Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Norms of Presentational Force

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Norms of Presentational Force

Article excerpt

A person's style of argumentation sometimes seems to force us to believe or do something. We may feel compelled by a case presented seductively. A vivid description of potential harmful consequences of a policy may pressure us to abandon our support for it. A child may speak with such sweetness and naivete that we can't refuse to buy a dozen boxes of candy to support her club's trip. In these cases we may say that the presentational style was effective since it persuaded us. But would we say that we were rationally persuaded? Can style or presentational devices as such reasonably compel us to believe, agree, act? I submit that they can, and that the normative pragmatic project explains how.

Presentational force is the force of style as argument. Although it is possible to abstract an argument from a discourse--when someone asks us what argument is made in an essay, we do not read the essay to her--presentational devices constitute the argument as designed and presented. (1) Presentational devices include but are not limited to language uses such as word choice, syntax, figures and tropes, and broader units of composition. Although some presentational devices in argumentation may be viewed as beyond the scope of argument proper (see for example Jacobs 267, 270, 272), presentational devices constitute argumentation (Jacobs 265; see also Conley 273-74; Manolescu, "Style" 64). Therefore at least some presentational devices are inseparable from argumentation itself and must be investigated as sources of force.

By presentational force I mean something other than a forceful style where forceful may refer to the strength, intensity, or impact of presentational devices. Instead, I use force in the sense of pressure or compel Some students of rhetoric and argumentation may object to the idea that arguments are compelling, that a forceful argument may pressure someone to believe or act. They may be in the good company of those who have understood rhetoric and argumentation as alternatives to physical force. (2) Still, it is commonplace to speak of arguments forcing responses, and this is not necessarily objectionable. It is good that arguments force politicians to make health care an issue in a political campaign, or force jurors to acknowledge evidence in a trial.

In what follows I aim to show how presentational devices may serve as sources of force and how they may be analyzed and evaluated from the perspective of normative pragmatics. After explaining the normative pragmatic project, I analyze and evaluate select presentational forces in Susan B. Anthony's "Is it a Crime for a U. S. Citizen to Vote?" and conclude with reflections on the compatibility of the normative pragmatic approach with the recently developed pragma-dialectical treatment of presentational devices.


Approaching argumentation from a variety of perspectives, researchers past and present have referred to force in their theories of argumentation (see for example Apostel 101; van Eemeren and Grootendorst, Systematic 12; Johnson 334; Whately). There are at least three ways of theorizing force, where theorizing means explaining: intellectual, social, and pragmatic. Although these ways of explaining force are not mutually exclusive, they involve different emphases. In what follows I overview these ways with reference to how argumentation may pressure addressees to accept an argument's conclusion. Accepting a conclusion is not the only thing an argument may force addressees to do. Argumentation may aim to force addressees to accept a premise or burden of proof, for example. Still, forcing acceptance of a conclusion is a straightforward kind of case and so is a good way to introduce different ways of theorizing the force of argumentation.

First, an explanation of argumentation's ability to pressure, compel, force an addressee to accept a conclusion may be primarily intellectual. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.