Dialectical and heuristic arguments: presumptions and burden of proof.

In C. Tindale & C. Reed (eds.), Dialectics, Dialogue and Argumentation: An Examination of Douglas Walton's Theories of Reasoning and Argument. College Publications. pp. 45-57 (2010)
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Presumption is a complex concept in law, affecting the dialogue setting. However, it is not clear how presumptions work in everyday argumentation, in which the concept of ‚Äúplausible argumentation‚ÄĚ seems to encompass all kinds of inferences. By analyzing the legal notion of presumption, it appears that this type of reasoning combines argument schemes with reasoning from ignorance. Presumptive reasoning can be considered a particular form of reasoning, which needs positive or negative evidence to carry a probative weight on the conclusion. For this reason, presumptions shift the burden of providing evidence or explanations onto the interlocutor. The latter can provide new information or fail to do so: whereas in the first case the new information rebuts the presumption, in the second case, the absence of information that the interlocutor could reasonably provide strengthen the conclusion of the presumptive reasoning. In both cases the result of the presumption is to strengthen the conclusion of the reasoning from lack of evidence. As shown in the legal cases, the effect of presumption is to shift the burden of proof to the interlocutor; however, the shift a presumption effects is only the shift of the evidential burden, or the burden of completing the incomplete knowledge from which the conclusion was drawn. The burden of persuasion remains on the proponent of the presumption. On the contrary, reasoning from definition in law is a conclusive proof, and shifts to the other party the burden to prove the contrary. This crucial difference can be applied to everyday argumentation: natural arguments can be divided into dialectical and presumptive arguments, leading to conclusions materially different in strength.

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Fabrizio Macagno
Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa


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