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New Meetup: Stephen Toulmin's "The uses of argument"

From: Adrian
Sent on: Sunday, February 21, 2010 7:57 AM
Announcing a new Meetup for Sydney Philosophy Circle!

What: Stephen Toulmin's "The uses of argument"

When: Thursday, February 25,[masked]:30 PM

Gaelic Club
64 Devonshire Street Surry Hills

A discussion of some themes from Stephen Toulmin's book, "The uses of argument" (1958).

Wikipedia ( writes:

"Throughout many of his works, Toulmin pointed out that absolutism (represented by theoretical or analytic arguments) has limited practical value. Absolutism is derived from Plato?s idealized formal logic, which advocates universal truth; accordingly, absolutists believe that moral issues can be resolved by adhering to a standard set of moral principles, regardless of context. By contrast, Toulmin asserts that many of these so-called standard principles are irrelevant to real situations encountered by human beings in daily life.

To reinforce his assertion, Toulmin introduced the concept of argument fields; in 'The Uses of Argument' (1958), Toulmin states that some aspects of arguments vary from field to field, and are hence called 'field-dependent,' while other aspects of argument are the same throughout all fields, and are hence called 'field-invariant.' The flaw of absolutism, Toulmin believes, lies in its unawareness of the field-dependent aspect of argument; absolutism assumes that all aspects of argument are field invariant.

Recognizing the intrinsic flaw of absolutism, Toulmin?s theories resolve to avoid the defects of absolutism without resorting to relativism: relativism, Toulmin asserted, provides no basis for distinguishing between a moral or immoral argument. In 'Human Understanding' (1972), Toulmin suggests that anthropologists have been tempted to side with relativists because they have noticed the influence of cultural variations on rational arguments; in other words, the anthropologist or relativist overemphasizes the importance of the 'field-dependent' aspect of arguments, and becomes unaware of the 'field-invariant' elements. In an attempt to provide solutions to the problems of absolutism and relativism, Toulmin attempts throughout his work to develop standards that are neither absolutist nor relativist for assessing the worth of ideas."

6.15pm (for a 6.30pm start), Thursday 25 February 2010

Normally we'll start just after 6.30pm, and continue till 8.30pm. Format is usually: short speech, then two or three rounds of discussion, with breaks in-between. Often we'll go to dinner afterwards.

No cost. No reading required beforehand. All welcome!

Location: members bar, floor 1 (keep winding up to the top of the stairs), The Gaelic Club, 64 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, Sydney (100 metres from a Central railway station exit). Look for philosopher-types!

Hope to see you there!


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