Bad at getting your point across? Constantly losing those heated debates with your coworkers? Maybe you need to go get your PhD in Argumentation, now on offer at the University of Windsor.
A PhD program in Argumentation Studies is starting up this fall in Windsor, Ontario, with Graduate Coordinator, Catherine Hundleby, saying that there’s a key role to be played by well-formed debate in every democracy.
“People argue in every aspect of their personal and professional lives – it is central to how we relate to each other and it plays a key role in getting to the truth – such as when we debate the value of a political plan or a democratic candidate,” says Hundleby, in a press release.
Current events bear witness to the important of being able to string together a good argument, with tensions rising on a number of fronts over the value of free speech in contemporary society. Far-right groups in the United States and Canada are using the language of free speech to disseminate hatred, while a debate over sex and sexism currently raging within the high tech world is exposing some of the difficulties involved in encouraging free expression within a corporate context.
Getting to the root of what makes a good argument, then, is crucial to resolving conflicts both on a personal and social level. The topic has been pursued at the University of Windsor since the 1970s, with researchers looking into areas such as the science of informal reasoning, the art of persuasion and the various uses of reason and reasoning within society.
An interdisciplinary program based in UWindsor’s Department of Philosophy and the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation and Rhetoric, the new PhD will draw from a number of fields in the arts, humanities, social sciences, law and life sciences.
“The program is designed to meet the needs of a labour market where communication is global and takes an increasing variety of forms with implications for law and policy development, human resources, research, conflict management, and educational development,” says Dr. Hundleby. “Argumentation serves to build consensus and move organizations forward.”
And in these times of stark political divides, it’s even more important to strike up those tough conversations around the dinner table, according to psychologists and mediators, who say that ignoring the big issues won’t make it better.
One of the keys to having a good discussion —even with someone with vastly different views from yours— is to avoid the tendency to fall back on ideological groupings like the right and the left.
“You need to keep the conversation only about individual issues,” says Suzanne Degges-White, Chair of the Department of Counseling at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. “The connection people feel with their city’s sports team is the same way they feel with political candidates. If you attack someone’s sports team, they are never going to agree with you, no matter how qualified your position is.”
Also, try not to go into a discussion with the sole aim of changing the other person’s mind. That usually doesn’t end up too well. “Even if you are the best communicator in the world, you still might not get the outcome you want,” says Vaile Wright, psychologist and researcher with the American Psychological Association. “You need to have a coping plan for how you are going to deal with the feelings you are going to have when you couldn’t enact the change you wanted.”