The contribution of this thesis is to the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), specifically
to the sub-field called knowledge engineering. Knowledge engineering involves the
computer representation and use of the knowledge and opinions of human experts.
In real world controversies, disagreements can be treated as opportunities for
exploring the beliefs and reasoning of experts via a process called argumentation.
The central claim of this thesis is that a formal computer-based framework for
argumentation is a useful solution to the problem of representing and reasoning with
multiple conflicting viewpoints.
The problem which this thesis addresses is how to represent arguments in domains in
which there is controversy and disagreement between many relevant points of view.
The reason that this is a problem is that most knowledge based systems are founded in
logics, such as first order predicate logic, in which inconsistencies must be eliminated
theory in order for meaningful inference to be possible from it.
I argue that it is possible to devise an argumentation framework by describing one
(FORA : Framework for Opposition and Reasoning about Arguments). FORA
contains a language for representing the views of multiple experts who disagree or
have differing opinions. FORA also contains a suite of software tools which can
facilitate debate, exploration of multiple viewpoints, and construction and revision of
knowledge bases which are challenged by opposing opinions or evidence.
A fundamental part of this thesis is the claim that arguments are meta-level structures
which describe the relationships between statements contained in knowledge bases. It
is important to make a clear distinction between representations in knowledge bases
(the object-level) and representations of the arguments implicit in knowledge bases
(the meta-level). FORA has been developed to make this distinction clear and its main
benefit is that the argument representations are independent of the object-level
representation language. This is useful because it facilitates integration of arguments
from multiple sources using different representation languages, and because it enables
knowledge engineering decisions to be made about how to structure arguments and
chains of reasoning, independently of object-level representation decisions.
I argue that abstract argument representations are useful because they can facilitate a
variety of knowledge engineering tasks. These include knowledge acquisition;
automatic abstraction from existing formal knowledge bases; and construction, rerepresentation,
evaluation and criticism of object-level knowledge bases. Examples
of software tools contained within FORA are used to illustrate these uses of
argumentation structures. The utility of a meta-level framework for argumentation,
and FORA in particular, is demonstrated in terms of an important real world
controversy concerning the health risks of a group of toxic compounds called