Why argumentation?

Here is a blog post by project team member Nona Naderi.

We study argumentation to understand how arguments are related and interact with one another. This kind of analysis allows for better interpretation of human reasoning. Here is an example from Araucaria, a corpus of manually annotated arguments provided by Argumentation Research Group at the University of Dundee:

The times in which we live and work are changing dramatically. The workers of our parents’ generation typically had one job, one skill, one career often with one company that provided health care and a pension. And most of those workers were men. Today, workers change jobs, even careers, many times during their lives, and in one of the most dramatic shifts our society has seen, two-thirds of all moms also work outside the home. This changed world can be a time of great opportunity for all Americans to earn a better living, support your [sic] family, and have a rewarding career. And government must take your side. Many of our most fundamental systems— the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, worker training— were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow. We will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared and thus truly free to make your [sic] own choices and pursue your [sic] own dreams.

Now, let’s see what the arguer tries to persuade the audience to accept or reject. First, the arguer claims that “the times in which we live and work are changing dramatically” and supports the claim by comparing the past and present work situations. The premises used to increase the confidence of the audience in the claim include: “The workers of our parents’ generation typically had one job, one skill, one career often with one company that provided health care and a pension. And most of those workers were men” and “Today, workers change jobs, even careers, many times during their lives, and in one of the most dramatic shifts our society has seen, two-thirds of all moms also work outside the home.” She then argues that since the changed world will benefit Americans, the government must take the citizens’ side (claim: “government must take your side.” and premise: “This changed world can be a time of great opportunity for all Americans to earn a better living, support your [sic] family, and have a rewarding career”). Another claim by the proponent is “we will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared and thus truly free to make your [sic] own choices and pursue your [sic] own dreams”. This claim is supported by multiple premises that are either implicit or explicit. One explicit premise is that “the government must take your [sic] side”, but there are also premises that are not expressed explicitly, such as (1) “the system is not good for the world today” and (2) “The best means to have a system fitting the economic situation of today is to change it”. Premise (1) can be simultaneously considered as a claim that can be supported by “The times in which we live and work are changing dramatically”.

There are also other unstated propositions, e.g., the claim (3) “the changes to the systems will benefit citizens”. And the interpretations can be changed by considering different unstated premises and claims. For example, by considering the claim (4) “the government does not do enough to provide a better living for citizens and needs to be changed”, we have a different interpretation; however, some propositions (e.g., claim 4) seem less likely compared to the others.

If we take a look at each argument separately, we will not be able to derive the correct interpretations. Each argument individually provides some information, but we gain more information by discovering the connections and interactions between the presented arguments and reconstructed enthymemes (arguments with implicit premises or claims). But how can we represent these argument interpretations? Solving this interesting and challenging problem helps in better understanding the arguer’s underlying reasoning.

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