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Christopher Tindale: Exploring the Cultural Foundations of Rhetoric and Reason

An interview conducted by Ruth Amossy
Christopher Tindale et Ruth Amossy
Traduction(s) :
Christopher Tindale : Explorer les fondements culturels de la rhétorique et de la raison [fr]


The interview conducted with Christopher Tindale by Ruth Amossy in this special issue on “Challenging Rhetoric” proposes a survey of Tindale’s innovative work. Developing from Informal Logic to a theory of Rhetorical Argumentation, it eventually leads to an anthropological approach that challenges the Western rhetorical tradition. It assumes that ways of reasoning are culture-dependent and that arguments as reason-giving can take many forms beyond the ones described in the Western tradition. It thus tackles the question of cross-cultural communication in its argumentative dimension. In this framework it presents an “encounter rhetoric” exploring the encounter between people from very different cultures and looking at how a mutual cognitive environment is able, over time, to emerge and allow for argumentation.

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Christopher Tindale is a Full Professor at the University of Windsor, Canada, the Chair of the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation and Rhetoric, and an editor of the journal Informal Logic. After proposing a theory of rhetorical argumentation that expands the boundaries of informal logic, he developed in his Anthropology of Argument: Cultural Foundations of Rhetoric and Reason (2021), a bold approach entitled “encounter rhetoric.” Introducing an anthropological perspective in rhetoric, this approach represents a significant break with the tradition of both informal logic and classical rhetoric. It suggests going beyond the borders of Western thought, and the classical notion of argument, to grasp (and fully recognize) other modes of reasoning. While exposing the limitations of the Western tradition of argumentation, it revisits the important question of deep disagreement that affects the possibilities of mutual understanding between cultures.


Ruth Amossy, Professor Emerita at Tel-Aviv University, is a specialist in Discourse Analysis, Argumentation, and Rhetoric, the author of L’argumentation dans le discours (2021, 1st ed. 2000) and the chief editor of Argumentation et Analyse du Discours. She is the co-editor of the issue 25 (2020) entitled Discours sociaux et régimes de rationalité, in which Christopher Tindale participated.


1. Ruth Amossy: You first adopted a rhetorical view of argumentation that, paradoxically, turned out to be the starting point of a theory challenging its foundations. Before proceeding, I would like you to briefly summarize the evolution of your theory of argumentation, especially as developed in your early books: Acts of Arguing. A Rhetorical Model of Argument (1999), and Rhetorical Argumentation (2004).


Christopher Tindale: The 1999 book developed from the conviction that approaches to argumentation that depended on dialectical or logical (like informal logic) approaches were missing something fundamental. Too much stress was placed on the quality of arguments abstracted from situations or governed by rules that were imposed on situations. The argumentative situations themselves included features that were “left behind” by these other approaches, especially the logical one. By this I mean that a focus on the arguments alone overlooked aspects of the context like the nature of the arguer and the audience, the dynamic between them, including their past history. Aspects of the time and place, and of the nature of the argumentation itself (legal, scientific, political, and so forth): all these elements have a bearing on how the argument itself is interpreted and then evaluated.

Informal Logic began in the 1970s as an approach to everyday argumentation that sought to capture arguments as they were actually lived. It was a response to formal logic which, while it had its appropriate domain, was never intended to provide a conception of argument that could be applied across different fields (Johnson and Blair 1994). Informal Logic supposedly paid attention to the contexts in which arguments arose. And yet important rhetorical features of those contexts were largely ignored. There was a negative view of rhetoric that governed philosophical thinking in the closing decades of the last century, particularly in North America (not so much in Europe). This was due to a history that had promoted logical approaches to argumentation, which were judged to be substantial, and marginalized the rhetorical as mere adornment at best, and toxic at worse. I think that view was unconsciously assumed to be correct by the pioneering informal logicians in the early stages of the Informal Logic movement. You can see this if you look at some of the remarks made about rhetoric in the first generation of textbooks. It’s something to be avoided and even corrected. In Robert Fogelin’s seminal paper on “The Logic of Deep Disagreement” (1985), he argues that disagreements can only be addressed by what he calls “normal” argumentation, and once we have exceeded this we fall into “persuasion,” by which he means rhetoric. This reflects the negative view that was common at that time.

So, my early work was based on the premise that the underlying rhetorical features of argumentative situations determined the nature of dialectical and logical exchanges. That is, that rhetoric was fundamental to argumentation. I have never lost that belief and as my theory has developed it has become if anything more rhetorical as I have learned more about the nature of rhetoric, read more rhetoricians, and appreciated further the role that rhetoric plays in human exchanges.


2. RA. In your theoretical framework, you emphasized the crucial role of the audience and sketched out a dynamic conception of argumentation in which you insist on the centrality of the addressee. Can you explain what brought you to this insight and to what extent it has led you from informal logic to an approach closer to traditional rhetoric?


CT. One of the key criteria by which informal logicians evaluated arguments was the acceptability of premises. Likewise, a key definition of fallacy (with fallacy theory forming the focus of much early work in informal logic) was Charles Hamblin’s (1970) definition of an argument that appears valid but is not.

It became clear that in order to deal adequately with such matters one had to ask: “For whom are the premises acceptable?” and “To whom does the argument appear valid?” Answering these questions shifted attention to the importance of audiences in informal logic, and it was a small step from there to begin considering rhetorical aspects of argumentation.


3. RA. Eventually, and maybe paradoxically, it seems that the emphasis on the addressee, far from grounding your theory in traditional rhetoric, made you reconsider the importance of Otherness in communication and broaden its definition. You have moved from an understanding of the Other based on the assumption that the partners of the interaction share not only a common doxa (at least partly) but also a common Reason, to a conception where the Other is a human being whose ways of reasoning and arguing can be totally different from those adopted by the Western tradition. This means that there are incommensurable rationalities – which would undermine the basis of argumentation as a way of sharing reasonings and trying to persuade the audience. So, is persuasion as a goal of rhetoric still relevant?


CT. I think this is an accurate description of the way my view has evolved. Now, it is appropriate to ask whether rhetoric has goals beyond persuasion. I think it does. We communicate on different levels and to different ends. Within a community or society, which shares beliefs and values we can see the importance of persuasion, both in the direct exchanges between people and the indirect ways argumentation aims to modify cognitive environments. When it comes to cross-cultural argumentation, however, persuasion is less important. Here, primary rhetorical concerns are understanding, respect, and recognition. These are complex matters to consider here. But recent rhetorical work has shifted some attention away from the traditions of persuasion. I.A. Richards (1936), for example, in the 1930s and 1940s approached rhetoric as a study of misunderstanding and its remedies, and his theory of communication developed against the backdrop of this perspective. In cross-cultural argumentative situations, recognizing misunderstanding and then working towards remedying it are crucial matters that rhetoric can address. On a similar track, and more recently, Michel Meyer (2008) describes rhetoric as the negotiation of the distance between ethos and pathos on a question of some urgency (logos). Here, the metaphor of ‘distance’ is important in my judgment: rhetorical argumentation aims to close gaps between groups, positions, and perspectives. Persuasion is here a secondary concern if it’s a concern at all.


4. RA. You have given a considerable place to Bakhtinian dialogism in your conception of rhetorical argumentation. Bakhtin’s conception of the Other implies that each party’s utterances are acted upon, influenced, and even determined by previous utterances: the word of the other infiltrates that of the speaker, most often without her/his knowledge. However, is it still the case when alterity is so radical that there are no more common premises or points of reference? In these conditions, can we accommodate Bakhtin’s notions, or do we have to drop them altogether?


CT. This is an important observation. For the most part, Bakhtinian dialogism seems to describe the dynamics that exist within a community with its commonalities. If it has applications for the cross-cultural, it will need to be modified to reflect ways in which people have learned to communicate and the expectations that they therefore bring to such situations.

Expectations about the potential meaningfulness and relevance of utterances and behaviors stem from our common nature as rhetorical beings. By this I mean something suggested by Aristotle’s famous definition in his Rhetoric. He speaks there of a capacity (dynamis) to see the means of persuasion in any particular case. This “capacity”, I think, refers to a potential in humans to see when they are being addressed and to operate in the world at a rhetorical level. We are attuned to receive messages and to respond in appropriate ways. This capacity is there potentially in all of us, but activated most powerfully in those who pay attention to their rhetorical skills and work to develop them. In order for persuasion to work, as Aristotle conceives it, the capacity must be not only in the rhetor, but also in those she aims to persuade. This capacity helps us in cross-cultural situations. Even when I don’t know what is being communicated, I begin with a recognition of being addressed in a meaningful way, and I build on that recognition by investing the effort to understand further.


5. RA In cross-cultural communication, the absence of dialogism is also the absence of a shared set of doxastic opinions and beliefs. You deal with this topic under the “mutual cognitive environment” heading. Could you give us your definition of “cognitive environment,” a notion upon which you confer great importance, and explain to what extent you have re-elaborated the notion or the use that is made of it?


CT. The idea of a cognitive environment accounts for the power of argumentation to modify the beliefs and actions of people indirectly. It acknowledges that human beings live in a space of ideas and values to which their attention can be drawn, and which they can be brought to recognize. Like a visual environment, where not everything is noticed or apparent, a cognitive environment is a space where dormant ideas, images and emotions can be activated. I have tried to extend our understanding of this idea by including the importance of values as having cognitive value (following the direction of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca 1969). Values that operate in our shared environments can be epistemic (like a commitment to consistency), social (like a commitment to fairness), or personal (like the individual preferences that reflect a person’s goals). Knowing the values that are shared by an audience, by knowing what values are held or promoted in the community in which they live, allows us to address matters of character and influence action more than if we merely take note of shared beliefs. Attention to values also helps shift us away from thinking that the “cognitive” of cognitive environments is only concerned with knowledge claims and helps further to address the whole person in the way Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca suggested.


6. RA. Why do you consider that the notion of doxa is not sufficient and needs to be replaced by the concept of a “mutual cognitive environment”? I tried to emphasize the importance of doxa and provide an in-depth description of what it includes and how it works (Amossy 2021 [2000], Amossy and Sternberg 2002). Classical rhetoric, as well as contemporary trends, speak about doxa as the common ground of the interactants: sharing presuppositions, beliefs, values, and norms and having the same sense of what is self-evident, allows for communication and provides a basis for mutual understanding as well as for debate upon controversial issues.


CT. There is obviously an important relationship here because I hope the idea of a mutual cognitive environment accommodates doxa. But I think it does more. Doxa, in association with episteme, speaks to what is known, to types of knowledge, one less certain than the other. It unavoidably places attention on the cognitive states of individuals and aligns with ideas like the Sensus Communis, or Common Knowledge. The notion of a cognitive environment is admittedly very similar, but as a metaphor, it may help to clarify some of the vagueness that traditionally attaches to ideas of doxa. The main idea in the notion of cognitive environments is that of an ‘environment’ and what populates it, rather than the epistemic status of the various things available there (beliefs, values, and so forth). Developing the metaphor of an environment becomes useful now in an age of post-truth and fake news where we start to appreciate that this environment is polluted (like physical environments). I am not sure that doxa lends itself to the same kind of contemporary application or illuminates the matter in quite the same way. Retaining this metaphor aids, I believe, in addressing the problems now brought to light. But, as I said, the two ideas are very similar and cover much of the same territory, it’s just that I have directed the focus slightly differently.


7. RA. Your starting point is that there are different systems of rationality meeting the reasons-giving characteristic that define argumentation, even if they do not fit our Western rhetorical patterns. You thus recommend not to ignore evidence of behavior that appears reason-giving from an emic point of view (from inside the system), if we want to discover the thinking of others, namely, if we want to realize why and how they constitute reasons to those who hold them. You thus adopt a cultural bias. Does it mean that we must eliminate the idea of “the universal” that is at the core of our Western system of values and constitutes the foundation of the notion of Reason? In a critical vision of colonialism, you speak of a “theft of reason” and an “imposition of rationality deemed (wrongly) to fit all sizes and all cultures”. Is it the end of the universality of logos that is at the heart of Western thought as well as of rhetorical argumentation and Perelman’s New Rhetoric?


CT. This all sounds far more revolutionary than I took it to be. The consequences may well be a rethinking of how we have understood “the universal.” Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, for example, in their account of a Universal Audience, allow for a notion of universality that is temporally and spatially located. That contrasts with how many people think of “universality,” and this indicates just how contentious the idea is. There’s an epistemological approach to argumentation that sees the goal as some kind of truth, and that often transfers to universal terms. But this makes the matter even more complex. It seems difficult now to extend an idea of the universal (or universal truth) to all human beings since what can be extended would be watered down (but not completely empty, because we see values of rhetoric and argumentation to be universal). I think what arises from my conclusions is consistent with pluralism (rather than relativism) as Perelman envisaged it. We retain the importance of argumentation as “reason-giving,” while extending what can qualify under that idea. We look for a coherence in human behavior that suggests the operation of reason within a community. But, again, the notion of reason, or what is judged reasonable, changes within a community over time. It was once deemed reasonable to withhold the vote from certain sectors of society, but that is no longer the case. This doesn’t mean that what was previously thought reasonable wasn’t, it means that the concept of reasonable changes.


8. RA. What brought you to the breaking point that incited you to doubt the universal conception of logos, and to pose the hypothesis that there are alternative “valid” ways of reason-giving? To what point is it an admission of defeat for informal logic and the traditional frameworks of rhetorical argumentation?


CT. Does doubting the universal Occidental conception of logos challenge the very foundations of argumentation? I don’t think it does; I think it rather draws attention to what was always possible, to the nature of some of the assumptions that were made. Argumentation theory “grew up” in a more homogenous environment and was understandably focused on numerous internal issues that needed to be addressed. Somehow, the “relativism” debate of the 1970s largely passed it by because attention was directed elsewhere. But now, along with other areas of academic endeavor, the time is ripe for asking the kinds of questions I ask in this book. Angenot’s phrase “the dialogue of the deaf” (2008) may have helped. But really, the deaf that he identifies are as close as our neighbors and not necessarily living in other cultures.

So, I don’t see this as an admission of defeat for current theories; it’s more an opportunity for them to consider how their principles and concepts can be adjusted for other contexts; it’s an opportunity to explore our own assumptions. How transportable are current theories of argumentation to other (non-European and non-American) parts of the world? Without actually asking this question we have assumed the answer is obvious. I don’t think it is. Other places (cultures) have aspects of reason (and histories of argument use) that need to be accommodated as theories of argumentation are brought to bear on them. We see this, for example, in the case of China. They “received” an approach to logic and argumentation that was very Western in nature (influenced in large part by Marxist dialectic). But then, there have been concerted attempts to “recover” more traditional Chinese ways of arguing from the works of the Sages, like Confucius and Mencius. This results in a more hybrid approach where two cultures of argumentation are being blended.


9. RA. To what extent did the contemporary denunciations of colonialism (in its various trends, including decolonial theories) and today’s struggle for the recognition of diversity at the expense of the notion of the “universal” influence your endeavor to revisit rhetorical argumentation?


CT. In retrospect, there may have been some influence from the issues that have received so much attention in recent years. But my moves in this direction began with a year I spent in Australia and the things learned there about the ways European and Indigenous Australians first encountered each other and (to a certain extent) still do. There were repeated examples of a failure to communicate which led to serious misunderstandings on both sides. Assumptions were imposed by both parties on the other that each of them reasoned in the same ways. This was wrong. It was a small step to begin to think about how earlier encounters between cultures were encounters of peoples who lacked a mutual cognitive environment in which to develop principles of argumentation.


10. RA. To what extent were you influenced by anthropology to take this path? What synthesis could you make of the different trends that inspired you, and how did you convert the lessons you learned from anthropologists into insights into your own field of study? In this framework, can you tell us if you drew on other theories of rhetorical argumentation that were also inspired by anthropology (such as Danblon’s work (2005) for example)?


CT. Once the ideas I spoke of above gained clarity, I was drawn to the literature of anthropology (particularly cultural and linguistic anthropology) to see if and how these matters had been addressed there. So, there was no prior influence of the anthropological, either from Danblon’s work or elsewhere. In fact, anthropological studies have been in decline because of criticisms (internal and external) of the practices engaged in by anthropologists. I hope argumentation theory can move some of the anthropological investigations in a different direction than the ones to which they have gone in the past (or perhaps in similar directions but looked at with different eyes). The distinction some anthropologists draw between the etic and the emic is important here. Etic descriptions of a culture are those framed from the perspective of the observer, standing outside and interpreting matters in terms that reflect the values and meanings of the observer’s framework. Too much early anthropology reflected this approach. But the emic perspective strives to view things from the standpoint of the culture being observed, to describe things in their terms, from their understanding. Of course, it is the emic that is particularly difficult to achieve. How do we view things from another’s perspective when it is alien to us? But this is exactly what the argumentation theorist who adopts a rhetorical approach always tries to do: to see things from the point of view of an audience. So, as we enter anthropological considerations we begin with a different audience, but many of the same principles with which we approach audiences should apply.


11. RA You say that reasons are legitimate grounds for supporting claims and theses and that they might be different to the point that they do not fit our Western way of reasoning. As scholars, we are supposed to extract, define, and describe all kinds of arguments – including (according to your point of view) those that do not answer the traditional definitions. The task of the analyst is to examine how they are constructed and deployed in the discourse of the other. Is that a task the adepts of your new conception of argumentation should fulfill, thus uncovering new, unknown patterns?


  • 1 See the interview of Michael Gilbert in this issue.

CT. This is indeed a challenge for the position. What I was trying to do in that book was to set down a research direction by raising questions that might be explored. The problem of analyzing arguments in non-traditional registers is in part a problem inherited from the multi-modal approach to argumentation that shares the insights of an anthropological approach. This is the approach to argumentation developed by Michael Gilbert1, and his work has had a strong influence on my own, in part because how he approaches argumentation is so well suited to cross-cultural contexts. These modes are ways in which argumentation is communicated, and Gilbert identifies three different modes apart from the traditional logical mode. These are the emotional, the visceral, and what he calls the kisceral. The emotional is relatively self-explanatory. The visceral captures the ways argumentation is conveyed physically, through gestures, for example. And the kisceral captures the way things like intuitions play a role as reason-giving. An anthropological perspective introduces the problem of determining how and when those modes have been appropriately used in argumentation and when not. It is a problem exacerbated by a move outside our own system where the multi-modal theorist works. But there’s the start of a connection because some of the non-Western argumentation that is suggested to us comes through modes that reflect the visceral and the kisceral (the appeal to dreams as reason-giving, for example). Attention to what is acceptable within communities of reasons is perhaps the place to begin.


12. RA What do you mean by multi-modal rhetoric? Why do you consider it a central notion in your endeavor to revisit rhetorical argumentation?


CT. To a certain degree, I have covered this in earlier responses. Multi-modal argumentation considers how argumentation is conducted through modes other than the traditional logical mode. The motivation behind the approach is to capture features of argumentation that are otherwise missed or rejected when it is viewed solely from a logical perspective. In this sense, it fits the approach of rhetorical argumentation. Through the three “other” modes that have been identified (with the prospect of there being still more), we are encouraged to think about ways that rhetorical features of contexts or argumentative situations have been conveyed in argumentation. Of all the recent overtures in argumentation theory, this multi-modal approach has the most relevance to cross-cultural argumentation because it imagines the possibility of different factors having argumentative relevance and even contributing as reason-giving.


13. RA. If we no longer speak of deduction or induction, according to what criteria would we be able to detect, describe and assess such “alternative” arguments? Could you provide an example?


CT. We ourselves already operate with standards beyond the deductive and inductive. Relatively recent discussions have brought to light the importance of conductive arguments. These are arguments where we weigh the merits of different reasons. We say, for example, when deciding whether to vacation in a city or on the beach “on the one side there are museums in the city; but on the other side there is the opportunity to relax and do nothing on the beach,” and we decide which has more importance for us on this occasion. And we have also seen an expansion of the understanding of abductive arguments. Here, we reason to the best explanation, considering for example, the different causal factors that can account for a specific phenomenon and deciding on the most likely. In addition to this, much of Douglas Walton’s work aimed at promoting an understanding of plausible reasoning (Walton 1992). Of course, there was some focus on plausibility in the work of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969). But ultimately, as they argue, they distanced themselves from Aristotle because he stressed the plausible, while they, with their attention to the importance of values, stressed the preferable.

In the domain of uncertainty where rhetorical argumentation is employed, an appropriate logos is the plausible. Invariably, when scholars start to explore the possibilities of non-Western systems of reason, they do so through the lens of deduction. This was the route taken by Alexander Luria and his team (1976) when they studied cognitive development among “pre-literate” people in the 1930s (in Uzbekistan). These people “failed” to reason well in part because they refused to step outside of their own experience and deal with the abstractions they were being offered. On one level, they didn’t “fail” to reason but were offering through their responses insights into an alternative way of reasoning. This indicates something important that is overlooked when we ask what counts as an alternative system of argument/reason/logic to our own. We might also ask what our system looks like to people outside of it. The responses of Luria’s subjects start to return an answer to this question. What exceeds their experience is unreasonable, including abstract conclusions that involve statements of which they have no direct experience. Of course, we all generalize in a way that allows us to conclude things from our experience. This is a kind of abstraction. But what Luria wanted people to do was abstract from their experience in a way that was not natural to them.


14. RA. In your study, you confer an important role upon orality. You also emphasize the importance of presence and lived experience. Can you explain why, and how these elements enhance our understanding of an alternative way of reasoning?


CT. The importance of lived experience is conveyed in my last response. Orality and presence indicate slightly different points, but they both indicate the importance of temporality and memory. “Western” arguments, or the arguments of the Western logic class, are atemporal. Their validity endures and remains the same each time we revisit it. But arguments as they are lived arise in time and that temporality is at the heart of the argumentative situations in which they belong. So, the “validity” of the same argument may change from one time to another. Or it might be more appropriate to say, there is no “same” argument staying fixed over time. This clearly separates the arguments of the logic classroom and the lessons they might teach from the arguments of the original situations and the lessons they might teach.

  • 2 Supreme Court of Canada 1010 (1997).

Memory extends the contextual nature of the argumentative situation. There is an enormous difference between oral and literate societies on this point. We rely less and less on memory, deferring to various external aids where we deposit ideas that previously would have to be remembered (in phones, computers, diaries, and other books). This fact invites some interesting reflection on the argumentative and rhetorical capacities that were available in oral communities. We see this still in the activities of Indigenous peoples who draw evidence from narratives that are passed down (unchanged) through oral lines of descent. Several interesting Canadian legal cases have seen courts recognize oral narratives as depositories of historical knowledge and accepted them as evidence in deciding land cases. Delgamuukw vs the Crown2 is a case in point, where the Aboriginal plaintiffs argued through stories and won their case. Where others might see mere mythology, the Delgamuukw court saw a process of historical transmission that served the purpose of reason-giving.


15. RA. What is the role of narrative in this re-elaboration of the notion of argument and in what does your approach differ from other approaches that studied narrations from an argumentative perspective - approaches that did not challenge the framework of rhetorical argumentation? And why did you put such an emphasis on narration to bring your point home?


CT. I began to consider the role of narrative in the last response (somehow, these questions point to each other). Some cultures rely more on narratives than others (unless we institute an extended sense of narrative to include the scientific report and so forth). Arabic argumentation, for example, is often expressed through narrative form (along with repetition). This may reflect different cultural expectations of how arguments can be personalized. Of course, it may depend on the goal that any argumentation has, because we know that argumentation generally has different goals. By drawing attention to the role narratives play in argumentation we have a further way of seeing how audiences and their capacities are identified by arguers. I am not so interested in the narrative arguments of the novel form, or the use of imagination in thought experiments, although both of these have argumentative force for us. But elsewhere, narrative argument appears to have a greater role in teaching values, and in this way, we might see it falling under epideictic. This is why Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca salvage epideictic from the margins of traditional accounts and promote it ahead of deliberative and judicial rhetoric. They see it as a vehicle for communicating and teaching a society’s values. And I think this is exactly right. They explore how argumentation through education creates dispositions to act in certain ways and thereby influence the development of character. All of this gives great importance to epideictic argument.


16. RA. Reading your chapter on myth from this perspective, I understood that the myth has its own mode of reasoning and its ways of persuasion – but I had the impression that you mostly present its argumentative dimension by showing the use contemporary discourse makes of the myth as an analogy, thus coming back to Western rhetoric through this very notion of analogy as an inductive argument. Is that the case?


CT. I think so, yes. I was interested in exploiting an assumption that I believe is prevalent in North American and European thinking – that myth is something that operates elsewhere but has been “replaced” by reason in our environments. Our interest in myth is connected to our use of narrative because it is connected to our nature as storytellers (as Aristotle observed). Myths are important parts of cognitive environments because they underlie the beliefs and values we find there. They again point to the lived experiences at the heart of argumentative exchanges because they take us back to our human roots.


17. RA. Can you redefine here the notion of “encounter rhetoric,” and then explain how your approach is different from comparative rhetoric, which has been explored for many years by American rhetoric? I will leave the definitions and explanations of these fields to you, so you can better shed light on the distinction.


CT. Like comparative rhetoric, encounter rhetoric understands that there are different “rhetorics” in different parts of the world, but that what unifies them is an underlying recognition of human beings as rhetorical in nature (we know what it is like to persuade and be persuaded, to use language to bring about changes, to act as an audience). Encounter rhetoric, however, focuses on the initial exposure of one culture to another and looks at how a mutual cognitive environment is able, over time, to emerge and allow for argumentation. It involves recognition of another culture’s value and a desire to close gaps of misunderstanding. Given that most such encounters occurred in the past, it is a matter of trying to recover the details of those early exchanges while recognizing that such descriptions have often been couched in the language, meanings and logic of the dominant culture.


18. RA. Does accepting your point of view entailing recognition of the Other’s reasoning and refraining from condemnation (thus not seeing in the Other’s argument a fallacy), provide a way to help people live together with (and despite) their differences? Should revisiting rhetoric as you do allow us to better understand what the Other thinks and experiences and thus make us more tolerant and open to mutual interaction?


CT. This is indeed an important ambition of any perspective that takes other positions seriously and does not dismiss them in advance or out of hand because they seem to reason in ways that are unacceptable to the way we reason. Looking to use rhetoric to address misunderstanding (rather than simply to persuade) encourages an appreciation of diversity in argumentation. Diversity here encompasses not just who is speaking (as we look to include other voices) but how they speak and how what they say connects to practices of argumentation dissimilar to our own. From this approach, we learn something not just about other views, but also our own view, because it now appears within a wider spectrum of approaches to argumentation and does not necessarily have any priority in terms of being better or more correct.


19. RA. In this framework what happens to the search for consensus or the confrontation of theses where each one defends his/her point of view? Have we to admit that they are no longer possible when we face radical alterity?


CT. There are two separate issues here: searching for consensus, and dealing with people who have radical, extremist views. They are not necessarily related. Consensus itself is often something of a red herring. Of course, this is one of the goals of argumentation (among others), but consensus does not necessarily mean resolving disagreements as much as managing them in some form of coexistence. But agreeing to differ needs to be based on mutual understanding of others’ views, and part of this account is directed at ways to achieve such understanding. Nothing in the approach diminishes the ongoing problems we see with Deep Disagreement, and research on that issue is still of vital importance.

The other part of the problem – dealing with those with extremist views – recognizes that some people simply refuse any overtures towards this type of consensus. Of course, there have been movements in the past that promoted radically different ideas (votes for women; equality of races) insofar as they deviated from the status quo. In many such cases, that radical difference became the new status quo; we would not dispute those ideas now. But the change came about through the use of argumentation to modify cognitive environments.

Much of what I have discussed assumes people are open to argumentation, but the more extreme cases are not characterized this way. Those who refuse to enter argumentation are identified by Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca as “fanatics,” those who refuse to submit their ideas to open discussion and thus reject “the preliminary conditions which would make it possible to engage in argumentation” (1969: 62). Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca remain pessimistic about such people. But we need to study carefully the history of disagreements in order to develop strategies of invitation to enter into argumentation.

Argumentation in cross-cultural settings will often involve defending one point of view for consideration by another. Currently, discussions of colonization focus on European expansion and the ways in which practices were imposed on non-European peoples, practices that included those involving argumentation. But colonization hasn’t always meant cultural and argumentative suppression, and we have a vivid example of this in our own rhetorical history. Consider how the Romans, rather than dismissing the argumentative practices of the Greeks, chose to adopt them. Here we have cultural adoption more than cultural appropriation. Adapted to the everyday needs of Roman life (the Senate, for example) Greek argumentative and rhetorical practices were given a Roman expression. In this manner, the Romans saw their own ways of arguing influenced by peoples they had dominated. So, we have seen in the past one culture adopt the argumentative practices of another because they judged them better. So, it is not just a matter of having to accept any position. Perelmanian pluralism, extended to these contexts requires careful balancing of positions that come into contact (and maybe conflict).


20. RA If the Other’s ways of reasoning lead to consequences that are dangerous in my eyes, how can I tolerate the Other’s way of reasoning? If it calls for decisions that do not seem reasonable according to my criteria, how can I consider accepting it, or letting it invade the public space without reacting against it?


CT. Part of understanding other points of view is reviewing the ways they justify them, so justification does not disappear as a goal for argumentation when it is addressed to others. But just as there will be cognitive environments that govern the argumentative situations of communities unlike our own, when we come into contact with those communities the mutual cognitive environments that develop between us need to provide for the possibility of establishing common appreciations of what is reasonable between communities (which may not necessarily completely reflect the model of reasonableness active within specific communities).

In all of this, we need to observe the lessons being drawn from work on epistemic injustice (and argumentative injustice). Arguably, this is the best description of what happened to Luria’s subjects. Their voices did not carry any epistemic weight because they were judged to be incapable of reasoning on our terms. Listening carefully to others in a non-prejudicial way is an attempt to avoid the epistemic injustice that comes from easy dismissals. But at the end of the day, we still need to learn to live together, and argumentation is a crucial tool in accomplishing this. Our societies are less homogenous than they once were, and the global village is only a few clicks of a mouse away. Addressing diversity is one of the principal future challenges for argumentation theory.

At the end of the day, there is always something ideal in what we do and advocate. We see rhetorical argumentation as having tremendous value in addressing misunderstanding and bringing communities closer together. But the reality is often one of embedded conflict and resistance of one group to see beyond its own interests when it engages another group. Our best hope may be to advertise the tools and strategies that can be adopted to build bridges between the ideal and the real, gradually closing the distances that divide us.

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For a short bibliography of C. Tindale’s work from 2015 to 2024, see

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1 See the interview of Michael Gilbert in this issue.

2 Supreme Court of Canada 1010 (1997).

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Christopher Tindale et Ruth Amossy, « Christopher Tindale: Exploring the Cultural Foundations of Rhetoric and Reason »Argumentation et Analyse du Discours [En ligne], 32 | 2024, mis en ligne le 15 avril 2024, consulté le 24 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Christopher Tindale

University of Windsor (Canada)

Ruth Amossy

Tel Aviv University, ADARR (Israel)

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