Reply to Gilbert.

Author:Botting, David

I would first like to thank Mr. Gilbert for taking the trouble to pay attention to my work and craft a penetrating and witty reply. I would not like to say too much more on this issue. I think the main difference in opinion between us comes down to what we think is the legitimate task of a theory of appraisal, or; what do we really mean when we say that an argument is good?

I am quite happy to admit that there are all kinds of appraisals that we may go in for, and that the mode we are arguing in, or even the means we may choose within the same mode, may affect those appraisals in diverse ways. I said as much in my paper. My feeling is, however, that we may say that somebody's argument has all these kinds of merits without saying that their argument is good, and when we use "good" in this way, we typically mean that it falls short of some rational standard. It is because of this appeal to a rational standard that it is up to philosophers to come up with a theory of appraisal; if instead we want to examine "tone, expression, context and a host of rhetorical considerations" then philosophers have nothing much to contribute and we are better off leaving it to psychologists and the like.

I do not wish to make this sound dismissive, as if these other merits or other goals that we may pursue in argumentation are of no interest or not worth examining. It is more that I do not think this is really a normative matter and hence not the proper object of our theories of analysis and appraisal. Suppose that it was learnt that talking in a certain tone was absolutely persuasive, no matter the content of what the arguer says. Assuming the arguer's aim was to persuade he has done something right, or at least effective, by arguing using that tone. He has exploited an empirical regularity that has been discovered. Watching how "mind-readers" can make you think of something that they then pretend to "read" illustrates just how close this supposition is to reality. But it is not what the theory of appraisal is trying to capture. Also, I do not think that it is something that can be appraised very well when you only have a written text (though Gilbert rightly upbraids me for overstating this claim). If the mind-reader simply handed you a card on which were written the precise words he intended to say, it would not have the same effect. What the theory of appraisal should do, and can do with the materials it has to work on, is capture this standard of rational...

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