Saturday, 3:30 – Argument, Debate and Democracy

Panel 7
DeTamble Auditorium, Tribble Hall

Linda Petrou, Wake Forest University

Scott Stroud, University of Texas
‘Mindful Argument, Deweyan Pragmatism, and Democracy’

Gordon R. Mitchell, University of Pittsburgh
‘Useful Frictions: Revisiting Rationales for Public Debate in a Sorted Society’

Frans H. van Eemeren and Bart Garssen, University of Amsterdam
‘Strategic Maneuvering in the European Parliament: Choosing the Line of Defense in Arguing for a Complex Audience’

1st Speaker: Scott Stroud, University of Texas

Mindful Argument, Deweyan Pragmatism, and Democracy

Dewey distinguishes between debate and argument:

  • Debate = winning a battle
  • Argument = reasoning together

For Dewey democracy is not reduced to the process of voting, but a personal way of life. Individuals have a share and need to participate in the group they are belonging to, according to the group’s needs. At the same time, groups ought to interact harmoniously, in order to allow individuals to flourish by taking part in a variety of actions and acting accordingly with a variety of motivations.

There is also a differentiation between association and community:

  • Association = physical force interaction; joint action for the interest of each individual
  • Community = conjoint action;  bolstering the good, minimizing the bad for everyone

Three models of arguers:

  • “Rapist” = violent
  • “Seducer” = deceiving
  • “Lover” = honest and risk-taking

A non-mindful argument is one that non-mindfully engages the present, i.e. it does not fall pray to the temptation of separating the present from the past/future and elevating the past/future.

2nd Speaker: Gordon R. Mitchell, University of Pittsburgh

Useful Frictions: Revisiting Rationales for Public Debate in a Sorted Society

“History never repeats itself but sometimes it rhymes.”

The rationale for public debates in the 1930s seems to echo in today’s rationale for public debates: the “more speech” remedy (speaking more about issues is the best way to “disinfect” ideas). What we see a lot today, however, is that additional rounds of dialogue prompt dynamic shifts, rather than content shifts.

The big sort: “a clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart.” Homogeneous groups interactions tend to exacerbate violence, to polarize opinions and encourage individual to adopt more extreme versions of their existing opinions.

One example is the increasing percentage of “landslide counties” (>20% in presidential elections):

  • 1970s: 26%
  • 2000: 45%
  • Now: 50%

If we look at Internet interactions, we can see that people are looking for echoing opinions (opinion cascading & group polarization). Groups of like-minded people will think the same, but more extreme. The harm done by frictionless spectacles (political talk-shows in the media) thus becomes apparent. Internet functions as an intellectual cul-de-sac.’

Sunstein proposes a correction in what he calls “cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”: government agents or allies openly or anonymously induce uncertainty within extremist groups.

A better solution to solve the problem of cognitive dissonance can be found in the example of students who participate in public debate  from the perspective of a risk-taking, opinion-forming position. Public debate frees debaters from the clock restrictions (more generous preparation time) and allows them to genuinely engage in opinion-forming dialogue.

“Debate can clear the atmosphere.”

3rd speaker: Frans H. van Eemeren and Bart Garssen, University of Amsterdam

Strategic Maneuvering in the European Parliament: Choosing the Line of Defense in Arguing for a Complex Audience

The decision process within the EU parliament is governed by a strict set of norms and sets up a complex environment for making arguments and adopting maneuvering strategies.

Debates in EU Parliament (EUP) are not as interesting as those in national parliaments from the media’s perspective.

Strategic maneuvering within the context of EUP is preconditioned by institutional regulations, but also by the pursuit of specific interests of political groups. Often times this calls for the use of pragmatic argumentation.