, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 591–613 | Cite as

Argumentation Theory Without Presumptions

  • Marcin LewińskiEmail author


In their extensive overview of various concepts of presumption Godden and Walton recognise “the heterogeneous picture of presumptions that exists in argumentation theory today” (Godden and Walton in Pragmat Cogn 15:333, 2007). I argue that this heterogeneity results from an epiphenomenal character of the notion of presumption. To this end, I first distinguish between three main classes of presumptions. Framework presumptions define the basic conditions of linguistic understanding and meaningful conversation. The “presumption of veracity” (Kauffeld) is their paradigm case. I argue that such presumptions are satisfactorily covered by the Principle of Charity (Davidson, Quine), or else Gricean maxims or satisfaction conditions for speech acts (Austin, Searle). Formal presumptions are general presumptive rules of argument, theorised as topoi or acceptable inference warrants, including institutional warrants (“If not proven guilty, then innocent”). Material presumptions are acceptable outcomes of nested or outsourced arguments, which entitles arguers to use them as acceptable premises or opinions (endoxa) in further arguments without the typical burden of proof. If this is correct, then the study of presumption always collapses into the study of other, likely more fundamental, concepts. Does it render presumptions, by Occam’s Razor, altogether redundant in argumentation theory? I tentatively answer this question from a consistently conversational perspective on argumentation; I argue that the pragmatic grounds for presumptions are to be found in the conditions for speech act performance in the institutional social world, as developed by Searle.


Acceptable premises Argumentation Burden of proof Conversation Endoxa Presumption Principle of Charity Searle Speech acts Topoi 



Earlier versions of this paper were presented: At the “Conference on Presumptions, Presumptive Inferences and Burden of Proof”, Department of Philosophy, University of Granada, 26-28 April 2016; I would like to thank Lilian Bermejo-Luque and Cristina Corredor; at the John Searle Center for Social Ontology, University of California, Berkeley, 7 September 2016, where I am particularly indebted to John Searle and Jennifer Hudin; at the “Winter Symposium Norms and Knowledge – Epistemological Concerns of Social Ontology”, Department of Philosophy, University of Leipzig, 1-2 December 2016, where my special thanks go to Beatrice Kobow. The paper has benefitted immensely from discussions with those mentioned above, as well as all other participants to these events. Presumably, it is better now. This work has been supported by a grant of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT): PTDC/MHC-FIL/0521/2014.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ArgLab, Nova Institute of Philosophy, FCSHUniversidade Nova de LisboaLisbonPortugal

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