There are five types of dialogue.

First, there is the Critical Discussion, intended to resolve a difference of view, to understand a situation and to arrive at the material truth of the matter; it is advisable to avoid fallacies in a discussion of this kind.D33

Secondly, Advocacy. This is intended to make a convincing case. In court, where a sharp adversary will expose them if she can, the use of fallacies is to some extent excusable, though risky. Otherwise, it is a bad idea—you are simply adding to the babble or rubbish passing for public debate.

Thirdly, there is Negotiation—and here, too, both parties recognise that the job is to persuade, so they may reasonably expect each other to commit some fallacies, such as the Straw Man and Hyperbole: the skill is in part to expose the fallacy. At the same time, there is a case for recognising the costs of this: plain speaking, and no fallacies at all, may get better and more enduring results for both sides.

Fourthly, the Quarrel. The purpose of a quarrel (as the logician Douglas N. Walton describes it) is “[to enable] hidden grievances to be expressed explicitly, acknowledged and dealt with, in order to make possible the smooth continuance of a personal relationship”. He adds, “The closing stage of the quarrel is the healing . . .”. This reconciliation is likely to be harder, and the quarrel will have revealed less, if the parties have logically cheated to get their way. However, the quarrel is only one form of strife-dialogue (or “eristic” dialogue: Gr: eris, “strife”). In other types, all that matters is to win—content does not matter, so there may be no benefit in avoiding fallacies, except for the risk of being found out.

The fifth kind of dialogue is Play, where all presumptions about behaviour are temporarily suspended by the rules of the game itself: here is a chance to employ distractions and deceptions as outrageously as you can. Their use in play is a reminder of their destructive effect in reducing critical discussion to combat.


Related entries:

Conversation, Informal Logic.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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