Chapter 3: Argumentation


Translated from the online collection catalogue of the Rijksmuseum:

Dialectica (Argumentation)Cornelis Cort, 1565. Dialectica sits on a chair in a room with stone walls and argues with an old man. She counts her arguments on her fingers. On her head and on the back of her chair are birds, on the ground two toads. Dialectica has her foot on a pile of books by important thinkers. The caption reads: "Dialectics teaches man reason. That is why Plato identifies her as the most important of the arts.”

For all information provided in the online catalogue, click here, or on the picture above.


Pictured here is Dialectica, the personification of the classical art of argumentation. She is holding a discussion with an old man, probably a philosopher, while leaning on the works of a number of great classical thinkers. At the top of the pile on which Dialectica has placed her foot is a book by Aristotle. It was he who considered dialectics, the art of argumentation, and rhetoric, the art of persuasion, as complementary. This was in contrast to many of his predecessors and contemporaries, and to a large proportion of post-classical thinkers.

Participants in a modern-day discussion who want to hold their own, like Dialectica did in antiquity, will find support in chapter 3. The emphasis in this chapter is on argumentation; rhetoric is mainly dealt with in chapter 9. Chapter 3 clarifies how you can recognize positions and arguments in a text and how you can represent the structure of a reasoning schematically. A distinction is made between argumentation for facts, for opinions and for encouragements.

Special attention is paid in chapter 3 to the logical validity of a reasoning and to the critical assessment of some common forms of argumentation. For instance, we discuss the classical modus ponens and modus tollens as examples of valid reasoning schemes. Control questions are provided for the critical assessment of argumentation forms, which you can use to assess the quality of a reasoning. The chapter ends with a discussion of a few common fallacies: forms of argumentation that at first seem plausible, but on closer inspection fail to stand up to reason. Examples are the invalid counterparts of the modus ponens and the modus tollens: denying the antecedent and affirming the consequent. Other fallacies discussed in chapter 3 are shifting the burden of proof, simplifying the argumentation and distorting the other's reasoning – all of which Dialectica warned against many centuries ago.