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The Problem of Retraction in Critical Discussion

Erik C. W. Krabbe
Synthese
Vol. 127, No. 1/2, New Perspectives in Dialogical Logic (Apr. - May, 2001), pp. 141-159
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20117133
Page Count: 19
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The Problem of Retraction in Critical Discussion
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Abstract

In many contexts a retraction of commitment is frowned upon. For instance, it is not appreciated, generally, if one withdraws a promise or denies an earlier statement. Critical discussion, too, can easily be disrupted by retractions, if these occur too frequently and at critical points. But on the other hand, the very goal of critical discussion -- resolution of a dispute -- involves a retraction, either of doubt, or of some expressed point of view. A person who never retracts, not even under pressure of cogent arguments, would hardly qualify as a reasonable discussant. Also, inconsistencies in one's position, once they have been pointed out, must be dealt with by some kind of retraction. The problem of retraction is to find a suitable model of dialogue that allows retractions where they seem reasonable, or even required, and rules them out (or puts sanctions upon them) whenever they would become disruptive of a well-organized process of dialogue. The present paper tries to point to a solution based on the following principles: (1) Retraction rules determine what retractions are permissible, and (2) if permissible what the consequences of retraction are. (3) Retraction rules vary according to the type of dialogue and (4) according to the type of commitment retracted. For instance, assertions and mere concessions need to be distinguished, as well as light-side and dark-side commitments. (5) To account for our contradictory intuitions on the issue of retractions, one may best resort to a complex type of dialogue in which different retraction rules hold for different parts. The paper explains, summarizes, and expands upon the discussion of retraction in "Commitment in Dialogue" by Douglas Walton and the present author (cf. Walton and Krabbe 1995).

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