Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

The Treatment of Fallacies in Argumentative Situations during Mediation Sessions

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

The Treatment of Fallacies in Argumentative Situations during Mediation Sessions

Article excerpt


The interest in fallacies and the importance of studying them are determined by the fact that deviation from the standard practices can shed light on the process of normative argumentation and provide interactants with techniques that will enable them to make interaction more effective. Fallacies have been the focus of many scholars from ancient times (see, for example, van Eemeren, Grootendorst, & Snoeck-Henkemans, 1996, and Walton, 1992, for historical background). Researchers in two major streams, monologic (Ikuenobe, 2004; Johnson, 1995; Lumer, 2000) and dialectical (van Eemeren & Grootendorst, 1992; van Eemeren et al., 1996; Ruhl, 1999; Walton, 1992) have been concerned with the issue of what a fallacy is and what types of fallacies exist. Both approaches, however, have shortcomings. The monologic approach starts with assumptions about the fallacy and abstracts this phenomenon from the process of communication. Some types of fallacies, however, are context-dependent (van Eemeren et al., 1996). By contrast, the dialectical perspective treats argumentation as a dialogic process and stresses the necessity of considering "the communicative and interactional context in which the fallacies occur" (van Eemeren et al., 1996, p. 21). Although the dialectical approach is more valid, the research tends to overemphasize the role of the speaker who commits a fallacy and the intentionality of this action. It also overlooks the orientation of interactants themselves to the fallacy.

I adhere to the perspective that to understand interaction processes, it is necessary to look at communicative practices themselves and study them in naturally-occurring conversations. This study employs the constitutive view of communication, according to which a conversation is a collaborative activity. Seeing arguments as an interactional process, Hutchby (1996) states, "it is important to look not only at how arguments are made, but also at how their recipients respond to them" (p. 21). In line with this interactional perspective, the aim of the present study is to discover how interactants respond to fallacies in argumentative discussions during mediation sessions and what moves the interactants treat as fallacious. This will shed light on the nature of fallacies, how they are achieved, and what they are accomplishing in the course of interaction.


Fallacies enjoy a special place in the field of argumentation. There is no unified view on what fallacies are, however. Researchers conceptualize them in different ways depending on their perspective on this phenomenon. Two major approaches to fallacies are monologic and dialectical.

Monologic Approach to Fallacies

Adherents of the monologic perspective (Ikuenobe, 2004; Johnson, 1995; Lumer, 2000) treat fallacies as a psychological-semantic concept. Fallacies are understood as arguments that seem to be valid but are not. In their view, these logically incorrect arguments can be abstracted from the context of interaction and analyzed regardless of the circumstances of their occurrence in the argumentation discussion as "purposes and pragmatics exist already on the level of monological argumentation" (Lumer, 2000, p. 406). This approach, however, leads to the situation when certain traditional types of fallacies that are inherently dialogical have to stay out of the list of fallacies. One of them is the fallacy of many questions, a classic example of which is "When did you stop beating your wife?" (van Eemeren et al., 1996). This question can be quite a legitimate move. For instance, if it is established from the preceding moves that a husband had indeed treated his wife in this abusive manner and then stopped, and if this kind of question is followed by a proper answer (e.g., "last year", "two months ago"), then no fallacy has been committed.

Dialectical Approach to Fallacies

The dialectical concept of fallacy is reflected in two modern approaches: pragma-dialectics (van Eemeren et al. …

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