Adina Moshavi, «Two Types of Argumentation Involving Rhetorical Questions in Biblical Hebrew Dialogue», Vol. 90 (2009) 32-46
Rhetorical questions (henceforth RQs) often express a premise in a logical argument. Although the use of RQs in arguments has been widely noted, the modes of reasoning underlying the arguments have not received sufficient attention. The present study investigates argumentative RQs in the prose dialogue in Genesis through Kings in the light of pragmatic argumentation theory. Two logical forms, modus tollens and denying the antecedent, are identified as accounting for the majority of arguments expressed by RQs. The first type is generally intended to deductively establish its conclusion, while the second, formally invalid form is used presumptively to challenge the addressee to justify his position. There is also a presumptive variety of the modus tollens argument, which is based on a subjective premise. Both modus tollens and denying the antecedent have similar linguistic representations and can be effective means of refusing directives.
36 Adina Moshavi
premise or premises is critical for the proper understanding of
2. Pragmatic argumentation theory
The modern study of argumentation includes a variety of theoretical
viewpoints. The school of thought most useful for our purposes can be
termed pragmatic argumentation theory, and is prominently associated with
the pragma-dialectical theory developed by van Eemeren and Grootendorst,
as well as with the related, but distinct approach of Douglas Walton (25). Van
Eemeren and Grootendorst utilize an idealized model of argumentation, in
which the main goal of the participants is to resolve a critical difference of
opinion, and arguments are judged by a universalized set of rules. Pragma-
dialectic theory stresses the importance of the pragmatics of language use in
understanding arguments. A relevant pragmatic phenomenon is the use of
indirect speech acts to express premises or conclusions. Van Eemeren et al.
cite the use of the RQ as an indirect assertion expressing a premise, a usage
closely resembling the argumentative RQ in the Bible: â€œLetâ€™s take an
umbrella, or do you want to get wet?â€ (26) The rhetorical question â€œDo you
want to get wetâ€ serves as an indirect assertion, â€œWe do not want to get
wetâ€; this in turn is a premise supporting the conclusion, â€œWe should take
I have found Douglas Waltonâ€™s approach, which takes a context-based
approach to argument evaluation, to be the most useful for investigating
Biblical argumentation. Walton defines an argument as the use of reasoning
in a dialogue to achieve a particular goal in the context of the discourse.
Possible goals include, but are not restricted to resolving a difference of
opinion (27). According to Walton proper interpretation and evaluation of an
argument depends on the goal of the argument (28). In judging an argument
as correct one must consider not only its logical properties but also the
20; Winona Lake, IN 2002) 452-453. I was unfortunately unable to obtain Herzogâ€™s
dissertation (E. HERZOG, â€œThe Triple Rhetorical Argument in the Latter Prophetsâ€, Ph. D.
diss., Jewish Theological Seminary 1991).
(25) On pragma-dialectic argumentation theory see, e.g., F.H. VAN EEMEREN et al.,
eds., Fundamentals of Argumentation Theory. A Handbook of Historical Backgrounds
and Contemporary Developments (Mahwah, NJ 1996); F.H. VAN EEMEREN â€“ R.
GROOTENDORST, Speech Acts in Argumentative Discussions. A Theoretical Model for the
Analysis of Discussions Directed towards Solving Conflicts of Opinion (Pragmatics and
Discourse Analysis 1; Dordrecht 1984); F.H. VAN EEMEREN â€“ R. GROOTENDORST, A
Systematic Theory of Argumentation. The Pragma-dialectical Approach (Cambridge
2004). WALTON is a prolific writer on argumentation theory; relevant works include, e.g.,
Argument Structure. A Pragmatic Theory (Toronto 1996); Argumentation Schemes for
Presumptive Reasoning (LEA Titles in Argumentation; Mahwah, NJ 1996); The New
Dialectic. Conversational Contexts of Argument (Toronto 1998); â€œThe New Dialectic: A
Method of Evaluating an Argument Used for Some Purpose in a Given Caseâ€,
ProtoSociology 13 (1999) 70-91.
(26) VAN EEMEREN et al., Fundamentals of Argumentation Theory, 13-14.
(27) WALTON, â€œNew Dialecticâ€, 74. Other goals mentioned by WALTON include, e.g.,
seeking information, negotiating a deal, intellectual inquiry, and deliberation regarding
possible courses of action.
(28) WALTON, New Dialectic, 30; â€œNew Dialecticâ€, 88.