Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Awakening the Topoi: Sources of Invention in the New Rhetoric's Argument Model

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Awakening the Topoi: Sources of Invention in the New Rhetoric's Argument Model

Article excerpt

Models are simplified representations of complex phenomena that--we hope--will allow us to understand and interact with those phenomena better than we ordinarily do. "Better" in this case means "in such a way that we can more consistently predict and control the outcomes of the processes in which we are interested." In the very event of modeling, then, we can already see the hermeneutical erosion of the reality of argumentation. Naturally, we want to control the outcomes of argumentative processes, and we want a model that will help us to do this effectively. However, one of the realities of argumentation is that we ourselves, our desires and goals, are implicated and at risk in the process. Argumentation presents the opening to follow an argument wherever it leads, to change one's mind about what outcomes are desirable. So just following the reductionist road of constructing a model already pares off some very interesting features of the phenomenon of argumentation.

So, more specifically, what is it that we want from such a model? It could be any of many things. Models are pursued mostly because they promise to aid us in our efforts to predict and control the outcomes of argumentative processes, but also because they aid us in our attempts simply to understand the causes and effects in and of argumentation processes, to discover the measurable empirical features of these processes, to be able to build machines (which are themselves also models) that can produce these processes, and for other reasons as well--many of which are probably linked to Aristotle's still pertinent observation that we imitate simply because it delights us to do so and because it is the primary way we learn (Poetics, 1448b). However, we should note--sharply--at the outset that it is one thing to imitate models of what other people are doing and another thing to imitate those people and those actions themselves. This natural distancing of invention from the primary phenomenon is a recurring feature of attempts to use theories and models.

One of the primary results we want from a model of argumentation is a reliable method of inventing and teaching the invention of arguments. Of all the parts of rhetoric, invention is the most valuable, the one that historically dignifies rhetoric and lifts it from the occasional declines to which it has been subject. However, invention has also proven itself resistant to modeling. Take the case of the most widely used argument model of our time, the Toulmin model (Toulmin, 1958). Its features are well known. Essentially, there is a claim, there are data supporting that claim, and there is a warrant that justifies moving from the data to the claim. There is backing for the warrant, ultimately in the form of a rational enterprise that helps to constitute a field or domain of argument. Arguments also have qualifiers and conditions of rebuttal. All of this can be graphically exhibited in boxes and lines that almost resemble a flow chart. It appears to be a model of how to generate arguments and set them into motion so that one can move reasonably from data to a conclusion.

However, it is almost anything but. Its creator, Stephen Toulmin, never intended to write a book on rhetoric or invention (Olson, 1993, p. 284). However, this fact is also evident on simple examination. There are no actions specified by the model. First of all, there is no context or motivation for argument in the model itself. To be fair, Toulmin explores argumentative contexts in detail in his writings (1972, 1979), but this is not evident in the model, in which the context begins slowly to emerge only when one questions the backing for warrants. There are no exigencies, no rhetorical situation. Further, though, there are no procedures for generating arguments. Just how one gets a claim and data to show up in the boxes is a kind of mystery. There is a mostly suppressed dialogue hovering in a ghostly way around the model. …

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