Mariano L. Bianca – Paolo Piccari -Inherent logic:Isotopic and Inherent Bonds in Argumentation

Abstract   In this paper we focus on argumentation as sequence of idemes that, from a neurophisiological point of view, are neuromental configurations correlated by inherent bonds. Such sequence of idemes, in turn, is encoded in a sequence of arguments on the basis of bonds among sememes: so the linguistic-propositional structure reflects the semiotic structure, and the latter reflects the idetic structure of argumentation. We propose to analyse the argumentative structure from different perspectives: the linguistic-propositional perspective, which concerns syntactic bonds among the propositions, the semiotic perspective which regards sememes’ nature and their function within the arguments, and the idetic-inherent perspective which refers to bonds among idemes involved in argumentation.


Key words Argument, argumentation, ideme, seme, sememe, idetic-inherent perspective, idetic     structure.





1. Introduction


One of the unresolved questions of undoubted importance in studies of argumentation is that of the relationships or, more precisely, the bonds among the different propositions that constitute an argumentative sequence. Until now attention has been paid exclusively to the logical-propositional type of bonds believing that these can help us to comprehend the connections that exist among different propositions. As a matter of fact, on more careful analysis, there is a level underlying the propositional form of argumentation which is relevant and that we shall call semiotic-idetic. At this level we can find two types of bond, the semiotic and the idetic-inherent, and both may be applied to an argumentative structure expressed in propositional form.

 The semiotic bonds, that is, the bonds existing among the sememes of different lexemes within argumentation, will be analysed in depth in section 3, while the idetic-inherent bonds, that is, the bonds that are set up among idemes on the basis of a relationship of inherence, will be analysed in section 4, following a perspective whereby the meaning of signs derives from mental contents, as known as concepts (ideas, notions, and so forth), which we call idemes. By the term ideme we mean the set of predicates by which it is defined: for example, the ideme ‘house’ is composed of the set of predicates /to have a door/, /to have windows/, /to have a floor/, /to have a roof/, and so on. On the other hand, if we consider the ideme from the denotative point of view, we may affirm that the predicates that connotatively define the ideme may semantically be attributed to things or objects of a possible world (including the world of phenomena). In addition, we accept the perspective whereby the propositional form is a transcription or script of an idetic form in a particular natural language. Under this perspective, the idetic bonds (or idematic bonds, according to the definition that has been given to the term ideme), are those bonds contained within the meaning of the propositional terms.

The idetic bonds will be considered as operators of a logic which we shall call inherent and which involves the bonds that may be established among the idemes. Such logic may be placed in the field of informal logic, since it is neither formal nor based on the formal aspects  of propositions (validity, coherence, and so on). In section 4 we shall explain in detail the meaning of all the terms that we have introduced.

We maintain that a theory of argumentative processes may be explanatory and satisfying only if the neuromental processes that allow their istantation are taken into consideration; we consider that an argumentation is a succession of mental configurations that can be transcribed into propositional scripts, and hence we believe that  it is legitimate to analyse these processes from  the propositional point of view. Actually, many authoritative scholars in the field have already done it.

Thus we do not consider that the mind always operates according to logical-formal type schemes, although language can obviously constitute a useful tool for articulating thought and conferring an appropriate formal structure to it. Conversely, we maintain that the mind operates mainly through neuronal configurations and bonds among these configurations. Such configurations generate idemes, which, in turn, can be encoded into natural language. The formation of these idemes, as we shall analyse in section 3, constitutes the preliminary stage in the process of constructing an argumentation, which may be understood as an ordered set of arguments with a semiotic structure, and formulated either to support or refute a thesis.

Hence, we  can analyse the argumentative structures from three different perspectives, closely interconnected, which will enable us, as stated earlier, to clarify the fundamental question of the bonds among arguments that  can generate an argumentative structure: the linguistic-propositional perspective, concerning the syntactic bonds among propositions, which is a widely used perspective in current studies of argumentation; the semiotic perspective, concerning the nature of sememes and their function within  the arguments; and the idetic-inherent perspective, concerning the bonds among the idemes involved in the arguments of argumentation and the bonds among the arguments which may affect the semiotic level and hence the linguistic-propositional one.

In this paper we shall claim that an argumentation is a sequence of idemes which, from a neurophysiological point of view, are neuromental configurations connected one another by inherent bonds, which, in turn, are transposed into a sequence of arguments on the basis of bonds among sememes: the linguistic-propositional structure reflects the semiotic structure, while the semiotic structure reflects the idetic structure of the argumentation.

In the following section we will analyse the fundamental aspects of the linguistic-propositional perspective with particular reference to specific argumentations. In section 3 we will examine the semiotic perspective, while in section 4, the idetic-inherent one. The idetic-inherent perspective will be applied to the same argumentations. In section 5 we will  deal briefly with some of the correlations among the different perspectives and we will consider how the three levels (linguistic-propositional, semiotic and idetic-inherent) integrate together and cooperate one another in order to produce a complete argumentative form and clarify the surface (linguistic-propositional) structure and the deep (semiotic and idetic-inherent) structure.



2. The linguistic-propositional perspective


2.1 Argumentation and act of arguing


Taking the linguistic-propositional perspective into consideration, what is needed is a definition of the area of study and investigation of the theory of argumentation as a systematic, analytic and pragmatic study of the forms of reasoning aimed at guaranteeing and supporting choices, decisions, theses, beliefs, opinions, and plans, and as correct methodological tools for formulating  an argumentative discourse.

In general terms, it is possible to define the act of arguing as a rational communicative activity, both spoken and written, consisting in the development of an argumentation that has one or both of the following aims: a) to support a thesis; b) to persuade a listener or  a reader.

In accordance with this definition, we may consider an argumentation as a text, written or oral, which consists of an ordered chain of arguments, with bonds that are not generally of a logical-formal nature, aimed at supporting or criticizing a particular thesis. Each thesis summarizes all the premises and suppositions which have been assumed as the basis for the argumentation, while the argumentative structure reflects the way in which different arguments are connected to the thesis in order to support or criticize it.

According to Grice (2001), arguing is a form of rationality that is unique to the human species, since it represents the type of rationality that is peculiar to the human mind: a rational being is who seeks justification for his/her own choices and believes that finding justification is an unavoidable requirement.

The act of arguing is a communicative intraspecific phenomenon by which the arguer attempts to influence or modify beliefs, behaviour, ideas and plans of the person the communication is addressed to. The act of arguing belongs to human behaviour which includes experience, actions and ordinary discourse: it is not the area of general principles or the basic principles of reality, rather the pragmatic dimension of the actions and thought of each individual, in which reasoning is developed and evaluated and beliefs are accepted and justified.

Even though natural language entails misunderstandings, imprecisions, and ambiguities, people generally tend to make use of it when arguing; actually, it is quite effective and, potentially, it allows people to achieve an agreement, manage conflicts, and face a public debate more easily. This applies to everyday life as well. Values, beliefs, assumptions, prejudices and opinions, for instance, may easily influence the way in which people enter a debate. In addition, the use of natural language seems to be predominant when people try to persuade their listeners in specific situations.


2.2 The logical form of argumentation

Every argumentation is formulated in natural language which does not include formal logic. Unlike formal logic, the logic of reasoning, otherwise known as informal logic, is not based on consequential bonds among semantic units (or propositions), rather on inner relationships, including non-deductive relationships, among the pragmatic units (linguistic acts), which constitute an argumentation. Since argumentation’s aim is to persuade one or more subjects, each argumentative form will be formulated taking into account the character, knowledge and expectations of these subjects. Thus, the standard logical-deductive and logical-inductive approaches are not suitable for analysing and evaluating the different forms of argumentation. To analyse and evaluate an argumentation it is necessary to draw on rules or criteria that, although logical, do not derive from the notions of deductive validity, coherence and inductive force which characterize formal logic. Indeed, it is for such a reason that formal logicians, who exclusively deal with the correctness and validity of an argumentation and analyse the relations among its terms and propositions, are not generally interested in the pragmatic aspects of argumentation.

So, in order to examine an argumentation, the formal-logic criteria of correctness, coherence or validity cannot be used, but it is possible to make use of the criteria of acceptability, relevance and sufficiency (ARS) introduced by Johnson and Blair in 1977 (later adopted also by informal logicians such as Govier, Damer and Freeman).

The criterion of acceptability responds to the need to establish whether the premises appear probable, reasonable and therefore acceptable to the listener. In general, acceptability should not be considered incompatible with the truth,  considered as a criterion for evaluating the adequacy of the premises as regards a good argument. In other words, within particular contexts, the premises of an argumentation are acceptable only if the arguer considers them to be true and shows  that they are true to the listener or reader. Thus to consider the premises of an argumentation acceptable, means to recognize that they are reasonably credible or probable from the epistemic point of view (Blair 1989). After all, there are cases in which a premise may be accepted even if its truth cannot be established: for example, if it constitutes a reasonable presumption or if it has sufficient probability to be true under some circumstances.

The criterion of relevance, on the other hand, concerns the probative value the premises have for the conclusion of an argumentation, in which they determine the importance that a particular premise holds in the process of acceptance of a conclusion. The notion of relevance may be used  not only to refer to the force that a premise has in supporting a conclusion, but also to indicate the weight that a premise has in rendering a conclusion probable.

Finally, the criterion of sufficiency refers to the degree of obviousness that the premises confer on the conclusion: in other words, the premises of an argumentation make the conclusion probable.

Thus, the arguments that constitute an argumentation must be acceptable to the interlocutor or audience, relevant with regard to the thesis that is maintained and sufficient to make it probable. These criteria, which do not exclude the notions of deductive validity and inductive strength belonging to the formal logic, will be used to analyse and describe the specific inferential forms that are used, together with the deductive and inductive procedures, in the formulation of arguments.

Even Habermas (1986:22-23) has contributed to the discussion concerning the possibility of constructing a logic of argumentation; he affirms that this discipline does not deal with the deductive bonds among the semantic units (propositions), rather with the non-deductive relations among the pragmatic units (linguistic acts) which argumentations are made of. This idea is widely shared both by Johnson and Blair (1994:11), who define informal logic as the logic of information, and by Walton (1989:ix), who maintains that informal logic is tantamount to the critical study of argumentation[1].



2.3 Cohesion and coherence


From the linguistic point of view, cohesion is the set of bonds present in a text to ensure the connection among the propositions at a superficial level. We can therefore define an argumentation as coherent when the arguments that constitute it are linked together by certain elements called cohesives. One important category of cohesives is that of the so-called substituents, that is, those terms that can substitute other terms: pronouns are a classic example of the phenomenon of substituting, since they are able to substitute nouns within an argumentation, guaranteeing its cohesion and contextuality[2].

The substituents have their basis in the so-called attachment points, that is, the terms the substituent refers to for its interpretation. In a proposition, there are attachment points to which other elements are bound, creating what we can call ‘circuits’. In such a way, the proposition consists of a network of bonds that connect the cohesives to their attachment points. Where there is only one attachment point, a sequence of cohesives is defined as a chain.

For example, in the proposition “John fell down ripping his trousers”, ‘his’ is a cohesive that has ‘John’ as its point of attachment. In other words, the cohesive ‘his’ can be interpreted only if it is referred back to its point of attachment ‘John’. If one or more elements in a proposition can only be interpreted by means of the attachment points, this means that the text is cohesive as a whole. Besides the cohesives, it is necessary to take into account the so-called connectives which link the different parts of a proposition, without having necessarily an attachment point in a specific part of the text. This is the case of conjunctions, adverbs (therefore, so), propositional syntagms and clauses (as mentioned earlier, as we will see, and so forth). Let us consider the following proposition:


George had immediately opened the door; although he did not know the visitor, he let him come in.


In this case, the words in italics are connectives: ‘immediately’ indicates that two events have occurred one after the other, while ‘although’ expresses the contradiction between a fact and an action.

The role of connectives is essential for many reasons: it favours the correct “functioning” of an argumentation and make it more effective and convincing. The connectives do not simply connect  different arguments, but accentuate and foster them to be more effective and convincing and sometimes indicate that a new element is about to be added to what has already been provided, or that the arguer wishes to compare such an element with something already stated (Simone 1990:419). In this way, all the semantic-pragmatic relations that confer a textual structure  upon a series of propositions contribute to the argumentative cohesion.

Another property of argumentation is coherence, that is, the thematic continuity and structural homogeneity of an argumentative discourse. From the linguistic point of view, coherence is the relationship linking the meanings of the propositions that constitute a text. These links may be established on the basis of the encyclopaedic or pragmatic knowledge shared by the speakers in a particular community. The dialogue: a) “I’d like a hot chocolate”; b) “Do you want cream with it?” seems to be much more  coherent, not from a textual point of view because there are no lexical or grammatical links between the two propositions, but from the contextual one since there is a coherence provided by the situation “customer who orders, waiter who takes the order”.

The coherence of an argumentation can be both textual and contextual. In the field of linguistics, textual coherence is defined as the internal property of an argumentation referring to the deep structure or d-structure of the argumentation. The deep structure consists of relationships and properties which, although not visible in the surface structure or s-structure, influence the overall structure of the argumentation containing the syntactic and semantic information of each proposition. On the other hand, the surface structure, which is immediately perceptible having a phonological signifier, shows the linguistic units as they are and determines the specificity of the argumentation. Although it has a different order and form from the surface structure, the textual coherence gives argumentative discourse a structural and thematic unity, which prevents obvious syntactic and semantic contradictions from arising. In other words, the deep structure is the neuromental generative-transformational structure of the linguistic-propositional forms.

 According to this model, the generation of propositions, and hence of an argumentation, consists of the appearance of  a deep structure in the surface structure. To understand the semantic content of a proposition it is necessary to consider the idetic-inherent relationships among its constituents, which are present in the deep structure, but absent in the surface structure (except the case of elementary propositions).

So propositions conceal a somewhat complex stratification: the surface structure, which appears to the observer, matches to a deep structure made up of elements that do not necessarily emerge on the surface. Let us consider the following proposition:


George told Mario to go away.


The infinitive verb has no ‘subject’ thematic role. Since the verb ‘to tell’ commands the indirect object, the empty subject of ‘go away’ is a co-referent of Mario. If the vacant thematic role is occupied by calling the subject of the infinitive PRO(noun), we have the following deep structure:


[George told Marioi] [PROto go away].


This structure makes clear the subjects of the two predicates and also shows that there is co-reference between Mario and the subject (not explicit) of to go away. So, by the expression “deep structure” we mean an abstract representation of the proposition, in which all its thematic roles are made explicit, and these are without movement.[3]

With regard to communicative processes, it is essential to take into consideration the contextual coherence of the argumentative discourse which allows, in certain conditions, the recollection of a set of knowledge that has already been acquired and accepted by the addressee and which is relevant to that discourse. In this way, contextual coherence encourages the formulation of propositional scripts[4], which are specific linguistic codifications of the idetic structures, that is, those mental structures that underlie the argumentation, which we will consider in section 4. So contextual coherence is not an intrinsic quality, rather it is connected to the argumentation, since it is not an organic part of its linguistic characteristics, but consists in the correspondence between the argumentative structure and all the elements of the real linguistic environment[5] and of the communicative situation.

The argumentative coherence has a two-fold nature, textual and contextual, and although an argumentation may be well constructed and cohesive, it is quite possible that it cannot be considered coherent unless the addressee has the necessary knowledge and information to accept it as such. The addressee must, in fact, have recourse to a “package” of knowledge and information (his/her encyclopaedia), which we will define as an argumental schema, that can be superimposed on the discourse as a structuring network, creating further internal connections and filling in the gaps in the discourse. Thus, the coherence of an argumentative text does not lie in its linguistic characteristics, but in the set of encyclopaedic knowledge which is activated in the addressee at the moment in which he/she receives the text to process and consider it.

In other words, a coherent argumentation does not actually exist in itself, but instead, it is the addressee who establishes the coherence it may have with respect to his or her constellation of beliefs, opinions and knowledge, which seems to imply a specific mental activity. In assessing the level of coherence of an argumentation, it is necessary to consider non-linguistic competences, such as, the addressee’s ability to attribute further meaning to single arguments through inferences, and to establish associations among physical and/or mental elements, using known cognitive schemata.



3. The semiotic perspective

3.1 Semic analysis


Under the semiotic perspective, we maintain that it is essential to refer to structural semiotics, in particular using the theoretical store of semic analysis, which studies the semantic composition of words, breaking them down into “semantic segments” or semes, the smallest units of meaning, which have a structural nature and are indicated as difference operators. Thus, semic analysis has a componential nature, since it starts from the assumption that each of the meanings of a lexical unit may be analysed into component parts (the meaning of ‘man’, for example, into three components ‘male’, ‘adult’, ‘human’), which should not be considered as predicates of the objects to which they refer, but as meaningful constituents of the sememe ‘man’.

It is possible to subdivide semes into two distinct classes: nuclear semes and contextual semes or classemes. The former define the invariant features of the meaning of a lexeme[6], that is the features whose value does not depend on the context in which they appear, and which determine the definition of the connotative meaning; the latter, on the other hand, which  depends upon the context in which the lexeme is set, determine the particular meanings that the lexeme can assume, and allow the denotative meaning to be defined.

Semic analysis is a useful method for establishing a demarcation between denotation and connotation. Within a sememe, the nuclear semes perform the connotative function, while the contextual semes perform the denotative function, since they refer to specific objects in the world. In addition, this analysis takes account of all the key semantic relationships, in particular hyponymy and hyperonymy[7]. A lexeme A is the hyponym of a lexeme B when its meaning is included in that of B: for example, geranium is a hyponym of plant, while plant is a hyperonym of geranium. So, if a proposition containing a hyperonym is true, a proposition containing its hyponym in the same position must necessarily be true: if the proposition “all plants need water” is true, then the proposition “all geraniums need water” is also true.  In other words, a lexeme A is the hyponym of a lexeme B when  all the intensional components of B occur in its semantic matrix, as well as some others: geranium has the intensional components of plant, to which others may be added. Thus, hyperonyms are intensionally poorer than hyponyms, but extensionally richer, while the opposite is true for hyponyms.

To describe the nature of semes in more detail, we may add that they are infralinguistic units of a qualitative kind, by which lexemes are composed: that is, they are elementary semantic components, the so-called semantic primitives, which constitute the meanings of every lexical unit.[8] The idea of seme has a theoretical value, since it is not present as an element in linguistic structures, but it is useful to highlight the complexity of meaning of each sememe, which is made up of different semes[9].

Some examples will enable us to understand the nature and function of the nuclear semes and classemes within linguistic structures. Let us consider the following propositions:


  1. The Parthenon columns are very beautiful.
  2. My grandfather’s spinal column is painful.


In each of these propositions the lexeme ‘column’ manifests nuclear semes such as /verticality/, /fixedness/, /strength/, /firmness/, /articulation/, and so forth. However, in each individual proposition the contextual relationships of the lexeme ‘column’ with the lexemes ‘Parthenon’ and ‘grandfather’ allow other semes to emerge such as /architectural/ and /anatomical/, which refer to the same lexeme ‘column’, without being nuclear, since they are not necessary for the connotative definition of the lexeme ‘column’, but are relevant to establish which column is referred to in particular context. Hence, they are contextual semes.  So the context enables us to understand that in the first proposition we are dealing with an “architectural” column, while in the second an “anatomical” column. As we can see, the /architectural/ and /anatomical/ semes determine the connotation for the lexeme ‘column’. In virtue of these considerations, we can speak of ‘architectural’ columns and ‘anatomical’ columns.

The classemes have another particularly important function: they take from each lexeme the nuclear semes that are coherent with the context of the proposition, separating them from those which are not coherent. The classeme /architectural/, which emerges from the context of the first proposition, selects the nuclear semes /verticality/, /fixedness/, /strength/, and /firmness/, but excludes, for example, the seme /articulation/; the classeme /anatomical/ which reveals itself in the context of the second proposition, favours the nuclear semes /verticality/, /strength/, /articulation/, / firmness/, but not the seme /fixedness/.

The meaning of a lexeme always depends on the combination of a semic nucleus (the set of nuclear semes) with at least one contextual seme. This combination, which varies according to the textual setting in which the lexeme is located, constitutes a sememe. In other words, a sememe Sem is the combination of a semic nucleus Ns with one or more contextual semes Cs:


Sem = Ns+Cs


Thus, in the propositions we have examined, each type of ‘column’, defined on the basis of a specific contextualisation, constitutes a sememe: <‘architectural’ column> and <‘anatomical’ column>.

Each sememe represents, on the discourse level, the meaning-effect caused by the combination of the semic nucleus with the contextual semes. For a further example we may turn to the one formulated by Greimas (1966): in the propositions “the dog barks” and “the commissioner barks”, the sememes containing the semes that define the meaning of “barks” depend on the two possible combinations  of a semic nuclear figure (the constant in meaning), that we can define as “a sort of call”, and the two contextual semes that come from the two respective contexts  (which for that reason are common to the lexeme “barks” and to the two distinct subjects of the propositions): the contextual semes “animal” in the first case and “human” in the second. So the first meaning of the lexeme “barks” is described by the sememe “a kind of call + animal” and the second by the sememe “a kind of call + human”. Thus, the sememe gathers in itself different nuclear and contextual semes which, combined together, account for the specific meanings for each occurrence.

A lexeme’s collection of semes are not arranged in sequential order; consequently, only two operations are possible to alter the meaning of a lexeme: the suppression or addition of semes. Generally, lexemes have a polysemic nature, as attested empirically by their lexicographical use, and their occurrences are regularly recorded in dictionaries.

So semic or componential analysis consists in the breaking down of the meaning of a lexeme into semes, which are its semantic features: for example, in the case of the lexeme ‘woman’, we have [human] [adult] [female] /woman/. In every context it is possible to consider the semes from the point of view of inherence or afference: semes belonging to a type-sememe, that is, those which are included in a meaning that is independent of the context and which are blown up (that is made relevant) in it, as long as there are no reasons for narcotizing (or neutralizing) them, are said to be inherent; semes that are only present in required-sememes, and can only be blown up in meanings in particular contexts, are said to be afferent. Inherent semes are typical in character; that is, if I speak of ‘crow’, I will expect the seme /blackness/ in the absence of any other specification. Afferent semes, on the other hand, are provided by a specific context, which establishes which semes should be blown up, and which narcotized: for example, in “albino crow”, the inherent seme /blackness/ which is present in the type-sememe ‘crow’ is narcotized by the required-sememe, because that crow is albino, while the afferent seme ‘whiteness’ is blown up in the same required-sememe. In the proposition “Mario is the woman in the couple”, the seme /weakness/ becomes salient and hence blown up, while the seme /femininity (biological)/ is narcotized.

Greimas offers an interesting example of semic analysis in his consideration of the lexeme head, or as he himself explains, “the set of propositions or syntagms that the lexeme head has in a dictionary” (Greimas 2000: 69). If one goes from the first definition “part (of the body) … joined to the head by the neck …” to the figurative sense in the expressions “bare one’s head”, “cover one’s head”, and so on (referring to the part of the head covered by the hair), something is clearly discarded, and this is extended further in other expressions such as “the head of a pole” or “the head of the convoy”. Moving from the first meaning to those derived from it, one necessarily begins to modify – though not yet substitute – the semantic content of the lexeme. We would agree with the structuralists that it is impossible not to find that the variants have equal value and that therefore, every use of the term head in discourse will constitute a metasememe, that is the figure that replaces one sememe with another, altering the groups of semes of the degree zero.[10]  In the case of the lexeme head, for example, it is possible to identify two nuclear semes, “extremity” and “spheroidicity”, which, when ordered hierarchically and combined with contextual semes, give rise to multiple sememes such as “head of a post” or “egg-head”.  The former is defined by the nuclear seme “extremity” together with the contextual semes “uppermost” and “verticality”; the latter is defined by the nuclear seme  “spheroidicity” together with the contextual seme “solidity”.

At the level of meaning, in order to distinguish one unit of meaning from the others that have some contextual semes in common with it, it is helpful to make use of the notion of semanteme, meaning the set of nuclear semes of a sememe that makes it possible to differentiate one unit of meaning from the others that have some contextual semes in common with it: for example, the semanteme mastiff is the set of nuclear semes that makes it possible to distinguish the sememe mastiff from hound.

The semiotic types of bond between two or more lexemes consist of intersections, whether broad or not so broad, between the respective semic nuclei, involving the sharing of one or more nuclear semes. The process of metaphor is an example of this. For example, in the proposition “Maria is a rose”, the link in meaning between the two sememes ‘Maria’ and ‘rose’ is made possible by the simultaneous presence in both sememes of the semes beauty, freshness and colour, to which other more specific contextual semes may be added.

To define the metaphor further on a descriptive level, we can introduce the idea of semantic field, meaning the area bounded by the intersection of the semic nuclei of the individual terms: the semantic field is the identitive space between two terms, which contains one or more attributes that can be extended to the union of two terms on which the process of metaphor is based. In this case, it is clear which is the metaphorizer and which is the metaphorized. ‘Maria’ has as its referent a human being of female gender; so ‘woman’ is compared to ‘rose’. This is obviously a very simple linguistic game, since the semes to be selected and those to be discarded are already known. If, as Eco (1984: 188-189) observes, a Porphyrian tree were to be constructed on the vegetable axis (pink)/animal (woman), the only recognisable contradiction in this metaphorical procedure, there would be a matching unit at the top or upper junction of this axis, since both woman and rose belong to the organic world.

A metaphor of this kind is not the fruit of a particular perceptual phenomenon, nor is it based on ontological aspects, but it is a form of semiosis in which the semes ‘beauty’,’ freshness’ and ‘colour’ are considered as interpreters of the health and the appearance of a female figure and of a flower, although from the physical point of view there is no exact correspondence between the colour of a rose and that of a female body. How is this possible? How can one use a metaphor of this kind? How are they possible, how are metaphors used? According to Eco (1984: 195), “the success of the metaphor is a function of the sociocultural format of the encyclopaedia of the interpreting subjects”. That means that the metaphors would only be possible in a cultural context that was already rich in content, structured within a network of interpreters that establish similarities and analogies  the different attributes at a semiotic level. The metaphorical interpretation springs from the interactive relationship between an interpreter and a metaphorical text and does not generally depend on the intentions of the speaker, but rather on the nature of the text and on the general framework of the encyclopaedic knowledge of a certain culture. As Eco (1990:152) observes, “an interpreter can decide to consider any utterance metaphorical, as long as his competence permits it. So John eats his apple every morning can always be interpreted as if John committed Adam’s sin again every day.”

Metaphor, then, is a connotative phenomenon not by virtue of the intentions of the speaker, but by virtue of its semiosis within a specific language at a given moment of its evolution. To understand the proposition “Gustav is a pig”, for example,  one needs as much knowledge about the bad habits of the animal “pig” as about the use of the term “pig” to describe a person who behaves in a disgraceful physical and/or moral way. At any rate, to assert that understanding of the connotative meaning requires knowledge of the literal meaning does not mean that the recipient of a metaphor must necessarily know the literal meaning of a term in order to recognize it as metaphorical. Indeed, it is possible to recognize the metaphorical meaning without knowing the literal meaning: for example, the term “bolgia” (hell, bedlam) is often used to indicate a place where there is agitation, tumult, or confusion, without knowing that the expression derives connotatively from the fact that the ten bolgie in the eighth circle of Dante’s Inferno were a place of great confusion and din. However, if one wanted to explain in linguistic terms why the speaker used the term ‘bolgia’ to mean a situation of great confusion and disorder, it would be necessary to go back to the literal meaning underlying it, which may be obsolete, but is not therefore semantically inactive.[11]



3.2 Semiosic bonds and argumentative isotopies


Semiosic bonds are established among the sememes and are specified in the following way: two sememes Sem1 and Sem2 are bound together semiosically if at least one seme (either nuclear or contextual) of Sem1 is applicable to Sem2 (or vice versa); that is, two sememes may be said to be bound semiosically when at least one of their semes is applicable to both of them. For example, the sememe chair and the sememe armchair are bound semiosically on the basis of different semes which are applicable to both: having a seat, a back, four legs, and so on, or also being present in the same room.

The degree of intensity of a bond between two sememes is determined by the number of semes that are applicable to both: the larger the number of semes applicable to both, the stronger the semiosic bond among the semes of the different sememes and, therefore, among the sememes themselves. In a text composed of several propositions or, specifically, in an argumentation, it is possible that different isotopies will be present; by  the term  isotopy we mean the recurrence of one or more semes in different sememes and, therefore, the presence of semiosic bonds among  the semes.

The isotopies in a discourse or an argument are intrinsic to their semantic structure: according to Eco (1979: 93), the isotopy is “the coherence of a route to interpretation”, while for Greimas (1970:188) it is “a set of redundant semantic categories that allow the uniform interpretation of a text”. Introduced by Greimas (1966), to designate the reiteration, along a syntagmatic chain, of contextual semes that guarantee the homogeneity of the discourse (even in the case of a single proposition, whether simple or complex), the concept of isotopy has been extended to the reiteration of all the semic categories, within a single proposition as well as within a text. For example, the metaphor “Maria is a rose” presents a very strong isotopy, because between the terms Maria and “rose” there is an intersection of the semantic fields that leads them to share semes such as “beauty”, “freshness”, “rosiness”. Let us also consider the proposition “this tenor is a dog”: the competent speaker notes immediately, based on the rules in his encyclopaedia, that a semantic overlap is possible between the lexeme ‘tenor’ and the lexeme ‘dog’.

According to the accepted meaning of ‘dog’ as a very bad “singer” (due to semantic information contained in the encyclopaedia according to which dogs emit barks), and the definition of tenor as an opera singer, there is a semantic overlap. In other words, the two lexemes share at least one seme (singer), and this combination allows a level of semantic coherence to be established within the proposition: an isotopy, in fact. The repetition of the same seme in a context itself constitutes an isotopy: for example, in the proposition “in the middle of the sea there is a ship with mighty masts” the lexemes ‘ship’, ‘sea’ and ‘masts’ contain the seme /sailing/, and thus the isotopy ‘sailing’.

Moreover, if we are referring exclusively to argumentations, it is not important to consider the isotopies present in the individual arguments, but rather those among the arguments, since these are the isotopies that bind the arguments together to form an argumentation: more precisely, argumentative isotopies are composed of the recurrence of shared semes from several sememes present in different arguments.

So the isotopy consists in general, of the repetition of semes within a discourse and, in particular, within an argumentation: in the case of repetition of nuclear semes, the isotopy will be a semiotic-type isotopy,  while in the case of classemes it will be a semantic-type isotopy. In this case, the use of the term semantic refers to the fact that the classemes express the denotative aspect of the sememes. In the use of sememes within an argument there are four possible combinations, where Ns is used to indicate the semic nucleus (the set of nuclear semes) and Cs is used to indicate the contextual seme:



I                               II                                   III                                                   IV


     Ns2    +        Cs      



Ns   +           Cs2                                                     





Ns + Cs

Ns1                                    Cs1

Ns2             +                     Cs2

Nsn                                     Csn


With the first combination, the discourse or argumentation is unisotopic in character: this is the case with scientific and philosophical arguments (although not always so for the latter), which try to avoid ambiguity, whether syntactic or semantic; with the second combination the discourse or argumentation is plurisotopic in nature, for example, a literary text, in which each semic nucleus can combine with innumerable classemes; the third combination refers to plurithematic arguments, for example an informative discourse in which the classeme meets different nuclear semes, thus multiplying the thematic nuclei; finally, the fourth combination refers to a plurithematic and plurisotopic argument: this generally involves experimental or avant-garde texts in which there is repetition of nuclear semes and of classemes, leading to semiotic and semantic isotopies.

In order to find whether isotopies are present in a discourse or not, we may consider the following texts. The first text is: “Yesterday I wrote a letter to my grandmother. And three people can sit on the back seat of a Mercedes”; here there are no isotopic occurrences because no semic bonds, and therefore no isotopies emerge within the individual propositions that constitute the utterance, or between these propositions. Let us now consider another text: “Yesterday I wrote a letter to my grandmother. Being more modern that I thought, she replied by email”; here we can identify the figurative isotopy (with a concrete reference) /means of communication/ (e-mail), or the thematic isotopy (with an abstract reference) such as /affection between relatives/ (I-she). In this case, the text reintroduces the inherent semes in the lexeme ‘grandmother’, such as /old age/, /traditionality/, /slowness/ and so on, with afferent semes taken from the context, such as /modernity/, /new media/, and so forth.[12]

In this paper we use the expression argumentative isotopy to mean the recurrence, along an argumental chain, of one or more semes shared by different sememes, which ensure the argumental coherence of the argumentation. Such argumental isotopy has a generative quality, because it brings with it the bonds among the semes of the sememes present in the various arguments, and also an epistemological quality, because it establishes the amount of coherence among the various arguments and the sufficiency of the argumentation with regard to the thesis being maintained.

An argumental isotopy may manifest itself on two levels: microargumental, when it involves some of the arguments in an argumentation; and macroargumental, when it involves all the arguments in an argumentation. We can therefore define the coherence of an argumentation or argumental coherence as a form of semio-semantic homeostasis, whose indicators are made up of isotopies (or isotopic bonds), which ensure the internal isotopic stability. More precisely, the more isotopic bonds there are among the sememes present within it, the more an argumentation can be said to be coherent. To measure the level of coherence of an argumentation as a sequence of ordered arguments it is necessary to identify the isotopic bonds generated at the interargumental level: in our view, argumental coherence is the measurement of argumental isotopy. The latter consists in the transfer of the isotopic bonds from the thesis that is being maintained to all the other arguments. At this point it is useful to consider the isotopy with reference to particular argumentations:


1)     Every law is bad, because every law is a violation of freedom.

2)     I can’t help you paint the room, because next week I’ve got to take an exam that I absolutely have to pass; otherwise I’ll lose my scholarship.



In the following diagram we have analysed the isotopies contained in the above argumentations. The sememes of the argumentations have been broken down into their nuclear semes and the symbols ‘+’ and ‘-’ indicate respectively the presence or absence of the nuclear semes in the sememes. For explanation of the semes, reference was made to specific definitions in the more frequently used dictionaries.


  Regulatoriness Transgressiveness Lawfulness Harmfulness
Law +
Bad + +
Violation + +
Freedom +


  Labor-iousness Onerous-ness Temporality Success Money Harm-fulness
Paint room + + +
Next week + + +
Take an exam + +
Pass an exam + + + + +
Lose scholarship + + +



In proposition 1, the force of the argumentation,  which is deliberately subversive of the established order, is based on an allotopy that is consistent in the relationship of opposition between ‘law’- ‘bad’ and ‘law’ -‘violation’, while it is possible to obtain an isotopy from the semes ‘harmfulness’ and ‘transgressiveness’ contained both in the lexeme ‘bad’ and in the lexeme ‘violation’, which makes the thesis (that laws are bad) coherent with the argument put forward to support it (because laws are a violation of freedom). If we consider proposition 2, on the other hand, we can observe different cases of isotopy involving at least four semes (‘laboriousness’, ‘onerousness’, ‘temporality’ and ‘having money’), while the appearance of a macroisotopy, determined by the presence of the seme ‘temporality’ in all the sememes considered here, is an indication of a semio-semantic homeostasis, which testifies to the isotopic stability that makes the argumentation coherent and effective.

At this point it is necessary to move our investigation to the idetic-inherent level, which constitutes the neuromental correlate of the structures and semiosic bonds, to understand the processes of codification of thoughts into propositional scripts. At first sight, there appears to be a kind of parallelism among sememes and idemes on one hand and among semiosic bonds and idetic-inherent bonds on the other, although this parallelism will only be better understood and evaluated after having examined the inherent perspective in the following section.





4. The idetic-inherent perspective

4.1 Idetic analysis


In the previous section we pointed out the possibility of a semiotic analysis of the semantic structure of argumentation. Based on this analysis, what makes an argumentation effective from the pragmatic point of view and gives rise to its coherence from a semantic point of view, are the semiotic bonds expressed in particular isotopies. In order for an argumentation to have internal coherence and perlocutionary effectiveness, it is necessary for isotopies to be present among the arguments of an argumentation, and, to a lesser extent, within each argument. Thus we have examined argumentation from a linguistic point of view, and specifically from a semiotic point of view, and we have shown how, in this analysis, the concepts of seme and sememe are important as units of meaning.

At this point, it would be helpful to reflect further on these concepts: they definitely belong to the linguistic sphere, but represent the semiotic-linguistic expression of what we have called idemes. Hence, in this section we will move from the semiotic-linguistic level to the idetic-inherent level and we will underline that the semiotic-linguistic level is correlated with the idetic-inherent level in the sense that the isotopic bonds are the semiosic “manifestation” of what we shall call inherent bonds among idemes. In order to present the idetic-inherent perspective based on what we shall call inherent logic, we consider that it is essential to proceed step by step, explaining the concepts that we will use in this section.

Within semiotic perspective, it is possible, by means of semic analysis, to identify and describe the meaningful bonds among sememes which make an argumentation isotopically coherent and, in particular, the meaningful bonds among sememes which constitute support of a thesis. As we have seen, these meaningful bonds are, so to speak, the “semantic skeleton” of an argumentation. However, their presence does not explain their formation or production. In order to clarify this topic, we believe that it is necessary to move from the semiotic level to the idetic-inherent level, consisting of the idemes as already defined, which, from a neurophysiological point of view, are formed by specific neuromental configurations.

In order to examine the structures of the idetic-inherent level, we shall define the notions of inherent bond and inherence to which we referred earlier. The inherent bonds are important in idetic-inherent analysis because they establish, temporarily or permanently, relations among idemes and these relationships generate semiosic bonds among the arguments in an argumentation.

From the epistemological point of view, the topic of bonds among idemes responds to the need to identify the bonds that permit the development of structured reasoning or complex thought. From a neuromental point of view one may affirm, although perhaps provisionally, that the bonds among idemes are specific neurophysiological processes or connections among different neuromental configurations.

If we consider an ideme as composed of an inherence of defining predicates, that is, of those predicates that identify it over and beyond any context, then, we may affirm that an ideme Idm1 is  inherent to an ideme Idm2 if a defining predicate that is applicable to Idm1 is also applicable to Idm2.  In other words, two idemes may be said to be inherent if at least one of their defining predicates is applicable to both. For example, the ideme ‘mastiff’ and the ideme ‘hound’ share the predicates ‘animal’, ‘mammal’, ‘dog’, and so on, and therefore the lexemes ‘mastiff’ and ‘hound’ may be present in an argumentation since they are inherently bound together. Moreover, it can be added that on the semiotic level, the nuclear semes that are identitive of a sememe correspond to the defining predicates, again over and beyond all context.

The relationships of inherence among idemes can have different intensity, depending on the number of predicative overlaps on which they are based: they are weak when the number of defining predicates applicable to two or more idemes is lower than the number of defining predicates applicable to each of them; and they are strong when the number of defining predicates applicable to two or more idemes is equal or superior to the half of number of predicates applicable to the ideme which has the smallest number of  defining predicates.

In mental processes the notion of inherence means that two neuromental contents are bound if at least one attribute of one of them is also present in the other, that is, if both share a certain neurophisiological configuration; hence the “specularity” in the semiosic field by which two idemes that are inherently bound are those for which the common predicates are reflected in the semes of the corresponding lexemes.



4.2 Inherent bonds and idetic isotopies


At this point, we should consider the nature and function of the ideme and its relationship with the corresponding sememe.  It is legitimate to maintain that on the idetic level, each semanteme, that is each semic nucleus, has its corresponding ideme-type or idetic scheme, which we shall define as the possible set of nuclear predicates, that is, identitive predicates, that may refer to an object, whether it is concrete or abstract. In carrying out neuromental activities, every individual draws on certain nuclear predicates from ideme-type to refer to concrete or abstract entities. The subject can add to such entities predicates that we  shall define contextual, since they are not strictly inherent to the object but dependent upon the context of use, the opinions and beliefs of that individual. We  shall call the set of nuclear predicates and contextual predicates, which an individual uses to denote a concrete or abstract object, ideme-occurrent.

Among the various occurrent idemes, idetic bonds may be established in the following way: two idemes Idm1 and Idm2 are idetically bound together if at least one predicate (whether nuclear or contextual) of Idm1 is attributable to Idm2 (or vice versa), that is, two occurrent idemes are said to be idetically bound when at least one of their predicates is attributable to both. Hence, the larger the number of predicates applicable to both, the tighter the idetic bonds among the predicates of the different occurrent-idemes. On the idetic level, as well as on the semiotic level, it is possible for isotopies to occur: that happens when one or more predicates recur in different occurrent-idemes, that is when idetic bonds are established among the predicates.

Hence, we may take into consideration the argumentations examined in the previous section, by way of example. The argumentation formulated in (1) ascribed to its occurrent-ideme ‘law’ the non-nuclear predicate ‘bad’. The insertion of the contextual predicate ‘bad’ finds its justification and its foundation in the ideme ‘violation’, since the same predicates are present in the ideme-types of ‘bad’ and ‘violation’, such as, transgressiveness and harmfulness; in this way it is generated an idetic isotopy  between the thesis ‘laws are bad’ and the argument ‘because laws are a violation of freedom’ offered to support the thesis.  Furthermore, within the argument there is an idetic allotopy based on the relationship of opposition ‘law-bad’ and ‘law-violation’, while in the argument “because every law is a violation of freedom” there is an inherent bond among the ideme ‘law’ and the ideme ‘freedom’, since in a political and social sense freedom is the power to act within an organized society according to one’s own convictions and will, within the limits of the law. Moreover, civil freedoms concerning the exercise of private activities, policies concerning the exercise of public duty, and religious policies concerning the right to express one’s own faith are sanctioned by law. Therefore, the predicates ‘authority’, ‘right’ and ‘power’ are applicable to the idemes ‘law’ and ‘freedom’.

In (2), on the other hand, some cases of idetic isotopies can be identified with regard to different identitive predicates (‘laboriousness’, ‘onerousness’, ‘temporality’ and ‘having money’) which confer a solid structure on the argumentation based on a high number of idetic bonds. The presence of the identitive  predicate ‘temporality’ in the idemes ‘paint the room’, ‘next week’, ‘take an exam’, ‘pass an exam’ and ‘lose a scholarship’ indicates an idetic macroisotopy and gives rise to an idetic-inherent homeostasis that confers a significant idetic coherence on the deep structure of the argumentation.



5. Conclusions


In concluding this paper, one cannot but note the difficulty that remains in establishing a correspondence, even only partial, between the linguistic-propositional level and the idetic level in the process of developing an argumentation. There seems to be a constitutive inadequacy in the language to regiment thought, to grasp it the moment it appears, to circumscribe it within its own logical “framework” without fragmenting it irretrievably, losing or excluding significant portions of it. When thought is considered in its entirety, there is an almost invincible resistance to the regulations demanded by the language which we clash with on a daily basis in formulating our discourses, a sort of irreducibility in the idetic structures of the mind to the logical-propositional form of the language.

However, we certainly did not set out to study the thought/language relationship in all its aspects, although in investigating the bonds that underlie the linguistic-propositional structure of argumentation, both at the semiotic level and at the idetic level, we have necessarily touched on some of the important questions underpinning the translation of thought into logical-propositional form, highlighting the basis of what we have defined as inherent logic, that is, the logic of the inherent bonds among idemes, according to which, we form thoughts.

At the conclusion of our analysis on the linguistic-propositional, semiotic and idetic level, we consider that it is possible to hypothesize the existence of two parallel structures, one idetic, and the other linguistic-propositional, both of which are active in the process of formation of  individual argumentations. As regards moving from the idetic structures and from their inherent bonds to thelinguistic-propositional structures and to the syntactic categories of an argumentation, one may suppose that this happens on the semiotic level, where the various occurrent-idemes are replaced by the corresponding sememes, which are the meaningful content of the individual lexemes made up of nuclear semes and contextual semes.

It is reasonable to consider that in the process of transfer of the idetic structures and the related inherent bonds to the linguistic-propositional level through the transit to the semiotic level, a dispersion of information is produced from the entropic point of view due to the level of linguistic competence of the subjects involved and to the difficulties that the linguistic-propositional structures, and therefore the argumentative structures, have in “encapsulating”, ordering and directing the flow of thought, which lacks homogeneity.

In this paper we have outlined some  research’s strategies and we hope that our considerations, sufficiently developed and tested, can be added to the significant contributions of Blair, van Eemeren, Johnson, Sbisà and Walton to enrich, where possible, the field of study of these eminent scholars with a new perspective of study and analysis on deep structures of propositions and argumentations.

If, as Wittgenstein wrote, language disguises thought, so that from the external appearance of the clothing, we cannot reach the form of thought that is dressed up, because the exterior form of clothing has other purposes than to reveal the shape of the body, then we can define argumentation as an idetic structure constituted and tied up together by idetic bonds, which  could be eventually encoded in a semio-linguistic structure constituted by arguments. Such structure reflects the linguistic bonds based on the semiotic bonds and the latter which, in turn, are based on the idetic bonds. This outlook is highlighted in the following  simple diagrams.




            Way of formation                        Way of analysis and evalutation


Idetic Structure

Semiotic     Structure

Linguistic Structure

Semiotic     Structure


Idetic Structure

Linguistic     Structure
































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[1] It is worth recalling Hintikka’s emphatic view on this issue (1989:14): «There is no such thing as a completely informal logic of argumentation or reasoning. The very term ‘informal logic’ is a solecism».

[2] The characteristic an argument has to create meaning only within particular contexts.

3 The surface structure is the final syntactic form that the proposition assumes after the various transformations, while the deep structure underlying the actual proposition – a purely mental structure – carries the semantic content of the proposition (Chomsky 1964; 1980). In generative terms, the movement from the deep structure to the surface structure is defined as transformation and mainly consists in a series of movements. For example, in the transformation of the proposition the child is playing the piano into the proposition the piano is being played by the child a trace is created of the element piano which contains the property [to be played by the child] so that in its new position at the beginning of the sentence, in order to fulfil the property it still retains [to be played by the child], piano requires a transformation of the verb into the passive form is being played and of the subject into the role of agent with the preposition by. In this way the propositions the child is playing the piano  and the piano is being played by the child match and are compatible with the same deep structure.

[4] Propositional scripts are discussed in Bianca 2005: 60-62.

[5] In distributional linguistics language is represented and analysed according to hierarchically ordered levels: phonological, morphological and phrastic. Each unit of each level is the result of a particular combination of subordinate units belonging to the level below it in the hierarchy. For example, a morph is not an autonomous unit but a sequence of phonemes. Because of this clear hierarchical separation between the different levels, distributional linguistic analysis proceeds in linear order following the distribution of the linguistic units and the linear context (position) of each unit. This context is known as the environment of the unit and the unit’s possible expansions are also contained within this environment.

[6] A double lexical unit (signifier and signified) on a strictly linguistic level. This term has been introduced in order to meet the need for something that corresponds on the abstract level to phoneme and to avoid the use of word, a term which is too broad, and which is almost indefinable in the field of linguistics.

[7] The pair of terms hyperonymy/hyponymy was introduced by Lyons (1963) to indicate the semantic relationship between the generic term known as hyperonym or superordinate, and one or more specific terms, called hyponyms or subordinates.

[8] The theory by which all concepts understood as the meanings of words can be analysed as combinations of a finite number of primitive concepts is not new in the history of philosophical and semantic thought and was widespread in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nowadays the idea of semantic primitive is mainly used with reference to units of meaning that cannot be analysed further than a sememe.

[9] The term theoretical is intended in the usual sense assigned to it in an epistemological context.

[10] The degree of absolute zero is discourse reduced to its essential semes, that is, to those semes without which the discourse would lose all meaning.

[11] According to Edelman (G. M. Edelman, Wider than the Sky. The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness, Yale University Press, Yale 2004, ch. 12;  Second Nature. Brain Science and Human Knowledge, Yale University Press, Yale 2006, ch. 8), metaphor is a reflection of the variety and associative capacity of degenerate cerebral networks. It is possible to understand metaphors, but not to prove them in the same way as similarities or logical propositions.

[12] Isotopies are distinguished not only on the basis of the name of the seme that establishes them, but also according to the specific type of seme in question. Thus the proposition “I only use a knife to pick up the peas” obviously contains the isotopy /eating/ which refers to the sememes ‘knife’ and ‘pea’. So the seme in ‘knife’ narcotizes the inherent seme /for cutting/  and blows up the afferent seme ‘for picking up’. On the other hand, it is an allotopy in the case where there is an oppositional relationship between two or more sememes, which involves the presence of incompatible semes (for example, ‘black snow’, where the nuclear seme ‘whiteness’ is incompatible with the nuclear seme ‘blackness’).