Posts Tagged 'argument evaluation'

Thoughts On Agreements and Sanctions 

To ensure adherence to agreements for the public planning discourse platform

This is an exploration of a ‘platform management issue’: the question of needed participation agreements on a public planning discourse support platform. The idea of preventive sanctions automatically triggered by the very attempt of non-adherence via a merit point ‘currency’. Authority vs community control,  


Like all social internet platforms, a ‘global’ public planning discourse support platform, as well as its experimental ‘pilot’ version, will encounter management issues regarding inappropriate, or distasteful or disruptive participant actions: ‘trolling’, ’hacking’, or just filling the threads with useless, meaningless and annoying blather. Most of the available forms of control or containment of such behavior for platform ‘administrators’ or ‘moderators’ can also become the reason for criticism: perceived ‘partisan’, biased’, or oppressive abuse of their ‘power’. 

This issue is a miniature version of general governance problems in any community: of ensuring that agreements, laws, and rules aimed at guaranteeing a peaceful functioning  of that society are actually adhered to. The terms describing the manner in which this is usually done — ‘enforcement’ — indicate the sources of conflicts and problems: governance  entities endowed empowered to use coercion and force to prevent and punish violations of the rules.

This element of power is problematic within ‘community’ or governance domains, because there will always be parties feeling that rules are ‘unfair’ or arbitrary and will try to resist them: at the extreme with violent force against enforcement agents. The battle against crime inevitably leads to escalation of the enforcement and opposition tools. 

The same syndrome becomes even more critical when played out in ‘global’, international relations and conflicts. If conflicts arising from perceived unjust and unfair violations of agreed-upon treaties or assumed rules of proper interactions have to be ‘resolved’ by the threat or application of violent force, the call for some ‘global’ enforcement entity will arise — a ’world govenment’ — an entity with unquestionably superior force. We see several nations now competing for becoming this superior ruler or ‘world policeman’. The specter of such an  entity is as abhorrent to many as the prospect of the battle for dominance  even between current contenders: with the ‘enforcement’ and opposition weaponry, a war to resolve that contest is predicted to be too destructive for humanity as a whole to survive. 

History also teaches that the supreme power of such an entity will become an irresistible temptation to abuse that power — to itself violate the rules and agreements it is supposed to ensure. Power is addictive and tends to destroy the mental sanity of rulers. This means that the search for different means of guaranteeing that rules and agreements will be adhered to should be an urgent priority for humanity. 

The very nature and aim of a ‘discourse’ about conflicts and plans is antithetical to the use of coercion and force. It is the very manifestation of hope and conviction that resolution of differences of opinion and interest, as well as development of plans to deal with natural disasters, can be achieved with tools of mutual explanation, argument, negotiation: discourse. To the extent agreements on rules will be needed for peaceful and constructive planning discourse, the discussion agenda for design of its platform and process must address the issue of alternatives to ‘enforcement’ of adherence to its own agreements.

Examples of non-coercive tools for this purpose already exist, even current technologies potentially facilitating different approaches. Also, elements of the proposed platform — such as the idea of measurements of discourse contribution merit — could be adapted to becoming tools for dealing with this problem of violations of agreements. They aim less at finding penalizing ‘sanctions’ than at provisions to prevent them, triggered by the very attempt (intentional or inadvertent) to commit a violation. 

These considerations suggest some more thorough examination both of the kinds of agreements a constructive planning discourse platform would need, and an attempt to provide innovative tools for ensuring their adherence, for discussion and encouragement for developing more and better ideas. 

Needed agreements :

‘Rules’ for a constructive planning discourse.

The planning discourse platform will need tools to contain the same kinds of disruptive behavior that plagues current social  media, such as: 

 – ‘Off-topic’ contributions;

–  Insulting, disrespectful comments and  language;

–  ‘Ad hominem’ attacks as means of evading the topic;

–  Intentionally untrue or incomplete, selective information;

–  Reckless repetition of unsupported ‘rumors’ . 

Added suggestions imight nclude the habit of posting links to other sources without explaining the point the cited work is supported to support, or mere advertising items, 

To the extent the platform aims at developing decisions or recommendations, the community may decide to use some standardized formats or templates of comments  aiming at facilitating overview and aggregation of judgments into measures of overall merit of plan proposals, it may become necessary to find means of ensuring adherence to those agreements.  

Potential ‘platform management’ tools: 

Withdrawal of contribution or judgment rights.

It is a common practice on social media to attempt to prevent abuse by restricting ‘membership’, e.g.: Prospective participants selectively invited by people who are  already members, or have to ‘apply’ for admittance to a group. The  application is reviewed and decided upon by ‘administrators’ or group ‘owners’, perhaps with other members’ input or veto  power. This requires agreement about the criteria  to be used, which can become controversial. 

The approach is incompatible with the requirement of wide public participation.  Obviously, criteria used for public platforms should not be ‘discriminating’ against community members on the basis of gender, race, religion etc., but age, citizenship or residence in a governance domain are often considered. This becomes difficult precisely for the kinds of projects for which this new platform is needed: problems that affect people in different countries or regions. ‘Affectedness’  by a problem or plan can be difficult to judge, as can be the question of whether a participant is sufficiently well informed to weigh in on a complicated matter (expressed clumsily  e.g. in age limits). The common practice of defining ‘affected’ or ‘entitled groups with the tool of ‘licenses’ issue upon proof of knowledge of s discipline and its rules may have to be discussed, for specific types of projects.   

The criteria applied to accepted members relate more easily to the member’s explicit or implied agreement to comply with the current group ‘rules’. Consequences for violation of those rules can then be specified, and in the extreme, result in revoking the perpetrator’s membership and  participation rights.

Penalties in the form of ‘fines’ — in monetary or other ‘currencies’: Possible tools 

A tentative list of considerations include the following: 

A plausible form of responding to disruptive behavior would be  withdrawal or reduction of earned ‘merit’ points. Imposition of renewal or re-affirmation ‘voting rights’ evidence used for gaining the right of participation or entering decision judgments. Loss of ‘weight’ of decision-determining judgments;  Prevention of acceptance of entries that don’t match agreed-upon specifications (templates) or added evidence support.

This discussion can merely point out the necessity of reaching agreements  on these issues, and will focus only on the potential use of two of these options, as examples: the use of merit points, and the use of templates for selected entry items.

Merit points

One possibility is the use of merit points in contribuors’ accounts  as a currency for levying ‘penalties’ for any violation of the agreed-upon rules. In the eventual ‘real’  platform, this could probably be done by AI programs checking ‘verbatim’ entries and charging a ‘fee’ for any entry that needs to be ‘cleaned up’. In any ‘pilot’ version, it wold have to be done by administrators  or other participants, which would probably be too cumbersome. 


Another potential tool is that of the use of ‘templates’ in the phases of systematic analysis and evaluation of discourse contributions — such as the pro and con arguments about proposed plans. To be inserted into a spreadsheet for entry of merit judgments — plausibility and relative weight of importance,—  and calculation of overall results, they must be restated from any conversational version in the initial  ‘unstructured’ discussion into one of the provided argument templates. 

This would  become the condition for assigning merit points to those contributions. The templates will ‘automatically’ eliminate any ‘unacceptable’ additions — characterizations, ad hominem attacks etc. — from the arguments, and focus on their substantial content.  Also, the evaluation of premises (by other participants) on,  say, a +1 to -1 scale,  will result in positive merit point earned by the respecive author — but negative points for flawed, false and unsubstantiated claims.


The admittedly optimistic and arguable expectation is that these provisions can act to discourage flawed and disruptive information in the first place. The disadvantage is that these ‘corrections’ would be delayed until a ’special technique’ is used; by then, disruptive contributions could already have caused significant damage to a smooth process. 

These possibilities are offered as evidence that new ideas of means for dealing with the administrative challenges are possible, for discussion of details, and as  encouragement for developing other, more effective tools of non-coercive, nonviolent means for ensuring adherence to agreements— both at this diminutive level and at the level of important ‘global’ issues. 

Comments?  Wrong question?  

Unstructured versus Structured Discussion?

On the question of formalization and structure in the Planning Discourse


The proposals for a ‘global’ Public Planning Discourse Support Platform contain suggestions for using standardized ’templates’ for parts of the discourse: a more ‘structured’ or formalized form of discussion than the familiar ‘unstructured’, unconstrained format  we see in the usual forms of public debate.This raises several issues calling for discussion: First, the reasons leading to such suggestions should be clarified. Secondly, likely objections must be considered, such as the possibility that such templates might discourage participation in the discourse or might distort it in some way. The third question is of course:  if such templates are to be used, what should they look like? what format should be considered? And finally: How should they be introduced, included and used in the process? 

Reasons for formalization

The reasons for suggesting such structuring or ‘editing’ of the free expressions of discussion contributions are based on concerns about displaying the core of contribution content in a concise, condensed form for overview and evaluation: overview, elimination of repetitive and redundant items, (focusing on the issue to be decided upon), clarity in separating primary arguments from lenghty  and circuitous elaboration of ’supporting’ evidence and spurious anecdotal material, unnecessary and ‘unacceptable’ rhetorical rendering and bombast etc. 

Special concerns related to systematic evaluation are: explicit ‘filling in’ assumptions and argument premises that are left out as ’taken for granted’ in rhetorical passages, but that must be stated for comprehensive evaluation of the merit of arguments:  the assessment of contributions being a main aspect of the project aim of reaching decisions better and transparently based on the merit of the discourse contribution content, as opposed to traditions forms of decision-making that can disregard that content, such as voting.  


The objections to such formalization must be taken seriously: wide public participation needed for critical policy-making is needed, and provisions constraining  the form of discussion entries (other than obvious rules such as using the common language of the community having the discussion) can be perceived as obstacles (intentional or unintentional) to participation.

Other objections relate to the choice of forms or templates. There is disagreement even in the academic disciplines about how to state’ and diagram’ arguments — there are parties insisting on rendering arguments containing deontic premises in the deductive ‘modus ponens’ form rather than in the format of the ‘planning arguments’ ackowledged as ‘informal’ and non-deductive. 

Choice of template form

The suggestions to use some standardized templates of discussion entires started with the examination of the typical arguments of the ‘pro and con’ kind, about proposed design or planning discussions. The recognition of typical conversational pattern of arguments about a proposed plan or solution «Plan A» and its expected benefits or consequences ,led to the choice of the ’standard planning argument’ template  

    «Plan A ought to be adopted ‘(Conclusion’)


    Pan A will result in outcome B, (given conditions C) ‘Factual-instrumental                        

    and Premise’)

   Outcome B ought to be pursued (Deontic premise)


   Conditions C will be given (Factual Premise)

Or:   A  << ((A > B | C) & B  & C

(The signs <<, >,  & , | stand for ‘because’, ‘result in’, ‘and’, ‘given’, respectively.)

The pattern will have  a number of variations, depending which of the statements happen to be negated: for example: 

A  << ((A > ~B | C) &~B  & C

~A << ( ~(A > B | C) & B  & C

~A  << ((A > ~B | C) & B  & C

~A  << ((A > B | C) &~ B  & C

~A  << ((A > B | C) & B  & ~C     etc.

(Just making these statements explicit helps identifying the reason for a person’s acceptance or rejection of the argument —it could be because the person does not believe A wil produce B, or whether they consider B to be desirable, or whether they are not sure whether the conditions for the plan to work will actually be given.  — the simple  yes or no vote does not make this clear).

 This pattern, with the ‘conclusion’ stated first, in distinction from the standard  sequence in the logic textbooks also signals its lack of claim of ‘deductive’ conclusiveness and logical rigor, that some lay people might find uncomfortably compelling, attempting to override any doubts they may have about its premises. 

Of course, pro and con arguments are only one form of typical contributions in the planning discourse. They are ‘answers’ to a number of typical questions. In this case: «Should plan A be adopted?»   Other questions are thsoe providing answers that will be premises in the arguments:  «Should effect (goal, requiremnt, aim) B be pursued?» Will A produce effect / conseuence B?»  or «What are the conditions for Plan A to work? And «Are those conditions C present n this situation?» 

There are similar families of standard questions and answer claims related to the ‘problem’ statement and the understanding of its causes,necessary conditions and contributing factors. 

The procedural treatment of ‘structured’ versus unstructured discourse.

This is not the place to provide a comprehensive catalogue of all such discourse contribution patterns. Even the question whether  to use such tools in a specific project, of for a specific issue within a project, must remain the decision of the participants in that project discussion. So the role of structured versus unstructured discourse  in the overall process remains to be further explored:  for now, some first suggestions can be sketched.  

As a general principle, the initial entries and exchanges in a planning discussion must be ‘unstructured’. While many problem-solving and planning approaches recommend some specific sequences to be followed: For example:  Starting with a ‘clear problem statement’, gathering information and ‘data’, developing goals and priorities, developing solutions, evaluating those, and ending up with a decision. 

In reality, such discussions are triggered  by any of those ‘steps’. That first ‘entry’ item will rarely be a fully worked out solution, (though the current ‘political practice’ is often that some governance agency will produce such a plan before it is put up for discussion  in a parliamentary body). If the possibility or expectation is that the discussion might change such a plan, its introduction wll be in an unstructured format, and the first discussion therefore will have to be unstructured. It is possible that even such an unstructured discussion will give the participants sufficient confidence to make a decision, and that possibility must be provided for.  This can be done by means of a ‘motion’ for a «NEXT STEP?» to be decided on, for example by a ‘vote’ with a sufficiently close to consensus outcome. Agreed upon as part of  general  procedural agreements).

The concern here, however, is about important decisions that should be based on the merit of the contributions to a more thorough and systematic discourse, and how this can be orchestrated and made transparent. The recommendation for a project to do this is the following pattern of increasingly specific treatment of ‘issues’ (or topics).

The initial unstructured discussion will be the basis for participants to raise specific ‘candidates’ for more in-depth treatment. These will be posted on a bulletin board for participants to express judgments as to whether they should be put on the ‘Agenda’ for such detailed treatment. The assumption here being that large projects will be asynchronous, ‘online’. They can therefore be worked on ‘in parallel’ but on separate ‘threads’ for each topic. 

The discussion of each topic will again begin with an ‘unstructured’ discussion, resulting in the identification of more specific issues, that can be discussed ‘in parrallel’. For each topic, when participants feel that they can make a decision, (e.g. after some discussion) by making a ‘NEXT STEP’ motion: 

– to proceed to a decision;

– to drop the issue without decision; 

– to request or pursue more information;

– to ’table the discussion until another issue has been settled;

– to engage one of the ’special techniques’ (available in a ‘tool kit’).

   The results of the special technique — e.g. evaluation process that can’t be done on the  ordinary discussion format — will be reported back for a ‘Next Step’ decision in light of its results. 

In theory, this process can be repeated for smaller and smaller details, each small recommendation added to the Plan proposal until the entire community feels ready to make an overall decision. 

Tentative Recommendation

The recommendation given these ‘best current considerations’,  pending more comments, is to adopt the ‘fractal’ and ‘parallel processing’ pattern of alternating unstructured and structured discourse that will alleviate concerns about participation but facilitate more formal process as needed in each particular project, as decided by the community of participants. In the meantime, continue work on the structure patterns and potential ‘templates’ of other segments of the planning process. 


Wrong question? 


A discussion of the concept of a Public Planning and Policy-making Discourse Support Platform 

The preceding post ‘Counterframing’?  is part of an effort to explore the idea of a public planning discourse support platform — a platform aiming at recommendations and decisions based on the merit of contributions to the discourse, This post introduces the concept for disussion. Further posts will take up specific emerging issues for more detailed examination..

There are many well-intentioned efforts to find better ways of tackling the many local and global crises, conflicts, and emergencies facing humanity. These efforts are fueled by a growing common sense that current governmental and planning entities and their practices are proving ill-prepared and inadequate to find and implement constructive solutions — solutions that do not themselves generate new conflicts and problems. These efforts can be found on many different platforms and in many different media, explicitly or implicitly taking the form of proposals for what could or should be done. However, there is little evidence that the needed agreements for collective action will be reached soon enough to become accepted and effective.

Many suggestions for change are relying on governance organizations and their corresponding decision-making patterns that have been adequate in smaller communities and government structures; and there are good reasons for many local  issues to be resolved by ‘local’ governance entities. However, this ignores the fact that many of the challenges affecting  many communities across governance boundaries, and humanity as a whole, will require ‘cross-governance’ (‘nations’) and eventually ‘global’ decisions. The ‘local’ decision-making tools, even the ‘democratic’ practices such as majority voting, no more than the alternative growing trend towards authoritarian governance, offer adequate assurance that decisions will be based on ‘due consideration’ much less professed ‘careful weighing’ of pros and cons’ by decision-makers will produce effective and equitable solutions. Yet there is no evidence of a commonly accepted process of discussion and coherent evaluation of proposals, that can lead to viable agreements and collective action. 

A key reason for this is the current lack of a well-organized and universally accepted platform for communication among these initiatives and governance entities. While many such efforts ‘advertise’ their work and approach on social media, they do not communicate well for the purpose of achieving common agreements about what should be done: there is no common platform for well-organized discussion, thorough evaluation, adaptation to concerns by other perspectives, and eventually reaching recommendations and decisions that can be adopted by affected constituencies without creating new problems and conflicts. 

While current official and social media platforms are not yet well enough suited to support such a cooperative discourse, they do how that the technology for such a platform, open to wide participation and discussion is now possible.Yet there is little evidence of efforts to forge  a reasonable process of discussion and coherent evaluation of proposals, that can lead to viable and accepted agreements and actions.

This post aims at  starting a discussion of what a platform for a better public planning  and policy-making discourse might look like. It is an urgent invitation to participants from many different disciplines who will have to contribute their expertise and insight, to join the effort. 

The task itself is an example of projects that need such a platform — a platform that currently does not exist. So this ‘pilot’ discussion will have to start on a ‘tentative adaptation of something like this platform, thatvis not designed for this task. The needed adaptation agreements — that will themselves become the subject of discussion and modification — simply aim at a somewhat more structured format that may facilitate concise overview, evaluation and eventual  recommendations  and decisions based on the merit of the assembled content. 

Further posts will explore  details on a possible ‘Approach’, any needed ‘Procedural  Agreements’ and other essential features of the platform. 

Artificial Intelligence for the Planning Discourse?

The discussion about whether and to what extent Artificial Intelligence technology can meaningfully support the planning process with contributions similar or equivalent to human thinking is largely dominated by controversies about what constitutes thinking. An exploration of the reasoning patterns in the various phases of human planning discourse could produce examples for that discussion, leaving the determination of that definition label ‘thinking’ open for the time being.

One specific example (only one of several different and equally significant aspects of planning):
People propose plans for action, e.g. to solve problems, and then engage in discussion of the ‘pros and cons’ of those plans: arguments. A typical planning argument can be represented as follows:
“Plan A should be adopted for implementation, because
i) Plan A will produce consequences B, given certain conditions C, and
ii) Consequences B ought to be pursued (are desirable); and
iii) Conditions C are present (or will be, at implementation).

Question 1: could such an argument be produced by automated technological means?
This question is usually followed up by question 2: Would or could the ‘machine’ doing this be able (or should it be allowed) to also make decisions to accept or reject the plan?

Can meaningful answer to these questions be found? (Currently or definitively?)

Beginning with question 1: Formulating such an argument in their minds, humans draw on their memory — or on explanations and information provided during the discourse itself — for items of knowledge that could become premises of arguments:

‘Factual-instrumental’ knowledge of the form “FI (A –> X)”, for example (“A will cause X’, given conditions C;
‘Deontic’ Knowledge: of the form “D(X)” or “X ought to be’ (is desirable)”, and
Factual Knowledge of the form “F ( C)” or “Conditions C are given”.
‘Argumentation-pattern knowledge’: Recognition that any of the three knowledge items above can be inserted into an argument pattern of the form
D(A) <– ((A–> X)|C)) & D(X) & F( C)).

(There are of course many variations of such argument patterns, depending on assertion or negation of the premises, and different kinds of relations between A and X.)

It does not seem to be very difficult to develop a Knowledge Base (collection) of such knowledge items and a search-and-match program that would assemble ‘arguments’ of this pattern.

Any difficulties arguably would be more related to the task of recognizing and suitably extracting such items (‘translating’ it into the form recognizable to the program) from the human recorded and documented sources of knowledge, than to the mechanics of the search-and-match process itself. Interpretation of meaning: is an item expressed in different words equivalent to other terms that are appropriate to the other potential premises in an argument?

Another slight quibble relates to the question whether and to what extent the consequence qualifies as one that ‘ought to be’ (or not) — but this can be dealt with by reformulating the argument as follows:
“If (FI(A –> X|C) & D(X) & F( C)) then D(A)”.

(It should be accompanied by the warning that this formulation that ‘looks’ like a valid logic argument pattern is in fact not really applicable to arguments containing deontic premises, and that a plan’s plausibility does not rest on one single argument but on the weight of all its pros and cons.)

But assuming that these difficulties can be adequately dealt with, the answer to question 1) seems obvious: yes, the machine would be able to construct such arguments. Whether that already qualifies as ‘thinking’ or ‘reasoning’ can be left open; the significant realization is equally obvious: that such contributions could be potentially helpful contributions to the discourse. For example, by contributing arguments human participants had not thought of, they could be helping to meet the aim of ensuring — as much as possible — that the plan will not have ‘unexpected’ undesirable side-and-after-effects. (One important part of H. Rittel’s very definition of design and planning.)

The same cannot as easily be said about question 2.

The answer to that question hinges on whether the human ‘thinking’ activities needed to make a decision to accept or reject the proposed plan can be matched by ‘the machine’. The reason is, of course, that not only the plausibility of each argument will have to be ‘evaluated’, judged, (by assessing the plausibility of each premise) but also that the arguments must be weighed against one another. (A method for doing that has been described e.g  in ‘The Fog Island Argument” and  several papers.)

So a ‘search and match’ process as the first part of such a judgment process would have to look for those judgments in the data base, and the difficulty here has to do with where such judgments would come from.

The prevailing answers for factual-instrumental premises as well as for fact-premises — premises i) and iii) — are drawing on ‘documented’ and commonly accepted truth, probability, or validity. Differences of opinion about claims drawn from ‘scientific’ and technical work, if any, are decided by a version of ‘majority voting’ — ‘prevailing knowledge’, accepted by the community of scientists or domain experts, ‘settled’ controversies, derived from sufficiently ‘big data’ (“95% of climate scientists…”) can serve as the basis of such judgments. It is often overlooked that the premises of planning arguments, however securely based on ‘past’ measurements, observations etc, are inherently predictions. So any certainty about their past truth must at least be qualified with a somewhat lesser degree of confidence that they will be equally reliably true in future: will the conditions under which the A –> X relationships are assumed to hold, be equally likely to hold in the future? Including the conditions that may be — intentionally or inadvertently — changed as a result of future human activities pursuing different aims than those of the plan?

The question becomes even more controversial for the deontic (ought-) premises of the planning arguments. Where do the judgments come from by which their plausibility and importance can be determined? Humans can be asked to express their opinions — and prevalent social conventions consider the freedom to not only express such judgments but to have them given ‘due consideration’ in public decision-making (however roundabout and murky the actual mechanisms for realizing this may be) as a human right.

Equally commonly accepted is the principle that machines do not ‘have’ such rights. Thus, any judgment about deontic premises that might be used by a program for evaluating planning arguments would have to be based on information about human judgments that can be found in the data base the program is using. There are areas where this is possible and even plausible. Not only is it prudent to assign a decidedly negative plausibility to deontic claims whose realization contradicts natural laws established by science (and considered still valid…like ‘any being heavier than air can’t fly…’). But there also are human agreements — regulations and laws, and predominant moral codes — that summarily prohibit or mandate certain plans or parts of plans; supported by subsequent arguments to the effect that we all ought not break the law, regardless of our own opinions. This will effectively ‘settle’ some arguments.

And there are various approaches in design and planning that seem to aim at finding — or establishing — enough such mandates or prohibitions that, taken together, would make it possible to ‘mechanically’ determine at least whether a plan is ‘admissible’ or not — e.g. for buildings, whether its developer should get a building permit.

This pattern is supported in theory by modal logic branches that seek to resolve deontic claims on the basis of ‘true/false’ judgments (that must have been made somewhere by some authority) of ‘obligatory’, ‘prohibited’, ‘permissible’ etc. It can be seen to be extended by at last two different ‘movements’ that must be seen as sidestepping the judgment question.

One is the call for society as a whole to adopt (collectively agree upon) moral, ethical codes whose function is equivalent to ‘laws’ — from which the deontic judgment about plans could be derived by mechanically applying the appropriate reasoning steps — invoking ‘Common Good’ mandates supposedly accepted unanimously by everybody. The question whether and how this relates to the principle of granting the ‘right’ of freely holding and happily pursuing one’s own deontic opinions is usually not examined in this context.

Another example is the ‘movement’ of Alexander’s ‘Pattern Language’. Contrary to claims that it is a radically ‘new’ theory, it stands in a long and venerable tradition of many trades and disciplines to establish codes and collections of ‘best practice’ rules of ‘patterns’ — learned by apprentices in years of observing the masters, or compiled in large volumes of proper patterns. The basic idea is that of postulating ‘elements’ (patterns) of the realm of plans, and relationships between these, by means of which plans can be generated. The ‘validity’ or ‘quality’ of the generated plan is then guaranteed by the claim that each of the patterns (rules) are ‘valid’ (‘true’, or having that elusive ‘quality without a name’). This is supported by showing examples of environments judged (by intuition, i.e. needing no further justification) to be exhibiting ‘quality’, by  applications of the patterns. The remaining ‘solution space’ left open by e.g.  the different combinations of patterns, then serves as the basis for claims that the theory offers ‘participation’ by prospective users. However, it hardly needs pointing out that individual ‘different’ judgments — e.g. based on the appropriateness of a given pattern or relationship — are effectively eliminated by such approaches. (This assessment should not be seen as a wholesale criticism of the approach, whose unquestionable merit is to introduce quality considerations into the discourse about built environment that ‘common practice’ has neglected.)

The relevance of discussing these approaches for the two questions above now becomes clear: If a ‘machine’ (which could of course just be a human, untiringly pedantic bureaucrat assiduously checking plans for adherence to rules or patterns) were able to draw upon a sufficiently comprehensive data base of factual-instrumental knowledge and ‘patterns or rules’, it could conceivably be able to generate solutions. And if the deontic judgments have been inherently attached to those rules, it could claim that no further evaluation (i.e. inconvenient intrusion of differing individual judgments would be necessary.

The development of ‘AI’ tools of automated support for planning discourse — will have to make a choice. It could follow this vision of ‘common good’ and valid truth of solution elements, universally accepted by all members of society. Or it could accept the challenge of a view that it either should refrain from intruding on the task of making judgments, or going to the trouble of obtaining those judgments from human participants in the process, before using them in the task of deriving decisions. Depending on which course is followed, I suspect the agenda and tasks of current and further research and development and programming will be very different. This is, in my opinion, a controversial issue of prime significance.

Some problems with the systematic assessment of planning arguments.

(Ref. e.g. the article ‘The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments’ (Informal Logic, Dec. 2010, also slightly revised, in

In an effort to explore phenomena, identifying shortcomings and errors, that can be seen as arguments against the too ready acceptance of the argumentative model of planning, I ran into a well-intentioned article full of claims and arguments that did not fit the simple clean basic model of the planning argument, and would cause some problems in their analysis and plausibility assessment. Briefly, there are three aspects of concern.

The first is the liberal use of verbs denoting the relationship between concepts that — in the basic planning argument — would be seen as plan features that cause outcomes or consequences. Reminder: the argumentative view shares the focus on cause-effect relationships with much of the systems modeling perspective: the ‘loops’ of systems networks are generated by changes in components / variables causing positive or negative changes in other variables. So the relationship constituting the ‘factual-instrumental’ premise of planning arguments is mostly seen as a cause-effect relationship.

Now the survey of arguments in the article mentioned above (not identified to protect the author until proven guilty, and because the practice is actually quite common) hardly ever actually uses the terms ’cause’ and ‘effect’ or their equivalent in arguments that clearly advocate certain policies and actions. Instead, one finds terms such as ‘reflects’, ‘advance’ (an adaptive response); ‘reinforce’, ‘seeks to.. ‘, ‘codifies’, ‘is wired to..’. ‘erodes’, ‘come to terms with…’. ‘speaks to…’, ‘retreats into…’,’crystallizes…’, ‘promotes’. ‘cross-fertilizes…, ’embraces’, ‘ ‘cuts across’, ‘rooted in…’, ‘deeply embedded ‘, ‘leverages’,
‘co-create’ and ‘co-design’, ‘highlight ‘, ‘re-ignite’. (Once the extent of such claims was realized in that article that was trying to make a case for ‘disrupting’ the old system and its propaganda, it became clear that the article itself was heavily engaged in the art of propaganda… slightly saddening the reader who was initially tending towards sympathetic endorsement of that case…)

This wealth of relationship descriptions is apt to throw the blind faith promoter of the simple planning argument pattern into serious self-recrimination: What is the point of thorough analysis of these kinds of argument, if they never appear in their pristine form in actual discourse? (The basic ‘standard planning argument’ pattern is the following: “Proposed plan X ought to be adopted because X will produce consequence Y given conditions C), and consequence Y ought to be pursued, (and conditions C are or will be given.)” True, it was always pointed out that there were other kinds of relationships than ‘will produce’; or ’causes’, at work in that basic pattern: ‘part-whole’, for example, or ‘association’, ‘acting as catalyst’, ‘being identical’ or synonymous with’, for example. But those were never seen as serious obstacles to their evaluation by the proposed process of argument assessment, as the above examples appear to be. How can they be evaluated with the same blunt tool as the arguments with plain cause-effect premises?

Secondly, the problems they cause for assessment are exacerbated by the fact that often, these verbs are qualified with expressions like ‘probably’; ‘likely to’, ‘may be seen as’ and other means of retreating from complete certainty regarding the underlying claims. The effect of these qualification moves is that the entire claim ‘probably x’ or ‘x is likely to advance y’ can now be evaluated as a fully plausible claim, and given a pl-value of +1 (‘completely plausible, virtually certain’) by a listener — since the premise obviously, honestly, does not claim complete certainty. This obscures the actual underlying suggestion that ‘x (actually) will advance y’ is far from completely plausible, and thus will lend more plausibility and weight to the argument of which it is a premise.

A third problem is that, upon closer inspection, many of the relationship claims are not just honest, innocent expressions of factual or functional relationships between real entities or forces. They are often themselves ‘laden’ with deontic content — subjective expressions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’: ‘x threatens y’, or ‘relativizes’, or ‘manipulates’ are valuing relationship descriptions: judgments about ‘ought-aspects that the proposed method reserved for the clearly deontic premises of planning arguments: the purported outcomes or consequences of plans.

What are the implications of these considerations for the proposal of systematic argument assessment in the planning discourse? (Other than the necessary acknowledgement that this very comment is itself a piece of propaganda…)

Apart from the option of giving up on the entire enterprise and leaving the subjective judgments by discourse participants unexamined, one response would be to devise ways of ‘separating’ the qualifying terms from the basic claims in the evaluation work sheets given to participants. They would be asked to assess the probability or plausibility of the basic premise claim, perhaps using the qualifying statements as a ‘guide’ to their plausibility judgment (like any other supporting evidence). This seems possible with some additional refinement and simplification of the proposed process.

It is less clear how the value-contamination of relationship descriptors could be dealt with. Changing the representation of arguments to the condensed form of the basic ‘standard planning argument’ pattern is already a controversial suggestion requiring considerable ‘intelligent’ assessment of arguments’ ‘core’ from their ‘verbatim’ version, both to get it ‘right’ and to avoid turning it into a partisan interpretation. The ‘intelligent computation’ needed to add the suggested separation of value from relationship terms to the already severely manipulated argument representation will require some more research — but doing that may be asking too much?

And it is not clear how these considerations can help participants deal with insidious argument patterns such as the recent beauty alleging media coverup of terrorist incidents in Sweden, and then using the objection that there was no evidence of such an incident, as a ‘clinching’ argument for the coverup: ‘see how clever they are covering it up?’

‘New System’ Priorities: Diversity or Unified Vision?

A Fog Island Tavern Discussion

– Hey Bog-Hubert – got over your post-election excitement yet?
– Not exactly, Vodçek.
– Not exactly – what does that mean, exactly? Or, well, approximately, if you don’t do exactly?
– Well, right now I’m just wondering about all the blogs and sites that are oh so urgently proposing this or that ‘new system’ that should be adopted instead…
– Haven’t they been doing that for a while?
– True. Maybe I’m just starting to pay more attention.
– And?
– And I’m getting more and more confused and aggravated.
– Why is that? Well, the confusion part I understand: there’s just too much of all that floating around. But what’s aggravating you? Isn’t it encouraging that people are starting to think about these issues some more?
– Sure, if they just were the right issues.
– So you think they aren’t? Hmm. I could use some explanation…
– Okay: I know you’ve been looking at things like that too. Briefly, what are the main groups of controversies you see?
– Main groups? You mean the political parties?
– No, Vodçek. Sorry, my question wasn’t clear. I’m talking about the groups that are basically saying those parties, and the system they’re a part of, need to be replaced with something new.
– Not all of them are suggesting something new; aren’t many of them claiming to be ‘conservative’?
– Right: but they don’t mean conserving things as they are, more like going back to some mythical previous better state of affairs, aren’t they?
– I see what you mean. Even if it’s something traditional, inherited, it wouldn’t be just like that old system, but something new based on old principles? Well, I see many ‘New System’ groups calling for a more or less radical re-thinking of how society should be organized. Ditch the current ones, all parts and subsystems. I don’t see much specific detail in those, of the New Systems, that one could examine and discuss. And then there are all those groups that are doing very specific ‘alternative’ things: the commons projects, alternative currencies, sustainable agriculture or permaculture communities, alternative energy technologies, etc. Many good ideas, but hard to see how they’d fit into an overall picture.
– I agree with your impressions there. Any of those well-intentioned causes you would want to join, become a part of to create the new society, saving the human race?
– Oh man, I have enough trouble keeping my humble tavern going from day to day. But you are right. I can’t say I share the enthusiasm some of those people seem to have.
– And do you think about why that might be? Other than that some of those guys are just trying to make you feel guilty by accusing you of laziness, apathy, stinginess for not giving them money, or worse?
– Well, do you have a good explanation? You aren’t doing much of that enthusiasm-activism yourself, am I right? Other than scribbling in your little notebook there when there’s nobody else here you can shoot the breeze with?
– Touché, my friend. But hey, there are some ideas in this little notebook, some thinking about those issues, that explain why I am not out there ‘doing’ things. Well, as long as there’s nobody else keeping you distracted here, perhaps we can discuss some of it?
– Okay. Starting with why I don’t think the world is ready for THE BIG NEW SYSTEM yet? Apart from the fact that those websites and flyers mostly consist of complaints about how bad things are and how those current ‘isms’ – capitalism, industrialism, neo-liberalism, globalism etc. – need to be ditched. As I said, few convincing specifics about what the new system should look like.
– I agree, we aren’t ready for another big system. Not sure I agree with your ‘yet’ – whether we should go for one big ‘unified’ system again. The record on the few experiments we had with those grand schemes hasn’t been too encouraging, would you agree?
– I really don’t know, Bog-Hubert. Human societies today, — technology, trade, travel, politics, communications — have developed too far to really ignore the calls for some global agreements and order. We can’t really go back to a state where we fumbled around in small isolated tribes, assuming the things we do have no effect across the globe. But I don’t think we really have any good ideas yet about what a better system should be.
– ‘Yet’, yet again – we need to get back to that. For now, I agree: Even among the people who think they have the key to the design of THE NEW system, there is precious little agreement about what it should look like. So I’d say the chances for consensus about that unified vision they all call for are pretty slim. We — if you talk about humanity as a whole – still do not know and can’t agree on what that better new system should be. We don’t really know what provisions in such a system would work and what wouldn’t.
– So?
– So we should take a closer look at those alternative initiatives, experiments. Right now, I have come across estimates of such efforts already counting in the millions. No idea if it’s true, or what the bases for those numbers are. Most seem to be small, local, and struggling with limited resources. I think we can say that most of them are working in isolation, many trying to stay under the radar of ‘official’ systems that tend to see tem as subversive or worse. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t see that they communicate well either with the outside world or among themselves. If they do, it’s mainly promotion pieces focusing on their ideas and hopes and successes, if any. Not a good basis for accumulating systematic, valid information about what works and what doesn’t.
– Don’t some of them see their main focus as the very key to making the BIG system work, and ask the entire world to awaken and accept it? And give them all more money?
– True. But okay, they are entitled to their faith. What I’m saying is that we need those experiments – many more, and as different and diverse as possible.
– I agree; that’s why I list that as a high priority. There should be a concerted effort to encourage and support those – on the condition that they are voluntary, not forcing people to participate, don’t get in each other’s or the existing systems’ ways in disruptive or aggressive manner, and most importantly that they agree to share their experiences in some coordinated and systematic fashion that allows others, the world, to learn from what they are doing.
– Hmm. Sounds good – but hey, doesn’t that already require some kind of global system?
– You are right. But that is, first off, not a BIG BROTHER governance and decision-making system, only a documentation, evaluation and discussion platform. You could say that the development of such a platform itself is an experiment. Starting small and local, but yes, aiming at involving many or all such initiatives, so global.
– The agreements of that system, or platform, as you call it, will require some decisions though. Beyond local, so: global, after all?
– Right again. But the decisions are not all-embracing whole system design decisions. Not even excluding alternative forms of communication or interaction, or replacing other institutions. So to the extent decisions – yes, ‘global’ decisions – are aimed at, they are sufficiently innocuous to serve as the basis for experiments about how to develop better decision-making modes? Because the current decision-making modes are part of the problem, aren’t they?
– Getting into treacherous territory there, Bog-Hubert.
– Perhaps. But isn’t it getting more obvious every day that Voting – the crucial element and crux of democracy — it’s more of a crutch? Simple and straightforward, sure. But I don’t think you can say it guarantees that the democratic principles of self-determination or that all concerns people may have about common plans will actually be heard nor given ‘due consideration’. Majority voting by definition permits ignoring the concerns of the minority…
– Okay, okay. So what you are saying is that thee will be a need to design such a platform, and that one of its features will have to be better decision-making methods. Well, I agree, that is an agenda that we don’t hear much about in the public media and political platforms: Can you draw a diagram of all that while I get some more coffee going?
– Sure. Got a napkin?


– Ok, looks good. I see you added some issues down there — getting carried away already?
– Well, think about it. So far, we agreed that what’s needed are
• The ‘alternative’ experiments
• A forum and provisions for sharing and evaluating their experiences
• A ‘discourse’ platform for working out the global ‘road rules’ agreements
But since those agreements are not within any governance jurisdiction, wouldn’t there be a need for
• Some provisions for ensuring that those agreements are actually adhered to ?
Because they can’t be ‘enforced’ by any of the usual government policing and jurisdiction systems, they would have to be a different kind of arrangements. So that will need some innovative work. And I think that there will be a need for a better way of
• Selecting and appointing ‘leaders’ – people in positions to make decisions that can’t wait for the outcome of lengthy discussions.
And to the extent these people will wield power, won’t we have to rethink the problem of how to prevent that power from becoming addictive, leading to the temptations to abuse their power? I seriously feel that some better
• Tools for controlling power should be on the agenda. We don’t say anything about their order yet.
– Good grief, that is quite a package of work you’ve lined up there. No wonder our fearless leaders and candidates are a bit, shall we say, reluctant to even mention some of those. Hard to make meaningful campaign promises about those, eh?
– Sure. Quite controversial – which is precisely why they should be on the agenda.
– Okay, Bog-Hubert: at least there should be some meaningful discussion about those issues.
– More meaningful than their current treatment in the media, is that what you are saying? Because at least for some of the issues that are being talked about, the flood of opinions and rhetoric is already unmanageable. Almost meaningless for guiding sensible decisions.
– I agree. But…
– But — what’s bothering you?
– Well: those headings in the diagram, they are still so general that they don’t say much more than the usual complaints about problems with this and that. Calls for something to be done, but no specific details yet that one can get behind, don’t you agree? So you’d face the same kind of lack of engagement on the part of the public I think you’d want to enlist for that discussion?
– You are right. In the current form, the diagram doesn’t convey much substance yet. We’ll have to discuss some details: explaining why some new ideas and agreements are needed, sketching out what each of those components would do.
– And indicate why you think they can be made to work. We may need some help from our friends there. Let’s think about it for a while, until some of our usual suspects turn up.

– Hi guys, what’s that napkin doodle you are poring over there?
– Hello Commissioner, welcome to our little team. We are trying to figure out what the agenda really should be that you folks in government ought to be working on. Priorities…

Alternative Initiatives and Experiments

– Hmm. What’s this thing about ‘alternative experiments at the top here? Sounds subversive.
– We should have known that would look odd to you, what with all your calls for unified vision and purpose?
– Well, isn’t that what we need these days, come together to work on the urgent, common project of a more viable system to get us out of the mess we’re in, and the bigger mess we’re going to be in if we keep working at cross-purposes?
– Hear, hear, Commissioner. Yes, we need a unified vision we can all work on. It’s just what I have been saying for a long time, too.
– Hi Sophie, good morning. Amazing: you agree with our politician for a change? Well, can you tell us what that great, unified vision is going to be?
– Wrong question, Bog-Hubert: it will emerge once we get everybody to become aware of the whole system and acquire a consciousness of all of us being part of that whole together with the entire ecosystem. A new ethic…
– Oh yeah, that will take care of the economy, solve unemployment, inequality, and crime, eh?
– Whoa, Commissioner, is that a trace of sarcasm I hear, already? Suggesting a profound disagreement about the kind of unified vision we are supposed to embrace?
– Well, Bog-Hubert, it’s not the same thing. Sorry, Sophie, but that consciousness thing is just wishful thinking. Not a sound practical basis for reorganizing society. It needs negotiated compromise. Don’t hit me…
– Hey people, cool it, okay? Let’s not get into a brawl about specific Unified System Visions here. You are actually making the argument here, about why we need all those alternative experiments.
– How so? You’ll have to explain that, Vodçek.
– Okay, in principle, I’d agree: it would be great if we found that unified vision of the new and better system so many groups out there are talking about. But look at our first attempt to describe what it would be or should be like: big disagreement erupting before we even got started, about what it means and how to get there.. And I don’t’ think it’s just the two of you. Too much disagreement about it out there, all over. Doesn’t that tell us something: we – I mean humanity in general – don’t really know what that system, that vision should look like? Even if somebody really knows, too many others have different ideas about it. Too many to expect a unified consensus about the common effort we should start to get there any time soon. So… I think what Bog-Hubert is trying to say here is…
– Yes. We should just acknowledge that we don’t know. We’ve been through that before you guys came in, but it can’t be said often enough. Especially about the big, global system many think is needed. We have tried a few big systems, and so far none of them have met with universal approval, in spite of the intense propaganda from their promoters that flooded the media. Can’t we admit: we don’t really know what works and what doesn’t work for the big challenges we are facing? And spending all our chips on another big system without better evidence looks like an even worse idea than the muddling through we are doing now.
– Hmm. You’ve got a point there – and that’s why you’d let all those alternative crazies work on their separate blueprints to save the world?
– Right. I’d try to avoid the kind of name-calling though; many of those initiatives are run by very intelligent and well-intentioned people. Some of their ideas actually make a lot of sense, and I think we need to learn how they work out. The people doing that are often just working on a volunteer basis, — much cheaper and often more effective than big government contracts to big think tanks. Though to be fair, I’m sure some useful work is done there too. Most of them are small, local projects, and many are unquestionably improving matters – take the sustainability, organic and permaculture food projects – and do no harm, which can’t be said of all the big corporate activities. So they should be encouraged and supported rather than treated with suspicion and bureaucratic obstacles. The more diverse, the better. We need to learn from their experiences. But…

Sharing and evaluating experiences

– I knew it; there’s a but butting in.
– Yes, Sophie. As far as I can see, most of those initiatives and projects don’t really communicate well – not with the society and media in general, not even among themselves. So there’s little valid information available about their real experiences – what works and what does not work. Not much systematic evaluation. Much of the information they put out is just promotion — focused on the promises and whatever success they claim to have. Nothing about their obstacles and problems, other than that they really really need your donation.
– Yeah, and many of them actually are trying to sell the premises of their initiatives as THE basis for the next BIG system, for all to adopt.
– True. They should be given the opportunity to show some actual evidence for their claims, and a forum for fair but critical assessment. So the overall strategy should include encouragement and support. But on condition of sharing their experience in some organized and useful manner.
– ‘Organized’? That sounds like it will require some big system after all, Bog-Hubert? If those numbers you mentioned are real?
– Yes, that’s true. You’ll need some common format not only for compiling and documenting all that information, but also for the criteria and method for assessing the successes and failures. Big task. But there’s a significant difference: this ‘system’ can be designed and developed by those projects and initiatives themselves – not just ‘participation’ but actual decision-making, based on the interests and concerns of all the players involved.
– So there will be a ‘data base’ or documentation system for all the project information, and an ‘evaluation’ component with some common criteria and measures of performance based on what those initiatives are aiming at achieving, and a process for developing and displaying the results?
– Yes. And because that is not an all-powerful Big Brother Government system imposing its will upon all aspects of society, it will be a much less ideological and controversial process, don’t you think?
– Ah: if you are right – which remains to be seen though – it will be a good exercise project in itself – a testing ground for developing a better ‘self-governance’ system with all the aspects further down in your priority list. Sneaky.
– It was Abbé Boulah’s idea, that one, yes. He’s the sneaky one.
– So let’s look at those other parts of your list.
– Okay: which one?

Discourse platform

– The process you are talking about – developing the data base and evaluation system – already requires some common forum or platform where development ideas can be brought in, discussed, and decided upon, doesn’t it? Is that what that ‘discourse platform’ is supposed to be?
– Yes, Dexter. Glad you could join us, this gets into IT territory. And it will not just be like some of the social network platforms we know, nor a ‘knowledge base’ compilation of data, a data bank or encyclopedia-like system, but a ‘planning discourse support system’ aimed at developing, proposing and displaying, and discussing designs for the system itself, and then helping participants to make decisions based on the merit of those contributions – ideas, proposals and arguments pro and con. So that discussion must be accessible to all the participant entities.
– I see. It sounds plausible. But apart from the integration of the different programs, — feasible, but will take some work — won’t there be big practical implementation problems to do that? Just think of all the different languages all over the world, in which those contributions will be brought in. You can’t expect people will agree to one global language for that anymore – not in this post-colonial age. So there will have to be a massive translation effort to translate that discourse into all the different participant languages?
– True. And not only that. Much of the needed information will actually be in the form of scientific research, statistics, systems projects from many different disciplines? Each with their own vocabulary — disciplinary jargon, — replete with acronyms and greek letters and math equations. For a viable discussion, the content messages of those contributions must be translated into conversational language that ordinary citizens can understand. So yes, it will be a major project to coordinate that, and not an overnight process.
– And you’ll have to deal with all the problems we already know from the current scene of collaborative projects under various political systems.
– Such as?
– Well you have the ‘voter apathy’ syndrome – even in projects open to and relying on public participation. Many people just don’t participate or vote because they don’t really have the feeling that their input will count in any significant way. Then you have the ‘information overload’ problem – how can anybody digest all the information that’s flooding the media and social networks? You have the ‘trolls’ that just try to derail any meaningful discussion with irrelevant posts; personal attacks and insults and erroneous information – not even to talk about the problem of deliberately ‘false news’ – lies and distortions. And last not least the fact that the decisions — by so-called leaders or by referendum-type voting – can blatantly ignore even the most significant information and concerns of large parts of society.

New decision methods

– Yes, you are getting into the details of what’s needed to make any such planning platform work properly – in the best interest of all affected parties, in a really democratic way. So first, the system should provide some real participation incentives. And it should be organized so as to eliminate or at least reduce repetitious, irrelevant, erroneous and maliciously distractive and misleading content, and give people a good informative overview of the state of the discourse, don’t you think? Those are major design challenges – but we do have some ideas for improving things. Better decision modes for such planning systems remain a major issue.
– Hey, Bog-Hubert: all that doesn’t sound like a small local project anymore. You keep calling it a ‘planning discourse platform’ as if it were only a minor item on the agenda – but it is really a blueprint for the Big Global Discourse System, isn’t it?
– You are right in that any global governance system – as well as any local governance system if it wants to be really ‘democratic’ – will have to deal with the same issues and find acceptable solutions for them. The difference is that this is not a proposal for a ‘revolutionary’ upheaval replacing all the ‘evil’ current systems with another BIG System overnight.
– Or just a ‘get rid of the crooks’ effort that ends up just replacing the old crooks with different ones who will become just as bad and corrupted because the new systems hasn’t solved those problems you are pointing out here.
– So it looks like the ‘new decision models’ item on the priority list is really a high priority one. And that whatever the solution may be will look somewhat different from the ‘voting’ methods that are now considered as the key principle and guarantee of democracy? Can you give us some more details about what might make such methods work?
– Hey, putting a problem on the agenda doesn’t mean that we already have a solution, does it? Just that there is a problem and that we feel it is possible to fix it. But a key aspect, I think, is this: there must be a closer, more visible and recognizable connection between the merit of the information and arguments brought into the discourse, and the decision. That link is currently just a sanctimonious ideal: ‘let’s talk and then decide’.
– Sure, but a vote can, and too often does, ignore all the talk. So there’s work to do on that. But some of your Abbeboulahist ideas also justify hope – for example: if we can get a meaningful measurement tool for the merit of contributions, that measure can become a more decisive factor in the decision. And we have some ideas for that, too.

Few main ‘global’ agreements to facilitate ‘diverse’ aims

– True, Vodçek. So this system will be developed and emerge as a ‘parallel’ structure within the existing system, at first only dealing with the kinds of common agreements needed to draw useful lessons from the experiences of all those ‘local’ efforts. And aiming only at few decisions needed to facilitate the process – decisions like the ‘global, unified’ rules of the road – which side of the road to drive on to let everybody get to their ‘diverse’ destinations; or like the international rules for air or ocean traffic.
– Yeah, with all the translation and communication problems of such a global discourse, there won’t be that many decisions being agreed upon by that process, if you ask me. But I agree that some such common ‘road rule’ agreements will be needed, in this partial system as well as in the overall global system or non-system, if the Big Brother World Government is too scary a prospect.

Provisions for ensuring adherence to agreements:
‘enforcement’, sanctions?

– Hey, none of that is talking about any kind of World Government, I hope. Is it?
– Well, Sophie, think about it: Any kind of agreement or treaty or law – different names for essentially the same concept – will need some provisions for making sure that the agreement is kept, the rule is followed, and about what to do if it is violated. Deliberately or inadvertently.
– If all such agreements are reached by consensus by all the well-intentioned folks in a well-informed, spiritually conscious and aware community, and with more adequate decision procedures giving each participant’s concerns due considerations, will there still be such violations? Or at least not as many?
– Wouldn’t that be nice, Sophie. Won’t there always be people who feel that they aren’t getting as much of a benefit from a common decision as others, that they even get ‘the short end’ of it even if they couldn’t come up with sufficiently persuasive arguments to persuade the community or to justify a ‘no’ vote preventing the precious consensus decision? Peer pressure to agree resulting in a temptation to just bend the rules a little bit…? And then a little more?…
– I see where you are going here, Bog-Hubert, you cynic. You didn’t even mention all those sheer ornery or even pure evil folks. The problem isn’t just that there will still be such violations, but also that we – society – have not gotten past the traditional ways of dealing with them that we inherited from times when rules and laws were imposed by rulers who didn’t give a hoot about whether people were really adhering voluntarily to the rules because they agreed to them…
– What are you talking about, Vodçek?
– Law enforcement, of course, Sophie. The traditional approach is that laws have to be ‘enforced’ – that violators have to be punished so that they wouldn’t do it again, and to deter everybody else from even trying. And what Bog-Hubert is aiming at, — I have heard him talk about it with Abbé Boulah before – is that enforcement, prevention and application of force – requires that the enforcer must have more force, be more powerful, than any would-be violator. Otherwise, it’s not effective. So he is saying there should be different tools for ensuring that agreements and laws are adhered to – ‘sanctions’ that do not require ‘enforcement’. Am I right, Bog-Hubert?
– Couldn’t have said it better myself, Vodçek. One alternative would be something like sanctions that are triggered ‘automatically’ by the very attempt at violating a rule. Like the car ignition key that can sense if you are drunk and just won’t turn on if you are.
– Like that kind of thing can really fight crime and corruption. But what’s wrong with the ‘enforcement’ approach?
– Two things, Commissioner. One is escalation of enforcement tools. If criminals are getting better weapons than the police, the police must get better weapons, eh? Then the bad guys get even better gins, and so on… Not supportable, in the short or long run.
– Hmm. There oughta be a law…And the other reason?
– Power. You see it already at the local level, but it becomes critical on the level of international relations. It’s the reason people are very uncomfortable with the idea of World Government.
– I don’t get it.
– Well, you’ve heard the quip about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely, haven’t you? Now if you have an enforcement agent or agency which does have better weapons, more powerful tools, than any would-be violator, what’s keeping that agent or agency from becoming tempted, ever so slightly, to bend the rules a little for itself? If the theory is true that it would take an enforcer with more power…
– Well, we have the balance of power of the different branches of government, and term limits, and impeachment rules, and so on, to constrain such power abuses, don’t we?
– True, and the claim is that they have been working adequately for quite a while. But many people are saying that those tools are getting to the limits of their effectiveness even al the local, regional and state levels. And seeing how often and how cleverly they have become ineffective, allowing power-holders to become evermore worried about the infringement of their power and their little abuses, and therefore seeking more power, and more clever, even ‘legal’ ways to circumvent their balance-of-power constraints. At the extreme, having to convince themselves that they really have the inviolate power by engaging in reckless activities – the Caligula syndrome.
– But those guys have always been brought down in the end, haven’t they? Well, most of them?
– Have they? At what cost of their own impoverished, murdered and ‘disappeared’ or otherwise oppressed citizens before they are stopped? Or that of other countries’ forces trying to bring them down? But think: if we have a World Government – one whose legitimate role is to ensure that agreements and treaties are adhered to, as we discussed – but whose tools for that are only ‘enforcement’ tools: weapons? And so-called ‘’security’ and ‘anti-terrorism’ systems that have to constrain the liberty of all citizens in order to be effective: With the kinds of weaponry we have nowadays, what could keep such a ‘government’ from falling victim to the temptations of power if there’s no more powerful agent to keep it in line?
– Right. So the concerns of people who oppose such governments are, shall we say, not entirely unfounded? And the governments who are supposed to ensure their citizens that they are not, — ‘trust me, trust me’ – in any way tempted to take some additional advantage of their power, are naturally and inevitably hesitant of divulging all the safeguards they have, so they won’t fall into the wrong hands: the secret service must be secret, after all. Mustn’t it?

Control of Power

– Okay. You’ve got us all worried, happy now? So the first conclusion is that we need some sanctions that don’t rely on enforcement, to ensure adherence to agreements. Keep it on the agenda. But what do we do about the issue of control of power itself, apart from the law enforcement aspect? Do we have any new ideas about that, or even grounds for optimism that better solutions can be found? Because I see that just the right of citizens to keep arms is not a solution, given the escalation problem and the other means of exerting power.
– No, Sophie, nobody has a brilliant solution up his or her sleeve yet. Just perhaps some different principles to bring to bear on the problem.
– Such as?
– Well, look at the concept of power itself, for starters. For the poor, the ‘disempowered’, the recurring slogan is always ‘empowerment’ – as if power were a universal human right, which we could argue is a good way of looking at it. Just like life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness we always invoke. But we expect people to pursue, to work for, or pay for those things, not just to be ‘given’. At best, what’s ‘given’ or ‘endowed by the creator’ – or what a society agrees to grant all its members — is the right to pursue, not the right to get it without one’s own effort.
– That’s a concept that would need some discussion, my friend.
– Yes, we can discuss that, and what it means in detail. But to explore its implications here: what if we apply it to the power issue – specifically to the power to make decisions and take action on behalf of others, or that affect others in one way or the other. What if, say we’d ask people with such power to ‘pay’ for the decisions they make? Just like we expect the poorest fellows to pay for their loaf of bread they are allowed to buy at Wal-Mart to survive? By ‘paying’ we probably would need a different kind of currency than money.
– We might also look at some older forms of power control – patterns that have come to be despised lately, such as the hierarchical organization of societies.
– How did that control power? Wasn’t that the ultimate form of power abuse?
– Not always, Vodçek. See, in a hierarchy, the person at each level had a certain amount of power – the power to control and direct the activities of the subordinates, within certain limits set by their superiors. The unresolved issue was of course always the lowest and the top positions: the lowest ones had little or no power until they ‘earned it’ by whatever degrading means, and the top position had no one else to answer to – except supernatural ones in the afterlife.
– But there were some useful provisions in the form of controls by parallel boards with members from lower levels of the hierarchy, term limits and the like. They also tended to be older folks who weren’t as much tempted to certain distracting abuse as younger people. But again, the traditional controls seem to break down again and again, so the issue of meaningful and effective control for governance folks on the global level is still up for grabs. So I agree: the issue of control of power should be a high priority item.

Choosing the people for power positions

– All that sounds like you want to do away with all kinds of leadership positions. I’m not sure I can go along with that.
– You are quite right feeling uneasy about that, Sophie. But that’s not the intention at all. We do need people in positions of leadership and power.
– After all you went through show how they will be corrupted by power? I say kick the big shots out!
– Whoa, Renfroe. I understand how you can get impatient with some of their shenanigans. And how you might get the impression that with a better functioning ‘democratic’ decision-making system, we don’t need those bigwigs anymore.
– I’d say!
– But not all decisions need to run through such a process, and some can’t wait, they need a quick decision to deal with new situations. Think of a ship that finds itself suddenly on a course towards an iceberg. There has to be someone – the captain – who will have to make a quick decision: pass it on the port or starboard side? You can’t have a lengthy palaver to reach a decision: it must be done fast. And the problem is to have a process to appoint people to such positions, yes, power positions – whose expertise, skills, experience and judgment you can trust. And what safeguards have to be in place to prevent such people from getting tempted to abuse that power for purposes of his own that are contrary to the well-being of the ship and its crews and passengers.
– Okay, I see what you are saying. So do you have any trick up your sleeve for that problem? It’s what you’d call a dilemma, isn’t it? Giving a guy – or a gal – the power to make big decisions, but keeping them from making the wrong ones when they have all that power, and by definition, as you explained, no greater power to keep them in line?
– Well, can you see how that problem should have some better solutions for people in such positions in ‘global’ institutions, in world governments?
– Okay, it belongs on the list of priorities too, I agree.


– I still would like to know what gives you the idea that there are better solutions in sight for these problems. If a problem doesn’t have any solutions – like a genuine paradox or dilemma, why waste our time, money, and energy trying to find one?
– Good question, Commissioner. But for some of these issues, there actually seem to be some improvements in sight that should at least be explored and discussed.
– Explain that, please. I’m getting curious.
– I’ll leave it to Bog-Hubert – I think the way he drew that diagram shows how some answers to simpler questions in the list can help suggest solutions for others. Bog-Hubert?
– I’ll try to keep it simple. Take the idea we have discussed here before, of awarding contribution rewards to people who contribute ideas and arguments to the planning discourse we sketched out before. Basic credit points that simply will be an incentive for participation and providing information.
– That’s trying to get at the voter apathy issue, right?
– At least part of it. Now, the rule that only the first entry of an information item will get the credit, but not repetitions, will speed up the process. The assume we can put a process of evaluation in place, for the assessment of merit of each such entry – is it plausible, important, is there evidence or adequate support for the claims, do the arguments have weight. Then the original credits can be adjusted, upward for good merit items, downward for erroneous or unsupported, implausible claims and arguments. That will all help making better decisions, as a first effect. But in the process, participants are actually building up a ‘record’ of their contribution merit points.
– Ah, I see: and that record can be made part of the ‘qualification’ criteria for appointing people to positions of power? If they have made consistently meritorious contributions to the policy discourse for important issues, they can be considered better qualified than others whose entries have been shown to be unsupported and implausible?
– Right. Better judgment. But that’s not all. Those merit points can become a kind of alternate ‘currency’ for various purposes. One is the sanctions issue for violating agreements and ‘laws’. The penalties can be in the form of subtracting credit points from their accounts. Especially if some means can be found to identify attempts at violating agreements and laws as the attempt is started or going on, so that penalty points can be applied immediately, without having to involve heavy-duty law enforcement. So the size and extent of enforcement forces could be reduced, as well as the worry about enforcement by force and associated escalation, would you agree?
– I think that would take some fine-tuning, but yes, it’s an idea that should be explored. What about the power issue itself – didn’t you mention something about that as well?
– Yes indeed. The idea is to make people in positions of power ‘accountable’ for the decisions they make by having to ‘pay’ for each decision – again, with their merit credit points. If the decision is a flop, they lose the points – if it’s a good one, they earn them back, and perhaps more. ‘Profit’, eh?
– What about decisions that are so important, and therefore so ‘costly’, that officials can’t afford to make such decisions with their own points?
– Well, if you feel that such a decision should be made, that is, you support the leader who has to make it, how about transferring some of your own credits to his account? In that way, you are also ‘accountable’ for the decision – and perhaps less likely to let a populist loose cannon go around making disastrous decisions? If the decision is a good one, your ‘investment’ can ‘pay off’ in that you get your points back, perhaps with some ‘interest’? And if not, you lost your points just like the leader who made that dumb decision with your support…
– Oh man, you are getting way out there with these wild schemes.
– Well. It’s all up for discussion. Do you have any better ideas to deal with these challenges?


Combining systems modeling maps with argumentative evaluation maps: a general template

Many suggested tools and platforms have been proposed to help humanity overcome the various global problems and crises, each with claims of superior ability or adequacy for addressing the ‘wickedness’ of the problems.

Two of the main perspectives I have studied – the general group of models labeled as ‘systems thinking’, ‘systems modeling and simulation’, and the ‘argumentative model of planning’ proposed by H. Rittel (who incidentally saw his ideas as part of a ‘second generation’ systems approach) have been shown to fall somewhat short of those claims: specifically, they have so far not been able to demonstrate the ability to adequately accommodate each others’ key concerns. The typical systems model seems to assume that all disagreements regarding its model assumptions have been ‘settled’; it shows no room for argument and discussion or disagreement, while the key component of the argumentative model: the typical ‘pro’ or ‘con’ argument of the planning discourse, — the ‘standard planning argument’ does not connect more than two or three of the many elements of a more elaborate systems model of the respective situation, and thus fails to properly accommodate the complexity and multiple loops of such models.

It is of course possible that a different perspective and approach will emerge that can better resolve this discrepancy. However, it will have to acknowledge and then properly address the difficulty we can now only express with the vocabulary of the two perspectives. This essay explores the problem of showing how the elements of the two selected approaches can be related in maps that convey both the respective system’s complexity and the possible disagreements and assessment of the merit of arguments about system assumptions.

A first step is the following simplified diagram template that shows a ‘systems model’ in the center, with arguments both about how the proposal for intervention in the system (consisting of suggested actions upon specific system elements) should be evaluated, and about the degree of certainty – the suggested term is ‘plausibility’ – about assumptions regarding individual elements.

A key aspect of the integration effort is the insight that the ‘system’ will have to include all the features discussed in the discourse under the terms of ‘plan proposal’ with its details of initial conditions, proposed actions (what to do, by whom, using what tools and resources, and the conditions for their availability), the ‘problem’ a solution aims at remedying, which is described (at least) by specifying its current ‘IS’ state, the desired ‘OUGHT’ state or planning outcome, the means by which the transition of is- to ought-state can be achieved; and the potential consequences of implementing the plan, including possible ‘unexpected’ side-and-after-effects. Conversely, the assessment of arguments (the “careful weighing of pros and cons”) will have to explicitly address the system model elements and their interactions – elements that should be (but mostly are not) specified in the argument as ‘conditions under which the plan or one of its features is assumed to effectively achieve the specific outcome or goal referenced by the argument.

For the sake of simplicity, the diagram only shows two arguments or reasons for or against a proposed plan. In reality, there always will be at least two arguments (benefit and cost of a plan), but usually many more, based on assessment of the multiple outcomes of the plan and actions to implement it, as well as of conditions (feasibility, availability, cost and other resources) for its implementation. The desirability assessments of different parties will be different; the argument seen as ‘pro’ by one party can be a ‘con’ argument for another, depending on the assessment of the premises. Therefore, arguments are not shown as pro or con in the diagram.


The diagram uses abbreviated notations for conciseness and convenient overview that are explained in the legend below, that presents some key (but by no means exhaustively comprehensive) concepts of both perspectives.

*  PLAN or P Plan or proposal for a plan or plan aspects

*  R    Argument or ‘reason’. It is used both for an entire ‘pro’ or ‘con’ argument about the plan or an issue, — the entire set of premises supporting the ‘conclusion’ claim (usually the plan proposal) and for the relationship claimed to connect the Plan with an effect, usually a goal, or a negative consequence of plan implementation, in the factual-instrumental premise.
The ‘standard planning argument’ pattern prevailing in planning discourse has the general form:
D(PLAN) Plan P ought to be adopted (deontic ‘conclusion’)
FI (PLAN –>R –>O)|{C} P has relationship R with outcome O given
Conditions {C} (Factual-instrumental premise)
D(O) Outcome O ought to be pursued (Deontic premise)
F{C} Conditions {C} are given (true)

The relationship R is most often a causal connection, but also stands for a wide variety of relationships that constitute the basis for pro or con arguments: part-whole, identity, similarity, association, analogy, catalyst, logical implication, being a necessary or sufficient condition for, etc. In an actual application, these relationships may be distinguished and identified as appropriate.

*    O or G   Outcome or goal to be pursued by the plan, but also used for other effects including negative consequences

*    M —   the relationship of P ‘being a means’ to achieve O

*     C or {C}     The set of a number of
c conditions under which the claimed relationship M between P and    O is assumed to hold

*     pl ‘plausibility’ judgments about the plan, arguments, and argument premises, expressed as values on a scale of +1 (completely plausible) to -1 (completely implausible) with a midpoint ‘zero’ understood as ‘so-so or ‘don’t know, cant decide’) in combination with the abbreviations for those:
*       plPLAN or plP plausibility judgment of the PLAN,
this is some individual’s subjective judgment.
*       plM plausibility of P being effective in achieving O;
*       pO plausibility of an outcome O or Goal;
*       pl{C} plausibility (probability) of conditions {C} being present;
*       plc plausibility of condition c being present;
*       plR plausibility of argument or reason R;
*       pl PLAN GROUP a group judgment of plan plausibility

*       wO weight of relative importance of outcome O ( 0 ≤ w ≤ 1; ∑w = 1)

*       WR Argument weight or weight of reason

Functions F between plausibility values:

*      F1     Group plausibility aggregation function:
pl PLANGROUP = F1 (plPLANq) for all n members q of the group
q=1, 2

*      F2    Plan plausibility function:
Pl(PLAN)q = F2 (WRi) for all m reasons R, by person q
i = 1,2…

*      F3   Argument weight function:

WRi = F3 pl Ri)* wOj

*     F4   Argument plausibility function:

Pl(Ri) = F4: {pl(P –>Mi –>Oi)|{Ci}) , pl(Oi), pl{C}}
The plausibility of argument R is a function of all
Premise plausibility judgments

*     F5     Condition set plausibility function:

Pl{C} = F5 (pl ck) pl of set {C} is a function of the
K = 1,2… plausibility judgmens of all c in the set.
*     F6 Weight of relative importance of outcome Oi: wOi = 1/n ∑ vOi
Subject to conditions 0 ≤ wOi ≤ 1, and ∑wO = 1.

*    System S The system S is the network of all variables describing both the initial  conditions c (the IS-state of the problem the plan is trying to remedy), the  means M involved in implementing the plan, the desired ‘end’ conditions or goals G of the plan, and the relationships and loops between these.

The diagram does not yet show a number of additional variables that will play  a role in the system: the causes of initial conditions (that will also affect the  outcome or goal conditions; the variables describing the availability, effectiveness, costs and acceptability of means M, and potential consequences of both M and O of the proposed plan. Clearly, these conditions and their behavior over time (both the time period needed for implementation, and the assumed planning horizon or life expectancy of the solution) will or should be given due consideration in evaluating the proposed plan.

About Dr. Keating’s $10,000 challenge to prove that man-made climate change is not occurring

I foolishly accepted a chore that turned out to be more work than anticipated: to follow a discussion about Dr. Keating’s $10,000 Challenge and to put together an IBIS as well as a few Issue and Argument maps about it. Physicist Dr. Keating has offered $10,000 to anyone who can produce, via scientific method, a proof that man-made climate change is not occurring. He invited such submissions to be entered on a blog, and to offer his reasons as to whether and why he would accept or reject a submission. There were some such submissions, some of which were quickly rejected, others still awaiting judgment, but a flood of posts offering a variety of opinions — about the challenge and about submitted entries.

Taking a break from slogging through this material to ferret out essential information for the IBIS and maps, some thoughts occurred to me that I just have to write about, ‘to get them out of my system’.

These thoughts amount to not only raising some questions about the challenge as it was presented, but also about the nature of many of the responses offered. Many have to do with the concept of ‘proof’ Dr. Keating invited. He defends the choice of terms by referring to claims by ‘deniers’ of man-made climate change that such proof exists and is easy to provide. Perhaps his certainty in offering the reward stems form the knowledge that ‘proof’ is not appropriate term for evidence in favor of scientific hypotheses, especially for issues involving matters of degrees of several different sources contributions to an effect. The argument of offering evidence in support of a hypothesis is an inductive kind, not a deductively valid one that deserves the label of ‘proof’.

So while the ‘deniers’ should perhaps not have used the term (he did not cite any such claim specifically), in the larger interest of the controversy his use of the word ‘proof’ in his challenge is not really helpful either. Not because, as some of the posts claim, ‘it is not possible to prove a negative’. Isn’t it the scientific way to disprove a hypothesis by showing, by valid ‘scientific means (experiments, observations verified by repeatability, measurement etc.) that a piece of evidence that constitutes a necessary consequence of the hypothesis is NOT true, is indeed a deductively valid one (known as ‘modus tollens’) that can be accepted as proof? But because if the issue is one involving matters of degrees, acceptance or rejection of a hypothesis hinges on the degree of certainty — for example, of the probability that the ‘null hypothesis’ (the negation of the hypothesis) could have occurred under the conditions of the evidence data or arguments provided is too small to be believable. So this would have required specification of that level of confidence.

The choice of ‘weight of evidence’ or ‘argument’ instead of ‘proof’ may have been avoided for several reasons: the difficulty of ‘weighing’ the evidence, or because ‘argument’ is perceived as something unduly (unscientifically?) adversarial. like a brawl, with win-lose outcomes not necessarily based on the merit of the arguments. The significance of the overall issue (at least as seen by Dr. Keating and his laudable effort to get it ‘settled’) should suggest that such a win-lose outcome is not in the best interest of humanity.

It is no wonder that many posts therefore tried to represent the challenge as ‘meaningless’. But they also did not acknowledge the elephant in the room: the question of what should be done about the problem — if it is indeed a problem serious enough to worry about, and if ‘we’ (humanity) actually can do something about it. Getting ‘the right thing’ done is NOT the likely result of a win/lose brawl.

Getting the right thing done would require re-framing the understanding of ‘argument’ as the mutual attempt to
a) identify and acknowledge the ‘real’ underlying issue;
b) identify possible solutions (‘what should be done’)
c) reaching into each others’ minds to show how one’s proposed ‘solution (conclusion to the argument) really follows plausibly from beliefs the other already holds, or that the other would accept as plausible upon being shown the arguments or evidence (validated ‘scientifically?) for it;
d) changing the proposed solution to the point that it becomes acceptable to the other — ideally of course ‘better’, but at the very least ‘not worse’ than before, or if nothing is done.

So the question becomes one of determining what is ‘acceptable’. That includes not only the plausibility of the scientific data presented as evidence in the pro and con arguments — which of course are important, — but also the consequences of whatever action or inaction is chosen as a result of the allegedly ‘basic’ issue, in this case whether and to what degree man-made climate change is occurring. Specifically: does ‘acceptability’ include such aspects as whether some parties will lose income, property, security, property, respect, ‘face’?

As long as proponents on either side of the issue feel that they can legitimately suggest that the other side is not entirely without ‘hidden agenda’ interests (funding, reputation, payments from certain industry segments, political entities etc…?) in order to influence public assessment of the purity of the scientific arguments offered, would it be appropriate and helpful is all such could be brought up and discussed? For example: re-framing the challenge to explore what actions ‘we’ ought to take depending on the various outcomes of the ‘scientific issue: what if MMCC IS occurring? what if it is NOT occurring? and what if it does occur, but to some degree (to be estimated..) — such that the respective actions will have ‘acceptable’ outcomes for all affected parties even if the resolution of the scientific issue were NOT as expected?

As long as these issues are kept off the discussion table, I am afraid it will not only prevent a proposed ‘proof’ or hesitancy of people to present it to Dr. Keating’s exclusive judgment, from ‘settling’ the issue and allow humanity to proceed towards working out feasible and acceptable action solutions; it will poison the entire discourse in a way that not even the most complete and representative argument maps of its contributions will be able to clarify let alone remedy.

A solution idea for the use of civic credit points for the control of power

In the Fog Island Tavern:

Hey Vodçek — what’s all the excitement over there about?

Hi Bog-Hubert. Some good news from Rigatopia — why don’t you go over to find out? Here’s your coffee.

Thanks. You can’t provide a quick summary? I’ll have to catch the ferry in a few minutes…

Okay. It looks like they have developed a new solution for the problem of power and accountability. You remember Abbé Boulah’s campaign for argument evaluation in policy-making?

Applying the ideas of our architect friend — to evaluate design and planning arguments — to more general policy discussions and decisions? Isn’t he developing some kind of game to get people used to the concept?

Yes. The game is a good starting point. So you know how people get points for any contributions they make to the discussion — but they get modified by everybody’s assessment of the plausibility and importance of those contributions, and by the overall quality (plausibility) of the solution they collectively work out.

I remember. So how does this get used to control power in real life?

It’s actually quite simple. People who participate in public discussions build up a credit points account based on the quality of their contributions. The participation in public discourse is of course free and open to all: the possibility to earn credits is an incentive to participate.

Yes — we have talked about how that might be used to actually get decisions made. There were some questions about how the plausibility assessments could be used to guide decisions. And about some kinds of public decisions that have to be made quickly so there’s no time to have a long discussion about them…

Right. So some people have to be appointed to positions where they are responsible for making such decisions. One part of the idea — the solution they are trying out on Rigatopia — is that a person’s credit account will play a significant part in the appointment to such positions: you have to show a certain level of creditable participation in public discourse to qualify for positions where you have the power to make decisions.

So how does that solve the problems with power in those positions? We don’t have to go through the entire litany of power addiction, temptations for corruption, etc?

No. The solution is that each decision must be ‘paid for’ — up-front — with a credit point ‘ante’. Which is lost if the decision is no good; but can be seen as an ‘investment’ to earn new points if the decision is successful. But eventually, the points are ‘used up’.

Makes sense: we often talked about how power — as ’empowerment’ to pursue your happiness — should be ‘paid for’ just like you have to pay for your food and clothes and car.

Yes — but not with the same currency. And here, the currency is credit points — something anybody can earn, but which must be earned, and which can be lost by making stupid decisions.

That finally gives some substance to the notion of ‘accountability’. I agree. What about public decisions for which there is — and should be — some thorough discussion before decisions are made?

You are asking about how we can realize the expectation that such decisions should be made on the basis of the merit of arguments, of the contributions people make to the discourse. And how to add this element of accountability to the basic idea of using some overall group measure of proposal plausibility as a guide to the collective decision.

Right. The argument evaluation approach has been worked out reasonably well to produce an individual judgment of overall proposal plausibility (as a function of argument plausibility and argument weight — that was described in the paper in the ‘Informal Logic’ journal). But we all had some reservations about how to fashion a group decision from those individual judgments, and whether traditional decision methods such as (majority) voting could easily be replaced.

Okay: here’s the answer to that. Whatever decision method is being used — say voting — will have to be assessed in relation to some such measure of collective proposal plausibility — the plausibility assessments of all the people who have contributed to the discourse and assessments. But somebody has to take some responsibility for the decision. And that must involve accountability — which brings us back to the civic credit accounts. If you wish to actually have some actual ‘say’ in such a decision, you have to commit some of your credit points — perhaps your traditional ‘vote’ or polling opinion is ‘weighted’ by the credit points you are willing to put up as ‘ante’ — and lose if your decision is flawed. Of course, if it’s a good decision, it will earn you point points back, with ‘interest’ depending on how good it is.

Makes sense. It sounds a bit complicated, but with all the new information technology we have, it shouldn’t be too difficult to implement. I assume that such decisions — if they are to apply (e.g. as ‘law’) to the entire community, city, state, or whatever entity — must be ‘announced’ in a format ‘validated’ by the credit points that are backing them up. I like the aspect that the currency for influencing decisions and making decision-makers ‘accountable’ has been shifted away from money to civic credits. But tell me: won’t there be decisions that are so important and consequential — and require vast resources such that no individual decision-maker alone can reasonably be accountable for them?

Sure. The provision for this is also quite simple: If there is such a momentous decision, requiring so much money or other resources that the responsibility for it must be shared by the community — or at least by the supporters in the community, — this can be achieved by people backing the decision transferring credit points from their own accounts to that of the ‘official’ in charge of actually ‘signing’ for the decision. If it’s a bad one, they all, including the official, will be ‘accountable’ by losing their points. If it’s successful and ‘earning’ new credits, the points will have to be paid back to the supporters — with ‘points interest’ according to the size of their respective investment.

Sounds interesting, even like a breakthrough, almost. Thanks for the summary; I guess they are still discussing quite a few of the details that must be worked out. Looking forward to hear more about it when I get back, gotta run.

Remember, you heard it here first, Bog-Hubert. Have a safe trip!

On the role of feelings in argumentative discourse

– Are you neglecting your civic duty to sustain the customary atmosphere of comfortable if meaningless small talk in the Fog Island Tavern, Bog-Hubert? Scribbling notes in your crumpled notebook like a real coffee house intellectual — or have you actually gotten over your writers’ block to get back into some serious writing?

– Sorry, nothing so encouraging. I’m just writing down come complaints of Abbé Boulah’s about people’s lack of comprehension of his and his buddy’s ideas glorious ideas about argumentative planning. We were walking along the beach, and he seemed quite disappointed by some reactions he got from some experiment. So I need to write some things down before I forget them.

– Reactions to what?

– It seems they were trying out some of those ideas about structured planning discourse including the argument assessment approach, in a distance learning project of some kind. And the participants on the other end either didn’t understand what they were trying to do at all, or else hadn’t even studied the background material they had prepared and sent over there. They totally screwed up the exercise, and finally blamed the disaster on his buddy, alleging that he didn’t allow for the role of emotions and feelings in the discourse, didn’t understand emotions at all; something like that.

– That’s a problem with those online and distance projects: you never know whether the folks at the other end really are doing their part of the deal. But I can see where they picked a plausible excuse, at least.

– Plausible, huh? In what way, Vodçek? How is ignorance and laziness ‘plausible’?

– Well, doesn’t the very word ‘argument’ invite a number of misunderstandings that then can be used as excuses? You can’t really blame misunderstanding only on the party that doesn’t understand, can you?

– What kinds of misunderstandings?

– Well, many people understand ‘argument’ as something disagreeable, adversarial, quarrelsome — that can easily end up into a more serious fight — not very nice nor cooperative.

– I can’t argue with that: we’ve had a lot of that kind of reaction.

– Right. And even for those who do understand ‘argument’ as a set of statements that aim to support some claim, that notion is flavored by the association with formal logic, rationality, scientific ‘objectivity’, in short, a kind of discourse in which the ‘truth’ of issues is to be established. Truth that is independent or overriding of how people feel about it. Scientific, ‘objective’ truth. That kind of inquiry that almost by definition excludes feelings. And of course that bothers people who are concerned with issues about which they do have strong feelings. Where the ‘truth’ about what IS the case is less the point of the discussion than what OUGHT to be, and theta patently isn’t true YET. So they understandably resent the impression that those feelings are slighted and ignored.

– But that’s precisely Abbé Boulah’s point — talking about ‘planning arguments’ or ‘design arguments’ — the ones in which one of the key premises, the ‘ought’-claim — is exactly the one that deals with feelings! The kinds of arguments that are not susceptible to formal logic analysis because they have to do with what people want, desire, in short, with how they feel about things.

– Sure, Bog-Hubert: you and I, and some of our friends know that. But for somebody who just hears ‘argument’ and does not examine the planning argument story carefully enough, the impression is still that those ‘feelings’ issues just don’t count in argumentation. So maybe the story needs to be told more clearly and understandably?

– I thought the difference between the ‘formal’ and ‘deductive’ kind of arguments and those planning arguments was clear enough. But you may be on to something there. What do you think are the key points that should be made more clear?

– Let’s see. A first problem might be the frequent impression that people who go on about argumentation appear to take a position of superiority: if they have an argument — one that’s sanctioned by ‘logic’ as ‘valid’ and that therefore has a true conclusion, they are seen as putting down other opinions as ill-informed or stupid. I know what you are going to say: the process we are proposing as ‘argumentative planning’ is explicitly inviting all kinds of concerns, arguments, as ‘legitimate’ and deserving of being given ‘due consideration’ — since all planning arguments after all are ‘inconclusive’ from a formal logic point of view. But I have a hunch that using the word ‘argument’ makes it difficult for people to see that difference. Is there a different way of talking about that?

– Coming to think about it, we did discuss that issue some time go. In such discussions, many issues are raised and expressed as questions, not arguments — whose answers or conclusions could become significant premises of arguments for or against planning proposals. And we saw the problem as one of getting people to put those claims together into complete arguments so that they can be evaluated properly, according the the approach our friend has developed. But maybe the invitation should be to just raise such questions, not stating them as explicit pro or con arguments?

– I can see why you kept going in that direction: how the argument evaluation process might become more difficult with an approach of inviting questions rather than arguments. You’d have to get somebody to put the arguments together in some way in the end. Perhaps you could get a program to do that, using the plausibility assessments of the answers (by the participants) as premises for pro and con arguments. We should look into that. But that very issue brings up a different problem: one that has caused some trouble in the past .

– I think I know what you are referring to; we touched upon that very briefly a moment ago but didn’t go into it? If you focus on raising questions whose answers may become argument premises, many people in the past — mainly technical-oriented folks — have often tended to focus on the factual and factual-instrumental premises of planning arguments. The deontic premises — the ‘ought’ -issues — were either taken for granted, assumed to be given by overriding social policies, even legal precedents or regulations, or simply swept under the rug because they couldn’t be settled by ‘scientific’, logical means. Often, technocrats acted as if, because they had the expertise regarding the technical fact and instrumental questions, they should also have the authority to determine the ‘ought’ questions. Maybe it never occurred to them that there might be people who did not share their vision of the ‘common good’, and that different visions could be legitimate. And such attitudes of course looked to many ordinary folks as arrogant usurpation of powers for which the political process had not provided legitimacy.

– Right. Thereby casting those legitimacy questions both onto the technical-scientific expertocracy and the political process, as well as the role of argument in the ‘planning and political process. But isn’t that inevitably leading to the opposite fallacy, if you will: that planning issues should be decided predominantly or only on the basis of the deontic premises? What ‘the people’ want or desire — blithely assuming that ‘the people’ are indeed of one mind about what they desire. And then the very discrediting of the argumentative process now precluded a meaningful discussion of the plausibility of either kind of premise: what ought to be, and what to do to achieve it.

– A veritable tragedy of argumentation; i agree. Especially for those of us who finally have tried to show a way for both kinds of premises to be discussed and evaluated with equal legitimacy. So how should that question be dealt with?

– I think one main task is to make it more clear that the call for decisions to be made on the basis of arguments does not mean that there is anybody ‘official’ or ‘running the process’ or even a ‘system’ or machine, who determines the ‘truth’ or plausibility and the weight of arguments. No ‘little man behind the curtain’ or on the big screen calling the shots. Make it more clear that the planning arguments are all NOT deductively and objectively ‘valid’ and their conclusions true or false regardless how people feel about them. But precisely that no ‘absolute’ knowledge about the truth of any claims is assumed, and that decisions are made on the basis of the assessments of the people participating in the process.

– If the argument assessment results are to be used in making decisions at all. That has been raised as a possibility, as a much needed alternative to the standard decision-making rule of majority voting which doesn’t really require that any of the concerns expressed in the discussion are given ‘due consideration’. But the details for alternative decision-making methods based more explicitly on argument evaluation results need more discussion and agreement. We may very well all be wrong in the end — but we are trying to pool or knowledge and beliefs about the information we collectively bring into the process to arrive at a decision we can all support, with what is just the best of currently available knowledge.

– So what about the role of feelings, specifically, in this process?

– Thanks for getting us back to that question, Vodçek. You are asking about how to deal with the problem of people insisting that because they have raised valid questions about the legitimacy of the expert, and the predominance of the technical-scientific ‘rationality’, public issues should therefore be decided o the basis of their feelings out the issues?

– I guess that’s one way to put it.

– Okay. Can we agree on the principle that whatever the basis of people’s individual position on issues: so-called scientific rationality and logic, or their feelings, their judgment is to be accepted as their rightful and legitimate stance?

– No argument there. But I sense a ‘but’ coming… and I don’t think it has to do with all the authors of learned books on logic and critical thinking that try to tel all of us how to think properly?

– Right. The ‘but’ arises when people start demanding that the judgment resulting from their ‘feeling’ or emotional assessment should be accepted by others as a legitimate basis for their decision as well — even if they are not able to provide any further support or explanation for their judgments. My ‘gut feeling’ telling me that plan A is a good idea (or a bad one) cannot possibly be a valid reason for me to expect that others should adopt the same judgment, if I can’t explain and get across w h y I feel this way. Just as someone else whose gut feeling tells him the opposite of mine can’t expect to sway me just on the basis of him having that gut feeling.

– You are talking about issues of shared or public interest of course, not issues that are our personal matter only and don’t affect anybody else.

– Right. For any common, cooperative decision, perhaps we can tentatively state two rules:
1) The method or rule for arriving at a final common decision should accept everybody’s individual judgment regardless of how the individual arrives at it. And
2) Whenever, and to the extent that an individual or party tries to persuade others to adopt an individual position on an issue (through argumentation), that party is responsible for supplying reasons, evidence, supporting arguments, for a l l premises of the arguments, the factual-instrumental premises, the factual premises, and the deontic (‘ought’) premises, upon request. No request for further support of a premise can be rejected on the grounds that it is a personal value judgment or feeling; such a rejection will be a valid reason for anyone else to reject the demand that the position be adopted by others. (However, of course the person will still be able to ‘cast his vote’ on the basis of his personal convictions even if he cannot supply reasons to sway others).

– Does that mean that we have to accept such votes even if they are based on obviously false information or flawed — fallacious — reasoning?

– No. But if you think that somebody is making such mistakes, it is your responsibility to offer your reasons to sway that person. Remember that your premises may be less supportable and certain than they appear to you. The fact that somebody’s argument appears to you as a fallacy does not entitle you to use your authority as a connoisseur of fallacies to reject the entire argument with all its premises, and this the right of the person to have a say in the decision.

– Isn’t that a main difference between this approach and, say, the logic rule books? It does not — as an approach — try to tell anybody how to think, but just encourages all participants to examine their reasons — yes, even challenge and test them — but then accepts whatever judgment people bring into the process as legitimate contributions, right or wrong, to the final decision.

– And I would insist on something else: the support for an ‘ought’-premise can take the form of a story laying out the vision a person considers desirable, not just another set of ‘formalized’ arguments. But parts of the story should again be open to questioning.

– Agreed, Vodçek. So how do we make this more clear and understandable? How do we avoid the potential misunderstanding arising out of the term ‘argument’?

– Would it be meaningful to avoid the word ‘argument’ altogether, and to just ask people to refrain from making arguments, but only to raise questions?

– What do you mean?

– Well, take the three types of premises of a planning argument about a proposal A:
“Yes, A should be adopted
A will lead to B given conditions C,
B ought to be pursued or aimed for,
conditions C are given.”

Instead of this whole (‘adversarial’) argument, can we instead just ask the questions
“Does A really lead to B?”
and “Should B be aimed for?”
“Are conditions C really present?”

And invite participants to discuss those? Perhaps not even in the same sequence, so as to further avoid the argumentative flavor? And avoid presenting the argument at the outset as a ‘pro’ or con’ argument?

– Why should we avoid that?

– Think about it: If the proposed action really leads to result B, and a person P1 considers B desirable, the resulting argument is a ‘pro’ argument for that person, right? But if another person P2 sees consequence B as undesirable, the same argument becomes a ‘con’ argument for that person, doesn’t it? Or if P2 feels that while the goal B is worthwhile, the proposal A is not an effective way to achieve it — or if P2 grants both of the above two premises, but has information that the conditions C aren’t present to make the proposed action effective: in all these cases the same set of claims become counterarguments for P2. So why should it be labeled as one or the other from the outset, if it really depends on people’s assessment of each of the premises?

– Now I realize why all those debate programs on the market always gave me a weird sense of ‘already taking sides’ in the debates they try to facilitate: By explicitly labeling and mapping any argument as a ‘pro’ or ‘con’ argument — the way it was intended by the person making the argument — it already slightly distorted the judgment process. I agree, the ‘system’ keeping track, displaying and mapping all the contributions in such discussions should refrain from that kind of labeling; just present the claims that make up the argument premises.

– Well, in order to evaluate how all those bits of information support or not support a decision, do they not have to be put together as complete arguments, in the end ?

– Yes, I think you are right — unless we can get people to assess the plausibility of all those claims separately, and have the ‘system’ put them together as arguments and then calculate their arguments weights etc. But then the system must also make such assessments as whether a specific argument pattern really ‘applies’ to the case at hand — which people might want to make themselves. And they can’t do that unless they see the complete argument, can they?

– You devious fellow. You are once again raising more questions than we started out with, my friend. But do you agree that we can see the task and direction more clearly now? I think we need to run some experiments with various ways to treat these issues, and then write a short, concise ‘game manual’ that makes it very clear what the approach is doing, including the legitimate role of feelings and emotions in the process. You’ll tell Abbé Boulah when he comes in, Vodçek?

– You really think he’ll be able to raise the funds for those experiments?