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TF colloquium - Soft power in argumentation: The case of advising by Marcin Lewiński from NOVA University, Lisbon

When:We 25-01-2023 15:15 - 17:00
Where:Room Omega

The next TF colloquium will be given by Marcin Lewiński from NOVA University Lisbon on Wednesday 25 January and will be followed by drinks and a dinner. Please email Jan Albert van de Laar if you would like to join the dinner. 


Argumentation theories traditionally abstract from the question of power inequalities between arguers. Power relationships should dissipate when confronted with the “forceless force of the better argument” (Habermas, 1989). Well-developed approaches, such as pragma-dialectics (van Eemeren & Grootendorst, 1984; 2004), embody this abstraction via specific design of the normative standards and rules governing argumentative exchanges which should guarantee, among other things, equality between arguers.

In my talk I will argue, by contrast, that unequal distribution of arguers’ authority should not be abstracted away from normative models of argumentation, but rather critically included in them. I will understand authority in terms of both epistemic authority, when one of the arguers has privileged access to some epistemic resources by virtue of being an expert in the field, an eyewitness, etc., and deontic authority, whereby one of the arguers is in a position to better control the conditions of discussion, due to her higher deontic (e.g., administrative) status (Bocheński, 1965; Lewiński, 2022). I will resort to recent discussions in epistemology and pragmatic philosophy of language to show how authority can impact critical discussions and how it can be counteracted to approximate the rationally sought-after results (Fricker, 2007; Langton, 2018; Zagzebski, 2012).

As a case in point, I will discuss the speech act of advising. Advising is argumentatively complex, as it always relies on the (explicit or implicit) argument from the epistemic authority of the advisor, while letting the advisees decide for themselves. As such, it does not instantiate coercive “hard power” of “the Master” over “the Slave” (Lewis, 1979) – but it still involves “soft power” that aims at co-opting interlocutors into compliance with one’s view. But if this is so, isn’t all argumentation an exercise of soft power to start with?

MARCIN LEWIŃSKI (PhD University of Amsterdam, 2010) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and the NOVA Institute of Philosophy, NOVA University Lisbon. His research applying philosophical concepts to the study of public argumentation has been published in journals, edited volumes, and special issues. His most recent work (co-authored with Mark Aakhus, Rutgers University) is a monograph, Argumentation in Complex Communication: Managing Disagreement in a Polylogue published by Cambridge University Press (2023). He was the Chair of the Reasoning and Argumentation Lab in Lisbon (2017-2022) and is currently leading two EU-funded project: COST Action European network for argumentation and public policy analysis (APPLY: 2018-2023) and the Portuguese team of the CHIST-ERA project Argumentation-driven explainable artificial intelligence for digital medicine (ANTIDOTE: 2021-2024).