Good Arguing

Professor Graham Oppy

About the project

“Good Arguing” is a new research project, funded by an ARC Discovery grant, which aims to develop a new theory of good arguing, particularly in the content of public discourse and deliberative democracy.

The project begins by investigating the claim that there are widely shared assumptions about the nature of good arguing across the disciplines. My working hypothesis is that there is more or less universal support for the claim that (a) arguments have a premise/conclusion structure; and (b) good arguments are those in which conclusions are appropriately supported by premises.

In this first stage of the project, I will look for empirical support for this hypothesis by making literature searches across artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, communications, computational modelling, education, formal logic, informal logic, linguistics, literary studies, philosophy and political science. Next, I will investigate argumentative theories of reasoning in recent cognitive psychology, particularly those of Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. These theories support the idea that the origins of reasoning lies in the social value of shared examination of reasons, rather than in the social value of trading premise/conclusion sets.

I will then go on to develop and refine criticisms of some of the standard views about the structure and goodness of arguments and the nature of argumentative skill, and to examine the inconsistencies between what theorists of argumentation say makes for good argumentation and what they do when they themselves are engaged in argumentation.

Finally, I will examine recent discussions of public arguing, with a particular focus on efforts to explain why so much public arguing is unproductive. A key focus of this phase of the research will be the very idea of ‘public reason’. If reasoning is for shared examination of reasons, then how should we design public institutions and public exchanges so that our reasoning can be effective?