, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 165-189
Date: 09 Jan 2008

Modality and its Conversational Backgrounds in the Reconstruction of Argumentation

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The paper considers the role of modality in the rational reconstruction of standpoints and arguments. The paper examines in what conditions modal markers can act as argumentative indicators and what kind of cues they provide for the reconstruction of argument. The paper critically re-examines Toulmin’s hypothesis that the meaning of the modals can be analyzed in terms of a field-invariant argumentative force and field-dependent criteria in the light of the Theory of Relative Modality developed within linguistic semantics, showing how this theory can provide a more adequate model for exploiting the modals as indicators. The resulting picture confirms Toulmin’s intuition only in part: on the one hand the modals are always relational in nature and dependent on a contextual conversational background of propositions; on the other hand only epistemic-doxastic modals directly express a speech-act level inferential relation between a set of premises and a standpoint. Other modalities express relations (e.g. causal or final relations) better seen as part of the content of the argument whose argumentative relevance depends on the argumentation scheme employed. Thus non-epistemic modals function as argumentative indicators only indirectly.

An earlier stage of this investigation was first presented in a shorter paper of the same title at ISSA 2006. 6th International Conference on Argumentation. Amsterdam, June 28–30, 2006, which now appears in the proceedings of the conference (Cf. Rocci 2007b). The present paper substantially expands and revises in many points that early formulation. Moreover, the paper has greatly benefited from the detailed and extremely helpful remarks of two anonymous reviewers to whom the gratitude of the author is due.