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Analyzing Argumentative Failure

Analyzing Argumentative Failure

David Lanius

Project Group:

David Lanius (PHIL)

Analyzing and Assessing the Public Debate in Germany: Argumentative Failure in the Open

It is anything but trivial to recognize good arguments as such. Most people lack criteria on which to assess arguments (cf. Bowell/Kemp: Critical Thinking). Even for those of us who don’t, we all too often fall short of objectively evaluating the quality of an argument due to cognitive bias (cf. Mercier/Sperber: The Enigma of Reason). While it seems to be generally easier to identify fallacies and other forms of defective argumentation in others (cf. Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow), we still tend to not recognize bad reasoning when members of our social or political group exhibit it (cf. Haidt: The Righteous Mind).

The public debate in Germany constitutes no exception. German politicians, journalists, and other participants of all ideological stripes fall victim to argumentative failure either inadvertently because they do not know better or deliberatively because they exploit the ignorance of others. The goal of this project is to analyze examples of these argumentative failures in the German public debate with respect to their logical structure, their dialectical function, and their effect on the debate as a whole.

This analysis will prove useful in delineating alternative ways to make contributions that are more constructive to the debate and devising possible counter-strategies against the inadvertent and deliberate usage of fallacies and other forms of defective argumentation. In particular, the way in which most journalists and politicians of other parties currently deal with members of the right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is anything but constructive and clearly not improving the deliberative quality of the public debate. How can we aid participants in the debate to ensure their contributions are constructive and argumentatively sound? This analysis of argumentative failures in the German public debate will provide the ground for giving a well-founded answer to this question.