Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning

By Douglas N. Walton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO PRESUMPTIVE REASONING

In this chapter, a pragmatic analysis of the concept of presumption is put forward that reveals the essential function and operation of presumption in argumentation. The focus of the chapter is on presumptive reasoning, on how presumptions are brought forward in arguments as kinds of premises, and as kinds of inferences that link premises to conclusions in a context of argumentative dialogue.

Consider, for example, a very ordinary example of presumptive reasoning.

Case 2.1: John's hat is not on the peg. Therefore, John has left the house.

This inference is warranted by an unexpressed premise, a nonexplicit presumption that functions as a major premise of a conditional form: If John's hat is not on the peg, then (we can normally expect), he has left the house. The argumentation scheme is that of argument from sign, a species of defeasible inference subject to rebuttal in the presence of any contrary relevant evidence that becomes available (see chapter 3). Most likely, this conditional would be based (in a given case) on experience that John normally, or by habit, wears his hat whenever he leaves the house.

In Case 2.1, the key premise is a presumption that is not explicitly stated-- the proposition that John normally wears his hat when he leaves the house. This nonexplicit presumption licences the speaker, and any hearer, to draw the conclusion explicitly stated by the speaker--John has left the house.

Thus in this case, presumptive reasoning works as an inference through which a conclusion is drawn. But the case reveals an important distinction between explicit and nonexplicit presumptions. In the case of nonexplicit presumptions, they come to be accepted by the parties in the discussion, even though they may never be explicitly stated by any one of these parties during the discussion. The digging out of such presumptions has often been regarded as an important function of philosophy as a discipline.

In this case, the kind of inference involved is better described as implicature rather than implication, in the sense of conversational implicature described by Grice ( 1975). The conclusion is defeasibly drawn rather than being strictly implied by the premises.

Although presumptive reasoning is very important in philosophy, it has tended to be neglected by logicians. Although philosophers are familiar with

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Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Lea Titles in Argumentation ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - Presumptive Reasoning 17
  • Chapter Three - the Argumentation Schemes 46
  • Chapter Four - Argument from Ignorance 111
  • Concluding Remarks 131
  • Chapter Five - Ignoring Qualifications 133
  • Chapter Six - Argument from Consequences 168
  • Author Index 212
  • Subject Index 214
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