Why Images Cannot be Arguments, But Moving Ones Might

Marc Champagne*, Ahti Veikko Pietarinen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Some have suggested that images can be arguments. Images can certainly bolster the acceptability of individual premises. We worry, though, that the static nature of images prevents them from ever playing a genuinely argumentative role. To show this, we call attention to a dilemma. The conclusion of a visual argument will either be explicit or implicit. If a visual argument includes its (explicit) conclusion, then that conclusion must be demarcated from the premise(s) or otherwise the argument will beg the question. If a visual argument does not include its (implicit) conclusion, then the premises on display must license that specific conclusion and not its opposite, in accordance with some demonstrable rationale. We show how major examples from the literature fail to escape this dilemma. Drawing inspiration from the graphical logic of C. S. Peirce, we suggest instead that images can be manipulated (erased, dragged, copied, etc.) in a way that overcomes the dilemma. Diagrammatic reasoning can take one stepwise from an initial visual layout to a conclusion—thereby providing a principled rationale that bars opposite conclusions—and the visual inscription of this correct conclusion can come afterward in time—thereby distinguishing the conclusion from the premises. Even though this practical application of Peirce’s logical ideas to informal contexts requires that one make adjustments, we believe it points to a dynamic conception of visual argumentation that will prove more fertile in the long run.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-236
Number of pages30
Issue number2
Early online date3 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • C. S. Peirce
  • Diagrammatic reasoning
  • Existential Graphs
  • Visual arguments


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