Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Arguments and the Structure of Reality: A Beginner's Guide to Perelman, Part III

Well, this is my penultimate (second to last) post on Perelman's system of argumentation. The remaining are "arguments based on the structure of reality" and "arguments to establish a structure of reality."

Arguments Based on the Structure of Reality

These are different from the quasi-logical arguments in the sense that these do not deal with essential patterns of thought, but rather they deal with habitual patterns of thought. Some of these patterns may just be conventions of Western society and may not always be in operation in other cultures. Perelman describes these patterns as follows: “As soon as elements of reality are associated with each other in a recognized connection, it is possible to use this connection as the basis for an argumentation which allows us to pass from what is accepted to what we wish to have accepted” (81). Essentially, you find structures of reality that are already there (already accepted) and then apply them to a specific situation. As Kenneth Burke points out, these structures may only be "natural" in the sense that a path made through a field is natural. Nevertheless, as soon as that structure or path has been made it is there as a structure that can be used to pass from A to B.

Perelman divides these structures into two groups: liasons of succession and liasons of coexistence.
Liasons of succession show a kind of linear progression on the same level (of the same kind), 

  • whereas liasons of coexistence show relationships across different levels.

      As a matter of interest, these two structures may resemble the different structures of how men and women think. According to this psychologist, men think primarily in liasons of succession whereas women think primarily in liasons of coexistence.

     1. Liasons of succession (cause, effect, fact and consequence)
Perelman writes, “Having accepted the existence of correlations, natural laws, or the principle that the same causes produce the same effects, one is able to construct hypotheses within a given context and verify them with the appropriate inquiries” (82). In other words, as soon as we believe that we have identified a reliable mechanism or relationship between cause and effect, we can use that to make arguments about what causes what and what consequences a certain action would have. One of the most common uses of this is the pragmatic argument, which has become dominant in 21st century capitalism: "If it sells then it is a good product!"

-          The pragmatic argument = Evaluate a fact by its consequences

Perelman writes, “The pragmatic argument, which seems to reduce the value of a cause to that of its consequences, gives the impression that all values are of the same order. It is thus that the truth of an idea can, in pragmatism, only be judged by its effects, the failure of an enterprise or life likewise serving as a criterion of its irrationality or inauthenticity” (83). We call Steve Jobs a genius because he succeeded, but if he had failed then we may have called him a fool. One example of this argument can be seen below: 

A: This government program has been vindicated and has proven its worth beyond question. Through it, thousands have found employment, the deficit has been reduced, and valuable goods and services have been provided for the citizens of our country. (fact judged by consequences)

-          One can resist the pragmatic argument by questioning its application. A fact cannot always be evaluated by its consequences, and the post-hoc fallacy is an example of taking this too far (post hoc ergo propter hoc means "this followed that, therefore that caused this"). Correlation does not prove causation. As Perelman says, “How do we determine the indefinite chain of consequences that result from an action, and how are we to impute to a single cause the consequences that result most often from the concurrence of several events?” (83)

B: Just because some things happened at the same time does not mean that the one caused the other! Yes, people were hired during that time, but the economy in general had been recovering rapidly for several months before. The reduced deficit is a result of the economy rebounding, not this government program. As far as goods and services go, you have caused several food companies to lay off workers or go out of business because you provided for free what they sold and therefore destroyed their market.

One could use the same method against arguments that "Hitler led to the end of antisemitism, so we should thank him" or "pornography sells, so obviously it must be a good product," or "making drugs illegal has caused a lot of violence, therefore it is a bad idea to have drug laws." 

-          Means/end arguments of waste

Perelman writes that in this argument, “Means have only a relative value because they depend on the value accorded the end, which is considered to be independent” (85). This is a common thread in the "ends justify the means" argument, which is common in rationalizations of unethical behavior. However, on a smaller scale, we all do this: "I am sorry I yelled at you, but I was trying to save you from being hit by the truck!" Some common forms of the means/end argument are the arguments of waste, redundancy, and the decisive.  

Argument of waste: “The existence of an effective means allows us to realize a desire and gives the desire a stability sufficient to transform it into an end . . . To avoid wasting effort in attaining a certain end, a person will continue a project until it is completed . . . The action, which, under the circumstances, can attain its full bearing and should thus not be considered a waste, will thereby gain in value and this militates in favor of its being done” (87). This is a very prominent argument in science and technology, where the potential of a theory or technology provides an almost irresistible argument for pursuing it. The best pop-culture example of this may be Jurassic Park: "It is technically possible to make dinosaurs. Let's do it!"

Similar arguments are leading the development in bioengineering (after the discovery of the CRISPR gene editing technology) and robotics (despite warnings from Stephen Hawking and others about the potential dangers of autonomous warrior robots). 

It is a powerful argument because we as societies are addicted to "progress" and have seen how we have changed our societies and lifestyles by utilizing effective means to the fullest. We all use this kind of argument on a smaller scale. Here are some everyday examples:

“Your brother was never good at school, but how can you who have been blessed with such talent and intelligence not go to college?”

“Your mother and I have worked for twenty years to make it possible for you to go to school, so you better study and take this seriously.”

“How can we leave and give up now when we finally have a good chance to succeed?”

Device of Stages: This is a form of argumentation that leads a person through many intermediate stages from refusing an argument to accepting it. Perelman writes, “When the gap between the theses the audience accepts and those the speaker defends is too great to be overcome all at once, it is advisable to divide the difficulty and arrive at the same result gradually” (87). This of course is common to most education courses, where a student who cannot possibly understand or agree to an abstract or complex principle is gradually "indoctrinated" or learns the steps to do so. It can of course also be abused to make people gradually accept unethical behavior that they initially refuse since it goes against their principles. I think the quote on vice by Alexander Pope is very appropriate here:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

This "device of stages" is also found in the EU directives on the process of naturalization, where the goal is to make conservative societies gradually accept homosexuality by saturation and making it the norm rather than the exception. Sales people often use this "trick" to get people to buy what they don't want through gradual assent to smaller propositions leading up to the final assent to the sales proposition.

Here is an example:
A: I could never kill someone.
B: Ok, I can understand that, you seem like someone with a general good will for people, who would never willingly hurt anyone.
A: I am.
B: Are there some people you care more for than others, somebody that you really love?
A: Yes, of course. My little sister for example.
B: And I assume you would do and have done a lot for her?
A: Yes.
B: Would you be willing to make sacrifices in your life if it could help her? For example, would you donate your blood if she needed it for an operation?
A: Yes, of course.
B: Would you lie if it could save her life?
A: Yes, I would.
B: What if you two were home alone, and someone broke into your house planning to murder your sister? You had a gun and could only stop him by shooting him? Would you pull the trigger?
A: And that would be the only way?
B: Yes, the only way to save her would be to pull that trigger. You already said you would be willing to sacrifice a lot to help her. So what if you have to sacrifice your aversion to killing in order to save her life?
A: Then I guess I would.
B: So what you are saying is that you could conceivably kill someone.
A: I guess….

Argument of direction is a tool one can use to resist the device of stages: Perelman writes that “foreseeing or anticipating future developments, oppose the first step, fearing that it will lead to a ‘slippery slope’ that will allow no stopping and end in total capitulation” (88). 

Here is an example:
B: Would you be willing to make sacrifices in your life if it could help her?
A: Stop, I can see where you are trying to take this. You are going to set it up so I feel selfish for not killing someone because then I am not sacrificing enough for my sister. You know what? I am not going to go there. I refuse to ever kill someone, period. There is always another way out. Your hypothetical scenarios aren’t realistic.

Argument of infinite development: This argument, often used in politics and science, professes to consider each realization in the given field only as a stage in an indefinite progression, usually towards some neverending quest for a utopia. 

Here is an example from the 1937 movie The Shape of Things to Come by H.G.Wells:
“Rest enough for the individual perhaps. Too much and too soon and we call it death. But for man, no rest and no ending. He must go on. Conquest beyond conquest. First this little planet with its whims and ways, and then all laws of mind and matter that restrain it. Then all the planets that are about it. And at last, out across the immensity of the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.”

2.       Liasons of Coexistence (Connects realities on unequal levels)

Act/Person relationship. Do the actions define character or does the character define the action? Whether or not we agree that this is a good argument (sometimes we call it the ad hominem argument) it is always a factor that a person takes with him or her. Aristotle referred to the credibility a person has as his or her ethos
      Ethos: “Past acts contribute to the good or bad reputation of the agent. The good name a person enjoys becomes a form of capital embodied in his person, an asset it is legitimate to use in case of need.” Also, it is in the context formed by the person that people interpret all his acts, attributing to him an intention that conforms to the idea they have of him” (93). One use of this "capital" is the argument from authority. 

Argument from authority: This argument is of interest only in the absence of demonstrable proof. Common criteria for establishing authority today are competence, tradition, antiquity, and universality. When we hear of a new discovery we first ask whether the researcher has competence to make and recognize such a discovery, and we often reject findings that seem to be going against the tradition of science or the established scientific truths. For example, many have rejected the possibility of the EmDrive working because it goes against the law of the conservation of energy. 

Here is an example of the argument from authority, which would work in contexts that accept these authorities:
“As Mother Theresa said, 'If you judge people, you have no time to love them.' We should be so full of Christ’s love that we would not have mind or time to judge other people because of their weaknesses.”

The main question here is the connection between a person and the acts performed by the person. 
-          Techniques to prevent the act from coloring the person or the person from coloring the act are techniques of severance and techniques of restraint.

Restraint: Here one may interpose time, or mention exceptional circumstances, an unusual state of mind, social surroundings, etc. "This was back in his college days," or "this was at a time of national shock," or "that is how everyone he surrounded himself with thought about the issue in those days."

These categories are not exhaustive nor are they always applicable. Perelman writes that “the categories developed in the humanities . . . are constructions of the mind, tied to a distinction between what is essential and what is accessory, accidental, or negligible” (100). It is often said that they are more useful than true, which means that they do not claim universality. 

3.       Double Hierarchies: This is another liason of coexistence. In this argument, the relationship between two terms in one hierarchy are judged by another hierarchy. We often talk of how there is a constitution behind the Constitution or a structure of divine or moral law that directs and gives validity to common law. Many things in our language and in our societies depend on a second hierarchy to give it meaning and legitimacy. This is often used in poetry and fiction. 

For example:
“After the grey, cold, and naked buildings of the industrial district it was refreshing to see the rich colors of the Lake District with its abundance of life and beautiful scenery” (describes scenery in terms of the rich-poor social hierarchy)

“Oh, I know that everyone needs work, clothes, and food and such. But I wish we could talk about other things too, since man does not live by bread and water alone. The spirit or soul of man also needs nourishing you know” (needs discussed in terms of the body/soul hierarchy).

Here is a powerful example from The Great Debaters where James Farmer uses a double hierarchy of divine law/common law to argue that unjust law is no law at all. (6:49-10:00)

As mentioned before, all these arguments rely on habitual structures of the mind, but I believe a good argument could be made that they work so well because they make use of structures that have served us well individually in a lot of decisions that we have made.

PS: Can you figure out which argumentation method I just used?