Panelists J. Anthony Blair, John Poulakos, David Coates

Craig Allen Smith, North Carolina State University


J. Anthony Blair, University of Windsor, Canada
‘The Ethics of Argumentation’

Guiding question:  Are there moral norms associated with the activity of argumentation?

Three possibilities:

(1) moral normativity

(2) non-normativity

(3) non-moral normativity

We are all familiar with roles in communication (e.g., the repeator, the hog, the interrupter, the open-door pusher).  These people don’t exhibit moral failings, they exhibit lack of etiquette.

One metaphor to ethics in argumentation may be the moral norms of business and medical ethics (e.g., beneficence)

Argumentation is a purposeful activity premised on achieving some objective.

In argumentation it is unethical to use grounds you believe to be false, unethical to deliberately impy fallacious arguments and unethical to deliberately overstate the epistemic standing of your claims.


John Poulakos, University of Pittsburgh
‘The Adversaries, the Discussants, and the Disappointed Lover: Three Dramatic Modes of Argument in Plato’

Guiding issue: Well known antagonism between philosophy of rhetoric.

We should read the ways in which Plato displays arguments in action, rather than his more direct statements about argumentation.  Plato can be read in two ways:

(1) As a straight laced logician interested in rationality of arguments

(2) As a playwright concerned with the integrity of story

Regardless of how we read him, Plato can also be read in one of two modes:

(1) Within (i.e., within a single work)

(2) Across (i.e., a single theme treated throughout several or all works)

Studies of Plato today highlight two works only, the Gorgias and Phaedrus.  This is a confined approach to examining Plato’s understandings of philosophy and rhetoric.  Plato is too expansive to be confined to two works, moreover how he deals with rhetoric extends far beyond merely the Gorgias and Phaedrus.

Three works (Gorgias, Protagorus, and Symposium), taken consecutively, explicate rhetoric in action.

In reading these texts as demonstrations, (1) dialectical argumentation has its limitations, (2) “good discussion” is when cooperation leads to satisfaction and dissatisfaction for both sides of discussion (rather than traditional agonism, which indicates one winner and one loser), and (3) Plato’s argument as merely to destroy rhetoric is severely limited.


David Coates, Wake Forest University
‘Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments’

Discusses recent book, “Answering Back,” its form, content, and critical conversation in which it is a part.

(1) Format: a living, democratic, fighting book.

What is a living book?  A book and blog whose author regularly updates and recontextualizes chapters in book with emergent data.  What is a democratic book?  Represents the liberal responses and conservative alternatives of genuine bipartisanship, raising the quality of political debate.  What is a fighting book?  Outlines the many resources needed to defend in 2010 the progressive political space won in 2008.

(2) Content:

If simple terms speak to the American public (evidenced by corporate and financial support in the public sector, such as Fox News), how do we (i.e., liberalism, political progressivism) communicate complex ideas in simple terms?

Theoretical work in rhetoric and argumentation are absolutely necessary to public debate.

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