Adversarial Argument, Belief Change, and Vulnerability

Topoi 40 (5):859-872 (2021)


When people argue, they are vulnerable to unwanted and costly changes in their beliefs. This vulnerability motivates the position that belief involuntarism makes argument inherently adversarial, as well as the development of alternatives to adversarial argumentation such as “invitational rhetoric”. The emphasis on involuntary belief change in such accounts, in our perspective, neglects three dimensions of arguing: the diversity of arguer intentions, audience agency, and the benefits of belief change. The complex impact of arguments on both audiences and arguers involves vulnerabilities related to various forces of argument, not just the intellectual force of premise-conclusion complexes. Shifting emphasis from adversariality to vulnerability, we propose a more holistic understanding of argument, in which vulnerability reveals various sources of strength and opportunity in addition to risk.

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Catherine Elisabeth Hundleby
University of Windsor

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