Replicating Reasons: Arguments, Memes, and the Cognitive Environment


Some arguments that are delivered in a dialectical exchange are never again recalled. Others are repeated again and again across argumentative situations and settle in a community's shared cognitive environment, thus demonstrating a memetic quality along lines that have become popular with several cultural theorists as a way of describing the evolution of culture. Moreover, some arguments may themselves act as memes. If memes "are replicators and tend to increase in number whenever they have the chance" (Blackmore 1999, 37), then they should be of interest to rhetoricians and argumentation theorists. I explore the relationship between arguments and memes, considering the nature of the meme and its argumentative potential. While controversial, meme theory promises to shed new light on how persuasion works in our mutual cognitive environments, and the attention it gives to how reasons move from mind to mind encourages the effort of the exploration.