Underlying Assumptions of Examining Argumentation Rhetorically


Argumentation is the offspring of logic, dialectic, and rhetoric. Differences among them are matters more of degree than of kind, but each reflects basic underlying assumptions. This essay explicates five key assumptions of rhetorical approaches to argumentation: (1) audience assent is the ultimate measure of an argument’s success or failure; (2) argumentation takes place within a context of uncertainty, both about the subject of the dispute and about the process for conducting the dispute; (3) arguers function as restrained partisans and accept risks that follow from such a status; (4) despite its seemingly adversarial nature, argumentation is fundamentally cooperative, pursuing the shared goal of making the best decision; and (5) argumentation is grounded in the situational context of particular cases.

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  1. 1.

    For a concise summary of pragma-dialectics, see Frans H. van Eemeren, Argumentation Theory: A Pragma-Dialectical Perspective (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2018).

  2. 2.

    In fact, Christian Kock maintains that arguing about choices is, indeed, the defining feature of rhetorical approaches to argumentation. See, for example, Kock (2009).

  3. 3.

    See, for example, van Eemeren, Argumentation Theory, 33–50; Ralph H. Johnson, Manifest Rationality: A Pragmatic Theory of Argument (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum 2000).

  4. 4.

    These two dimensions of risk are discussed in Johnstone (1965, pp. 1–9).

  5. 5.

    The relationship between argumentation and personhood is examined in Johnstone (1970) and in Ehninger (1970), pp. 109–110.

  6. 6.

    Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1355b (emphasis added).


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Correspondence to David Zarefsky.

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Zarefsky, D. Underlying Assumptions of Examining Argumentation Rhetorically. Argumentation 34, 297–309 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10503-019-09501-2

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  • Rhetorical argumentation
  • Audience
  • Persuasion
  • Uncertainty
  • Fallibility
  • Restrained partisanship
  • Cooperative argumentation
  • Personal risk
  • Situatedness
  • Context