Arguments in Torun

Posted on March 17, 2008


One of the most interesting centres in Poland for research into the philosophy of mind is Torun. Every year they organise a couple of small conferences with very interesting guests from around the world. In May this year they are holding a meeting on Argumentation as a Cognitive Process that I’ve submitted an abstract for:

Arguing with limited beings (us, that is)

The standard objections to argumentative strategies tend to focus on the use of rhetoric and on the omission of facts. While such objections would be sufficient when dealing with beings that combine a more-or-less idealised rationality with irrational emotions, such a view does not seem to adequately represent actual human interlocutors: neither is our reason so perfect nor are our emotions so irrational. Accepting that human rationality is bounded and that emotions play a positive cognitive role requires a drastic re-think of how argumentative strategies are to be evaluated. While this has far-reaching practical implications it is also highly significant for social epistemology, which requires arguments to function as the clockwork within the community-scale cognitive process.

Using examples from Gigerenzer and Damasio and placing them within Simon’s theory of bounded rationality I will argue that it is impossible to unambiguously distinguish between proper and improper argumentative strategies in all cases. Instead, it is necessary to examine the role the arguments play in a collaborative cognitive process. In other words, arguments ultimately have to be evaluated on a case by case basis and on the social level. Any guidelines that are set down have to be treated with caution given that they are, themselves, heuristic in nature.