Cultural Diversity, Cognitive Breaks, and Deep Disagreement: Polemic Argument

  • Manfred Kraus
Part of the Argumentation Library book series (ARGA, volume 22)


All argumentation starts from dissent, but needs common ground to build on. Such common ground is ideally provided by a common cognitive or cultural environment that is shared by the arguers. But in cases of radical cognitive or cultural diversity there is little or no such common ground. In such cases only polemic argument (but not argumentation) will be possible. Polemic argument, characterized by cantankerousness and gainsaying rather than veritable argumentationinforms much of our present argument culture, particularly so in TV talk shows, in political debate, and even in academic dispute. Robert Fogelin introduces the notion of “deep disagreement” characterized by “a clash of framework propositions” (Inform Logic 7:1–8, 1985), and Marc Angenot identifies “cognitive breaks” that result in a futile, yet nonetheless persistent “dialogue of the deaf” (Dialogues des sourds. Traité de rhétorique antilogique. Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2008). Angenot suggests that rhetoric may fail as an art of persuasion when arguments are dominated by mere antagonism of ideologies, and are marked by mutual misunderstandings and fallacies. As a remedy, he advocates a revival of the ‘antilogic’ of doxa and probability constitutive of rhetorical argumentation. Fogelin’s and Angenot’s models can be used to describe the background of polemic argument. One of the major factors that account for fundamental diversity of belief systems between arguers, and hence for deep disagreements, is the cultural environments of the arguers. If culture is defined as the set of norms, values and beliefs, symbols and narratives a community adheres to, any argument that in its premises or structures touches these norms and values will be sensitive to such cultural differences that can affect forms, functions, evaluations, and contents of arguments. In today’s pluralistic societies, various groups with divergent cultural backgrounds and different cultures of argument share the same living space, but often cannot even acknowledge the rationality of each other’s arguments. On the other hand, although polemic argument is generally condemned as futile or fallacious, the free expression of antagonist views, and thus conflict and polemics are basic to our Western democratic political culture. The paper uses the concept of antilogical reasoning as developed by the ancient Greek sophists, as well as approaches from rhetoric and discourse analysis, in an effort to establish the underlying logic and rhetoric of polemic argument and to delineate conditions under which it can be reconciled with the standard of a rational and critical discussion. As a result, it turns out that while in polemic argument both contending parties are mutually blocked and cannot reach any common ground to resolve their deep disagreement, it can be useful for clarifying and better defining the issue at stake for the benefit of a third party, namely the body of people (assembly, jury, electorate, general public) who will ultimately decide the issue pragmatically by ballot.


Cultural Diversity Common Ground Power Distance Cultural Community Rational Argument 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Netherlands 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philologisches SeminarUniversität TübingenTübingenGermany

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