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Argumentative ecology.

This project is an adventure in meta-thinking: that is, I want to consider the potential for modifying how those who study argument think about what they think about. The project began in my pondering the assumptions of recent work in which colleagues and I critiqued various aspects of democratic argument (Hollihan, Klumpp & Riley, 1999; Klumpp, 2006a; Klumpp, in press; Klumpp, Riley & Hollihan, 1995, 2000). Looking back on this work, I discerned a way of proceeding to critique that deserved elaboration. To respond to that realization, I want to begin at a rather traditional starting place for thinking about argument to ultimately arrive at a place where argument is framed differently, to journey away from how we make arguments toward the context of argument, and then explore a perspective for critique that sets context into the center of our interest. An argumentative ecology is my assertion of the central role of argumentative community in our thinking about argument.

Why start with a traditional interest in the theory of individual argument? For most of its history argumentation theory has been dominated by what Daniel O'Keefe (1977) labeled argument (1): making an argument by reasoning from the accepted to a novel claim. Rhetorical approaches to argument differed from traditional logical approaches because the former concentrated on whether arguments did convince or persuade others to agree with their claim. Those of us engaged in critical argumentation have focused more broadly. We have sketched argumentative praxis, and then passed judgment on that praxis from a perspective that has stretched away from this dominant argumentative theory in some way. In doing so, we have often borrowed the notion of the public sphere from Jurgen Habermas (1962/1989). Habermas began in a historical examination of the public sphere and then took his project from that orientation away from its historical-critical roots and back into a normative theory for argument (1981/1884, 1987). I want to travel his journey in the opposite direction, beginning an exploration in the theory of "making an argument" and then stretching out from that theory to outline an expanded perimeter as a standpoint for critical work.

The key to doing so is a notion I will call "argumentative ecology." I am, of course, drawing analogically on the scientific study of biologic communities. The ecological metaphor is characterized by several moves that produce its understanding. First, ecology does not generalize from individual organism to species or genus, but to the more limited circumference of interlocking organic behavior. Second, ecology shifts the focus of study from the individual organism, species, or genus, to the interlocking behaviors and conditions of a sited community. A satisfactory account of a particular ecology incorporates many organisms that co-orient with each other in the site under study. Third, and following from the other two principles, examination of individual organisms is secondary, and framed by the attention to the adaptive interactions that define the community. These interactions map development within the ecology. "Argumentative ecology" refers to both a mode of study and the artifact for that study. An argumentative ecology is an interaction of arguers and arguments sited in and producing a community of coordinated, reasoned action. Etymologically, "ecology" is the study of a "home." Argumentative ecologies are homes for argument. As a mode of study, argumentative ecology promotes study of argument as interconnected and evolving patterns of reason giving and coordination that structure human understanding and action. The study entails both the substance and the structure of arguing in particular human communities.

Others have used the term "ecology" as a hook to discuss language and even argument. The movement known as "ecolinguistics" or "the ecology of language" emphasizes the interlocking causality of language speakers and their ecological community. (1) Two projects result: one concerned with the ways in which physical and social environment shape the history of languages on the earth, the other concerned with how the characteristics of human languages influence human treatment of the physical environment. The former project is motivated by an attempt to maintain the diversity of languages in the world; the latter by the effort to redress the adverse human affect on the environment. My argument for the fruitfulness of treating ecologies of argument may analogically exploit some of ecolinguistics' use of the ecology metaphor, but I am less concerned with the characteristics of what de Saussure called langue, the primary concern of these two projects. Arguments are linguistic acts and so the concerns of ecolinguistics are certainly relevant to argumentative ecology, but my focus is on arguments as a locus of substance and human volition. So the characteristics of langue are to be treated as relevant elements of context in understanding ecologies of argument, not as a central concern.

Andrew Leslie and Stephen O'Leary (1991) also used my key term in their essay "Rhizomic Rhetoric: Toward an Ecology of Institutional Argument." Parsing this title will reveal the interest of their work to me and my departures from it. The destination proclaimed in this title is not the ecological perspective, but powerful, established, human institutions as generators of argument. Leslie and O'Leary stress the dependence of the power of rhetorical argument on its siting in institutional contexts. Their use of "ecology" declares the enabling importance of contextual imperative. Individual arguments should be viewed within their institutional environment. I endorse this insight, but rather than focusing on structured institutions as context, I want to more fully explore the broader sweep of the metaphor of ecology. In doing so, I will not restrict context to institutions. Rather I will shift focus to the metaphor itself and explain how we might fruitfully use ecology to understand argument. I will treat the power of institutions as only a particular characteristic of ecological interaction. Leslie and O'Leary wish to emphasize the power of institutions, I wish to emphasize the power of the metaphor. (2)

So, my emphasis on the complexity of argumentative praxis is a wrinkle if not a departure from previous uses of ecology in studying discourse. I share an emphasis on the synthetic properties of discourse rather than the analytic understandings that have dominated argumentation theory. I do so, however, not to refute other inquiries but to develop an ecology from which I can better anchor critique. In developing my perspective I will begin in traditional views of argument, identifying the paths that I believe lead to the place of community in argument, then I will lay out some of the characteristics of argumentative ecology, and finally move into two specific arguments framed in the perspective.


This claim is implicit in much of our thinking about argument. While our major theorists have developed theoretical apparatus to explain how an arguer "makes an effective argument," their theories also project a social context central to the arguer's invention. Arguing is acknowledged by all theorists of "making an argument" to be combining the known with legitimate procedure, to enhance the power of ah assertion. The known may be drawn from experience, past or present, or from the otherwise accepted. Theorists differ most on their assumptions about the procedural authorizations of argument. Some believe they are innate, some that they are merely conventional, some that they are principles about the way the world works that are the essence of learning, and some that they are the product of experience. Most serious theorists do not, in fact, come down on only one explanation for making an argument, but believe that the praxis of arguing is a mix of these various sources of the known and procedure. My task today is not to settle these disputes that mark differences in logical and argumentation theory, but to focus on the implications of those that are socially situated for our understanding of argument. Our major theorists have a large theoretical apparatus pointing to social siting.

Aristotle differentiates rhetorical argument from demonstration. His argumentation theory in Rhetorica (350 B.C.E.) rests on his observations of humans living in the polis. The arguer for Aristotle is a calculating strategist who understands his/her audience through understanding his/her culture. This understanding of the audience's knowledge is the basis of the enthymeme, the rhetorical proof. The topics are a special characteristic of Aristotle's approach to argument, empirically identifying the things about which those in the polis argue and some of the authorizations providing force to such arguments. Aristotle's theory of genres--deliberative, forensic, and epideictic--is, in many senses, our first democratic theory of argument.

Like Aristotle, Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca (1958/1969) develop their theory empirically from their systematic observation of arguers, albeit two millennia later. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's theory is still a theory of an individual arguer addressing "hearers"; thus argument is adapted to audiences rather than being situated in communities. Nevertheless when they develop their elaborate theory of what they call "the starting points of argument" the socially authorized character of the arguer's wise selections are evident. They group the starting points into two sets: the real (facts, truths, and presumptions) and the preferable (values and hierarchies). The speaker attributes the former to the universal audience; thus they do not see social knowledge operating in the way that Thomas Farrell (1976) does in relation to the real. They do, however, see the preferable as grounded in audiences of lesser scope than the universal audience (p. 66). There is nowhere in Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, however, a theory of how hearers come by the real or the preferable. So, we may adopt their nomenclature of starting points, but would do so sans their perspective that any such starting points are inventions of the mind of the arguer rather than a matter of social realism. Consistent with this psychological theory of argument, in their account the authority of arguments rests in the mind of the arguer and hearer rather than in social interaction. On this analytic emphasis, not even the nomenclature will be particularly useful to us.

Stephen Toulmin's (1958) model of argument recognizes the distinction between the known (data) and authorized procedures (warrant) but is ambiguous about the source of the authority of data and warrants (Klumpp, 2006b). The thrust of his work, however, is to generate a theory by analogy to the most sophisticated domain of argument--initially the law and later academic disciplines. That places his system into a social framework. His ambiguous but useful notion of "fields" emphasizes the social context for argument (for the state of current work in fields see Gooden, 2007; Klumpp, 2009; Rowland, 2009; Zarefsky, 2009).

Beyond these most common theorists of rhetorical argument, there are others who have emphasized the social context for argument. Thomas Farrell (1976, 1978) developed the concept of social knowledge most thoroughly. Farrell's theory emphasized that the body of available starting points for argument are established in a community process that grants authority to those starting points. Also worth noting is the work of Karl Wallace (1963). Wallace focused on what Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca would later label "the preferable," positing the notion of "good reasons" as a way of highlighting the authority that the giving of reasons obtains. But be located that authority in ethical judgment rather than in a social process. In much of my work I have adopted the notion of good reasons but located the legitimacy of good reasons in the moral (the social) rather than the ethical (individual character; see particularly, Klumpp, 1990; Klumpp & Hollihan, 1989).

What these various paths have in common, the thing that makes them theorists of rhetorical argument, is that the locus of their account of argument is in the relationship between the arguer and those s/he addresses. For those who acknowledge the social context of argument, arguers who misconstrue the social setting for the argument will be less effective arguers. Also implied but less often articulated by those thinking of rhetorical argument, is the diversity of these social settings. Aristotle recognizes differences among cultures-certainly the differences among the democratic Greeks and the barbarians, but also among the Sythians and the Athenians. Toulmin's (1958) notion of fields is a way of theoretically incorporating this diversity into his theory of argument. Farrell (1976, 1978) locates knowledge in social community although he does not reorient his account of argument.

The essence of my move is to shift our focus away from the arguer formulating argument in a context and move it instead to that social context (Klumpp, 1990). I want to understand how those social locations work to serve as a fruitful context for the ongoing arguments that compose the discourse of society, particularly in my interest: democratic society.


Let me begin by positing several characteristics of argumentative ecologies. My goal is not merely to descriptively define argumentative ecologies, but to emphasize perceptual and operational imperatives that will characterize efforts to understand argumentative communities ecologically. Although further exploration of the metaphor may multiply such imperatives, the following seem foundational.

An argumentative ecology teems with interaction. At its heart, argument within an ecology is rhetorical: it is addressed, and it is a part of argumentative exchange. A sufficient account must feature refutation, conflict, controversy, but also advancement, refinement, and even resolution. People in an argumentative ecology argue with each other.

Maintaining and using variety is a marker of a healthy argumentative ecology. It follows that consistency is not the hallmark of argumentative ecologies. Beliefs, principles, and values are always conflicting, altering, becoming more prominent then less prominent. Argumentative clash draws upon these conflicting beliefs, principles, and values to enliven disagreement and dissent. A search for consistency seeks uniformities that are contrary to the interactional notion. As situations differ, particular beliefs, principles, and values are most appropriate. Rhetorical argument is contingent and it is the variety--the appropriate name for inconsistency in a community--that fuels the contingent. Thus, argument is a characteristic of the community because it is through argument that the contingent becomes coordinated action. Where any particular decision may be viewed as "either-or," the healthy argumentative community is one that maintains diversity of beliefs, principles, and values sufficient to permit adaptation and evolution. (3)

The range of argumentative communities has dimensions of both time and space. This is to say that as we travel across space or through time the characteristics of the context for argument alter. An argumentative community is not something an arguer is just in, but is a dynamic, changing, and varied context. To be sure, there are distinct boundaries that mark the edges of argumentative communities. Credentialing, professionalization, identification, and citizenship, all are about marking such boundaries. It is reasonable to believe that national boundaries in the modern world mark spatial limits of politically argumentative communities. Philosophical traditions such as Western or Confucian philosophy mark another sort of brittle boundary. But to proceed by classification will ultimately be a mistake. For studies of organization and of small groups tell us that as the bonds of identification with particular social groupings proceeds, typical ways of arguing develop as well (Bormann, 1969, pp. 284-285). Like biological communities, argumentative communities have the complexity of dynamically shared space that systems theorists recognize as system, subsystems, and supersystems. As we move across the argumentative dimensions of space and time we need to be sensitive to variations and not simply to which community we are in.

An argumentative ecology is dynamically molded by pragmatic risk. Rhetorical argument marks the interactional juncture of beliefs, principles, and values. A belief never invoked in an argument ultimately becomes inert and unavailable to further rhetorical argument. "Use it or lose it" is a maxim of beliefs, principles and values. Conversely, the vitality of beliefs, principles, and values turns on their invocation in argumentative interaction.

We have now reached a point where the evolution of an argumentative ecology is in view. That view constitutes another argumentative dynamic that needs to be studied and understood. We are accustomed to the notion that a speaker making arguments puts himself/ herself at risk. The ecological principle is that not only the speaker is at risk in an argumentative exchange, so are the beliefs, principles, and values invoked in the exchange. My argument is pragmatic: placed into the service of argumentative exchange, beliefs, principles, and values help to shape a community's response. When that argument serves the community well, when it pragmatically advances the community's interests, when it proves productive in shaping satisfactory response, the power of those beliefs, principles, and values in argument is strengthened. Conversely, beliefs, principles, and values that a community finds compelling in justifying actions, but that turn out inappropriate or unsatisfactory when acted upon, have their strength as sources of future argument undercut.

This is an ultimately incomplete account of argumentative ecologies. But it provides an outline to permit us to proceed to take the account to practical argumentative settings. Those applications may suggest revisions and elaborations of the nature of argumentative ecologies. My objective in the rest of this essay is to exploit this outline in two ways. First, I want to use the ecological metaphor to reinterpret an old argumentative problem: the character of argument in a democratic society. This study is intended to illustrate the way in which the metaphor might enrich theoretical thinking by reconciling the ecological assumptions to our explanatory frameworks for the place of argument in the democratic achievement. Second, I want to use the metaphor in more explicitly critical work: to consider the ecological imperative that shaped the relationship between the Just War Doctrine and the George W. Bush administration's pursuit of the Iraqi invasion.


Viewed from the perspective of argumentative ecology, the nature of democratic argument takes on a new quality. Since the emergence of Jurgen Habermas' (1962/1989) elaboration of the public sphere, democratic argument has been a frequent subject of study. A common theme in this literature has been the search for a paradigm of democratic argumentative practice. Much of this work has been analytic and reductive. (4) I have suggested a synthetic turn instead, emphasizing the importance of argument as a synthetic process through which a society understands its situation and acts in response to it. Having set that course, let me develop some observations about democratic argument that emphasize this synthetic power. There are three moves I want to make that I think make this case.

The first move expands the agenda to study democratic argument by emphasizing the great variety of argument, indeed the saturation of argument, within a democracy. Certainly Aristotle's deliberative, forensic, and epideictic genres are central to democratic practice, defining the character of argument in these different aspects of governance. But the interaction among these three genera only touch the surface of much more complex interactions within democratic argument.

* Republican forms of democracy are not only about governmental actions, but about the selection of leaders and the evaluation of their performances as well. The latter is an example of Aristotle's epideictic ends of praise and blame, sometimes edging over into his forensic ends of accusation and defense. But the selection of leaders requires a form of argument that mixes character (in Aristotle's sense of ethos), ability, performance, and raw charismatic identification. Arguments about leadership interact with deliberative arguments to construct the process which Murray Edelman (1988) has identified as strong leaders employing their legitimacy to shape democracies. Obviously, electoral campaigns are examples of such sites.

* If democracies are to act in the name of the people, there must be a healthy argument about the character of that people. Michael McGee (1975) focused attention on the social construction of <people> as a central democratic ideograph. Public argument recycles and revises its identity as it reinscribes the ideograph. The topos of a government acting within the character of its people depends on the self-image of the democratic public entailed in this argument. The arguments in the United States to fix the significance of Barack Obama's acceptance as the Democratic party candidate for president illustrate this argumentative texture (see, for example, Davis, 2009; Dunham, 2008).

* Although the starting points of arguments are at risk in every public dispute, direct arguments over facts, values, good reasons, and principles generate their own disputes. Argument over the causes of the current long term increase in world oil prices are ubiquitous quite apart from the deliberative arguments that they might foretell (see, for example, Business Wire, 2007; Mohl, 2007; PR Newswire, 2007).

* Civic celebrations are an important source of arguments about identity as well as about the central values of a democracy. The reinforcing impact of such celebrations with their often romantic arguments of grandeur can be essential in maintaining the store of beliefs, values, good reasons, and presumptions from which democratic argument proceeds. Although we may embrace Aristotle's label of epideictic for this genre of democratic argument, the emphasis on display that at least one reading of Aristotle proposes is clearly misplaced in considering the impact of such argumentative contexts. Inaugural addresses serve such a purpose in the United States.

The notion of a public sphere where argument proceeds in an open pattern of exchange that C. Wright Mills (1962) has called "public communication" defines the vitality of a democracy. The institutions of civil society provide the fora in which this broad engagement in self-identification through argument proceeds.

Spread through the public communication are innumerable interests to be interpreted in innovative ways within the framework of an ecology of argument. Such pursuits will, no doubt, be contextualist, (5) with individual interpretive journeys into public argument typified by a sensitivity to the contextual forces of the ecology of argument. It is the accumulating thickness of such work from which the understanding of the ecology emerges. For a number of years I have taught a course that mines the richness of public discourse in the United States in a series of lecture and discussions. The rhetorical texture of public life emerges from the multiplicity of interpretive moments.

The second move I want to make to emphasize the explanatory power of the ecology metaphor addresses the intensity of democratic argument rather than its breadth. If the diversity of argument in a democracy expands our perspective, the complexity sharpens our appreciation for democratic conflict. Consider just some of the tensions and dialectics inherent in a functioning democratic public:

* Deliberative arguments in a democracy are shaped by the interaction between policy issues--the relationship of particular actions to public goals--and political issues--public support. The policies of a democratic government must achieve ends--be "right" or "effective"--but must also be legitimate--accepted by the public. The former defines the desirable, the latter the possible. Without this creative tension government fails the public will. Scott McClellan (2008), former press secretary in the Bush White House, has recently argued that the Bush administration failed for lack of this creative tension.

* The political-policy tension must transform the essential conflicts of diverse interests into public action. In his famous Federalist #10, Madison (1788) laid out a theory that placed appeal to interests at the center of democratic argument. Madison attributed the success of republican government to the give and take of politics that would shape coalitions of interests to build a representative majority. E pluribus unum. Arguments in a democracy are a rich interaction of self-interest, special interests, and the public interest. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1958/1969) recognized this variation in their categories of audience, but democratic government emphasizes the necessity for an interaction among these appeals that adds background and texture to the process that Madison championed. My republican brother from the American Midwest is fond of criticizing politicians in the United States as "more interested in their self-interest first, their parties' interest second, and never getting to the interests of the nation." The appeal of this critique is founded in the principles foreseen by Madison.

* The notion of interests gives rise to another interaction in democratic argument: the dialectical tension between principles and pragmatics. Typically, the judicial and parliamentary branches of democratic structures represent this tension. But the topoi stretch far beyond containment within the checks and balances of branches of government. Democratic principles inhere in the idea of constitutional government whether the constitution is written or implicit. And the pragmatic language of government as an expression of community will in the achievement of public goals is the sine qua non of the democratic appeal that only at its extreme is rejected as "demagoguery" or "pandering."

* Particularly important within liberal democracies is a variation on this dialectic: that between rights and majority power. The rights of individuals are argued as principles, attributed to nature, a divine, or democracy itself. Michael Kammen (2001) identified the ideographs of <liberty> and <freedom> as the starting points for the topos in the United States, and documented the evolution of the two ideographs through history powered by their invocation in argument. <Slavery> served as a negative ideograph in those early debates over <rights>, but <discrimination> has replaced it as the most prominent negative ideograph.

* Democratic conflict overtly negotiates the dialectic Kenneth Burke (1935/1984) called "permanence and change." On the one hand, this dialectic recognizes that a history, the conditions of today, and the vision of tomorrow are all a texture in democratic argument (Burke, 1937/1984). On the other, this dialectic is about the comfort of the familiar and the recognition of the demands of the new that meet in democratic conflict. Arguers, who after all reason from the familiar to the novel, must entail both in the texture of their argument. In the narrow confines of democratic politics we often mislabel this as conflict between conservatives and liberals or reactionary and radical. The labels are mutable; the necessity for engaging both the familiar and the novel always there.

* Another necessary dialectic in democracies is the tension between consensus and dissension. A democracy ultimately fails if it cannot generate a consensus that fosters widespread legitimacy for public action. There is no greater example than the failure of the legislative institutions to resolve the issues of slavery prior to the Civil War in the United States. But there are other times when consensus stifles what Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1958/ 1969) call "presence" in argument. The visibility of arguments is a key dimension in an ecology and argumentative style is key to that. Without dissension the adaptive, corrective powers of democratic argument are lost. The notion of warrantable outrage is a key concept in an ecology of democratic argument. This dialectic also gives rise to the variety of styles of argument that mark democratic practice. Arguments that stylistically offer strength of assertion stimulate attention to demands, but the shrill energy of attack can cripple effective consensus.

* Democratic argument also takes its place in the interaction among now, later, and never in timing governmental action. This includes the two-valued tension between urging and resisting action, between supporting and opposing proposed action. Arguments opposing action are complex, employing strategies of dissociation as well as linkage, and parsing details that alter actions and support for them.

This account has stressed these relationships as dialectics. In using this term, I stress three characteristics of the relationships. First, democratic argument does not proceed without being pulled by the terms that define these dialectics. For example, the assertion of consensus lies just below the surface of every understanding in a democracy; yet dissension must be expected as well. Second, this coexistence of the extremes is not merely a locator on balance but an active force shaping the argument. The search for consensus and the reality of dissension both exert force on the flow of arguments. And third, if we were to map the many claims and disputes that mark democratic argument, these dialectics form dimensions through which claims and disputes are distributed. The dialectics mark fault lines that generate a texture of argument that defines the democratic political sphere.

These fault lines in argument define the texture of commonality and conflict that characterizes argument in the democratic ecology. Douglas Ehninger (1959) wrote of debate as a cooperative enterprise in which the rigor of opposition serves the greater ends of democratic decision making. The paradoxical quality of this dialectical tension animates democratic participation.

One final observation about the democratic ecology helps to see how the ecological perspective converts the focus on the arguer into an interest in the argumentative texture of the community. An ecology of argument emphasizes that neither arguers nor arguments work in isolation. The complex interaction among arguments constitutes a dimension of what we call "ideology" (Brock et al., 2006; McGee, 1980). Democratic societies are a complex interaction of various ideologies, developed around particular beliefs, values, and principles, contending for power. Arguers instantiate ideologies in their choices of ideographs, narratives, reasons in the directing and evolving process that characterizes ecologies of argument. Seen across time, ideologies evolve, strengthen, and weaken. Their arguers take and lose power and the power of their arguments takes forms that adapt them to the events of the day. Perhaps the interpenetration of ideology and argument seems natural, but that relationship is not a natural observation except as we see the complex texture of democratic argument transforming ideology into day-to-day decisions.

These various interactions outline the ways in which democratic argumentative communities form a series of tendencies that shape argument. Understanding invention or launching critique of argument within this context is enhanced by the perspective of the ecological interactions. But in addition to this interaction among arguments, there are also imperatives that a democratic model imposes on an ecological system of argument. For healthy argument to proceed, a democratic ecological system must function to develop a range of components that are drawn upon in everyday argument. I have pointed to a process of pragmatic evolution that shapes beliefs, values, and presumptions. Add to that a store of warrants that authorize democratic argument, a set of good reasons that shape justification for action. Liberal democracy requires an evolving understanding of rights that set the bounds of pragmatic argument. And principles of governance become common premises as democratic argument proceeds.

The idea of argument shaped in an ecological system drives prerequisites for argumentative practice as well. The testing of claims and premises in argumentative exchange is one of the most prominent of these necessities. Avoidance of the ad hominem in interaction is another. Indeed, the discipline of communication has a fairly well developed literature outlining what is commonly labeled the ethics of persuasion to provide frameworks for the presumptions that guide democratic practice (Johannesen, 1967).

Indeed, my argument is that what marks democratic argument is not only, nor primarily, the act of deliberation to select action. Democracy as a form of government is fundamentally, and thoroughly, argumentative. Arguments swirl around the selection of leaders, the quality of leadership, the legitimacy of government action, the nature of rights, the objectives of public life. In argument, Democratic societies invoke and evolve values, ideas of the public good, good reasons, motives for public action, those elements of argument Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1958/1969) call "the preferable." Even the "facts" and "understandings" that draw public attention and become the material substance of arguments are tested and worked toward consensus in argument. In argument, democracies work to resolve differences of opinion and perspective that potentially divide the society and threaten peace and security. The identity, history, and direction of development in democratic societies emerge from the constant texture of public argument.


To this point I have been operating theoretically, outlining a perspective for understanding and critiquing argument, and have narrowed that general argumentative theory to a recognizable argumentative ecology, democratic governing. To further elaborate the possibilities for ecological analysis, I want to conclude with an application to a specific argumentative dispute. To do so, I select an example that expands the framework of ecology beyond democratic argument. I want to examine the recent response to the effort by the United States to modify the just war doctrine. I emphasize that my goal in this exercise is not to critique the Bush administration's introduction of new rules justifying preemptive war, bur to use the argumentative process so induced to illustrate the ecological shape of argument about the just war doctrine. Thus, the example illustrates the complex process within an argumentative ecology as a framework for understanding.

The doctrine is a formulation of the idea that war ought be controlled by a code forming a framework for evaluating decisions to kill for advantage and defense. The idea is primarily Western, rooted in the Catholic Church's tradition, and became an increasing part of the global diplomatic system following the emergence of the nation state. It has not, however, been restricted in its power to democratic states. Indeed, argument about the just war doctrine is formulated toward Perelmen's universal audience and a particular audience defined by its diplomatic and ethical qualities. Today, ethicists, religious scholars, researchers, politicians, diplomats, even college professors, join governmental leaders in exchanges over the wisdom of evolving the doctrine. (6) Democratic publics are peripheral to the debate. This community of arguers is not constituted into a formal decision making body authorizing the use of force, although the presence of the United Nations' Security Council has been ah important element of the community for the last sixty years; rather the legitimacy of international action among state actors is at stake. Nevertheless, the need to justify war within the doctrine is strongly characteristic of the nation-state system. Even Hitler adopted the ruse of Polish attack to justify his commencing of the second World War within the legitimacy of the just war doctrine.

The just war doctrine is not written into any document that can be pointed to as containing its precepts. Rather, the doctrine is carried in the force of the diplomatic code invoked at times when the legitimacy of the behavior of nations is at stake. It is, in short, the sort of tacit knowledge made manifest in argument that I had pointed to as characteristic of argument ecologies.

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration prepared The National Security Strategy of the United States (White House, 2002). Chapter five of that rather short 33 page document proposed a revision of the just war doctrine, specifically declaring that governments had a responsibility to protect their citizens through preemptive war in an expanding set of circumstances. The expansion was justified by the invention and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the destructive potential to life and society, even from a single, isolated use. The so-called doctrine of imminence that justified defensive action on the threshold of aggression was expanded to anticipate attack.

The Bush position was a legitimate step in the pragmatic process of evolving the just war doctrine. Over the centuries the doctrine had adapted to changes in the nature of warfare through a similar process. (7) Governments would offer expanded justifications. These would be filtered through a process of debate, shaped by ethicists and historians from a broad spectrum of society. The Bush doctrine was more evolutionary than revolutionary, although that judgment was indeed a part of the texture of argument over the proposed change. National Security Strategy pursued an argumentative strategy that minimized the revision proposed to the doctrine; opponents of the administration emphasized the potential slippery slope, dramatic increases in international interventions if the change was accepted.

The release of the argument on September 20, 2002, drew the attention of a large swath of the world's press. Arguments evaluating the proposed change began immediately. Reporters consulted those in their national culture who would weigh in on moral and diplomatic issues. Some, such as John Kagen, a military historian headquartered in Paris, saw the adaptation as reasonable (Slevin, 2002). Others, such as a roundtable at the University of Toronto School of Law, saw it as a dangerous expansion of the right to war (Stein, 2002). The argument that formed highlighted key issues including:

* Is the change, in fact, a significant one?

* In the Bush formulation, what level of proof justifies a judgment of imminence of danger?

* How might other nations use the altered doctrine?

* In the proposed expansion, what is the limit on the powers of the aggressor nation to interpret the imminence of danger?

* Do Weapons of Mass Destruction and world terrorism justify the alteration?

But many immediately saw the document as part of a larger argument: the first stage of a focused campaign to justify a United States' war against Iraq. "We are left with an elaborately wrapped package that includes inside the box only one government, that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq," opined one participant in the forum in Toronto (Stein, 2002). Thus, the debate over the doctrine certainly had an abstract, theoretical texture about the degree of change entailed in the Bush proposal, and the importance of a standard for "imminence," but the debate from the beginning, and more as rime passed, turned on the application of the doctrine to the United States' campaign to make war against Iraq. Thus, Iraq was inevitably a pragmatic test of the doctrine.

From the beginning of the debate a worry of those who resisted the expansion of the just war doctrine was that the modification abandoned the clear material evidence of aggression that was at the heart of the incumbent conception of the doctrine (Guertner, 2007; Slevin, 2002). The modifications threatened to justify war in less material notions such as intention and threat and, many argued, presented no clear external test of the validity of purportedly defensive action (Slevin, 2002). This critique was very much centered on argumentative practicality. Inherent in the key notion of "just war" was justification, and in justification the burden of proof that state actors assume to legitimate their military action. The terms of that burden of proof became the focus of opposition to the change.

And so, time passed. The Bush administration justified war in the threat posed by the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the linkages to the 9-11 attacks, and the violations of UN resolutions in the failure to disarm. War came; the WMD did not. The African yellow cake was proven to be bogus. The linkages to 9-11 came through "curveball" a notably unreliable secret intelligence source. (8) Indeed, it was the pragmatic test of the modified doctrine that weakened the case the United States had made for a lower threshold of threat as a justification for war.

Most of the nations of Western Europe, where the initial evaluation of the proposed change in doctrine had been most active, refused to participate in the invasion and remained unsympathetic to the US policy. When nuclear challenges arrived from North Korea and then Iran, the United States had to retreat from its assertion of the altered doctrine and pursue a more measured policy of multilateralism.

Of course, in examples like this, a declaration of the "winner" of the debate or the demise of the legitimacy of the justification are not clear cut observations. There is an imprecision in the judgments as the case goes forward. That is, in fact, the hallmark of ecologies of argument. They have the imprecisions of contextualist reality, receiving the proof of their strength only in the next invocation of the doctrine.


I began this essay by committing to looking back upon a body of past work to "connect the dots," as we say. Such an exercise seems to me susceptible to the so-what question: Is there sufficient advance here to justify our time in the exercise? My answer to that question is to emphasize the metaphoric nature of essays like this. I decided to exploit the metaphor of ecology as a way to concentrate attention on the more macro questions of argument. Perhaps this is the time to invoke Thomas Kuhn's (1962) notion of paradigm. One of the meanings that Kuhn endows upon his key term echoes an observation made a quarter century earlier by Kenneth Burke (1935/1984), "Are we not coming to see that whole works of scientific research, even entire schools, are hardly more than the patient repetition, in all its ramifications, of a fertile metaphor?" (p. 95). This is the prospect of argumentative ecology: tracking down the implications of an emphasis on the social fabric knit in the constant engagement of argument. We need not be normative to conduct a critical study of social argument, but success in a critical argumentation requires an appreciation for the synthetic role that argument plays in transforming diversity and difference into peaceful and accomplished communities.


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(1) Peter Muhlhausler's Language of Environment, Environment of Language: A Course in Ecolinguistics (2003) begins with an attempt to define "ecolinguistics." The first two phrases of Muhlhausler's title reflect the two projects that intersect in the subfield called "ecolinguistics." The first takes its cue from the environmental movement as an expression of ecology, argues that dangerous environmental practices and their solutions are inherently shaped by language performances, and seeks to evolve an environmentally sound language. Ardner's (1983) charge that "our worlds are inescapably contaminated with our language" (p. 154) illustrates the direction of interaction at the heart of this project. This movement is, of course, integrally tied to the study of environmental communication.

The other project takes its cue from Haeckel's classic tie of ecology to Darwin's struggle for survival and de Saussure's concern with langue (cited in Muhlhausler, 2003, p. 9). This project sees languages as interrelated with physical and social environments, seeks to understand language extermination, and the prerequisites for language maintenance. Haugen's (1972) definition of ecolinguistics as "the study of interactions between any given language and its environment" (p. 325) typifies these projects.

Muhlhausler's (2003)opening chapter defines ecolinguistics by contrasting its concerns with typical linguistic interests. In doing so, he points to the dependency of 20th century linguistics on the model of communication that has also influenced argumentation studies: the speaker has an idea which s/he codes into a message, that is passed to the hearer through signals delivered in a channel, and the hearer then decodes the message into a thought; if the two thoughts match, communication has succeeded. Muhlhausler rejects this model for a more meaning-centered model, and in doing so matches changes in rhetorical studies over the last hall century. Ecolinguistics and contemporary rhetorical studies share the influence of the contextualist intellectual movement commonly labeled "the linguistic move." "From an ecological perspective," Muhlhausler writes, "meaning arises through the involvement of speakers with other speakers within a shared context of situation, and is shaped by their expectation, and their understandings of the world. Very importantly, meaning needs to be understood as part of ongoing discourses, not as located in decontextualized chunks of language" (p. 9). This move is the move that I am making in proposing an ecology of argument. Argument emerges from the demands of a culture's encounter with its environment and the need to coordinate response to that environment. As that environment evolves so does the substance and character of argument in response.

Muhlhausler (2003) also urges those working in ecolinguistics to not think of ecology as merely a metaphor for language. Rather, he says, "Language, because it depends on functional links with the outside world and because it is an inextricable part thereof, is ... an ecological phenomenon" (p. 9). Although there is much to encourage the position that argument is inherently ecological, my interest at the moment is merely to explore what we learn about argument by mining the metaphor of ecology.

(2) In Leslie and O'Leary's (1991) project, the key term "institution" captures a well-organized social organization exerting its strategic and intentional power in perverse ways. Their essay opens with illustrative examples of the problem they treat: a cancer patient dropped by her health insurance company as a bad risk without recourse to the courts because of current law; a denial of phone service caused by a corporate software glitch; Rodney King beaten in his encounter with a police force gone bad. "Institutions" is not a neutral term in their version. Their position is that argument forms in institutional settings, subject to powerful institutional constraints. To explain their treatment of institutions they contrast George Herbert Mead's definition of institutions as conventionalizations and Francois Lyotard's as "frozen language systems" (p. 64). They locate their position between the two (p. 67), but their examples and analysis sets their problem toward Lyotard's end of the continuum. My goal is to step back from what I interpret as their attitude that institutions are big, bad, exercisers of inhuman power that constrain argument and see ecology more broadly as ah interactional environment for argument. Thus, I locate my treatment closer to Mead's end of this continuum than they do. I believe the full promise of the ecology metaphor lies in this less restricted interpretation.

This broader construction of institutions also leads me to a broader account of argument. "Our daily lives are thoroughly enmeshed in institutions of all sorts," they proffer. This fact "necessitates ah approach to argumentation that combines the rhetorical study of speech genres with an anthropological study of discourse practices and social systems" (p. 64). The juxtaposition of genre and anthropological studies indicates their interest in the production of argument (p. 66)--argument (1) or "making an argument." This is a far more limited scope to argumentative study than I believe the ecology metaphor encourages. My gaze will be wider.

Finally, their primary point, to explore the possibilities for chaos theory as a way to achieve that crossing of "speech genres" with "institutional complexity" (p. 64) is not a move I will follow. Indeed, I wish to have more faith than they exhibit in the metaphor of ecology as sufficient to expand our understanding. In the end, the triple metaphor of their interpretative structure--rhizomic, ecology, and chaos--and their narrow focus on institutions set commitments that I want to step away from.

(3) G. Thomas Goodnight (1991) captured this characteristic of argumentative communities in his keynote address at the 1991 NCA/AFA Summer Conference on Argumentation. I share his concern with an overemphasis on consensus as the telos of argument. But the broader ecological perspective permits us to relate consensus and controversy from a transcendent perspective. In any particular moment consensus allows a community to coordinate response to an exigence. But dissensus and controversy assure the possibility of adaptation to correct response or alter response in different moments. A healthy argumentative ecology maintains both a lively controversy and a capacity for consensus.

(4) The characteristic I highlight here is the one that marks the flow of Habermas' work from an historical account (1962/1989) toward a normative theory of communicative action (1981/1984, 1987). Ecology developed in the twentieth century with the growth of a contextualist science of biology. Stephen Pepper (1942) characterizes contextualism as a synthetic study (p. 142) in which the energy that drives the insight comes from driving categories into each other during explanation (p. 246). The primary logic of contextualism, Pepper argues, is a pragmatic logic in which interpretations that guide human action are judged by their consequences in fully realized praxis (pp. 268-279). Critical studies, including critical argumentation, I argue, are strongest when based in contextualist assumptions rather than normative ones. Normative theory, like the traditional mechanistic theory of science, works, Pepper argues, analytically (p. 142); that is, the primary energy comes from isolating the categories that permit normative judgment based in a logic of correspondence between ah ideal and practice (pp. 180-185).

(5) Contextualist criticism has dominated rhetorical criticism in the United States since the 1970s. The best explanation of the approach is Scott and Brock's (1972) treatment of what they call "eclectic criticism." The contextualist intellectual tradition from which contextualist rhetorical criticism draws is most effectively characterized by Pepper (1942, pp. 232-279).

(6) In the example I will work with in this essay the revisions in the just war doctrine were initiated by a state seeking to broaden the doctrine to cover its particular situation. Debate over the just war doctrine is not always initiated by states, and most certainly the participants in the debate are not just states. For an excellent summary of the current revisionist debate over the need for preemption see Bellamy (2006, pp. 163-170).

(7) Examples of additional moments of debate over the Just War Doctrine are examined in Bellamy (2006). Carol Winkler (2006) examines a previous American assertion of alteration in Ronald Reagan's 1985 air attack on Libya (p. 94).

(8) The most thorough analysis of the failed veracity of the material bases of the Iraq War is found in Drogin (2007). The most thorough indictment of the texture of falsehoods that led to the war is advanced by Lewis and Reading-Smith (2008). An official account of the discrepancies between representations and facts about Iraq with regard to weapons of mass destruction, biological and nuclear programs, and involvement in 9/11 is contained in the report of the United States Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence (2008).

James F. Klumpp is Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland, College Park MD 20742 USA. Send email correspondence to:
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Date:Mar 22, 2009
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