The Argumentation Mapping Project


Principal Investigator: Robert E. Horn, Visiting Scholar, Project on People, Computers, and Design, The Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. email:

Project Host Institution: Program on People, Computers, and Design, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University

Project Description

For the past 5 years, our argumentation mapping project at Stanford has focused on building large visual diagrams of major philosophical arguments. In one sense, they represent at new genre of diagraming, in that they are conceptual "maps" of a major ongoing debates. In a wider sense, they present a new way of showing how world-wide, interdisciplinary debates are taking place, hence the name argumentation mapping. The maps are used for teaching, learning, and research. In teaching they provide the big picture overviews that are often very difficult to convey in any other way, especially in diffuse, sprawling, interdisciplinary arguments.

The study of argumentation has been with us at least since Aristotle's Rhetoric. In modern times, Stephen Toulmin redirected the field by focusing attention on how debates are actually carried out rather than on the formal, deductive presentation of arguments. We have been building on his work.

Our Project sees its mission to build a robust methodology of argumentation mapping, conduct research on its applications in education, research, and public policy debates.

Recent feature articles in the international journal New Scientist, Lingua Franca, November 1999, and in the Philosophers' Magazine (Summer, 1999) have focused attention on our project.

New Genre for Presenting Intellectual History

The first major product of the project, Mapping Great Debates: Can Computers Think?, is a new way to view intellectual history. It is a series of 7 poster-sized wall maps that chart the entire history of the intelligent machines debate. The project charts the arguments put forth since 1950 by more than 380 cognitive scientists, philosophers, artificial intelligence researchers, mathematicians, and others.

Each map plots over 100 major claims, each of which is summarized succinctly and placed in visual relationship to the other arguments that it supports or disputes. Claims are further organized into more than 70 issue areas, or types, of arguments. There are over 800 major claims, rebuttals, and counterrebuttals deemed to be original and important enough in the argument to be represented.

The 3 ft x4 ft maps, each elegantly printed in two colors. They contain several hundred icons and illustrations and about 60 photographs to help the reader navigate through the maps, providing easy-to-return-to landmarks.

Accompanying the set of maps is a small handbook containing a complete bibliography with more than 450 citations, an index of the protagonists, an introduction to the mapmaking methodology, an in-depth exploration of the cartographic metaphor, a discussion of the major criteria for selecting the arguments, and a list of frequently asked questions on making and using the maps.

To see what the maps look like and how they work, click here.

Current Project: Summarize Frontiers of Consciousness Research

Our project has been awarded one of the ten initial University of Arizona research grants to begin to map the interdisciplinary research on consciousness (neurophysiology, psychology, cognitive science, philosophy). We will focus most of our work on the so-called "hard problem" in consciousness studies (i.e. How does consciousness arise from a material world?) This project will extend our argumentation methodology in that we are having to invent ways of dealing with debates about comprehensive models and worldviews.

Project Activities

The Mapping Great Debates maps will be a part of InfoArcadia, the first major exhibit of information design art at a the gallery of the Stroom Center for Public Art, The Hague, The Netherlands, January 22 - April 22, 2000 . (Note: the site is in Dutch, but there is a description of the InfoArcadia Exhibit in English.)


Articles about the Argumentation Mapping Project and its publications


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