Dissertaties - Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
English | Nederlands

The dialectic of ambiguity : a contribution to the study of argumentation

(2003) Laar, Jan Albert van

The three research questions of this study have been: what exactly is active ambiguity?; how should we assess active ambiguities in an argumentative discussion?; what does an adequate dialectical account of active ambiguity look like? These three questions have been answered by giving a definition of active ambiguity, and by elaborating on the properties of active ambiguity. Based on the survey of possible consequences of active ambiguities, and based on the basic division of labour in a persuasion dialogue, we arrived at a set of requirements that a normative, procedural account of active ambiguity should satisfy. The model for ambiguity dialectic both provides a detailed account of evaluating active ambiguities, as well as a dialectical account of dealing with alleged active ambiguity. The distinction between constitutive and regulative rules for discussion has made it possible to provide a discussion model in which discussants can raise the issue of active ambiguity, and in which they can argue about the correctness of such points of order. This immanent dialectical approach has lead to a fourfold classification of fallacies: by using an actively ambiguous expression a party either violates a regulative, or a constitutive rule for persuasion dialogue, and if this party violates a rule, he or she either commits a fallacy of ambiguity, and possibly also the more complex fallacy of equivocation. This model for ambiguity dialectic has been shown to be useful for the analysis and evaluation of complex debates and discussions.
The present study can be extended in various ways:
 A model for critical discussion can be enriched so that it accommodates other regulative rules, such as the rule that requires arguments to be valid. By doing so, other points of order and other fallacy criticisms can be studied from the perspective of a critical metadiscussion.
 The results concerning active ambiguity can be applied to other modes of reasoning, such as visual argumentation.
 The results can be applied to ambiguity at the level of larger stretches of argumentative discourse. That could lead to a fruitful contribution to the theory of argument structures.
 There still is a need for dialectical models that concern the use of usage declaratives different from providing a disambiguation, such as the use of definitions, clarifications of unfamiliar expressions, amplifications, etc., and the question would have to be answered how the rules with respect to active ambiguity would relate to those models.
 The model can be enriched by inserting a specific ‘linguistic utterance meaning testing machine’. That would be a major step towards implementing the model in a computer program.
 The use of descriptive profiles of dialogue could be improved further. In order to analyse the way parties respond to dialectically complex contributions, we are in need of a dialectical theory that provides the parties with specific rights and obligations for putting forward complex contributions and for responding to complex contributions.

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