New guidelines for identifying arguments in the wild
What type of argument is this? Unlike for standard textbook examples, this question may be difficult to answer for arguments found in the wild. The Argument Type Identification Procedure (ATIP) described in this document helps the analyst of argumentative discourse to meet this challenge. The procedure contains clear instructions for how to identify the type of any natural argument in terms of the categorization framework of the Periodic Table of Arguments (PTA). Its various steps constitute a method for describing those characteristics of natural arguments that are relevant for evaluating their quality.
Version 4 of the ATIP is now available in PDF format, you can download it here.
Analysts of argumentative discourse know from experience that identifying natural arguments found in the wild can be quite a challenge. First, there is an embarrassment of choice. Ever since Aristotle wrote up a list of arguments in his Topica, philosophers and rhetoricians have conceived a great many different taxonomies of arguments, fallacies, and other means of persuasion. Unfortunately, these taxonomies do not always provide a clear rationale for distinguishing between the types. This makes it difficult to decide which of them is best suited for accomplishing specific analytical tasks.
Second, there is a methodological issue. The existing taxonomies are not accompanied by detailed guidelines for argument type identification but leave it up to the analyst to choose a type from the list that best matches the observed characteristics of the argument under scrutiny. This is easier said than done, especially since every argument type can come in different linguistic realizations. What should the analyst do if there is only a partial match? How many discrepancies between the ideal and the real are admissible? And what are the conditions for naming a new type of argument, one that is not on the list yet?
The lack of instructions complicates the heuristic process of identifying the type of argument as well as the justificatory process of motivating the choice of the most fitting candidate. The Argument Type Identification Procedure (ATIP) described in this document responds to these hermeneutic challenges by providing a step-by-step method for identifying the type of argument in terms of the Periodic Table of Arguments (PTA). The PTA integrates the traditional taxonomies of arguments, fallacies, and other means of persuasion into an overarching framework for argument categorization. The framework is premised on the idea that an argument type is a unique combination of three basic features: the argument form, the argument substance, and the argument lever. Rather than leaving it up to the analyst of argumentative discourse to match the argument under scrutiny with a list of predefined argument types, the ATIP provides them with a theoretically informed and justifiable identification of the type of argument by accommodating the linguistic variations of the phrasing of natural arguments belonging to one and the same type.
The current version of the ATIP consists of three parts, subdivided into six steps. In Part I – Preparation, the analyst performs an argumentative function analysis of the elements of the statements (Step 1) and rephrases the argument in its canonical form (Step 2). Subsequently, in Part II – Characterization, the analyst determines the three basic characteristics mentioned above: argument form (Step 3), argument substance (Step 4), and argument lever (Step 5). Finally, in Part III – Labeling, the analyst labels the argument with a name that indicates its type in terms of the PTA and functions as a mnemonic aid for its characteristics (Step 6).
Since its first formulation, the ATIP has been intensively discussed and adapted in various ways. I want to express my gratitude to Federico Gobbo, Jacky Visser, Martin Hinton, Hannah Schindelwig, Elena Musi, Kyril Melamud, Federica Russo, Ondrej Uzovic, José Plug, Colin Guthrie King, and the students of the course Argumentation in the Wild taught in the Sommersemester 2020/2021 at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Heidelberg for their helpful critical comments on earlier versions of this procedure.
Liège, December 30, 2021