Note: The following is part of a reflective summary, submitted by a graduate student in 2002, of Alvin Goldman's "Argumentation," chapter 5 of his Knowledge in a Social World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 131-160. (David Hitchcock)

Reflective Summary: Goldman

Mark Capustin

Summary: An argument is a set of propositions in which the premises jointly provide evidential support for the conclusion. A speaker engages in monological argumentation when he presents an argument to an audience. A speaker engages in dialogical argumentation when two or more speakers take opposite sides regarding the truth of the conclusion. Debate occurs when dialogical argumentation is aimed at persuading an audience other than the participants. Proponent argumentation occurs when a person defends a conclusion by appealing to premises, and in critical argumentation, an opponent tries to defeat an argument put forth by a proponent. Practical argumentation engages the question of what to do, while factual argumentation is concerned with what one ought to believe.

Good argumentation serves to increase the aggregate of knowledge or V-value. Thus, good argumentation serves a veritistic end, by seeking to achieve veritistically good results - it facilitates the successful transmission of truth. These positive ends are best served when the following conditions are met: (1) the speaker believes the asserted conclusion, (2) the speaker believes each of the asserted premises, (3) the speaker is justified in believing each of the premises, (4) the premises jointly provide strong support for the conclusion. Arguments that meet the above conditions are likely to produce good veritisitc results because if a belief is justified it is likely to be true. On this understanding of justification, justified beliefs are those that are believed on a reliable basis - a basis for belief that usually results in the formation of true belief.

In addition to the conditions that apply solely to the speaker, standards for good argumentation also involve reference to the audience. In good argumentation, some members of the audience should not, prior to hearing the argument, believe the conclusion (or, presenting the argument is pointless), some members of the audience ought to find the premises believable, and the presentation of the argument should help the audience to clearly see the relationship between the premises and conclusion. Furthermore, if an argument is to be accepted by an audience, the audience should not possess a defeater for the argument (e.g. additional premises that provide reason to think that the conclusion is false). [Further paragraphs of summary have been omitted here.-DH]

Reflection: Goldman's contribution echoes many of my own thoughts. I am sympathetic with his theory of epistemic justification, which essentially states that a belief is justified if it is formed on a basis that reliably outputs true beliefs. Despite its epistemic merits, I am not convinced that this theory of justification is helpful in the context of theory of argumentation. Epistemic justification, for Goldman, is not defined in terms of fulfilment of one's epistemic duty or obligations. However, the fulfilment of such obligations - or obligations resembling epistemic obligations - would seem to be important for a theory of argumentation that is concerned with V-value. It seems reasonable to say that one ought to try one's best to assert only true premises - and this is best accomplished by ensuring that one has discharged all of the relevant obligations. It is difficult to see how a reliablist theory of justification can be of help in prescribing one's obligations with respect to the assertion of premises.