Jun 7, 2010
Hey, look, I know you know I know this blog simply disappeared in the last couple of weeks. It’s true. But that doesn’t mean my initial glee disappeared also. It’s just that I’ve been in some sort of Pickwickian, quizzical state of mind lately, which prevented me from any serious skirmishes with argumentation theory. So, this being said, today I got nothing. Which means, as it usually does on the Internet, that I’m going to copy something of interest.
Here’s Desmond Bates, the retired Professor of Linguistics who happens to be also David Lodge’s protagonist in the novel Deaf Sentence (2008):
”... What kind of speech act is a suicide note? It depends of course on what classification system you’re using. In the classic Austin scheme there are three possible types of speech act entailed in any utterance, spoken or written: the locutionary (which is to say what you say, the propositional meaning), the illocutionary (which is the effect the utterance is intended to have on others), and the perlocutionary (which is the effect it actually has). But there are lots of further distinctions and subcategories, and alternative typologies like Searle’s commissive, declarative, directive, expressive and representative [further reference here], indirect speech acts and on [sic!]. Most utterances have both locutionary meaning and illocutionary force. The hazy area is the line between the illocutionary and the perlocutionary. Is the perlocutionary properly speaking a linguistic act at all? Austin gives the example of a man who says “Shoot her!” (a rather odd example to invent, when you think about it, a symptom of male chauvinism and misogyny among Oxford dons perhaps).
What about a suicide note that consisted entirely of the words, ‘I intend to shoot myself’? […] He could be explaining, to those who would find him dead, that he shot himself deliberately, not accidentally, or that he was not shot by another person. He could be expressing the despair which had driven him to this extreme step. He could be making his family and friends feel bad about not having realized he might kill himself, and not having prevented it. […] In practice suicide notes, even short ones, are never as stark and simple as my example.”