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henrique carlos jales ribeiro
Regarding internet in particular: The defence of personal privacy, as the defence of freedom of speech, are absolutely essential to ensure democracy and the respect of human rights.
Regarding internet in particular: The defence of personal privacy, as the defence of freedom of speech, are absolutely essential to ensure democracy and the respect of human rights.



A pupil of mine (Miguel Oliveira), at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Coimbra (Portugal), has successfully defended, recently, a Master’s thesis in Philosophy (in Portuguese) on the above mentioned theme. As far as I know, it is the first historical and systematic study on the question of relativism in Toulmin’s argumentation theory, from the USES OF ARGUMENT (1958) to RETURN TO REASON (2001).

This essay aims to portray the spirit of Stephen Toulmin’s work and, specifically, to examine the relationship between his thought and the question of relativism – a task which implies a reflection about the way the author tries, in a posmodern context, to preserve the universalist current that characterises modern philosophy. This dissertation is divided into three parts, each one dedicated to a distinct phase of the author’s thought. This proposed fragmentation is not intended to be definitive, neither does it eschew the possibility of alternative interpretations. The first chapter delves into argumentation theory and “Toulmin’s model” as presented in THE USES OF ARGUMENT. The relativist question is present in this book, even if unbeknownst to the author, since he had not yet addressed the problem at the time. It is still pertinent, nevertheless, to gauge the consequences of the thesis presented in 1958, specially given that it concerns itself with a reform of Logic as an applied tool for argument analysis, and that such a reform could only happen successfully after the problematic of relativism had been satisfactorily established. The second chapter examines HUMAN UNDERSTANDING and KNOWING AND ACTING, in which argumentation theory expands into a wider thesis about human rationality. In the second phase of his though, the author keeps the question of relativism at the core of his reflections. In KNOWING AND ACTING, the author applies his efforts to create a unified philosophical conception of the study of rationality, integrating contributions from there distinct models of argumentation, or paradigms of rationality – the geometric, the anthropological and the critical. Toulmin tried to offer, in the works mentioned above, true philosophical foundations to frame the rational undertakings as a whole – endeavours that, for the author, imply both the practical and the theoretical domains. The fully formed phase of Toulmin’s though is exposed in COSMOPOLIS and RETURN TO REASON, which I will analyse in the last part of my dissertation – which also include my conclusions. In this last stage, the consequences of relativism become, perhaps, less problematic than what we were led to believe when considered under the light of an evolutionary model of knowledge, taking into account the derision encountered by the presupposed founding fathers of modern philosophy, who kept for themselves the merit of offering the true universal foundations for rational endeavours.

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The abstract of a paper of mine, with the title above, has been recently submitted to the organizing committee of 9TH CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR THE STUDY OF ARGUMENTATION (ISSA), which will be held at the University of Amsterdam from July 3 to July 6, 2018.

The primary objective of this paper is to show how and why rhetoric and argumentation arose in the historical context that began in the second half of the 20th century with Perelman, Toulmin, Popper, and other authors, as a new and revolutionary ethics of human action. They occupied the place which, at least since Kant (18th century), was traditionally awarded to ethics and/or moral philosophy. The thesis developed in this paper is that (1) philosophy overall─or what remains of philosophy─can be reduced to, or identified with, the theory of rhetoric and argumentation; (2) that the divorce between knowledge and action established by philosophy since the modern era no longer makes sense to that theory; and (3) that said theory presents itself as both a theory of knowledge and an ethics of action, i.e., as an approach to argumentation which enables us to not only understand how one can know, in the intellectual sense of the concept, but also how one can act in a more correct or reasoned way.─Argumentation is an ethics in the basic and fundamental sense that both knowledge (science, technology, and philosophy) and human relations in society (ethics) essentially involve argumentation or―in some versions of the concept, as is the case, more recently, of Habermas'─“communication”. Argumentation is, thus, essentially incorporated into human knowledge and action; before emerging as a topic of more or less theoretical and speculative reflection through specific philosophies, it is intrinsically part of each of those fields and, therefore, inseparable from them. This is what defines argumentative rationality in contrast with traditional philosophical rationality. Although in different ways, both Popper and Habermas wrote profusely about this. Argumentative reason is mostly a democratic, open and optimistic reason. Constitutionally speaking, it is in itself and by definition an ethics of action and in action.

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I was recently appointed by Cambridge Scholars Publishing as a member of the advisory board in the subject area of the “History and Philosophy of Science”.

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Over the past few years, I have been defending the thesis that there is no view on argument and argumentation from the part of Wittgenstein, particularly, the later Wittgenstein. He was not interested─in his theory of meaning─in that kind of study. In other words, for him─in my view─meaning does not involve argumentation, nor a more or less specialized discussion of what is and constitutes an argument and the implications of this for philosophy. This is what divides him from Stephen Toulmin, the author of THE USES OF ARGUMENT (1958) and one of his most brilliant followers in the second half of the 20th century. In my last book, RHETORIC, ARGUMENTATION, AND PHILOSOPHY (Coimbra: MinervaCoimbra, 2016, English translation of the Portuguese title), I applied this thesis to the study of Wittgenstein’s “private language argument” showing precisely what I just said: such argument only makes sense, philosophically speaking and against Wittgenstein, if the “arguer” (if we can call him like that…) is not using it simply to inform about a private meaning (as Wittgenstein apparently holds), but─much more than that─to communicate, to interact with another arguer, i.e, to provoke answer which could be, in turn, intersubjectively argumentable. Surely, it cannot make sense if we put it simultaneously in private and in public terms. Take the following example in the forties: “considering the terrible consequences of the [Second World] War, there is now a great deal of pain, a lot of suffering in Europe”. In this case, clearly pain is not simply a private data but an intersubjective experience; it can be argued. Again, with emphasis: there is no place for the study of argumentation in Wittgenstein’s philosophy, even if─as Toulmin claims in WITTGENSTEIN’S VIENNA─he opened the door to it. My thesis is provocative because at a time where argument and argumentation are fundamental keywords for philosophy, the temptation is great, after J. Hintikka and others, to re-read and reinterpret Wittgenstein’s “language games” as “argumentative games”. I addressed all this in a little paper presented at the 35th International Wittgenstein Symposium (August 5-11, 2012), (Austria), with the title "WHAT ABOUT ARGUMENTATION IN WITTGENSTEIN'S PHILOSOPHY? ON STEPHEN TOULMIN'S CONNECTIONS".
Five years ago, and as far as I know, it is one of the rare papers on the subject.

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In a previous post (19/09/2015), I have already mentioned a paper of mine with the title above (in Portuguese). See now the integral version of that paper, published by REVISTA FILOSÓFICA DE COIMBRA 48 (2015).

It is a very important paper, because for the first time in the specialized literature (as far as I know) the distinction and the connections between the “linguistic” and the “rhetorical turn” are clearly explained.

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A paper of mine, with the title above, has been accepted to be presented at the International Conference PHILOSOPHY OF THE CITY, Universidade do Porto, Porto (Portugal), October 11-13, 2017.

See below the abstract.

The cosmos (world, universe) is a city (polis) ─ a utopian, virtual city though nonetheless as present and effective now as was the ancient Greek polis or its successor, the civitas of the nation-states ─ and each human being ─ with all his/her rights and duties ─ is its citizen by excellence. Such a city must be the paradigm of our 21st century conceptions of large European and Western metropolises. The existence of rights, as mentioned above, rights which, to a certain extent, are themselves utopian and virtual, is the feature that distinguishes postmodern from past cosmopolitanism, notably “Enlightenment” cosmopolitanism. Philosophically, the postmodern cosmopolis is the ideological space of legitimation not only of what the relationships between the West and other civilizations and their respective societies and cultures are supposed to be but also, ultimately, of what is supposed to essentially characterize social, cultural, and political relationships within both each nation-state and the international organizations to which they belong (Toulmin 1990: 203ff). Therefore, that space is, in principle, not merely the economic space of markets and their respective globalization, which, in a way, have their own specific logic ─ it must be much more than that (cf. Lyotard 1979). However, the way in which it may be designed and conceptualized is far from clear amongst postmodern philosophers. Globalization met philosophical postmodernity at a time when the latter’s banner was precisely a mistrust of metanarratives, as is the case of those which were required to conceptualize cosmopolitanism (the emancipation of societies and cultures which are out of sync with Western paradigms, the defense of democracy, of human rights, etc.) (cf. Lyotard 1979; 1992; Rorty 1991: 211-222). This being so, it seems reasonable to argue that a generalized cultural relativism, such as the one arising from the UNESCO declaration (2002) on cultural diversity, will not keep all cosmopolitans from all the countries in the world satisfied ─ among other reasons, because it masks the existence of authoritarian and oppressive political regimes. In the light of the world history of the last two decades, it is probably high time to review the abovementioned mistrust and discuss the importance of those metanarratives in new terms. From this perspective, Toulmin’s model of cosmopolitanism (1990) is especially reconsidered in this presentation.

REFERENCES: Lyotard, J.-F. (1979). La condition postmoderne. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit; Lyotard, J.-F. (1992). The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982-1985. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; Rorty, R. (1991). Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth. Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Toulmin, S. (1990). Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; UNESCO (2002). Declaração universal sobre a diversidade cultural. In:

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If the relativistic thesis is right, YES we can. But if relativism is accepted, we must somehow review some known philosophical principles as the principle of non-contradiction (we cannot simultaneously defend A and not-A); we must dismiss, at first sight, important contemporary argumentation theories, such as those of the dialectical schools.
All this was the subject of my talk ─ with the title THE VALUES OF ARGUMENTATION AND THE THREAT FROM POSTMODERNISM AND RELATIVISM ─ at the New University of Lisbon, in the International Conference “Values in Argumentation/Values of Argumentation” (28-29 June, 2017).
Please, see below the handout of my paper.

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A paper of mine, with the title above, has been accepted to be presented at the International Conference “REVISITING RICHARD RORTY” (Universidade do Minho, Braga, Portugal, 25-26 September, 2017).

In this paper, following some recent, specialized researches (Cruickshank 2013, 2014; Sassower 2014), Rorty’s and Popper’s philosophies are compared from the perspective of their social, cultural, and political implications. The author focuses on two nuclear concepts: conversation (Rorty) and argumentation (Popper). He argues that the historical and philosophical context of these philosophies is basically the same: the problematics of the implications of holism, as concerns the theory of meaning, for the status of philosophy itself ─ a problematics as the one which Popper, Kuhn, and Quine have established since the 1960s. However, contrary to the above-mentioned researches, it is argued that, although they share similar aspects, the solutions proposed by the two philosophers are essentially different: Rorty, sometimes in direct opposition to Popper, dismisses not only philosophy as systematic investigation and its respective categories but also the traditional concept of rationality itself ─ what remains of philosophy involves “conversation”, i.e., a dialogical process which, at least at first sight, is not necessarily dialectical. Popper, on the other hand, claims, up to his last writings, that what follows from the problematics of holism are not the disastrous consequences identified by Rorty, but rather, and fundamentally, the need for a new, more illuminating concept of rationality, which includes both “criticism” and “argumentation”, and which ensures the continuity and the perpetuity of philosophy, albeit under new conditions. In both cases, as Cruickshank (2013) shows, philosophy is conceived to serve the more or less utopian political ideal of an anti-authoritarian society. However, when the two concepts (conversation, argumentation) are more closely compared, they seem to lead to contrasting conceptions of society, of culture, and of politics, which will be carefully discussed in this paper.

Cruickshank, J. 2013. Anti-Authority: Comparing Popper and Rorty on the Dialogical Development of Beliefs and Practices. Social Epistemology. DOI: I0.I080/0269I728.2013.782589
Cruickshank, J. 2014. From Ex Catedra Legislators to Dialogic Exemplars ? Popper, Rorty and the Politics and Sociology of Knowledge. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3(5): 1-12.
Sassower, R. 2014. Problem-Solving Critical Contingencies: Popper and Rorty According to Cruickshank. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3(6): 30-32.


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A paper of mine, with the title above, has been accepted to be presented at the International Conference VALUES IN ARGUMENTATION ─ VALUES OF ARGUMENTATION (Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, 28-29 June 2017).

Some years ago, one of the most remarkable contemporary British theorists of argumentation, Alec Fisher, showed why a teacher of argumentation in postmodernity should actively impress upon his students the importance of defending any of the theses put forward in cases of opposing views. And he concludes: “It looks like as though whatever principles one uses in order to resolve these conflicts, the relativist will say there is no firm ground in which to stand ─ no rational basis on which to do this.” (Fisher 2012)─ The relativism that Fisher has in mind here can be called “ontological”, and it takes us back to what, regarding scientific theories in particular, Karl Popper (1994) called the “myth of the framework”. Briefly: if what explains or justifies a given theory (argument) is only its context, then two or more ─ opposite and conflicting ─ theories (or argumentations) on the same subject can be equally acceptable. This is what follows from the conceptions of the French philosopher Pierre Duhem, in the beginning of the 20th century, and the American philosopher Willard van Quine, in the 1960s. If Fisher and these two authors are right, it is impossible for the argumentation theorist to decide between opposite argumentations concerning crucial issues for contemporary societies, such as euthanasia, abortion, or the refugee crisis, choosing one in detriment of the other, or others, that is, evaluating them as being “good” or “bad”. Argumentation theory and its objectives in general would be ─ or, at least, would seem to be ─ irremediably condemned. Ontological relativism must be distinguished from another kind of relativism ─ epistemic relativism ─ according to which relativism is not only based on contexts as such ─ which I have mentioned above ─ but also on the way we interpret them, that is, on our theory of rhetoric and argumentation itself. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s rhetoric, or even Toulmin’s, for instance, are sometimes charged with the fault of being relativistic. I say “fault” because the theory of argumentation is supposed to pursue the same “modern” ideals of universality and necessity on which scientific theories are based. However, if ontological relativism is a fact, as it indeed seems to be, then there should be no problem in endorsing the thesis of epistemic relativism. Nevertheless ─ again ─ subscribing to both theses seems to be an unacceptable challenge for the theory of argumentation. ─ In this presentation I will analyze the role of ontological relativism and epistemic relativism within this theory, showing how and why, generally speaking, it will not necessarily be mortally wounded if it acknowledges or accepts either of them ─ provided it does it in new terms and from a new perspective.

Fisher, A. (2012). A little light logic. In: Ribeiro, H. J. (ed.), Inside Arguments: Logic and the Study of Argumentation (21-36). Newcastle upon Tyne (UK): Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Popper, K. (1994). The Myth of the Framework: In Defense of Science and Rationality. London/New York: Routledge.

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A paper of mine, with the title above (in Portuguese), has been accepted for presentation at the International Conference RHETORIC DISCOURSE AND THE COMMUNICATIVE MIND (University of Lisbon, 7-9 June 2017).

See the ABSTRACT (in English):
Postmodernity in philosophy, as conceptualized by J.-F. Lyotard and others after him, basically entails a deconstruction of the categories that pertain to Cartesian and Kantian foundationalism. With the ─ at least partial ─ rejection of the epistemological and ontological problematics of modernity, the analysis and the critique of the rhetorical mechanisms of traditional philosophical language became privileged research topics, revealing the need both for alternative categories and for a new language to translate the novel emerging realities that concern human existence and its social, cultural, and political relationships globally. The philosophies of D. Davidson and R. Rorty, among others, form part of this framework; however, as early as the 1950s, Ch. Perelman’s and S. Toulmin’s conceptions of rhetoric already pointed to this development. This is the general background for the emergence of the metaphoric use of language as a central topic in philosophical thought. Exactly because the usual categories are no longer credible ─ as follows from the assumptions of postmodernity itself ─ and the realities mentioned are neither constitutionally evident nor do they produce consensual interpretations, metaphor is posited as the instrument for philosophical reflection and creation par excellence ─ a necessarily tentative, conjectural instrument, since it is not supposed to serve any one systematic work or any specific metanarrative. This development is obviously surprising, because modernity tended to underestimate metaphor or minimize its importance, or sometimes even identify it with a feeble type of reasoning. In this presentation, I shall seek to demonstrate how the problems of postmodernity are basically problems of rhetoric, and, on the basis of this presupposition, analyze the role ascribed to metaphor in philosophy.
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