The New Dialectic: Conversational Contexts of Argument


304 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7987-3
DDC 168




Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. He
is the author of Competition in Religious Life, Religion vs. Television:
Competitors in Cultural Context, and Inauthentic Culture and Its
Philosophical Critics.


Douglas Walton of the University of Winnipeg is one of a significant
number of Canadian scholars who have made original contributions to the
rapidly developing field of informal logic, and this volume systematizes
and extends some of Walton’s earlier work in the field. Unlike formal
logic, informal logic lacks a clear standard as an objective basis for
evaluating arguments.

Taking Aristotelian dialectic as his inspiration, Walton endeavors to
provide a comprehensive theoretical foundation for the evaluation of
arguments as they arise in specific dialogues or everyday conversational
exchanges. Walton’s pragmatic approach stresses the importance of
identifying the specific type of dialogue in which participants are
engaged, as he holds that the correctness or incorrectness of use of an
argument is a function of its occurrence in a particular context. Walton
examines six main types of dialogue: persuasion, information-seeking,
negotiation, inquiry, eristic, and deliberation. He recognizes that his
“postmodern” dialectical approach to rationality will strike some
readers as unacceptably relativistic. He specifically acknowledges that
his dialectical point of view makes the analysis of fallacies more
difficult, as it requires us to examine arguments on a case-by-case

The New Dialectic is directed at an audience of scholars widely read in
such fields as logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind,
rhetoric, and communications theory. Walton makes extensive reference to
the work of other scholars in the field of informal logic, but he is
interested mainly in the ideas of other philosophers and less so in
those of social scientists. He is in the difficult position of trying to
render somewhat formally that which he recognizes to be informal and
situational. The reader is thus likely to regret the relative paucity of
concrete examples in this highly abstract study. Walton’s analyses are
careful and precise, but the tension between abstract theory and the
concrete situations it is intended to illuminate is in places here
almost as palpable as the tension that contemporary readers sense when
reading the work of John Dewey, who, along with the other founders of
modern pragmatism, is not discussed by Walton.


Walton, Douglas., “The New Dialectic: Conversational Contexts of Argument,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,