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Argumentative Discourse

Donald G. Ellis

Subject Communication Studies » Language and Social Interaction
Linguistics » Discourse Analysis

Key-Topics rhetoric

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


The concept of argument has a long history in communication. An argument is a concluding statement that claims legitimacy on the basis of reason. But argumentative discourse is a form of interaction in which the individuals maintain incompatible positions. More specifically, argumentative discourse directs attention to the arguments of naïve social actors engaged in intersubjective social interaction rather than the nature and structure of abstract arguments ( Willard 1989 ). The traditional notion of argument has the logical syllogism as its elemental structure. Thus, the concluding statement (A = C) is logically necessitated in: A = B, B = C, therefore A = C. A politician who states that “Democrats are liberals; my opponent is a democrat; therefore, my opponent is a liberal” is arguing from such syllogistic logic. Argument in this case is abstract and separate from the perspective of social actors. Aristotle first recognized that people did not actually argue formally and posed the enthymeme as a practical syllogism. That is, a speaker would leave a listener to fill in some part of the syllogism ( Bitzer 1959 ). Expressed as an enthymeme the above statement might be, “My opponent is a democrat and therefore a liberal.” This leaves the audience to fill in the missing premise about the relationship between democrats and liberals. Although enthymemes recognize the role of people, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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