Informal Logic

At the 1968 Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos staged a protest at their own medal ceremony; known as the Black Power Salute, the athletes stood on their podiums, their arms raised with black-gloved hands in a fist while the American National Anthem played. The protest was met with immediate booing from the crowd and further criticism later on.

The argument was not accepted as a response to a disagreement between racial groups in America, and therefore demonstrated the failure to deliberate in order to find reasonable argument on the audience’s part. Can the audience’s heckling and booing be understood as an argument? In my opinion, it cannot. What we may refer to as an ‘emotional argument’ consists of the use of phatic utterances; that is, speech acts that serve only to demonstrate social interaction rather than conveying information. The point of an argument is to reach conclusion by establishing premises, which will carry some sort of truth. In this case, we need not phatic, but constative utterances that will carry over this information to the recipient, otherwise we are left with the nonsense that is the white noise of ignorant hecklers.

Although the salute did not contain verbal speech acts, the actions themselves are enough to suggest a clear statement that would act as the premise to the athletes’ argument.

If we are to follow informal logic, it is clear that the protest constitutes Argument 1; the response to a disagreement between African Americans and their subordination to white America, which we call Argument 2. It is fair to say then, that the protest was engaging in a dialectical response to a disagreement in an informal argumentative manner.

Furthermore, informal logic allows us to locate the premises and the conclusion in the visual argument in this instance. The black-fisted salute is suggesting, as Smith states: “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black.” Put simply, we can say that the premises are as follows: all blacks are American; we (Smith and Carlos) are black; therefore we are American. (Note that by ‘blacks’ I am suggesting those that reside in America).

This is a clear example of Hitchcock’s notion of a claim-reason complex, where the argument contains a premise that stands in favour of the conclusion, thus demonstrating the formula of a sound, logical argument.

What I am suggesting in response to this example is that education in informal logic is crucial in understanding the validity and soundness of an argument. It is via a purely sensory response, as demonstrated in this example, that the argument is misinterpreted and mistreated, which can only hinder one from attaining truth, and therefore, the essence and goal of argumentation.


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