Dr Simon Wells

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New Paper in Informal Logic

My latest paper, co-written with my colleague David Godden of Michigan State University, is entitled “Burdens of Proposing ” and is collected into a special issue celebrating the work of Douglas Walton and his Contributions to Argumentation Theory.

The basic starting place for this work was a desire to square away some issues with formal models of deliberation. We argue that these models, particularly those that stem directly from the conjecture that there is no burden of proof in deliberation dialogues, are not wholly aligned with real world argumentative practises. In many contexts of deliberation, there is an expectation that the person who introduces an option to the deliberation process, is also the first person who other locutors within the dialogue will turn to when examining the proposal. More plainly, there is a burden of proposing associated with introducing options to the dialogue, and that you shoulder that burden by making the introduction and are the first port of call when evaluating the proposal. Otherwise, anyone could make any proposal they liked, however outlandish or irrelevant. By better aligning such real world practises, with formal models of those practises, we aim to produce dialogue systems that more closely capture human dialogical interaction in forms that are executable by machines. This is useful in the context of Conversational AI, where people and machines engage using dialogue, the most natural of interfaces, at least so far as people are concerned.

This paper considers the probative burdens of proposing action or policy options in deliberation dialogues. Do proposers bear a burden of proof? Building on pioneering work by Douglas Walton (2010), and following on a growing literature within computer science, the prevailing answer seems to be “No.” Instead, only recommenders—agents who put forward an option as the one to be taken—bear a burden of proof. Against this view, we contend that proposers have burdens of proof with respect to their proposals. Specifically, we argue that, while recommenders that Φ bear a burden of proof to show that □Φ (We should / ought to / must Φ), proposers that Φ have a burden of proof to show that ◇Φ (We may / can Φ). A burden of proposing may be defined as <P, Φi, ◇Φ>, which reads: Those who propose that we might Φ are obliged, if called upon, to show that Φ is possible in any of four ways which we call worldly, deontic, instrumental, and practical. So understood, burdens of proposing satisfy the standard formal definition of burden of proof.