Marcelo Dascal

Argument, War and the Role of the Media in Conflict Management


Marcelo Dascal

Should we not analyze [power] primarily in terms of struggle, conflict and war? One would then confront the original hypothesis … with a second hypothesis to the effect that power is war, a war continued by other means.[1]


Michel Foucault



Even more precious perhaps is the tradition that works against … that misuse of language which consists in pseudo-arguments and propaganda. This is the tradition and discipline of clear speaking and clear thinking: it is the critical tradition – the tradition of reason.[2]


Karl Popper



1. Introduction

We are all familiar with the fact that the presence of a TV camera may bring about the radicalization of an otherwise peaceful demonstration: stones are thrown, the aggressiveness of the slogans increases, flags and offensive banners are displayed – in short, the crowd discharges its duty to “make news”. We are also familiar with the fact that there is only a scant correspondence between what goes on inside a negotiating room and what “transpires” through the media. Inside the room negotiations are for the most part conducted in a cordial or at least businesslike atmosphere and the discussion is “to the point”, even if disagreement prevails. However, what spokespersons for the negotiating parties publicly declare – “for the record” – is likely to be much tougher, at least as long as agreement has not been reached. Thus, the media’s presence has often the effect of stressing the differences and emphasizing conflict.

But the media may also have the opposite effect. In the case of deep and violence-prone conflict, when the parties are not even negotiating or negotiations are stalled, the media can function as an alternative channel of communication. Through the media, so-called “balloons” and deliberate “leakings” are used in order to check the opponent’s reactions, to make each other’s demands mutually known, and to prepare the public for the upcoming moves. Often this has the role of defusing the immediate danger of violent confrontation and of paving the way for the resolution of the conflict.

In this paper, I examine these opposed roles of the media in conflictual situations. I argue that the use of violence and the use of argumentation belong to a set of “communicative acts” structured by a double conceptual/rhetorical grid of metonymic and metaphorical relations. While the metaphorical relations conceptualize argument as analogous to war, the metonymical relations conceptualize argument as continuous with war. Metaphor permits to identify the warlike aspects of argument, both in intellectual operations such as criticism and in emotive operations such as propaganda (as in Popper’s quote).  But it keeps these operations strictly apart from physical violence, to which they bear only a relation of similitude. Metonymy, on the other hand, conceptualizes the operations involved in argument as being themselves part and parcel of the power game. As such, they function either as a continuation of war in another register (as in Foucault’s quote) or as nothing more than violence’s temporary replacements (as in the belief that as long as the contenders negotiate they at least don’t wage war).

This metonymic/metaphorical conceptual grid – I claim – forms a continuum that plays a constitutive role in conflict management and explains how these two types of communicative acts – “talking” and “fighting” – often function so as either to reinforce each other or to reduce each other’s impact. It is the intertwining of these two forms of communication and their underlying dual grid that permits – I surmise – to understand how the media can, under different circumstances, fulfill the dual role described above.

My analysis also suggests that it might be possible to find an intermediate path between Foucault’s pessimism (ultimately, argument is nothing but war, albeit in a disguised form) and Popper’s somewhat naive optimism (rational argument, however warlike it may look, transcends war). This possibility rests upon the fact that, in spite of its powerful grip upon our conceptualization and rhetoric of conflict, the current metaphorical/metonymic grid that relates argument to violence is not ineluctable. In so far as it is – however powerful – merely a contingent stage in the evolution of our cognitive, emotive, and linguistic apparatus, this grid can eventually be replaced by another one, constituted by more ‘benign’ metaphors and metonymies. This might pave the way for overcoming the paralyzing grip of endemic conflict. It is the responsibility of intellectuals, as well as of the media, to criticize the limitations and dangers of the extant grid and to contribute their share in creating and disseminating alternatives to it.




2. Argument as war

In their book Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson showed how ordinary language is permeated by what they call “metaphorical concepts”.[3] These “concepts” underly clusters of metaphors and thereby provide coherent structures for thinking and speaking about one domain (the target) in terms of another (the source). They are so ubiquitous that we are hardly aware of them qua metaphors, and tend to use them as if they were literal. Consider the metaphorical concept TIME IS MONEY. It underlies an unlimited number of expressions, such as “I don’t have the time to give you”, “That flat tire cost me an hour”, “I don’t have enough time to spare for that”, etc. (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 8). Metaphorical concepts are systematic, structured, and productive; they provide ready-made ways of organizing our thought and speech about a wide range of phenomena on the basis of our experience and our conceptualization of other phenomena. 

The very first example of a metaphorical concept Lakoff and Johnson mention is ARGUMENT IS WAR. The target (argument or debate) is conceptualized in terms of predicates primarily applicable to the source (war). This metaphor underlies such utterances as “Your claims are indefensible”, “He attacked every weak point in my argument”, “His criticisms were right on target”, etc. (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 4). War and argument have (partially) isomorphic structures, which include slots for participants, parts, stages, linear sequences, causation, and purpose. This isomorphism permits to project the components of war onto those of argument, and to use the terminology of the former in talking and thinking about the latter. The participants are thus conceived as adversaries who hold positions, devise strategies, perform attacks, counterattacks, maneuvering, and other moves, with the purpose of achieving victory; the argument is depicted as comprising different stages and sub-stages (battles, skirmishes, truce, victory, surrender, peace); there are more or less fixed causal sequences (attack results in defense, counterattack, or retreat), etc. (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 80-81). The productivity of this metaphorical concept is apparent from the fact that this list can be easily extended. The words used by the contenders in an argument become weapons, their claims, blows, their moves have different forces and strategical or tactical roles, the anticipation of the opponent’s objections can be related to intelligence, the accumulation of evidence in favor of one’s position to logistics, and so on. I leave it for the reader to collect examples of the use of this metaphorical concept in the media.

Not only ordinary parlance is permeated by this metaphor. The 17th century scientist Robert Boyle talked about debate as a “spiritual warfare” and pointed out that debaters – no less than generals – are justified in employing “stratagems” in order to defeat an adversary described as “the old serpent”. The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant described traditional metaphysics as a “battleground” where “dogmatists” fought “intestine wars” which, along with the occasional incursions of the “sceptic nomads”, unsettled the “despotic empire” of metaphysics.[4]  The 19th century philosopher Schopenhauer compared dialectic - the art of dispute - with the art of fencing. "Dialectic - he wrote - need have nothing to do with truth, as little as the fencing master considers who is in the right when a dispute leads to a duel. Thrust and parry is the whole business. Dialectic is the art of intellectual fencing…" (Schopenhauer 1942: 10).

It is important to note that the use of a metaphorical concept can hardly be circumscribed to its initial domain. It tends to spill over adjacent areas. For instance, the metaphorical conceptualization of the MIND as a CONTAINER requires one to conceptualize thought as a process that takes place within the mind and communication as consisting in the transmission of ideas from one container to another through an appropriate conduit (cf. Reddy 1979). In the case of ARGUMENT IS WAR, this tendency leads to the conceptualization of the theories held by the opponents as having the structure of fortresses, comprising a “core” (the theory’s essential tenets, whose fall would mean the theory’s demise) and a “periphery” (its external bastions, that can be surrendered without major damage to the theory). For instance, referring to the physicist Honoré Fabri’s attitude vis-à-vis the scholastic contribution to modern thought,

the 17th century philosopher Leibniz writes: “From the Peripathetics he rejected that which he should have conserved above all … while, on the contrary, he heatedly defended some external bastions, very remote and not in need of defence”.[5] The assumption, of course, is that contenders in a debate should be able to distinguish clearly between what is essential and what is secondary, just as negotiators in a peace process should be able to define their “red lines” and generals in the battlefield to distinguish between strategical and tactical aims – which is not a trivial matter.[6]


3. Argument is war

In spite of its productivity and organizing power, the metaphorical relation between argument and war seems to be insufficient to capture a more intimate kind of relationship linking these two domains.

Consider for example, psychological warfare or propaganda. Words are used, in psychological warfare, as an integral part of the war effort. They seek to undermine the enemy's morale or to motivate one's forces in combat and to increase public support (as in President Bush's use of the Saddam/Hitler comparison during the Gulf War). In this case, war in fact boils down to the actual use of words. It would seem that here source and target partially coincide. Sure, propaganda is not debate (even if it sometimes mimicks debate). Still, it shows that words can be used to actually wage war. This raises doubts about whether the relationship between argument and war is only metaphorical.

Debate not only is similar to war in its structure but it can lead to war if its outcome is a stalemate between irreconcilable and clearly opposed views. In the early modern period, religious debates on points of doctrine were directly linked to religious wars. In the history of all religions, heresy, i.e. deviation from what was perceived as orthodoxy, led to ruthless persecution by the orthodox establishment. No wonder that it is commonly feared that the breakdown of the negotiations/debates that constitute the “peace process” in the Middle East will inevitably lead to the outbreak of violence. Debate and war seem to be more closely intertwined than by a distant metaphorical relation.

The analogy or metaphorical view of argument as war can be related to the conception of competitive games as surrogates for actual warfare. This in turn is connected with the view that playing is a form of “educational activity” which, like exercise, prepares for real life. There are many examples of playing behavior in the animal world that support both views, especially the one that relates playing with surrogate aggression.

In many cultures, indeed, debate is codified as a sort of game with precise rules. In ancient India, three kinds of debate - discussion, disputation, and wrangling - were codified and intensively practiced; in Ancient Greece, the rhetoricians boasted they were able to teach anyone how to win in any debate; in the late Middle Ages, the art of disputatio played a central role in scholastic teaching; in the United States debating clubs flourish today.

Consider the case of medieval disputatio. This practice was embedded within an educational setting. A student was given a topic, not necessarily within his realm of specialization, which he had to defend against objections either by other students or by the teachers. The kinds of permitted moves as well as the time allottment were severely restricted. A panel of judges would determine whether the student passed the test by withstanding the objections. Some of the disputationes were preliminary “exercises” intended to prepare the student for the “real” ones. In the case of the “real” ones, such as final disputationes – as in final exams – success would mean receiving the degree and being thereby entitled to pursue an academic or professional career. Failure, on the other hand, would mean either dropping out or the postponement of benefits that came with the degree.

What seems to make a case such as this akin to play in not only the existence of strict rules but mainly the fact that the behavior involved in them is not, ultimately, “in earnest”. Just as a playing child doesn’t really believe that the couch is a rocket ship even though she handles it very seriously as if it were, so too the student who was assigned a thesis to defend in a disputatio had to do it with all seriousness even though he didn’t believe in its truth. I suppose the student in a military academy is required to behave similarly when participating in simulations or ‘war games’. However, if we look at the matter not from the point of view of the mental state of the player but in terms of the consequences of his performance, then it is easy to see that such games may be very earnest: it is sufficient to recall that losing a  disputatio may mean losing a job, a reputation, a career, etc. And even more than this: the sophist Philalectes was so distressed by having lost an argument that he died (presumably he committed suicide). In India, the philosopher/theologian who won an argument would carry over to his side all the disciples (often even kings) of the disputant that lost.

Debate thus plays a causal role in inter-group or inter-individual relations, a role closely connected to power conflicts. In this sense, debate is not only analogous to war, but it actually is war. Consider the following, apparently metaphorical, assertions that describe academic life: “Refutation is killing”, “Reputation is security”, “Not publishing is perishing”, “Delaying a promotion is torture”. If you successfully refute somebody's theory -- a theory in which an investment of a whole career was at stake -- you are actually not only killing metaphorically the theory but also hurting badly the scientist behind it. If you, through argument or public exposure of a similar kind, make somebody fall into disrepute, the person thus hurt will actually -- not only metaphorically -- lose his/her security, i.e. his personal ability to continue to create, his job, perhaps even his family and friends.[7]


4. The metonymic link

What the preceding discussion shows is that argument is related to war in a more ‘direct’ way than through metaphor, a way that suggests a metonymic relation between them. Whereas metaphor links things by virtue of their similarity, which is a relationship that does not require any direct connection between them, metonymy depends upon a closer connection between the things it relates. When a waiter says to the cashier – to use a well-known example – “The ham sandwich is waiting for the check”, she refers not to the sandwich, but to the person that ordered (and presumably ate) it. The expression the ham sandwich can be used to refer metonymically to the customer because sandwich and customer are in a direct relation to each other. In principle, any kind of ‘direct’ connection between two things might be the basis for metonymy. Actually, we tend to make use, for metonymic purposes, of a subset of such relations.[8]

   Consider the following metonymic sentences where argument and war are connected:[9] “The sight of so much brass at the table made him smell blood and concede swiftly”, “Camp David’s silence agitated the already tense streets of Jerusalem”, “The tanks stopped talking, bringing life to the dormant table”.[10] All of them rely upon a cause-effect relationship between war and argument (or vice-versa), which is taken for granted. This relationship is embedded in an implicitly accepted ‘script’that organizes events sequentially, so that war and argument may follow and/or precede each other in the sequence.[11]

   A war, usually, doesn’t break up suddenly. It is preceded by each side in the conflict pressing claims vis-à-vis the other, justifying its claims, rebuffing the opponent’s claims, issuing ultimatums, and then eventually resorting to armed assault. A war may be interrupted by a truce, during which negotiations or a further exchange of claims and counter-claims may be conducted. And, once it ends, a war is followed by further negotiations and debate, eventually yielding a peace treaty. Less typically – and therefore not included in the script – there is the possibility that secret negotiations are held without interruption of the war.

   A script such as the above acts as a mental model that relates argument and war in such a way that they are acts belonging to the same domain and holding causal and other contiguity relations with each other. One might say that it is a mental model such as this that fleshes out (psychologically) Clausewitz’s well-known claim that “war is a mere continuation of policy by other means”.[12]

5. The double grid

Argument and war are thus related both metaphorically and metonymically. That is to say, they belong to different domains, structurally similar to each other, but they also belong to the same domain; they distantly mirror each other while at the same time directly interacting on the same level as components of a single complex process. What are the implications of this double relationship?

   First, it forces upon us some theoretical reflection on the notions we have been using so far to characterize the two relations. We talked about similarity and difference, distance and proximity. Metaphor requires similarity and distance: Time is similar to money (in some respects), but it does not belong to the same ontological order as money; they are ‘distant’ in so far as they are different kinds of things. Metonymy, on the other hand, requires proximity and difference. Parts and wholes, causes and effects, places and events are (spatially and processually) contiguous but they bear little or no similarity: Your butt is not similar to you, the fire is not similar to the smoke, the White House is not similar to the President.

   It is tempting to account for the two sets of properties characterizing the two relations in terms of two simple tests: the ‘is like’ test and the ‘one domain’ test.[13] The former yields a ‘yes’ for metaphor and a ‘no’ for metonymy, while the latter yields a ‘no’ for metaphor and a ‘yes’ for metonymy. But this is likely to suggest that ‘domain’ (and with it the notions of distance and proximity) is used in the same sense referring to metaphorical and metonymic relations. This is not the case, however. The two domains involved in metaphor are different categories or concepts, presumably grounded on different experiences and ontological bases. Political careers form a category of social processes, whereas journeys are a category of events involving physical displacement. When they are connected in such metaphors as ‘Barak climbed too quickly to the top’, they remain different categories, thereby ensuring the conceptual ‘distance’ between source and target required by metaphor.  The one domain involved in metonymy, however, is not a ‘conceptual domain’in the sense of a category. Ham sandwiches belong to the same category as other dishes, but certainly not to the same category as the people who order and eat them (except in cannibal jokes). In so far as one wants to say that they belong to one domain, one should not forget that such a ‘domain’ is of a completely different sort. Its ‘oneness’ derives from relations (e.g., part-whole, sequentiality, adjacency) other than the class-membership relation that underlies categories. So, in metonymy and metaphor two types of ‘distance’ or ‘proximity’ are involved.

   This implies that the dimension of (metonymic) proximity-distance is in principle irrelevant for metaphor, while the dimension of (metaphorical) similarity-distance is irrelevant for metonymy. Metaphor can involve metonymic proximity, but it must preserve category distance.[14] And metonymy can admit category similarity, but it must preserve the ‘distance’ that separates even things of the same category in a script, a causal sequence or a part-whole complex.[15] The difference between metaphor and metonymy lies in how the mapping is performed through the similarity relation or through the proximity relation.

   This lengthy theoretical excursus permits us to understand I hope how the coupling of metaphor and metonymy, in spite of the opposed requirements of these two cognitive schemes, is not contradictory. Their opposition, however, leaves traces that cannot be completely erased. To see this, let us return to our theme – argument and war.

   The two axes of the grid are not quite independent. In fact, there is a sort of trade-off between their effects. Suppose, for instance, that one stresses the metaphorical similarity between argument and war, so that the former becomes more and more warlike.[16]At the metonymic axis, this implies that the stage ‘argument’ in the script “political conflict” will become closer to the stage ‘war’ – both in terms of a reduction of category difference and in terms of proximity: it will become just a step in the direction of war, a preparation for war. Parties that entrench themselves in a negotiating table behind ultimative and inflexible positions, unbendable ‘red lines’, and absolute and untouchable rights are likely to find themselves facing each other across trenches, brandishing guns instead of words. However, if the metonymy is to be interpreted otherwise, with argument not as a step leading to war, but as a step preventing war (both possibilities being, of course, allowed for by the same script), as in “Arafat surrendered in Camp David in order to prevent war”, then, in the metaphorical axis the similarity between argument and war cannot be over-stressed. Perhaps this is what Bar-Hillel expressed when he said that “in discourse, peace is more profound than war”.[17] The category distance will be then kept, and will presumably help to keep the stages ‘argument’ and ‘war’ separated, in spite of their proximity in the script.

   The interdependence between the metonymic and metaphorical axes of the grid connecting argument and war suggests the possibility of conceptual blending between these two phenomena.[18] I will not explore this possibility here, except for pointing out that this is what may underly a very famous phrase that has accompanied the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians since its inception: “The peace of the brave”. Its appeal lies perhaps in the fact that it operates both metonymically and metaphorically. Metonymically, it evokes an earlier stage of the conflict, where bravery was displayed in the battlefield by the now negotiating leaders. Metaphorically, it construes the negotiating table as a battlefield where bravery, albeit of another kind, should be displayed by the same leaders, if peace is to be achieved. I am definitely in favor of this kind of blending.


6. Between Foucault and Popper

In stressing the warlike elements in debate, as we have done so far, we are perhaps just providing grain for Foucault’s mill to grind. We are eventually showing that what is involved, either in war or in argument, is simply a struggle for power. The rational ground where argument is supposed to unfold, the respect for the facts that is supposed to underly serious argumentation, the reliance upon valid patterns of inference – all of them are, according to Foucault, nothing but disguises of the struggle for power. The fact that argument is not only analogous to war, but also contiguous with it seems to provide further support to Foucault’s thesis.

But are we necessarily in Foucault’s hands? Should we despair from argument and rather turn to the ‘real thing’ – undisguised propaganda and armed struggle?

If the Foucauldian position means that there is no such a thing as a Popperian World III Refuge, no ideal battleground where debate and argumentation are ruled by the pure rules of logic, by clear and transparent speech, with no hurting consequences, i.e., with no World II (socio-psychological) and World I (physical) effects, I couldn't agree more. [19] For, as I have argued elsewhere,[20] the Popperian idealization of criticism overlooks the fact that criticism is a complex human activity, deeply embedded in the context where it occurs. As such, criticism, and argumentation in general, are both affected by context and affect it. Therefore, debate is governed  by a mixture of motives and effects, of which epistemological and logical ones are only one component. Just as communication is primarily pragmatic and not semantic in nature, so too debate, as a form of language use, is essentially pragmatic and not semantic/logical in nature. Consequently, it cannot be understood without taking into account the variety of motives of those involved in communication, as well as the social and physical environment where communication takes place. In particular, its proper understanding cannot overlook its actual and potential effects. In conflictual violence-prone situations, one such effect is that debate may hurt people, although it may also prevent violence.

Nevertheless, to admit that much only implies the acceptance of the fact that there is no clearcut separation between debate and war, between argument and fight. This, in turn, does not imply – as Foucault would have it – that the former should be reduced to a disguised manifestation of the latter. The fact that the borderline between two phenomena is fuzzy does not per se mean that significant differences cannot be drawn between clear cases of each. Such clear cases can be placed at the two ends of a continuous scale. “Pure debate” and “pure war” can be then understood as the two poles of a continuum, as two “ideal types”. The “real types”, located at various points of the scale, result from different mixtures of these ideal types. Let us explore this alternative way of conceiving the relations between debate and war.

First, notice that the term ‘argument’ does not univocally refer to power struggles. In fact, it has a dual meaning. No doubt, one of the meanings corresponds to the Foucauldian construct. Thus, in popular parlance, “we had an argument” means we had a fight. An argument in this sense is a power conflict, purely emotional and irrational.[21] It may even involve the actual display of force (shouting is a display of force, no less than beating and shooting). But there is also ‘argument’ as understood by philosophers, logicians, and scientists. In this sense, we are talking about something that follows rules of rationality and can be evaluated accordingly. Winning here is not simply reducing the opponent to silence by shouting or killing, but rather persuading her.

The former sense is close to Foucault’s. The latter, to Popper’s. In the former, argument is war. In the latter, it is no doubt analogous to war, but only on limited respects, which notably leave aside actual or ensuing physical damage to the opponent. The former sense emphasizes the metonymic relation between argument and war. The latter, the metaphoric relation.

 Traditionally, rhetoric has been polarized in the two senses/directions above: either as purely irrational/emotive  (close to propaganda) or as purely rational (as a complementation of logic). But the fact that rhetoric involves both elements, intertwined in such a way that it combines both in different degrees, supports the continuum hypothesis, according to which each occurrence of argument – and, for that matter, of war – is a particular blend of power and rationality, of violence and persuasion.

Lakoff and Johnson have reached a similar conclusion. Having started, as we have seen, from a sharp distinction between the domains of argument and war, which admits of bridging only through metaphorical mapping, they end up by admitting that, after all, the gap between the two domains is not so wide. They realize that there are cases where one can say that the two domains merge, so that their members become subcategories of a single domain, i.e. they must be viewed as “the same kind of thing”. Whenever this occurs, however, the relation exemplified can no longer be described as metaphorical:

Take, for example, AN ARGUMENT IS A FIGHT. Is this a subcategorization or a metaphor? The issue here is whether fighting and arguing are the same kind of activity. This is not a simple issue. Fighting is an attempt to gain dominance that typically involves hurting, inflicting pain, injuring, etc. But there is both physical pain and what is called psychological pain; there is physical dominance and there is psychological dominance. If your concept FIGHT includes psychological dominance and psychological pain on a par with physical dominance and pain, then you may see AN ARGUMENT IS A FIGHT as a subcategorization rather than a metaphor, since both would involve gaining psychological dominance. On this view an argument would be a kind of fight, structured in the form of conversation. If, on the other hand, you conceive a FIGHT as purely physical, and if you view psychological pain only as pain taken metaphorically, then you might view AN ARGUMENT IS A FIGHT as metaphorical (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 84).

Accordingly, they propose to view subcategorization and metaphor as the endpoints of a continuum:

A relationship of the form A is B (for example AN ARGUMENT IS A FIGHT) will be a clear subcategorization if A and B are the same kind of thing or activity and will be a clear metaphor if they are clearly different kinds of things or activities. But when it is not clear whether A and B are the same kind of thing and activity, then the relationship A is B falls somewhere in the middle of the continuum (p.85).


Note that subcategorization, which in this context means literal predication, amounts to reduction, i.e. to the Foucauldian pole. The only way to prevent such a reduction is to maintain argument at a safe categorical distance from fight, permitting only a metaphorical link between them.[22]

   There is, however, a third possibility, which Lakoff and Johnson do not consider. Argument and fight need not be related either literally or metaphorically. They can also be related metonymically, by virtue of some relation that makes them part of the same whole, rather than subcategories of the same category. Any metonymy, although grounded in more direct and close relations than mere analogy, is still a trope, i.e., non-literal: nobody would, in normal circumstances, literally attribute impatience to a ham sandwich.

   This complicates a bit the picture. We can keep as the endpoints of the continuum the idealized, categorically ‘pure’concepts of argument and war. Metaphor, metonymy, and literalization or subcategorization are three ways of connecting them. Whereas the latter eliminates the gap between the endpoints, the two others are different processes whereby some sort of rapprochement between the endpoints is achieved. As Max Black (1962) has insisted, a metaphor creates similarity between target and source or topic and vehicle. Once connected through a metaphor, they ‘interact’ with each other, thereby breaking somehow the rigidity of category barriers: in ‘John is a lion’, the lion becomes humane at the same time that John becomes leonine. Similarly, metonymy highlights the systematic, although sometimes forgotten, connections between nixons and bombings, foetuses and their descendants, and even sandwiches and customers.

   The media reporting and commenting on a conflict operate within the above continuum. According to one idealized picture, the media are supposed to present the facts in an entirely objective way, and to allot perfectly balanced space and time for opposed opinions to be expressed. On this view, the media’s quintessential task is to inform the public, but not to form its opinions. Critics of this idealization contend that it is an illusion. Some stress the fact that the media are used by political agents not just as a vehicle of information, but as tools in advancing their ends. Others point out that the media have their own agenda, and it is them that manipulate politicians and other social agents for their purposes – which may include either fostering or softening conflict. On both views, rather than mirroring what happens independently of their intervention, the media play a decisive role in making things happen. Their posing as‘observers’ is merely a disguise for their actual role as interested agents in the power game.

   No doubt there are newspapers, TV stations, and internet sites that are or try to be very close to the one or to the other of these two ideal models. Most of them, however, operate somewhere along the scale linking these two poles. Most journalists, I think, sincerely believe that what they report are ‘the facts’, that their duty is to provide ‘information’. But they also know that by editing and selecting the information they powerfully shape opinion according to their own biases. As for those whose deliberate aim is to foster their own opinions, they know that success will depend on their ability to support their bias through some measure of ‘objective’ information. ‘Pure’ propaganda or wishful thinking is likely to backfire.



7. The balance of reason and the balance of power

Theoretical explanations apart, let me now speculate about why there should be – or at least why it is good there is – such a continuum in the case of argument and war.

Let us dub “Hard Reason” a conception or rationality that admits only the use of rigorously defined concepts, of experimentally controlled data, and of logically valid arguments. On this view, all solvable problems and disputes can be solved by strict adherence to the above requirements, which provide a decision procedure determining which side is right and which is wrong. Hard Reason also believes it is the only form of rationality deserving its name. Anything that deviates from its requirements is Non-Reason. Nevertheless, there are those who hold a conception of rationality that admits also the use of concepts that are not definable in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, the occasional reliance upon data and propositions that are only presumably correct, the acceptability (on occasion) of arguments that are not valid according to standard logic but are pertinent, and the existence of a variety of ways of resolving controversies which do not necessarily amount to a decision procedure. Let us dub this conception of rationality “Soft Reason”.[23]

   The notion of compromise has no room in a dispute conducted according to the requirements of Hard Reason, for its decision procedure should always allow for determining which of the contenders is right. In this sense, for Hard Reason there should be in all solvable conflicts a clear winner and a clear loser. Victory and capitulation are the only possibilities it permits. Soft Reason, which does not work with absolute dichotomies and does not play only zero sum games, can acknowledge the partial truth or rightness of each position, and thus lead to compromises without absolute winners and losers. Whereas Hard Reason stimulates the contenders to be persuaded that they are absolutely right and their opponents absolutely wrong, Soft Reason fosters a measure of scepticism toward one’s own position as well as a measure of tolerance toward the opponent’s position.

   Hard Reason shuns from all forms of figurative language, which it considers as violating its standards of rigor and as appealing to emotive rather than to cognitive factors. Soft Reason, on the contrary, acknowledges the cognitive role of figurative language, and sees in it an important tool for developing the flexible concepts and models needed for the exploration of new areas of knowledge, for  dealing with inherently fuzzy situations, and for reconciling conflicting positions. It is aware of the power of metaphorical and metonymic models in providing ready-made thinking recipes that it is hard to escape from. But it is also aware of the fact that, unlike logical inferences , metaphorical and metonymic inferences are inherently ‘open’ and defeasible. Furthermore, unlike logic, no metaphor or metonymy can claim universality or exclusiveness. However powerful, handy and habitual, a metaphorical or metonymic schema can be replaced by a new one, or by one we can find in another culture or language. Soft Reason, but not Hard Reason, can put to use the multi-perspectivism afforded by these ‘figurative’ modes of cognition.

   In some domains (such as mathematics), typical of the “pure argument” endpoint of our scale, Hard Reason seems to prevail, and rightly so. But if it were to prevail in other domains, especially in violent-prone political conflicts, it would lead to “Hard War”, i.e. war to the bitter end. Fortunately there is Soft Reason around to permit an oxymoron like “Soft War”.

   In most domains, subduing completely an opponent through a masterful logical blow, a strike of pure rationality, is just as rare as winning a war in a single successful battle. In the case of debate, such a result is possible when there is – for both contenders – an accepted method of adjudicating “correctness”: an accepted logic, method of decision, system of calculation. In this event, the subduing amounts to the admission by the opponent that his position was the result of some sort of “mistake”. In the case of war, full capitulation, without re-kindling of the conflict on another occasion, implies also recognition by the defeated party that his stand was based on a deep mistake. This, in turn, is based on the acceptance of a shared set of values or international adjudicating procedures. Usually such a capitulation is followed by the fall of the regime that led to the “mistake”, which signals, in fact, the fall of the “wrong” set of values that engendered the conflict. Full capitulation thus suppresses the “deep”causes of the conflict between the warring parties.

   The reason why in neither argument nor in war  “hard resolution” of the kind just described is common, is that usually debating parties and combatting parties share only partially a set of methods and underlying values. Furthermore, for hard resolution to work, opposition ought to be fairly well delimited and restricted to “local” matters. It shouldn't spread to adjacent issues and to the “meta-level”. However, a study of controversies or of political conflicts shows that this is not usually the case. Controversies very often spread to other issues and  levels. Opponents question each others' assumptions about method, systems of formalization, legitimacy of moves, data-collection procedures, as well as their concepts of ‘right’ and ‘justice’. Under these circumstances, no appeal can be made to some shared and “neutral” set of principles that would lead one party to acknowledge conclusive defeat. Similarly, political conflict tends to spread to a “conflict of civilizations or cultures”, where opponents question even the “humanity” of each other. Under these circumstances, defeat in a battle and even formal capitulation does not necessarily amount to an acknowledgment of fault in one’s position. Rather, in so far as the difference in value-systems persists, the defeat will be considered unjust, compensation will be demanded, and the conflict will persist.

   If one acknowledges the existence of an irreducible plurality of incompatible methods, values, etc., rather than assuming a problematic set of universal methods or values, one ought not to be surprised that “resolution” of debates or of conflicts is seldom “hard resolution”. Rather, “resolution” is always temporary and provisional, and involves some sort of compromise. Temporarily one party will have the upper hand, in so far as its arguments (in debate) or its limited use of power (in political conflicts) has the upper hand. Such an “upper hand” is provisional precisely because it cannot suppress entirely the “reason of the defeated”. Precisely because it inclines the Balance of  Reason or the Balance of Power, one way or another, without necessitating one hand to remain once and for all in a given position .


8. Epilogue

As I conclude this paper, Chairman Arafat, Prime Minister Barak, and President Clinton are negotiating in Camp David the future of this embattled region, which happens to be also the future of my children and of my granddaughter, as well as of many other human beings.

   The media covering this event are working under tight constraints. A so far successful blackout preventing leakage forces them to try to satisfy the public’s information-hunger by providing bits and pieces of doubtful ‘news’ along with a lot of speculation, wishful thinking, and biased ‘recommendations’ for the negotiators. Furthermore, given the uncertainty of the results, they have to prepare the ground for the different scenarios that will follow the different possible outcomes of the summit. And they have to address simultaneously different audiences: the international community, an American public in the eve of elections, and Israeli and Palestinian audiences – each divided into supporters of major concessions, opponents of any concession, middle of the way voters and politicians, skeptics, etc. I am sure the journalists are conscious of the weight of their task, of the influence whatever they say may have on the course of events.

   The very fact that the usual public declarations accompanying such meetings was ruled out shows that the leaders themselves are fully aware of the role of the media as intrinsic part of the process. They have also made clear, before the meeting, that they consider the through debate they are now conducting behind media-protected walls as decisive (‘historical’ is a word they have often used to characterize it) for what will happen next. The metonymic links between their discussions and war or peace are thus quite clear. It is also clear that the negotiation itself is tough – as President Clinton’s repeated remark “Oh! How hard it is!” has stressed. There is no doubt that the metaphor of war couldn’t be more appropriate than in this case to describe the debate that is going on around the negotiating table. It is not difficult to imagine the moves and countermoves, tactics and strategy, threats and withdrawals, pressure and counterpressure, mobilization of additional forces, truces and regroupings, ultimative demands, and so on being displayed by the two political and military leaders now negotiating in Camp David.

   My hope is that what will finally emerge from their gigantic metaphorical fight, tough as it probably is and should be, is a reality that will allow future historians to use a metonymy like “Camp David opened a new era of peace and cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis”rather than another like “Camp David triggered a bloody war between Palestinians and Israelis”.[24]





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[1] Foucault (1980: 90).

[2] Popper (1949: 135).

[3] This book led to a flourishing series of studies on the metaphorical structure of language and thought, including many applications to various specific domains. See, for example, Lakoff (1985, 1987), Lakoff and Turner (1989), Lakoff and Johnson (1999), Dascal (1991, 1996a, 1996b), V. Dascal (1990, 1992), Johnson (1987), Gibbs (1994), Panther and Radden (eds.) (1999)

[4] It is worthwhile to quote Kant in full in order to realize how the metaphorical concept ARGUMENT IS WAR provides the backbone of his account of the history of metaphysics: “Her [metaphysics’] government, under the administration of the dogmatists, was at first despotic. But inasmuch as the legislation still bore traces of the ancient barbarism, her empire gradually through intestine wars gave way to complete anarchy; and the sceptics, a species of nomads, despising all settled modes of life, broke up from time to time all civil society” (Kant 1992[1781]: 8). The “chaos and night” characteristic of dogmatic metaphysics up to Kant’s time will be brought to a happy end – needless to say – by his own self-styled “revolution”.

[5] Letter to Des Bosses, February 2, 1706 (Leibniz 1879, vol. 2, p. 295). The Jesuit Des Bosses had asked Leibniz to use his vast knowledge of the “moderns” and the “ancients” in order to show how a synthesis between the two schools of thought might be achieved – thus putting an end to the century-old “querelle des anciens et des modernes”.

[6] The conceptualization of  “research programmes” in terms of “core” and “periphery” is an essential component of the influential methodology of scientific research proposed by Imre Lakatos (1970). For an analysis of Lakatos’s proposal in the context of a study of scientific controversies, see Dascal (forthcoming a).

[7] On the relationship between reputation and refutation, see Dascal (forthcoming b)

[8] Examples of this subset include: THE PART FOR THE WHOLE (“Get your butt over here!”), PRODUCER FOR PRODUCT (“He’s got a Picasso in his den”), OBJECT USED FOR USER (“The sax has the flu today”), CONTROLLER FOR CONTROLLED (“Nixon bombed Hanoi”), THE PLACE FOR THE INSTITUTION ("The White House isn’t saying anything"), THE PLACE FOR THE EVENT ("Camp David was a failure"), THE PLACE FOR ITS INHABITANTS ("Don't cry for me Argentina"), THE CONTAINER FOR THE CONTAINED ("The bottle enslaved him"), THE THING OWNED FOR THE OWNER ("The gold medal was very moved"), THE INSTRUMENT FOR THE PROFESSION ("He left the sword for the pen"), THE CAUSE FOR THE EFFECT ("She has a good eye"), THE EFFECT FOR THE CAUSE ("Two nations are in your womb" - Gen. 25:23, said of pregnant Rebecca), etc. See Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 38-39), Dumarsais (1988[1730]: 96-110), Fontanier (1977[1830]: 79-93).

[9] I am indebted to Omar Barghuti for some of these examples.

[10] Some of the sentences involve also metaphor - e.g., 'talk' as applied to tanks.

[11] The notion of 'script', introduced by Schank and Abelson (1977), refers to socially shared cognitive schemata that underly run-of-the-mill, recurrent experiences such as going to a restaurant, traveling, passsing a school examination, etc. Lakoff (1987: 78-79) points out how scripts may underly metonymy. For example, in Ojibwa, a native American language, when asked "How did you get to the party?", speakers will answer with the Ojibwa equivalent of "I started to come", "I stepped into a canoe", "I got into a car". According to Rhodes (the linguist who did the fieldwork whose results Lakoff reports), these answers amount to relying upon the script "Going Somewhere in a Vehicle", which includes a precondition (having access to a vehicle), and the following stages: embarcation (getting into the vehicle and starting it up), center ( moving to destination), finish (parking and getting out), and endpoint (being at the destination). What Ojibwa speakers do is to refer (metonymically) to the whole underlying script by mentioning one of its parts. English speakers – remarks Lakoff – do the same when they reply to the same question by saying "I drove", "I have a car" or "I just stuck out my thumb".

[12] Clausewitz (1968: 119). "War – he says – is a continuation of political commerce … by other means". I would include 'debate' in the category 'political commerce', although – as pointed out by A. Rapaport

(p. 424, note 63), – Clausewitz doesn't use the category 'debate' in his theory.

[13] See Gibbs (1994: 322). 'The is like test' is Gibbs's expression. I have mimicked this expression in 'the one domain test'. This fits Gibbs's claim that "metonymy [unlike metaphor] involves only one conceptual domain" (ibid). See also Gibbs (1993: 62)

[14] In fact metaphor creates proximity by generating a link – and thereby some sort of interaction (cf. Black 1962) – between the two categories.

[15] Altough typically metonymy relates things belonging to different categories, this is not necessary. The Oval Office can stand for the The White House (both brick and mortar things) just as any of them can stand for the President (a blood and flesh thing).

[16] Let us suppose the required category distance is nevertheless preserved, so that the metaphor doesn't collapse into literal predication. This would happen, for example, with a sentence like "Brazil defeated Argentina" referring to a football match that degenerated into a fist fight between the players and led to killings among the fans.

[17] Francis Jacques (1991) uses this quote as a motto for his paper. I was unable to locate this in Bar-Hilel's writings.

[18] On the role of metonymic projection in blending see Fauconnier and Turner (1999).

[19] For Popper's doctrine of the three worlds, see Popper (1968).

[20] See, for example, Dascal (forthcoming a).

[21] In my typology of polemics (cf. Dascal 1998), I reserve the term 'dispute' for this sense of 'argument', while the term 'discussion' is reserved for the other ideal type, the purely logical one. I introduce also a third ideal type, between these two extremes, for which I reserve the term 'controversy'.

[22] In one of his writings on controversies, Leibniz also takes the subcategorization path, but in a somewhat different way. He includes both ‘controversies’ and ‘war’ under the category ‘contest’. The former is defined as a contest by means of reasons, while the latter is a contest by means of force. The notion of ‘success’ in each case is different. While in the former it is ‘persuasion’, in the latter it is ‘victory’. He points out that the use of ‘authority’ in the former amounts to an undue intervention of ‘force’ in a domain to which it does not belong. The paper where he introduces these distinctions, “On sacred controversies in general” is part of Leibniz’s efforts to find ways to replace the use of force that led to the devastating religious wars of the 17th century in the wake of doctrinal disputes between protestants and catholics, by a method for solving these disputes by means of argumentation, in ‘colloquia’ between the parties. He is thus clearly viewing ‘argument’ and ‘war’ as inter-related parts of the same script, i.e., as being in a metonymic relation. The subcategorization he proposes, however, keeps these two notion at sufficient conceptual distance to allow also for the possibility of a metaphorical connection between them – as the one he uses in the Letter to Des Bosses (see note 5). The paper in question is included in the forthcoming collection of Leibniz’s writings on controversies, being prepared by M. Dascal and Q. Racionero.

[23] For details and references see Dascal (1996a).

[24] This text has been in the making for exactly five years. I am tempted to believe that perhaps "it" waited in my mind for the opportunity to be concluded with exactly this sentence!