COPYRIGHT 1999:Traditional versus Cyber-Argumentation
Professor Evergreen Keefer

In an age when we are submerged with information twenty four hours a day, the study of logic is essential-- not only traditional informal logic, but also simplified formal logic, so that we can evaluate the information we receive and create.The specific nature of web design with complementary graphics, bullets, different colors and fonts emphasizes lists and facts as opposed to linear connected thinking through traditional linguistic syntax has its own persuasive power, but like informal fallacies, it can also mislead and deceive. The hypertext links open up a multidisciplinary world which needs to be defined, limited and organized for purposes of research and understanding. Inter-, cross- and trans-disciplinary approaches can be clarified through Boolean logic and Venn diagrams.


Traditional logic first began with Aristotle (born 384 B.C.) who taught and wrote his treatises to explain his system of thinking and to refute the sophistry of emotional rhetoricians like Isocrates. A student of Plato and the son of a physician, Aristotle had a lifelong interest in empirically-based knowledge. He was a great categorizer and divided knowledge into 4 categories:1) theoretical, physics, math and theology, 2) practical, politics and ethics, 3) productive, arts, crafts and medicine, and 4) organa, or tools of methodology, logic and dialectic. He used his methodology to write the Poetics, the Physic, the Logic, the Metaphysic so that the content was multidisciplinary but his method of inquiry was similar. He divided rhetoric into three species: deliberative (future), judicial (past), and epideictic (not time bound but incite the audience to praise or blame.) Rhetoric was an indispensable part of public life in Athens and remained a potentiality, a way of constantly evaluating knowledge through dialectic, not dogmatic means. Rhetoric deals with probabilities and uses evidence and logic to convince.

Traditional Rhetoric began in a confined place and time-- Classical Athens with a specific audience of free men. Cyber rhetoric exists in perpetual time and malleable space with an unpredictable global audience. The only sure thing is that everyone is trying to sell something-- either a product or themselves or their way of doing things. However rhetoric is still judged in terms of Aristotle's qualities of correctness, clarity, ornamentation and propriety in order to prove, to delight, and to move. (Click here for synopsis and excerpts of Aristotle's work.)

The Syllogism (Deductive): All men are mortal. (the general principle)
Socrates is a man. (the case)
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (the conclusion)

Premises must follow by NECESSITY, while in Inductive Syllogisms, they follow by PROBABILITY:

These candies come from that bag.
All the candies in that bag are chocolate.
Therefore, these candies are chocolate.

There are often fallacies in inductive syllogisms because that second clause cannot always be proven. One jumps from a case study to a general principle too quickly, as in many clinical medical trials with pharmaceutical sponsorship. As the world becomes more complex and invisible, deductive syllogisms are harder to prove.

Today we use rhetoric to sell our products and ourselves; Aristotle tried to use rhetoric to express logic which sincerely searched for the truth. Since truth in the twentieth century has been relative, to say the least, most leaders are really persuading people to worship the god of consumerism. Logical fallacies are exploited ruthlessly, as in courts of law. (Cases of O.J.Simpson, the Menendez brothers etc.)

Over the years rhetoric has become more complex. Authorities such as the Church, Hitler, Mao Tse Tung et al have had supreme persuasive abilities because of their institutional and/or personal power. "Do what I say because I say it." Rhetoric is also more directly connected to the manipulation of language.

In 1958 the British philosopher Stephen Toulmin realized that this form of argumentation is not what one encounters when listening to a public speech, arguing with a roommate about what music to listen to, or talking politics at a bar. Consequently, Toulmin developed his theory in order to explain how argumentation occurs in the natural process of everyday argument. Consequently, Toulmin wanted to explain how real people (not philosophers) argue. Although Toulmin's position on formal logic -- that formal rules of logic do not fit well with common practices of argument -- may seem obvious, one must remember the time period in which Toulmin developed his theory. Students of public speaking, rhetoric, and logic were only taught formal logic. Using a contemporary example to illustrate: Students were taught how to program a computer before they were taught how to click a mouse. When one recognizes the traditions of the time period, Toulmin's theory of argument seems even more revolutionary.Toulmin developed his system of argumentation, in part to respond to twentieth century relativity, field specialization, and the need to attach data to every claim, especially in the areas of law and medicine. To understand the Toulmin model, think of the quck chain of reasoning you would need to make in an Emergency Room or a criminal trial, where you would move empirically from data to warrant to backing to qualifier to reservation to grounds to claim. An appropriate claim requires (a) initial grounds for the argument (b) a warrant that allows the speaker to move from grounds to claim (c) a qualifier that states the "strength" of the claim (d) reservations or rebuttals that state the exceptions to the claim. You can also reverse the order as follows:

The first element is the claim. The claim of the argument is the conclusion that someone is trying to justify in the argument.
The second element is the grounds. The grounds of an argument are the facts on which the argument is based.
The third element of the argument is the warrant. The warrant of the argument assesses whether or not the claim is legitimate based on the grounds.
The fourth element is the backing. The backing of the argument gives additional support for a warrant by answering different questions.
The modal qualifier is the fifth element of the argument. The modal qualifier indicates the strength of the leap from the data to the warrant.
The sixth and final element of the argument is the rebuttal. The rebuttal occurs when the leap from grounds to claim does not appear to be legitimate.

Ideally you want to be familiar with Aristotle's more formal reasoning, Toulmin's chain of reasoning from data to claim, and contemporary theories and applications of cyberargumentation.

In cyberspace we can't rely on the pitch and resonance of our voices, the warmth of our facial expression, the impressives stature of our bodies and the expense of our wardrobe to convince people to believe us. We have to convince with the speed, frequency and prevalence of our messages and the hypnotic, timely and informative nature of our web sites.


PROFESSOR KEEFER (COPYWRIGHT 1996)

A COMPARISON OF TRADITIONAL VERSUS CYBER RHETORIC:

Keefer's Cyber-Logic Boot Camp

1)Inductive/deductive accordion
2) Pirouettes:Keeping your spot in a nonlinear world, developing speed and focus
3)Weaving: propositional logic through all evidence, refining and developing thesis
4)Searching for the Big 3 fallacies of ambiguity, presumption and relevance
5)Using Boolean logic and Venn diagrams to limit, expand and organize specific areas of research, especially online
6)Analysing the Persuasive Power of Images, including the homospatial imagery of collages
7)Using hypertext to make the surfer follow Your waves


 

 

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