Philosophy, Rhetoric and Argumentation

Philosophy, Rhetoric and Argumentation

Philosophy, Rhetoric and Argumentation

Philosophy, Rhetoric and Argumentation

Excerpt

When we wish to control the action or belief of another person, but either lack an effective means of control or have an effective means that we nevertheless do not wish to use, we argue with the person. Argument is therefore not effective control. To argue with another is to regard him as beyond the scope of effective control, and hence is precisely to place him beyond the scope of effective control, provided he is a person capable of listening to argument and knows how it is that we are regarding him. We give him the option of resisting us, and as soon as we withdraw that option we are no longer arguing. To argue is inherently to risk failure, just as to play a game is inherently to risk defeat. An argument we are guaranteed to win is no more a real argument than a game we are guaranteed to win is a real game. An adept arguer can feel certain that he is going to win an argument against someone, but if the certainty is an objective consequence of the very procedure he is using, then this procedure is not an argument.

I do not mean to suggest that the nonargumentative control of action or belief is necessarily infallible. We can command the obedient child but not the disobedient one. But our failure to command the disobedient child is not the result of our regarding him as beyond the scope of effective control. His resistance does not arise from our having given him the option of resisting. It arises from a technical shortcoming on our part. Perhaps with further research we can find the procedure that will guarantee the child's compliance. If we cannot, we may even have to turn to argument.

Argument is a pervasive feature of human life. This is not to deny that there are occasions on which man can appropriately respond to hypnotism, subliminal stimulation, drugs, brainwashing, and physical force, and occasions on which he can appropriately control the action and belief of his fellow-man by means other than argument. But only the sort of person whom we would characterize as inhuman would take pleasure in a life . . .

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