Social media is filled with arguments. But usually they are comprised of opinions or pictures and not ‘good arguments’. We humans don’t often actually produce arguments, but merely shout at each other. How does this use of ‘argument’ arise? Why do we usually think of argument as a brannigan or donnybrook? Like all words ‘argument’ has evolved.

A quick internet trip to yields for ‘argument’ over 50 synonyms. These include ‘brawl’ ‘clash’ ‘spat’ etc. But notice:

Word Origin & History – argument late 14c., “statements and reasoning in support of a proposition,” from Fr. argument (13c.), from L. argumentum, from arguere “to argue” (see argue). Sense passed through “subject of contention” to “a quarrel,” a sense formerly attached to argumentation.

The word carries with it two distinct senses:

  • an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one.

“I’ve had an argument with my father”

  • a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.

“there is a strong argument for submitting a formal appeal”

Lawyers and, of course, philosophers use the word in the second sense, while on social media it is often the first sense that is intended.

In Episode 29 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus a customer goes to the Argument Clinic but initially arrives in the abuse room where he runs into Mr. Barnard.

Mr. B: What do you want?

C: Well, I was just . . .

Mr. B: Don’t give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!

After abuse like that for some time the customer finds Mr. Vibrating in the argument room:

C: Ah, is this the right room for an argument?

Mr. V: I told you once.

C: No, you haven’t.

Mr. V: Yes, I have.

C: When?

Mr. V: Just now.

C: No, you didn’t.

Mr. V: Yes I did.

Mr. V merely contradicts every statement that the customer makes. Finally the Customer draws the distinction as follows: “Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just he automatic gainsaying of anything  the other person says.”





Michael Ridge

Impassioned Belief

Michael Ridge, Impassioned Belief, Oxford University Press, 2014, 264pp., $55.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199682669.

Reviewed by Andrew Alwood, Virginia Commonwealth University

This book is the latest to explore the metaethical aims of the expressivist quasi-realism pioneered by Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard. Michael Ridge broaches an impressive range of topics involving language, thought, motivation, rationality, and disagreement, in order to defend Ecumenical Expressivism (EE), a sophisticated view about normative meanings.

The basic aim for EE is to merge the advantages of what appears to be diametrically opposed theories: descriptivist realism and expressivist antirealism. Ridge appeals to the resources of descriptivists in outlining normative meanings — there are normative propositions, normative truth, and extensions for normative predicates. But he self-consciously works to “earn the right” to such notions, so that he can use them without incurring the allegedly burdensome metaphysical and epistemological commitments imposed by realism. In this way, Ridge aspires for EE to do just as well or better than traditional descriptivist-realists at handling the issues that seem most difficult for antirealism — issues involving normative logic, truth, rational inference, embedding, mind-independence, etc. But he also aspires for EE to have every advantage of expressivism, and without inheriting the problems of either view.

Read the review.