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By John Woods


My title embodies an ambiguity that I hope to make something of. In one sense, it suggests a thesis that Stephen Toulmin himself espouses or is committed to. In another, it suggests a thesis held by me, but occasioned, in whole or in part, by reflecting on Toulmin’s writings. Of course, the two senses are not robustly disjoint. My principal purpose is to lend these theses some degree of favour, if not in every case theses of Toulmin’s own making, then perhaps of Toulmin’s example. Thesis one. The validity standard is nearly always the wrong standard for real-life reasoning. It is widely assumed that valid argument is nearly the best there is, improved upon only by argument that is sound. When made to note that actual reasoners hardly ever attain the validity standard, the received response is to make the best of a bad thing, insisting that, for beings like us, reasoning is best when it most closely approximates to the strict canons of deduction. Against this, cooler heads counsel that the validity standard is best only when a reasoner’s target is such as to call for it, as when, for example, one seeks a proof of a proposition of set theory. But even this is wrong. It is wrong in the sense that it fails to make clear how deeply the validity standard i

Year: 2009
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