Keynote Speakers

Deanna Kuhn
Critical thinking as discourse

Less than it is an individual ability or skill, critical thinking is a dialogic practice people engage in and commit to, initially interactively and then in interiorized form with the other only implicit. An argument depends for its meaning on how others respond (Gergen, 2015). In advancing arguments, well-practiced thinkers anticipate their defeasibility as a consequence of others’ objections, in addition envisioning their own potential rebuttals. Whether in external or interiorized form, the dialogic process creates something new, while itself undergoing development.

This perspective may be useful in sharpening definition of the construct of critical thinking and in so doing help to bring together the largely separate strands of work examining it as a theoretical construct, a measurable skill, and an educational objective. Implications for education follow. How might critical thinking as a shared practice be engaged in within educational settings in ways that will best support its development? One step is to privilege frequent practice of direct peer-to-peer discourse. A second is to take advantage of the leveraging power of dialog as a bridge to individual argument – one affording students’ argumentative writing a well-envisioned audience and purpose. Illustrations of this bridging power are presented.   Finally, implications for assessment of critical thinking are noted and a case made for the value of people’s committing to a high standard of critical thinking as a shared and interactive practice.


Ruth Amossy
Revisiting Apologie de la polémique: about some “felicity conditions” allowing for coexistence in dissent

In my book entitled Apologie de la polémique (2014), I claimed that polemical discourse fulfils various social functions, among which “coexistence in dissensus” seems the most important. It means not only that disagreement is the basis of life in society, and the principle on which argumentation as a common, rational search for the reasonable, is built. It also signifies that agreement cannot always be reached in democratic societies recognizing the importance of diversity and difference, so that disagreement has to be managed through verbal confrontations, namely, agonistic discussions and polemical exchanges. It thus appears that the latter, though generally blamed for its radicalization and polarization, plays an important role in the public sphere. Among others, public polemics helps opposite parties to voice conflicting opinions and fight for antagonistic solutions without recurring to arms. To use Chantal Mouffe’s words, it transforms “enemies” to be destroyed into “adversaries” who have a right to speak. Beside other social functions discussed in the book, polemics authorizes what the French call a “vivre-ensemble” – the possibility for people who do not share the same opinions, if not the same premises, to share the same national space and live together without outbursts of violence.

However, the emphasis on dissent and its polemical management is not without raising multiple questions concerning the conditions of possibility and the limits of the so-called coexistence in dissent. Obviously, the use of polemical discourse is not enough to prevent citizens from physically fighting each other and even, sometimes, to dispel the specter of civil war. Outbursts of violence against refugees regularly occur in Germany where the polemical discussion is vivid. In France, the polemical exchanges on Emmanuel Macrons’ reforms and the authorized street demonstrations did not prevent urban violence. Even if polemical campaign discourse is tolerated, it did not prevent armed confrontations in certain African countries such as Ivory Coast. What, then, are the “felicity conditions” needed in order for public polemics to secure a peaceful “living together” in the framework of persistent and sometimes deep disagreements that can hardly be avoided in the democratic space? My contention is that to answer this question, it is necessary to explore polemical confrontations in their institutional framework, and to examine the functioning of polemical discourse in relation to the political, forensic and cultural factors that determine (at least partly) its degree of success. After synthetizing the finding of my first research into dissent and its polemical management, I will try – on the basis of a few case studies – to gather some of the “felicity conditions” necessary to make coexistence in dissent possible.


Katie Atkinson
Dissent needed: argumentation for AI and law applications.
As technological advances in artificial intelligence are being turned into deployed products, societal questions are being raised about the need for AI tools to be able to explain their decisions to humans.  This need becomes even more pressing when AI technologies are applied in domains where critical decisions are made that can result in a significant effect upon individuals or groups in society.  One such domain is law, where there is a thriving market developing in support tools for assisting with a variety of legal tasks carried out within law firms and the wider legal sector.  Law is a domain rich in argumentation and support tools that are used to aid legal decision making should similarly be able to explain why a particular outcome of a decision has been reached, and not an alternative outcome.  Dissent needs to be captured and revealed within AI reasoners to ensure that the decision space is explored from different perspectives, if AI tools are to be deployed effectively to assist with legal reasoning tasks.  In this talk I will discuss a body of work on computational models of argument for legal reasoning and show how dissent features within this work to promote scrutability of AI decision making.