Why Images Cannot be Arguments, But Moving Ones Might

Argumentation 34 (2):207-236 (2020)
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Some have suggested that images can be arguments. Images can certainly bolster the acceptability of individual premises. We worry, though, that the static nature of images prevents them from ever playing a genuinely argumentative role. To show this, we call attention to a dilemma. The conclusion of a visual argument will either be explicit or implicit. If a visual argument includes its conclusion, then that conclusion must be demarcated from the premise or otherwise the argument will beg the question. If a visual argument does not include its conclusion, then the premises on display must license that specific conclusion and not its opposite, in accordance with some demonstrable rationale. We show how major examples from the literature fail to escape this dilemma. Drawing inspiration from the graphical logic of C. S. Peirce, we suggest instead that images can be manipulated in a way that overcomes the dilemma. Diagrammatic reasoning can take one stepwise from an initial visual layout to a conclusion—thereby providing a principled rationale that bars opposite conclusions—and the visual inscription of this correct conclusion can come afterward in time—thereby distinguishing the conclusion from the premises. Even though this practical application of Peirce’s logical ideas to informal contexts requires that one make adjustments, we believe it points to a dynamic conception of visual argumentation that will prove more fertile in the long run.

Author Profiles

Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen
Hong Kong Baptist University
Marc Champagne
Kwantlen Polytechnic University


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