17.974, Review: Pragmatics: Barrotta & Dascal (2005)

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Subject: 17.974, Review: Pragmatics: Barrotta & Dascal (2005)

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Date: 28-Mar-2006
From: Giampaolo Poletto < janospal at libero.it >
Subject: Controversies and Subjectivity 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Sat, 01 Apr 2006 19:22:29
From: Giampaolo Poletto < janospal at libero.it >
Subject: Controversies and Subjectivity 

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EDITORS: Barrotta, Pierluigi; Dascal, Marcelo
TITLE: Controversies and Subjectivity
SERIES: Controversies 1
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005

Giampaolo Poletto, doctoral student, Doctoral School in Linguistics, 
University of Pécs, Hungary


The volume proposes a multidisciplinary and multiperspective 
approach to examine the nature, role and relation of controversy and 
of the subjectivity which is inherent to it, diachronically and 
synchronically. The essays are mostly papers delivered at the 
conference on subjectivity held in Pisa and Lucca, or have been 
specifically designed for the present collection. 

Dascal presents its scope, background and content, offering a 
thematically interwoven critical overview of each contribution (pp.1-
29). Historically considered extraneous to scientific research and the 
domain of objectivity, because arising out of subjectivity, through 
mistakes, misjudgements and misbehaviors, controversies are here 
assumed and proved to be intrinsic to and constitutive of rationality, 
starting from their pervasiveness and their ties to a plurality of 
subjects. The idea of an abstract being of reason is inadequate to 
account for their complexity and diversity. The subject is now viewed 
as concrete, multifaceted, made of different interacting components, 
immersed in a sociocultural environment, characterized by 
psychological aspects. These elements are supposed to somehow 
interact with epistemic factors. New questions are thus posed, which a 
variety of disciplines other than philosophy should investigate, in a 
framework where the concept of rational controversies faces the 
growing role of subjects. That posits the two main issues of this 
tripartite book - controversies on the subject, subjects in 
controversies - as tightly intermingled and somehow hardly 

The six chapters of the first part specifically focus on controversies 
internal to the subject.

Dascal (p.33-73) explores the processes of the debate with the self 
and with others, in eight sections: taking examples from different 
sources which show its nature and variety; discussing the metonymic 
and metaphoric kinds of relation connecting intra- and inter-personal 
debates; reconstructing typologies of those external and internal, from 
Aristotle (1990, 1996) to a distinction between 'soft' and 'hard' 
rationality, through the issue of self-deception, towards a view of a 
sufficiently real self-debating multiple self.

Schulz (pp.75-90) comparatively and diachronically traces back to the 
works of Plato (1969) and Aristotle, to accurately point out how the 
metaphors of the agreement and disagreement with the self - by them 
discussed in connection with a moral theory and described as a 
conflict between reasons and desires, and as a form of reflexive 
inconsistency - at large attain to the modern topic and phenomenon of 

Leone (pp.91-114) analyses the relations between conversion and 
controversy from an external and an internal viewpoint, as an object of 
controversy and as a form of intra-subjective controversy. There are 
differences, as to semiotic and temporal structures; similarities, as to 
the representations of time and identity; intersections, in relation to the 
concepts of the self as theatre and Bakhtin's interpretation of interior 
language (1930); models, with reference to Horowitz's 
psychodynamics (1988) and a metaphorical understanding of 
psychological phenomena through sociological patterns; stories of 
religious conversions.

In an epistemological perspective, Ferreira (pp.115-125) proposes a 
model for understanding the production of scientific theories 
alternative to the normativist position, which, along with the logical 
positivists, views the process of discovery of scientific theories as a 
mere psychological phenomenon other than justification (see Popper, 
1979). He rather supports the descriptivist one, which associates 
revolutionary discoveries to contexts of crisis of rationality rather than 
to normal science, and the interdisciplinary study of controversies and 
subjectivity, for their contribution to the building of scientific knowledge.

Cossutta (pp.127-156) displays the results of his discursive analysis of 
works by Plato, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius (1998), St. Augustine 
(2004), Malebranche, Descartes. His goal is to shed light on the 
controversial dimension of the diverse forms of inner speech, to see 
whether they are to be considered the counterpart of or irreducibly 
other than the external dimension of controversy, which consists in a 
marked dialogical interaction, partly traceable in monological 
discourse but without objective consistence, the way subjectivity 
manifests in external forms of polemic not necessarily to its detriment.

Drawing on the standpoints of Plato, Descartes, Hume, Kant (1987), 
Frogel (pp.157-169) talks about the subjectivity of judgement of the 
philosopher as a critical thinker, in the light of its necessary relations 
with truth: of self-agreement, descending from the subjective 
judgement that something is true; of self-deception, possible in all 
philosophical thinking due to the asymmetry of self-conviction; of 
disagreement, consequently unavoidable in philosophical discourse. 

The seven chapters of the second part shift to an insight on 
subjectivity, through the implications and significance of the use of the 
first person.

In Han-liang Chang's study (pp.173-184), intersubjectivity and 
controversy are mutually implicative terms, the subjectivity of dialogue 
is multi-faceted and multi-voiced, and the concept of ideologeme 
(Kristeva, 1980) is crucial in the enquire on the relation between 
ideology and discourse. The result of his analysis of a debate in the 
third century BC China (Guo, 1975) points out: the potential 
intersubjectivity of interlocutors, as textual and discursive functions; 
the need for historicizing instances of verbal communication to 
perceive the force of ideology.

Starting from Protagora's expression of the essence of controversy-
oriented thought (Diogenes Laertius, 1972) and through a historical 
outline of the two-logoi subjectivist and objectivist tradition (see 
Sloane, 1997; Tannen, 1990, among others), Cattani (pp.185-200) 
suggests that: controversy both manifests and is a way to manage 
uncertainty; objectivity may be deceptive and not always possible, 
whereas subjectivity, ineluctable, to be accounted for and to be not 
damaging, is to make a step towards the first plural person.

Szívós (pp.201-234) examines the period of Hellenism (322-330 BC), 
in order to underline the first description of subjectivity as a state of 
consciousness and reconstruct in detail, as a historian of philosophy, 
the evolution of the academic-stoic debate. He applies: some 
concepts of the general theory of controversy, namely emergent 
process and result, extensive and intensive phases of the debate, 
semantic debate; the categories of temporality and reification in 
relation to the concept of subjectivity. Seven phases are enucleated 
and the modifications of the two schools' standpoints are emphasized, 
following the definition of the Greek concept of phantasia. 

Among the aims of an interdisciplinary research project in which Fritz 
has participated, there is the analysis of the pragmatic organization of 
controversies in the 17th and 18th centuries. Through examples in 
English, German, French, his paper (pp.235-250) focuses on the 
function of first-person utterances as moves in the above period 
controversies. Although they are guided by traditional rules and 
principles, for instance to deal with realia rather than with personalia, 
they display forms of expression of subjectivity and hint at a rhetoric of 
individuality which is representative of the innovative spirit of that age. 

Berkeley's position on subjective justification - generally perceived as 
weak both in rhetoric and in philosophy - as a way to discover truth 
(1929-30), introduces the study of Mishori (pp.251-262), who: 
discusses the subjectivity manifested in the introspections of 
empiricists; analyses moves of that sort; frames a typology of 
introspective arguments - in particular reports, appeals, imagination-
employing experiments; emphasizes the multifaceted relevance of 
examining the choice of arguments. 

Along with Wittgenstein's notion of controversies (1927) as a supra-
personal family of language games, or forms of communication, 
Gloning's essay (pp.263-281) describes linguistic aspects connected 
to subjectivity in Early Modern polemics and discusses meta-polemic 
attempts at eliminating or controlling personal involvement. The final 
assumption, to be more thoroughly investigated, is that they hint at a 
tendency towards politeness and respect developing in the late 17th 
and 18th century.

Senderowicz (pp.283-300) applies a model of the epistemic function of 
controversies to the actual debate between externalists and 
individualists on the compatibility of externalism with self-knowledge, 
critically referring to Dascal's notion, description and typology of 
controversies (1998), and maintaining that they are confrontation of 
positions, neither of which, along with Boghossian's view (1989), 
provide an adequate account of the problem at stake. A conceptual 
breakthrough exceeding what both envision is needed, which 
remarkably emphasizes the function of controversies in the growth of 

The five chapters of the third part address the role of subjectivity in 
public controversies.

Barrotta (pp.303-324) analyses the debate between liberals and 
communitarians and exposes three arguments in favour of the 
fruitfulness of philosophical controversies: each party plays a double 
role; they often concern complex and fuzzy standpoints; they evolve, if 
interesting. The arguments support a further possible development of 
the above controversy. The role played by the notion of the self is 
crucial and provides the former with more pertinent replies to the 
objections of the latter.

De-dichotomization is accounted for in the case study of Barghouti 
(pp.325-336). In an inter-identity conflict related to asymmetry, 
injustice and oppression, an alternative conceptualization brings about 
ethical implications. One dichotomy - revenge vs. justice - functionally 
arises to eventually solve another one - national vs. human identity. 
The process of de-dichotomization: is moral as a dialogical and 
transformative conceptual tool; is effective in a struggle to end 
oppression (see Freire, 1972).

Gross (pp.337-352) provides a case study on the major and causal 
role of emotions in public controversies, conceived and described as a 
social drama (see Turner, 1978). They arise from a collective body of 
participants in an event and are primarily expressions of group 
solidarity rather than of an individual subjectivity.

Olivé (pp.353-370) addresses a multifaceted debate as a controversy 
about science, and details on the influence of subjective factors: on 
the issues discussed; on the argumentative strategies enacted; on the 
rationality of the controversy; on its course. He identifies and 
emphasizes genuine and non-genuine disagreements, rationally 
solvable and productive for the course of the controversy the former, 
unsolvable because groundless and just ideologically aimed at trying 
to persuade the latter.

Negative aspects of controversies are counterbalanced by their 
intellectual and somehow physical productivity, in Sharon-Zisser's 
contribution (pp.371-393). Their discernible structure (see Heidegger, 
1975) is assumed to dwell in a more fundamental one, whose 
components implicate subjectivity and entail affinities with the archaic, 
in a psychoanalytic perspective. A constitutively archaic form of 
transmission in itself, as poetry, could thus represent a way to access 
the deep structures of controversy.


The volume is valuable for the studies collected, the multiperspective 
overview displayed, its interdisciplinary approach, which opens to 
contributions at least in two directions other than more investigations 
on controversies and subjectivity: further applications of linguistic 
disciplines to the analysis of philosophical texts; further research 
conducted on a variety of phenomena, events, texts, etc., from a 
philosophical viewpoint. 


Aristotle, 1990. Retórica, transl., intro., and notes by Q.Racionero. 
Madrid: Gredos.

Aristotle, 1996. Nicomachean Ethics, transl. H.Rackman, intro. S.Watt. 
Ware, Hertford-shire: Wordsworth.

Augustine, 2004. Two Books of Soliloquies. In C. C.Star (Ed.), Early 
Church Fathers, Nicene et post-Nicene Series. www.cczl.org/fathers2. 

Bakhtin, M., 1930. ''Konstrukcija vyskazyvanija''. Literaturnaja 
učeba, 3. 65-87.

Berkeley, G., 1929-30. Philosophical Correspondence with Samuel 
Johnson. In D.Armstrong (Ed.).

Boghossian, P., 1989. ''Content and self-knowledge''. Philosophical 
Topics. 17 (1), 5-26.

Dascal, M., 1998. ''The study of controversies and the theory and 
history of science''. Science in Context. 11 (2), 147-154.

Diogenes Laertius, 1972. Lives of Eminent Philosophers, transl. 
R.D.Hicks. Loeb Classical Library, London: Heinemann.

Freire, P., 1972. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder & 

Guo, Q., 1975. Zhuangzi jishi (Collected Annotations of Zhuangzi). 
Taipei: Weiyi.

Heidegger, M., 1975. ''Building dwelling thinking''. In Poetry, 
Language, Thought, transl. A.Hofstadter. New York: Harper and Row. 

Horowitz, M. J., 1988. Introduction to Psychodynamics - A New 
Synthesis. New York: Basic Books.

Kant, I., (1987 [1790]). Critique of Judgement, transl. W.S.Pluhar. 
Indianapolis: Hackett. 

Kristeva, J., 1980. Desire in Language. A Semiotic Approach to 
Literature and Art. transl. A.Rothwell. New Haven and London: Yale 
University Press.

Marcus Aurelius, 1998. Ecrits pour lui-même, Vol.1, transl. P.Hadot. 
Paris: Les Belles Lettres. 

Plato, 1969. Plato in Twelve Volumes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 
University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd.

Popper, K. R. 1979. Objective Knowledge. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Sloane, T., 1997. On the contrary: The Protocol of Traditional 
Rhetoric. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

Tannen, D., 1999. The Argument Culture. New York: Ballantine Books.

Turner, V. (1978 [1974]). Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic 
Actions in Human Society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Wittgenstein, L., 1967. Philosophische Untersuchungen. Frankfurt 
a.M.: Suhrkamp. 


Giampaolo Poletto is a doctoral student at the Doctoral School in 
Linguistics of the University of Pécs, in Hungary. His linguistic fields of 
interest are discourse analysis, pragmatics, applied linguistics. His 
research focuses on humor as a discursive strategy for young 
learners of Italian, in a cross-sectional and cross-cultural context.


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