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The Roles We Make Others Take: Thoughts on the Ethics of Arguing

  • Katharina StevensEmail author


Feminist argumentation theorists have criticized the Dominant Adversarial Model in argumentation, according to which arguers should take proponent and opponent roles and argue against one another. The model is deficient because it creates disadvantages for feminine gendered persons in a way that causes significant epistemic and practical harms. In this paper, I argue that the problem that these critics have pointed out can be generalized: whenever an arguer is given a role in the argument the associated tasks and norms of which she cannot fulfill, she is liable to suffer morally significant harms. One way to react to this problem is by requiring arguers to set up argument structures and allocate roles so that the argument will be reasons-reflective in as balanced a way as possible. However, I argue that this would create to heavy a burden. Arguers would then habitually have to take on roles that require them to divert time and energy away from the goals that they started arguing for and instead serve the goal of ideal reasons-reflectiveness. At least prima facie arguers should be able to legitimately devote their time and energy towards their own goals. This creates a problem: On the one hand, structures that create morally significant harms for some arguers should be avoided—on the other hand, arguers should be able to take argument-roles that allow them to devote themselves to their own argumentative goals. Fulfilling the second requirement for some arguers will often create the morally significant harms for their interlocutors. There are two possible solutions for this problem: first, arguers might be required to reach free, consensual agreements on the structure they will adopt for their argument and the way they will distribute argumentative roles. I reject this option as both fundamentally unfeasible and practically unrealistic, based on arguments developed by theorists like Krabbe and Jacobs. I argue that instead, we should take a liberal view on argument ethics. Arguers should abide by moral side constraints to their role taking. They should feel free to take roles that will allow them to concentrate on their argumentative goals, but only if this does not create a situation in which their interlocutors are pushed into a role that that they cannot effectively play.


Argumentation ethics Adversarial argumentation Cooperative argumentation Deliberation Argument roles Argument design Feminist argumentation theory Opening stage Argumentative injustice Epistemic injustice 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LethbridgeLethbridgeCanada

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