Journal

Topoi

Field
Philosophy
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  • Summary

    This paper, a contribution to the growing literature on virtue ethics as applied to argumentation, makes the case that arguers need two sets of virtues, appropriate for two distinct ends. When mutual understanding is not assured, the ideal of cooperative argumentation is apposite. When it is not, the ideal of adversarial argumentation should be preferred.

    Appreciation

    The paper is well-written and addresses an important topic. I feel, however, that it is too informal in its approach: several key concepts are nowhere defined or even characterized. We are told that the good of argumentation is that it improves belief systems, but we are not told what that improvement consists in, or what counts as a "good" belief system. It cannot be a system of true beliefs (that has been ruled out). So it has to be simply "better"—but this leaves us none the wiser.

    The twin notions of adversarial and cooperative argumentation are characterized several times, often in widely different terms, which introduces confusion. Sometimes the adversarial reasoner is described as "impartial" (section 3.1.) and "charitable"; sometimes on the contrary she is "a knight for her own arguments". I am not saying there is a contradiction here, but clearly the range of interpretations as to what "adversarial" means is wide open.

    The notion of "understanding" (which serves to define the turning point where the adversarial ideal becomes more appropriate than the cooperative one) is even more vague. What counts as good enough understanding? When can I be sure that me and my interlocutor see exactly eye to eye? And wouldn't that be the point when argumentation ceases to be necessary?

    For these reasons I found the argument rather woolly overall.

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  • This is a useful and well written review of the place of argumentation in scientific reasoning. I learnt a lot, and I do not doubt that readers will as well. The view that scientific reasoning takes place in a social context that influences it is clearly non-trivial and is explored here in a challenging and remarkably informed way.

    Here I underline only a few minor points of concern. Most of them relate to my personal difficulties with the theory (I am biased) and will not bother the average reader.

    • The point and scope of the paper would be clearer if opposing positions were clearly named, cited, and discussed. I do not doubt that many people mistakenly think that science is an individual quest for truth with no interesting social context — but I would like to know more about those people. So far very few authors are named except Descartes and, in a dismissive footnote, Merton. I am not sure Kahnmean is important at all in science studies, but I might be wrong.

    • The way I see it, there are significant departures from the views expressed in the 2012 BBS paper, that should be acknowledged and explained. The BBS paper describes proactive argumentative reasoning (anticipating counter-arguments on one's own before others propose them) as an « uncommon » and « almost freakish » ability, « even among scientists » (BBS 2012). Obviously this paper sings a very different tune (« scientists (…) have the ability to refine arguments on their own (…) they can raise the level of argumentation through prior ratiocination (…) they can relatively easily anticipate other's counter-arguments » etc.) Also, the BBS paper claims that « reasoning should produce its best results when used in argumentative contexts, most notably in group discussions »— but here again your paper significantly departs from this view (if I understand you well, you explain that many conversations are shallow and mediocre, and good reasoning is useless there, whilst solitary ratiocination can be highly productive). Of course, I may be misinterpreting. If so, I doubt I will be the only misinterpreter. Please adress the misinterpretations before they occur: show us that there is no contradiction here.

    • As I argued in my Topoi paper, I think that the argumentative theory is unable to explain why people are pig-headed in some cases, but not others. In other words, it does not predict or explain the myside bias. You claim that reviewers are unfair, biased and one-sided in their evaluation of other people's work because, as reviewer, they are producing arguments. But scientists in general are open-minded, objective and fair in their assessment of new theories because endorsing a new theory (or not) is about argument evaluation. I confess that I fail to grasp this evaluation/production distinction. To me, the people who accepted plate tectonics were people who gave lectures, reviewed papers, etc. — in brief, they produced all sorts of arguments. And the nasty reviewer who thrashes the paper that goes against his favorite theory is obviously evaluating his opponent's arguments whilst evaluating his paper. Many readers may benefit if you provided a clear-cut, unambiguous definition of what counts as a production context and what counts as an evaluation context. Right now the distinction seems ad hoc.

    • About age and acceptance of new scientific discoveries: not all the papers that you cite show that « younger and older scientists seem equally apt to take new theories in stride ». Some show exactly the opposite. Hull, Tessner & Diamond's 1978 paper found that cientists who accepted Darwin were almost 10 years younger on average than those who did not, a highly significant preditor of acceptance. Of course, in the conclusion, the authors are keen to minimize this result, since it goes against the hypothesis that they defend. They point out that the regression model does not capture much of the variance (without having specified what proportion of the variance would be satisfactory to them).The fact remains. Likewise, Messeri, who is also cited in this connection, never says that age does not matter. It matters a lot, only its influence is complex and quite unlike what Kuhn imagined.

    I encourage the publication of this engaging review paper in Topoi.

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