, Volume 195, Issue 4, pp 1715–1740 | Cite as

A probabilistic analysis of argument cogency

  • David Godden
  • Frank Zenker


This paper offers a probabilistic treatment of the conditions for argument cogency as endorsed in informal logic: acceptability, relevance, and sufficiency (RSA). Treating a natural language argument as a reason-claim-complex, our analysis identifies content features of defeasible argument on which the RSA conditions depend, namely: (1) change in the commitment to the reason, (2) the reason’s sensitivity and selectivity to the claim, (3) one’s prior commitment to the claim, and (4) the contextually determined thresholds of acceptability for reasons and for claims. Results contrast with, and may indeed serve to correct, the informal understanding and applications of the RSA criteria concerning their conceptual (in)dependence, their function as update-thresholds, and their status as obligatory rather than permissive norms, but also show how these formal and informal normative approachs can in fact align.


Acceptability Argument appraisal Bayes theorem Informal logic Jeffrey conditionalization Relevance Sufficiency 



We consider this joint work; our names are listed in alphabetical order. For comments that helped improve an earlier version of this paper, we thank Mike Oaksford as well as an anonymous reviewer (the latter particularly on the issue briefly discussed in Sect. 4.4, footnote 24). A version of this paper was presented at the workshop on Argument Strength hosted by the Research Group for Non-monotonic Logics and Formal Argumentation at the Institute of Philosophy II, Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, 30 November–2 December, 2016. We thank that audience for their comments and discussion. Frank Zenker acknowledges a European Union Marie Sklodowska Curie COFUND fellowship (1225/02/03) as well as funding from the Volkswagen Foundation (90 531) and the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Universität Konstanz, PhilosophieKonstanzGermany
  3. 3.Slovak Academy of SciencesInstitute of PhilosophyBratislavaSlovakia
  4. 4.Department of Philosophy and Cognitive ScienceLUX, Lund UniversityLundSweden

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