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No Place for Compromise: Resisting the Shift to Negotiation


In a series of recent papers beginning with their “Splitting a difference of opinion: The shift to negotiation” (Argumentation 32:329–350, 2018a) Jan Albert van Laar and Erik Krabbe claim that it is sometimes reasonable (i.e., rationally permissible) to shift from a critical discussion to a negotiation in order to settle a difference of opinion. They argue that their proposal avoids the fallacies of bargaining (substituting offers for arguments) and middle ground (mistaking a compromise for a resolution). Against this permissive policy for shifting to negotiation, we argue that the motivating reasons for such shifts typically fail, and that the permissive policy avoids neither fallacy while structurally incentivizing two types of strategic maneuvering that constitute rational and argumentative hazards: argumentative overcharge and abandonment of discussion.

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  1. All citations of van Laar and Krabbe will be from this (2018a) paper unless otherwise indicated.

  2. For present purposes, we may treat ‘persuasion dialogue’ and ‘critical discussion’ as roughly synonymous. Properly understood, a critical discussion is an argumentative dialogue conforming to, and governed by, the normative procedural system devised by pragma-dialecticians (van Eemeren and Grootendorst 2004). While a critical discussion has the procedural form of a persuasion dialogue, it may be used for other, non-persuasive, dialectical purposes, e.g., inquiry (by allowing discussants to take on assigned or hypothetical, rather than actual, opening commitments), or deliberation (by changing the kind of standpoint being discussed).

  3. In (2019a: 100f.) van Laar and Krabbe set forth their two-premise second scheme for the Defense of a Negotiated Compromise wherein, roughly, the progress premise asserts that the eligibility condition is satisfied while the optimality premise asserts that the optimality condition is satisfied.

  4. We note, in passing, that a compromise settlement of a first-order disagreement does not “yield” a resolution of a second-order disagreement as to the proper method to select for dealing with a(n irresolvable) first-order disagreement; rather the compromise, indeed the negotiation itself, presupposes such a resolution. Relatedly, while negotiation may result in a compromise that in turn supplies part of the content of a resolution to a second-order argument about what compromise solution to select for agreement in settling a first-order disagreement, it cannot “yield,” or “bring about” (2019a: 94), such a resolution. Rather that resolution must be the result of second-order argumentation, which at some point cites the compromise of the first-order negotiation, together with reasons that negotiation is a legitimate first-order dispute-settlement mechanism in this circumstance. In order to avoid the fallacies of middle ground and bargaining, van Laar and Krabbe are committed to saying not only that compromises are not resolutions, but that bargaining cannot produce, result in, “yield,” or “bring about” resolutions (see our Sect. 3.3).

  5. See Chris Tindale’s (1997) “Fallacies, blunders, and dialogue shifts: Walton’s contributions to the fallacy debate” for a survey of these topics.

  6. By “subsequent discussion” we mean to include both conversation that follows the initial dialogue (say a deliberation that follows a persuasion dialogue that either included an imbedded inquiry or that shifted to an inquiry) and conversation that returns to initial dialogue (say, a return to a persuasion dialogue following an imbedded, or shifted-to inquiry).

  7. They write: “In this paper, we are particularly interested in dialogues about an action proposal” (331).

  8. They write: “That a disputed proposition is factual or theoretical does not and should not keep parties from adopting a compromise” (341).

  9. It is worth noting that they do not stipulate that each party is also open-minded—i.e., seriously willing to be convinced by the other’s arguments or critical doubts.

  10. Eligibility, recall, is the condition stipulating that the contents of a minimally acceptable compromise position should make consensus preferable to continued dissensus (344).

  11. Recall that the condition of optimality stipulates that a fully acceptable compromise will not lack any content elements that would be both preferable to some party and mutually agreeable to all parties (345). We understand optimality to entail eligibility.

  12. To appreciate this point in the context of practical reasoning, consider an example Douglas Walton suggested to us in conversation. Suppose a prospective car buyer says to the sales representative at the dealership: “I don’t want to buy car X because I am not convinced that it has adequate safety features, like anti-lock brakes.” Consider now the aptness of a response like the following from the salesperson: “Okay, I’ve just spoken to our sales manager, and we can discount the price of the car by $ 1000.” Here, the salesperson’s response seems to entirely miss the buyer’s point. The salesperson’s undertaking to do something—specifically something that doesn’t affect the truth-value of the consideration cited by the buyer as a reason—fails entirely to address the buyer’s reason as a reason. (Here is something that the salesperson might do that would address the reason; they could say: “Okay, we’ll install anti-lock brakes on the car for you.”) The very idea of putting a non-epistemic value on the reason, such that it might be given up for a price or other non-epistemic benefit, seems inept. It completely misunderstands move made by the prospective buyer. The salesperson is “playing the wrong game.” Apt responses would include moves like these: “Well, here’s a newer model of car X, where they have upgraded the safety features to include anti-lock brakes,” or “Oh, that’s a misprint in the specifications; car X actually does have anti-lock brakes,” or “You’re right, car X doesn’t have anti-lock brakes; it has autonomous braking which is even safer than anti-lock brakes.”

  13. Dialectical theories of reasoning and argumentation tend to prefer the language of commitment (or verbal acceptance) over that of belief (or mental acceptance) (Godden 2010: 399ff.). At least part of the reason for this seems to be that commitments, being externalized, are easier to track and hold others accountable to. Yet, the point being made here does not call for a particular interest in the unarticulated, psychological dimensions of argumentation. Rather, it concerns the alethic orientation of those propositional attitudes or commitments (whether externalized through public speech acts or not) that are at stake in argumentation. Asserting that p, for example, expresses one’s commitment to the truth of p. Ordinarily, this is properly understood as a doxastic commitment—as an expression of one’s belief that p. Belief, for purposes of this discussion, may thus be understood as alethically-oriented commitment—e.g., as those (perhaps inner) commitments that are rightly subject to criticism, and ought to be qualified or retracted, to the extent that they are not true. An epistemological concern with the dialectician’s adoption the language of commitment, rather than that of (externalized) belief, is not so much that it neglects the inner, psychological, dimensions of reasoning and argumentation (though this is a concern of normative import; see Godden (2010)), but that it has been applied in ways that neglect or obscure the alethic orientation of much of our discourse, and that it thereby fails to afford truth, rather than acceptance or agreement, its proper place as a discursive norm. Indeed, one might explain inclinations towards discursive shifts of the sort sanctioned by the permissive policy as valuing agreement over the truth, or rational acceptability, of what is agreed upon.

  14. This, of course, includes claims of verisimilitude, e.g., claims of the form “p is close enough to the truth for some purpose, Φ.” Claims of verisimilitude, satisfying, practical efficacy, within an acceptable margin of error, etc. are truth-apt and have the nature of beliefs in this respect: that their propositional contents are false always counts as good grounds for their critique.

  15. Analogous considerations to those raised here in the context of goal evaluation apply directly to the evaluation of action policies, or choices, where the performance of the action itself is its own end or goal.

  16. If one denies this claim, as did one reviewer who claimed that pure preferences can be unreasonable and criticized as such, then, on our understanding of pure and rational preferences, the preference is rational, not pure. Our argument, nevertheless, stands as written: while pure preferences can, sometimes, be explained, properly understood they are not susceptible to rational criticism or justification. Hence, while they may be bargained, it is a mistake to argue about them. By contrast, rational preferences may be argued about but are not susceptible to bargaining. In either case, shifting from a critical discussion to a negotiation about them is either trivially permissible (in the first case) or impermissible (in the second).

  17. Notice: this is a consequence of van Laar and Krabbe’s distinction between a resolution and a compromise and their claim that compromises do not end disagreements (see our Sect. 2.3).

  18. Aaron Swartz broke into a computer database at MIT in 2010. He altered an IP address on a server and proceeded to download 4.8 million articles from JSTOR, an academic database. In response, the federal prosecutors charged Swartz with 13 counts of violating the computer fraud and abuse act. He faced 35 years in prison.

  19. We have so far argued that the hazards in shifting to negotiation are borne out on the negotiation end. It seems to be the case, however, that there are clear hazards for the critical discussion stage.


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We consider this joint work; our names are listed in reverse alphabetical order. Earlier versions of this paper were presented by David Godden to the 11th International Conference of the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA), “Argument, Objectivity, and Bias,” May 18–21, 2016 (which appears in the proceedings (Godden 2016) as a commentary on van Laar and Krabbe (2016a) and to which they replied in their (2016b)) , and to the Center for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation, and Rhetoric at the University of Windsor, November 2, 2018. In addition to the audiences at those talks, we offer our thanks to Erik Krabbe, Jan Albert van Laar, Harvey Siegel, and Douglas Walton for their incisive and constructive comments on an earlier draft of the paper.

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Correspondence to David Godden.

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Godden, D., Casey, J. No Place for Compromise: Resisting the Shift to Negotiation. Argumentation 34, 499–535 (2020).

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  • Abandonment of commitment
  • Abandonment of discussion
  • Argumentative overcharge
  • Critical discussion
  • Dialogue shift
  • Discursive norms
  • Fallacy of bargaining
  • Fallacy of middle ground
  • Negotiation dialogue
  • Principle of retrospective evaluation
  • Rational resolution