Interview Martin Schulz - Arguments instead of knowledge?

Lexicon of Arguments

Philosophical and Scientific Issues in Dispute

Arguments instead of knowledge? -- The dialogue across the books

Interview with Martin Schulz

Why Arguments?
What is an Argument in scientific discourse?
What is actually not an argument?
What is different from Wikipedia, for example?
Who needs a Lexicon of Arguments?
Why hasn't something like the Lexicon of Arguments been around longer?
No books anymore?
Weren't analogue texts structured more clearly, though?

Why a Lexicon of Arguments? Why not simply knowledge?

The concentration on arguments is supposed to safe us the trouble of having to read through 50 pages of text, perhaps only to end up not finding the decisive argument after all. It will become possible to familiarize oneself with the state of the art in a particular field without being at the mercy of one author's persuasion. Also, it is one thing to look up a thing or a term, and something completely different to find out how controversial this term actually is.

What is a Typical Argument in scientific discourse?

A Typical Argument in scientific discourse is: "If it is true what the other author says, it results in the following contradictions in the present theory..." If I may use a figure of speech: In scientific discourse it is often as if you pull the carpet over a hole, but then you discover - or others point it out to you - that another spot is left uncovered. Or that the carpet crinkles. But of course this is only a metaphor and not a form of argument.

What is an argument? How does it work?

Arguments must be fed, ideally with information. Let's assume that more people cross the road on a red light in San Francisco than in Los Angeles. Should we say that this is the character of the people, that they are less assimilated or more daring? How would you prove that? Certainly not by showing that they cross at red more frequently. That would be a circle, a form of false argument. How about real information? There are many more one-way streets in San Francisco. Therefore it is much easier to judge whether a car is approaching while you are waiting at the light.
The character is considered to be the cause for the behavior. But concluding that the behavior shows the character later on would mean moving in a circle.
Apropos real information: of course more people cross a red light in Los Angeles. Los Angeles simply has far more inhabitants. You just don't see them all at once. Daringness or assimilation don't matter at all.

So circles are bad?

Some authors speak of "good circles". However, it would go too far to provide examples for that. (Look it up in the Lexicon of Arguments). The problem with circular argumentation is that the preconceived opinion is simply repeated.

Are there arguments that appear more frequently?

A common form is one author pointing out to another that he has knowingly or unknowingly concealed a premise. That means additional assumptions are needed to make a theory work.

Can you find arguments for everything?

To be a little meticulous: there won't be an argument "for everything", because it would have to back both a statement and its negation. You probably mean: for every imaginable problem.
The question is whether an argument can be applied to another field, i.e. whether it also applies to other objects or assumed characteristics.
It gets really interesting if arguments can also be found for the opposite. In this case, another argument should come up which might be located on a different level.

Now, is there a general form of arguments or even a General Argument?

A one size fits all argument? You mean sentences like "Everyone has to decide that for themselves."? That is something you hear a lot. But it's certainly not an argument, it's an excuse. You don't decide on a case to case basis whether to use logic or not.
In order to use logic in a dispute you have to collect a couple of premises on which you also have to agree. And then you can go ahead and see what becomes of them.
There are interesting recurring forms: We can eliminate something that has a controversial ontological status (for example the numbers) in order to reintroduce them as a façon de parler. This form appears over and over again, be it in Quine - when he talks about intensions – or Husserl (bracketing, Epoché). That is the point at which we have switched to another level. Perhaps we'll get a chance to look at that more closely soon.

So the form is the argument?

No, but arguments are based on common forms. For example: Similarity: It may happen that you don't know what a thing really is, but you recognize whether it is similar to another thing. It actually happens rather often: You don't know how a color is composed, but you recognize the same shade. Not everyone has perfect pitch, but many people are able to tell when the same note comes up again.
The same can happen with theoretical questions: Frege defined direction by sameness of direction. One of the major questions of Analytic Philosophy is the question of the meaning of meaning. And one approach is to grasp it by the sameness of meaning.
That doesn't necessarily always work: for example, two colors that are similar can be composed completely differently.

What is an example for a new form?

In system theory, the distinction form/content is replaced by the distinction inside/outside. However, this requires the introduction of a couple of other distinctions as well. If I may use a figure of speech: This results in getting a new map for an area that you have traveled on different routes so far.

Arguments imply dispute.

Sure, there are also common forms. For example, in a dispute, one side may define a term more narrowly, the other side more widely.
It is not a dispute if the participants have not agreed on the objects (the ontology) they are arguing about. In this case you would say they are talking past each other. But even here there can be an attempt to agree on an ontology through arguments.
Interestingly there are also competing theories when it comes to numbers. And even the attempt to practice science without numbers assuming that numbers don't exist at all.

Who says that?

Hartry Field. The problem is: According to classical logic, statements about non-existent objects are neither true nor false. So no more evidence can be found.
One of the possible solutions is quite simple: You correlate proportions: "the quotient of the two first-mentioned items is greater than the one of the two second items" or more precisely: a/b is greater than or equal to c/d. You are free to fine-tune this even more. Of course, it is very cumbersome. So you can simply reintroduce numbers in order to shorten the notation, but only as a façon de parler. So the numbers are actually names for the letters (to be precise: for the differences) that are to be distinguished. As names, they now have a different ontological status, though.

Now, that was not 50 pages.


Do some arguments become obsolete over time?

Some discussions become obsolete. The arguments too if they refer to these problems; their general form is likely to reappear, however.

Who owns these arguments?

The Lexicon of Arguments helps tracing arguments to their origins, even if there is not always a clear originator.
Arguments lead to other arguments; they rarely become obsolete in principle. Of course you might want to review whether they were successful in earlier discussions, i.e. in other contexts.  

What is actually not an argument?

Not an argument is "I like" – "Author X has said everything that needs to be said about this issue" - "Read my doctoral thesis." - "I can’t imagine".
"That's all nothing new" is debatable; perhaps it's really not new. But then you need to demonstrate that the terms and statements of the text in question are equivalent to existing texts.
Discoveries are not arguments either. The discovery of the Higgs particle is not an argument for or against a point; it confirms a theory, but not in an argumentative way.

How do you recognize arguments in the Lexicon of Arguments?

They are marked "versus" (notation Vs), i.e. authorAVsauthorB. You can also find all arguments against a certain author or everything that this author has objections to. This results in a greater picture, a characterization of people and scientific camps.
Then you look up " * VsauthorA" or "authorBVs * ".
It becomes a network of networks.  

What is different from Wikipedia, for example?

Wikipedia is fantastic; If you follow a term A there and you read that it is also relevant for jurisprudence, you come upon a link to "Jurisprudence". It couldn't be more convenient. The only problem is that you will get to read a very comprehensive article on jurisprudence without coming across term A ever again. So the link consists in a connection of different fields, but it doesn't follow a term through these different fields. And this is where the Lexicon of Arguments comes in.

And what is it like in the Lexicon of Arguments?

Here we have tables where terms can be followed in alphabetic order and "straight across different authors", which sometimes react to one another and sometimes wrote independently from each other. The authors, in turn, are assigned to different camps in tables which explains why an author perhaps doesn't use a term at all.
And then there are tables that show what is important for the individual authors, their theses.
Yet other tables show the controversies initiated by authors and their theories.
That means that we show an object - the discussion - from different perspectives.
The Lexicon of Arguments also makes it possible to establish a relation between authors who are no longer with us. Or living ones can enter into dialogue with deceased authors. This is only rarely possible on the internet. We make it possible. And this is not witchcraft but due to the validity of arguments over time, traceable with "author1Vsauthor2".
I'm talking about a dialogue beyond book covers.

And this will work automatically in the future?

The problem is that authors don't defend the counterposition to their arguments with the same vehemence as their own views. Usually, opposite standpoints are not even mentioned. It becomes the job of the reader to find out how things could be viewed differently.
This has been demonstrated in the Lexicon of arguments for the field of Analytic Philosophy.
The section "Semantic Web" on our website is an attempt to answer questions that go beyond entering a single term. Why questions, for example. If counterpositions are concealed, it helps to concentrate on suspicious phrases such as "antiquated position", etc. (see "Structuring of Knowledge" and "Semantic Search" on this website).

So automation is no good?

The automatic Semantic Search is very good! How else would you find out whether you can purchase an object with certain characteristics below a certain price level in your area? And that works even now.
However, the problem for the scientific discourse is that the sources are long texts themselves that need to be searched and that perhaps leave an important term unmentioned!
The solution I suggest is pre-processing the texts, which should ideally be done by the authors themselves in the future.
The best solution would be if experts took the time to portray their subject in a nutshell from the perspectives of counterposition – example – thesis – definitions – camps. I call that the Five Finger Model (FFM).
This results in an interesting network of networks. That means one does not only relate counterpositions, but also the theses, camps, and definitions to one another. You get a view of the discussion from several perspectives.
It would be desirable to edit abstracts in this form as well in the future. They could be included in the Lexicon of Arguments automatically.

Do you want to create a uniform standard for structuring knowledge?

One can only hope that it results in a uniform standard. In my opinion, "versus" (Vs) seems to be a good option for marking counterpositions. In fact, you can even enter "vs" in Google today and you will be swamped by sports results.

Could a Lexicon of Arguments be compiled for all sciences?

Probably not for all. Not so much for the natural sciences where questions are answered once proof has been delivered. There is also argumentation, but more regarding the system and the method. These arguments can also be rather heated. For example, the string theory has been accused of being unverifiable in principle and thus of being out of scientific discussion (Lee SmolinVsStringtheory).

Arguments are important in fields of competing theories such as economic sciences. There it will be easy to structure the core arguments of different theories and camps according to the (Lexicon of Arguments) scheme (FFM) and to make them accessible. This work can be completed rather quickly if a group of contributors can be won to do it.
Further fields could be: different branches of psychology, history, sociology, law, political science, art theory, etc.  

Who needs a Lexicon of Arguments?

The discourse in the sciences and all those who are interested in structuring knowledge; it can also be applied to companies or political consulting. Let us hope that consistent forms will emerge. Focus on arguments instead of long texts. Traceability according to the authorAVsauthorB system
It will become possible to familiarize oneself with the state of the art in a particular field without being at the mercy of one author's persuasion.
Students often have the following problem: Once they have understood the matter of the subject they get the feeling that the arguments they read are convincing.
Unfortunately, too many authors conceal the fact that there are counterarguments. They only appear if the student is taught by a different professor in later semesters or reads secondary literature.
The Lexicon of Arguments aims at providing the counterarguments regardless of the curriculum and in a way that allows abstaining from reading 50 books with 300 pages each, and perhaps skipping the important parts, but rather provides abstracts in a table. A well-organized slip box with many thousands of compartments. That also leads to the convenient situation that you can have 15 or 20 virtual books open at the right page on your desk. Also on the beach. All you have to do is take your computer along.

If you think further, sitting through part of the course might become unnecessary and the time could be used for other things. New content could be added to the curriculum, for example. Many students also simply need time to earn a living and their tuition.
At some point, the university as a building might not be so important anymore, like paper is not as important as it used to be.
In the end, everyone can familiarize themselves with a field of knowledge, no matter if they study the subject or not. The distinction between experts and laypersons may vanish at some point and the Lexicon of Arguments can help provide better information for that, i.e. information that fits into the contexts and has been discussed controversially.

What kind of index do you have there?

It is a cross-author index you can take to the library on your smart phone. The statements by more than one hundred authors - so far only of Analytic Philosophy - several hundred publications and books relevant for certain keywords are registered here with brief comments on the content. You can judge the relevance right there in the library and then you can decide whether to borrow one book or to buy another.
Remember that most anthologies don't even have an index and a cross-author index in this form didn't even exist before now.  

And you don't need to buy any books anymore?

That's a misunderstanding. The complete source, the book, is not available in the Lexicon. But the exact page in the book is given where the argument can be found. The Lexicon of Arguments contains an abstract and the context with other authors, quasi right across the discussion. You'll have to look up the broader context in the book if you want to know why the author says what he says. That does not make books obsolete and that's a good thing.

May I ask why it's a good thing?

Because you have to quote the sources verbatim when writing an academic thesis. Try to look up a quote by a scientist that you are familiar with online; you'll see that you won't find the exact source easily (title, page, place and year of publication) and often not even the exact wording.

But in theory one could write a Master's thesis or a dissertation by copy pasting from the Lexicon of Arguments, couldn't one?

One could. But plagiarism is just as easily detected! A lot easier than it is so far. Everyone is working towards the same goal: How can we advance our subject? How is new knowledge generated? Of course by acknowledging arguments and trying to find better ones. The existing arguments are an inspiration in this process and keep us from thinking that we invented the wheel.  

Why hasn't something like the Lexicon of Arguments been around longer?

On the one hand, this is due to the fact that it couldn't be done automatically so far; on the other hand, detective work is required to find the counterpositions that are concealed by a source.
Books sometimes refer to one another. But they are silent in their shelves and sometimes even at completely different places or in different libraries. They don't talk to one another. If one author is not around anymore, another one starts talking. The Lexicon of Arguments opens the book covers for a lively dialogue and allows them all to interact.

Weren't analogue texts structured more clearly, though?

In a printed book you couldn't search for a term that you have misunderstood or terms that only appeared as a paraphrase or not at all. Sometimes you would only notice after a long time that a term was used throughout the whole book in a slightly different sense from what you had learned in other books before.
Imagine the last page of a book you have become fond of saying: "and by the way, everything in the book by author X is wrong". And that was just the book you had come to love before this one! That hurts. In the Lexicon of Arguments, you will make this experience more frequently, but it will also be over sooner and it will not hurt as badly. Why won't it hurt? Because it happens at an earlier stage. This allows you to work more efficiently.
Warum es nicht so wehtut? Weil es früher passiert! Dadurch arbeitet man effektiver.

And everything is better online?

One problem of the internet is that everything seems to be presented on an equal footing at first. The continuation of the Lexicon of Arguments will mark recent entries as new for a while. This mark will be removed after a certain period of time. When the sources have been cited over time, they will be assigned a different color depending on the number of citations. This allows the user to judge their relevance.

What will be the future?

Economists, political scientists, historians, sociologists, art theorists, psychologists are called upon to contribute to the project for their individual subject and to compile a Lexicon of Arguments after our model.

But there are already so many search engines…

But they all contain the risk that you won't find a piece of information, because it's labeled wrongly or because it is not mentioned in a description. The big issue here is Semantic Search. You can read about it in our category "The Project": "Semantic Search" and "Structuring Knowledge in Scientific Discourse".

How do you manage to keep up this kind of work for so long? The project started in March 1998.

It is marvelous to make new discoveries all the time. Knowledge in arguments is like skillfully prepared food. It's not just mash.
Martin Schulz, thank you very much for the interview!
My pleasure!
Martin Schulz talked to Jens Gippner
Translation: Ariane Stark