Game Theory and Pragmatics
guy standing on the very left’.Now is the time for you to make a quick reply. The following twoarguments come to mind but you can only choose one of them:A: ‘Yes, but the guy standing right next to him was terrible.’B: ‘Yes, but the one standing fourth from the left was terrible.’Which of the two arguments would you choose in order to persuadeAlice?About 66% of the subjects thought that A is more persuasive (the resultswere not sensitive to the order in which the two counterarguments haveappeared).This example appears to conﬁrm that the power of a counterargumentgoes beyond its literal content. Raising a counterargument that is ‘distant’,in some natural sense, from the original argument is interpreted as an ad-mission that the debater could not raise a ‘closer’ counterargument to sup-port his view.Thus, for example, countering an argument about the musician standingon the very left by an argument about the musician standing fourth fromthe left will likely be interpreted by Alice as an admission that the musi-cians standing between these two are good, thus providing an additionalevidence in favor of Michael.We observed similar phenomena in two other experiments discussed inGlazer and Rubinstein (2001). Having to respond to an argument regard-ing Bangkok, an argument regarding Manila was considered more persua-sive than an argument regarding Brussels. Having to counter an argumentregarding Monday, an argument regarding Tuesday was considered morepersuasive than an argument regarding Thursday.In other words, a statement made in a debate will have a different mean-ing than it would have had in a conversation. Though the fact that Manilais closer to Bangkok than Brussels is irrelevant to the substance of the de- bate, it is relevant to the evaluation of the evidence regarding Manila andBrussels as potential counterarguments to evidence about Bangkok.Ourpurposeisnottoprovideageneraltheoryofthepragmaticsofdebat-ing but to provide a possible rationale for the phenomenon that the strengthof a counterargument depends on the argument it counters. Speciﬁcally,we study the listener’s optimization problem when his aim is to adopt per-suasion rules that minimize the probability that he will reach the wrongconclusion from the arguments. We study this optimization under a con-straint on the amount of information the listener can process. We show thatthe phenomenon in which the ‘strength’ of the evidence which is broughtas a counterargument depends on the initial argument is not necessarily arhetorical fallacy but may be consistent with optimal persuasion rules.