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Review of  Controversies and Subjectivity

Reviewer: Giampaolo Poletto
Book Title: Controversies and Subjectivity
Book Author: Pierluigi Barrotta Marcelo Dascal
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 17.974

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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