Why Should Educators Care about Argumentation?

Informal Logic 17 (2) (1995)

Harvey Siegel
University of Miami
Educators who are reflective about their educational endeavours ask themselves questions like: What is the aim of education? What moral, methodological, or other constraints govern our educational activities and efforts? One natural place to look for answers is in the philosophy of education, which (among other things) tries to provide systematic answers to these questions. One general answer offered by the philosophy of education is that the aim of education consists in fostering the development of students' rationality. On this view, education has as its fundamental task both the development of students' reasoning ability, and also the fostering of a complex of attitudes, habits of mind, dispositions and character traits, such that students are not only able to reason well; they also care about reasons, and organize their beliefs, judgments and actions in accordance with the deliverances of the reasoned evaluation of reasons. Argumentation theory is also concerned with the analysis of the power and convicting force of reasons. When do reasons for a claim warrant acceptance of that claim? By what criteria are reasons evaluated? How are these criteria themselves justified? Such questions as these are the meat and potatoes of argumentation theory, which, in pursuing these questions, promises to shed light on the character of rationality as the aim of education. Rationality, which links education and argumentation theory, provides educators with a reason to care about argumentation-if rationality can be cogently defended as an educational ideal. In this paper I will try to provide such a defense, and in doing so explain why educators should care about argumentation. The defense will be a moral one: I will argue that we are morally obliged to endeavour to foster the rationality of students, because that is what is required to meet our obligations to treat students with respect as persons. I will also consider some general criticisms of the Enlightenment ideal of rationality, offered by Feminist, Multiculturalist, and Postmodemist scholars. If these criticisms are cogent, then both argumentation theory and the view that the aim of education is the fostering of rationality are threatened. I will argue that the criticisms, while important and instructive, are not so destructive of the ideal of rationality as some contemporary scholars suppose
Keywords argumentation, education, educational aims, educational ideals, rationality, critical thinking, character, respect, feminism, postmodemism, indefiniteness of language, Derrida, particularity, male bias
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On Being Objective and Being Objectified.S. Haslanger - forthcoming - A Mind of Oneâ’s Own:95--125.
Why Reason Can't Be Naturalized.Hilary Putnam - 1982 - Synthese 52 (1):229--47.
Can the Ability to Reason Well Be Taught.Robert Binkley - forthcoming - Informal Logic: The First International Symposium.

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