What is arguing?
The objective of the argumentative discourse consists in proposing a theme (a subject) to support a thesis (a point of view, an opinion) that answers a problem 1. It is necessary to convince an adversary, either to modify his opinion or his judgment, or to incite him to act.
A theme is a subject of more or less precise discussion, delimited: tobacco, the uses of tobacco, the social uses of tobacco, the misdeeds of tobacco, tobacco and drugs, tobacco and addiction … A problem is formulated in the form of a question about the topic: is tobacco dangerous? Why do young people smoke? What are the uses of tobacco? … A thesis is an answer to this problem, a pronounced or nuanced position: yes, smoking is dangerous … Smoking is dangerous, however the quantity, the type of practice and the attachment to the product nuance the prognosis … To argue is therefore to define the most effective strategy, the most skilful to make known its position, its thesis, to admit it to a reader or an audience, to shake opponents, to make an opponent doubt, to tip the indecisive ones, to contradict an opposite thesis, to criticize a contrary or distant position, to demonstrate with rigor, order and progression, to put in value, to serve a cause, a party, a faith … to mark the spirits by effects of logic, of presentation, put into perspective, oratory processes …
All these isolated or combined ends give rise to a variety of forms and tones that make each argumentation attempt very original and sometimes difficult to discern.
So an argument may seem
loose or tight, short or long, formal or informal, heavy or subtle, produced with economy of means or on the contrary give the impression of pounding, classic or innovative, a long siege or a stroke of daring, simple or effects serious or foolish, obvious or ironic, direct or indirect, aggressive or complicit …
The approach with the three verbs Argumenting means wanting to convince, persuade, or deliberate. If arguing is to support or challenge an opinion, this attempt also aims at the same time to act on the recipient by seeking to convince or persuade.
To argue is therefore to justify an opinion that one wants to adopt, to share in whole or in part. We then try to convince by the use of reason and to persuade by appealing to feelings and affectivity. To argue is also to take into account theses different from ours, with which we will enter into discussion in a deliberation, solitary (deliberative monologue) or collective (dialogue).
Convincing To convince, he who argues uses reason, the faculties of analysis and reasoning, the critical mind of the recipient to obtain his agreement after careful consideration. He formulates a thesis. It uses arguments, that is, evidence to support or refute it.
These arguments are themselves illustrated by various examples: drawn from personal experience, readings, various fields of knowledge: science, history, philosophy … These can be references to other thinkers or writers (quote) , to amusing or striking anecdotes (parables), to the wisdom of nations (proverbs) to shared symbolic or cultural values (zoomorphism, myths) … These arguments are presented in an orderly way as part of a reasoning (inductive, deductive , critical, dialectical, concessive, by analogy, by the absurd …) in the form of a plan and an argumentative progression (most often according to the law of interest: from the least important to the most important) where they are often connected between them by logical connectors that act as beacons or signposts. The most important connectors are those that emphasize causality. Then there are those who order the presentation. Speakers or presenters are advised to abuse these signals to capture the audience’s attention or at least to avoid losing it. (We are at this stage, we come from that one, we will approach this one).
It is part of an argumentative strategy: develop or refute a thesis, concede, debate. The argumentative scheme may vary: the speaker may choose to defend his own thesis and to ignore that of his opponents in a “splendid indifference”; he can also begin by refuting the opposing thesis or, conversely, he can be conciliatory by accepting some (minor) points of the opposing thesis in order to better dispose the recipient to accept his. Everything depends on the ratio of real or supposed forces.
To deliberate is to examine the different aspects of an issue, to debate it, to think about it in order to make a decision, to choose a solution. It is therefore to confront one’s own objections or those of others, before constructing one’s own opinion. This necessary stage of personal reflection makes it possible to consider the opinion of others and to weigh the truth (or the agreement with the real) of different positions before deciding. Deliberation is also essential to public debate in a democracy. During a trial before the sentence, jurors are called upon to deliberate. The essay, the dialogue or the apologue are literary genres particularly adapted to the expression of a deliberation.
When the argumentative discourse appeals to the recipient’s feelings or emotions, he seeks to persuade. This is for the issuer to play on common cultural values and benchmarks. Indeed, argumentation involves, explicitly or implicitly, a system of thought. The speaker, if he wants to reach his addressee, must try to understand the value system of those to whom he is addressing. Thus the defense of a thesis will be based on universal principles or at least in principle shared by the majority: the truth, the right to happiness, fairness, sincerity …, or values accepted by a specific social group : honor, courage, probity, work, patriotism … This thesis is also based on common cultural references that give rise to a complicity conducive to membership: word games, traits of mind, intertextuality, connotations, diversions, allusions …
The speech will be both expressive and impressive, it will try to convey strong emotions, to impress the recipient to act on him. The speaker must involve his recipients, make them consider that his thesis is also theirs, that they share the same fights and the same interests. He is thus often led to use the “you” or “you”, sometimes the “we” who creates a community of interest. He takes them to witness by means of oratory interrogations of which he does not expect real answers. These rhetorical questions or false questions are simply intended to animate the discourse and to vary the mode of affirmation.
He must provoke a phenomenon of identification with his views. The desired adhesion is more visceral than thoughtful. We are witnessing a strong modalization. The speaker is strongly involved in his statement, he amplifies his judgments by the use of improving or pejorative terms, adverbs of intensity, images that strike or dream. He speculates most often on primary reactions: joy, fear, sadness or anger … To persuade his reader or audience, the speaker will play on the strong emotions of indignation or enthusiasm. It can excite pity for the victims, indignation at the unacceptable, revolt against injustice. This type of discourse frequently resorts to the pathetic register.
The use of the lexical field of pain, of the complaint. Use of a vocabulary shared with the audience: familiarity, jargon, The oppositions between shadow and light, civilization and barbarism, reason and madness … The presence of figures of insistence (repetition, anaphora, gradation, pleonasm), figures of opposition (antithesis, oxymoron), alliances (oxymoron, hypallage).
The use of exclamations and interrogations which betray the overflowing affectivity or the will to animate the subject. Rhythms often binary (affective) or cumulative (externalization of an internal overflow). The use of syntactic effects: sentences built according to a strongly marked rhythm, abrupt rhythmic breaks to surprise or shock the recipient, (anacoluthe) sentences ending on a fall, that is to say an unexpected conclusion. Art of the formula in the strategic places of the subject (parallelism, antanaclase, chiasmus, paronomase …). Use of ternary rhythms to create balanced oratorical moments after the lively expression of feelings. Use of incantatory forms (anaphoras, alliterations, paronomases).
The taste for lively descriptions, capable of shaking the audience’s affectivity (crying, laughter). This desire to persuade at any price can sink into manipulation: the speaker seeks to take control of his audience by distracting (playing on his atavistic fears, on his reflexes of exclusion, mobilization against the common enemy … ) or on the contrary by flattering him, producing inconsiderate promises, caricaturing …