Argumento y contexto
Is there ever a straight, unqualified answer to the question: Is this argument a good argument? Or does the assessment of the quality of the argument always depend on the context in which it is advanced or evaluated? In this paper we argue for the first alternative. While context is often relevant to evaluating various other aspects of argumentation, it does not bear on the assessment of the quality of the arguments used. We argue for a uniform epistemic standard of argument quality, according to which the quality of an argument is strictly a function of the ability of its premises to increase the knowability or rational believability of its conclusion. In arguing for the epistemic view, we note that ‘argument’ is ambiguous and that this ambiguity bedevils discussions of argument evaluation; suggest that rhetorical, dialectical, psychological and other approaches to the study of argumentation typically conflate the quality of an argument with the uses to which it is put and/or its effectiveness in achieving the arguer’s purposes; show that, despite appearances, both legal and scientific arguments are rightly evaluated in epistemic terms; demonstrate that, while the amount of support a conclusion must receive from its premises to be good varies by context, the strength of the argument itself does not; and urge that while what can count as evidence sometimes varies by context — for example, strong but inadmissible evidence in a court of law cannot be introduced — it nevertheless remains strong evidence, despite its inadmissibility. We conclude by urging an ecumenical approach to argumentation in which multiple purposes of arguers are acknowledged and studied using multiple theoretical perspectives, and in which arguments are themselves evaluated in epistemic terms.