Maurice Finocchiaro. Arguments about Arguments. Systematic, Critical and Historical Essays in Logical Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. ix + 467.

The book is a collection of essays Finocchiaro has written in the last three decades on argument analysis and informal logic. The essays have not been rewritten, so there is quite some redundancy between them.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part develops Finocchiaro’s approach to argument analysis and informal logic, and will be the focus of this review in the next paragraph. The second part presents Finocchiaro’s theory of fallacies and the positive and negative evaluation of arguments. On the one hand Finocchiaro claims that fallacies are attributed too hastily, because ‘actually occurring logically incorrect arguments are not very common’ (116). On the other hand he develops his own typology of six types of actually occurring fallacies. In the third part several alternative or related approaches to argument analysis are critically evaluated. The theses under review range from Cohen’s methodological views on analytic philosophy as working by induction on one’s own intuition to Gramsci’s instrumentalist understanding of logic as a technique of  ideologically neutral reasoning. The fourth part provides some examples of historical studies on arguments. As in Finocchiaro’s other books Galileo is used as a paradigm of an arguer several times in the book. In this part other studies of pre-modern science are presented: Newton’s ambiguous formulation of his ‘3rd rule’ of reasoning, or Lavoisier’s clever rhetorical embedding of his non-obvious argument on oxidation.

Logic is of different relevance for different understandings of philosophy. There are types of philosophy (roughly those in the analytic tradition) for which the use of formal logic is an essential tool of philosophy. There is even the even narrower case of an understanding of philosophy which equates doing philosophy with formal (re-)construction – like the late George Boolos considered his formal theory of plural quantification as just being philosophy. For many other understandings of philosophy and for fields like legal argumentation, however, argumentation plays an essential role, but formal logic does not. Here non-formal (informal) logic and non formalized rules of inference are employed. Informal logic use almost no formalisms (as can be seen in a typical textbook like Alec Fisher’s The Logic of real Arguments [Cambridge, 1988]). Finocchiaro’s book also does not use formal logic. Sometimes (cf. 67, 93) he equates his historical approach to argument analysis with informal logic. He sets it apart from formal logic, which is often accused of ‘apriorism’ (32). As philosophy lives by its diversity there is no need for unification here. Avoiding logical imperialism is well advised. Nevertheless there has to be some relation between formal and informal logic. One connection might be that some proponents of formal logic (and the majority of analytic philosophers) claim that formal logic captures structures of human reasoning. If that is so, formal logic has to have some use in understanding actually employed arguments or attributed reasoning procedures. In analytic philosophy and cognitive science the whole field of such questions is discussed under the title of ‘reflective equilibrium’: a coherent reconstruction of our logical faculties has to take into account our intuitions on good arguments, our formal explications of reasoning (i.e. formal system) and empirical results on actual human faculties and performance (an overview is presented in Edward Stein’s Without Good Reason. The Rationality Debate in Philosophy and Cognitive Science. [Oxford, 1996]). Finocchiaro’s book can be read as defending the claim that the historical analysis of arguments as presented in classical texts is a further ingredient to be considered in this reflective equilibrium. The historical cases – by just being historical cases of published arguments – provide empirical evidence for what was considered to be good or bad argumentation. Supposed principle of reasoning or the critical evaluation of arguments are either to be found in them as well or read of from them in the first place. Given the more or the less informal character of most of these arguments the theory of these arguments may be considered as part of the meta-theory of informal logic. Historical analysis in this sense has further merits in promoting a better understanding of the historic controversies and the development of science. Finocchiaro, however, claims that this type of argument analysis is superior to the empirical study of human reasoning faculties in the cognitive sciences and superior to formal logic as providing a theory of reasoning, historical analysis being ‘the most scientific approach to the topic’ (45). This can be seriously doubted. The meta-theory of informal logic can hardly be informal itself. So Finocchiaro defines the essential concept of reasoning as ‘a special type of thinking that consists of interrelating thoughts in such a way that some are dependent on or follow from others’ (15). His theory of fallacies rests on the definition of a fallacy as ‘the failure of one proposition to follow from others’ (133). One should immediately ask here what ‘follows from’ means. Finocchiaro gives no explanation. Formal logic does (whether one considers deductive systems or confirmation theories). Formal logic further on provides a systematisation of inference by providing sound and complete formal systems. Without such a systematisation we have the ragbag of inference that pre-modern logic collected. Neglecting this second connection between formal and informal logic Finocchiaro comes close to presenting just such a collection of rather general principles of reasoning comprising even the concept of explanation and any ‘rules, and presuppositions of inquiry, truth-seeking, or knowledge gathering’ (96).

Informal logic and argument analysis should be seen in connection with formal logic and as an important ingredient in the wide reflective equilibrium needed to spell out the proper principles of reasoning. Informal logic may also be seen as a pedagogical tool for those who do not need formal logic in the sense of manipulating formal systems. Within these limitations informal logic and the evaluation of arguments is part of teaching logic and philosophy and historical analysis is part of empirically investigating our practices of reasoning. All other pretensions, however, should be dropped.