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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)


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Publication details for Dr Sara L. Uckelman

Uckelman, Sara L. (2013). Medieval Disputationes de obligationibus as formal dialogue systems. Argumentation 27(2): 143-166.

Author(s) from Durham


Formal dialogue systems model rule-based interaction between agents and as such have multiple applications in multi-agent systems and AI more generally. Their conceptual roots are in formal theories of natural argumentation, of which Hamblin’s formal systems of argumentation in Hamblin (Fallacies. Methuen, London, 1970, Theoria 37:130–135, 1971) are some of the earliest examples. Hamblin cites the medieval theory of obligationes as inspiration for his development of formal argumentation. In an obligatio, two agents, the Opponent and the Respondent, engage in an alternating-move dialogue, where the Respondent’s actions are governed by certain rules, and the goal of the dialogue is establishing the consistency of a proposition. We implement obligationes in the formal dialogue system framework of Prakken (Knowl Eng Rev 21(2):163–188, 2006) using Dynamic Epistemic Logic (van Ditmarsch et al. in Dynamic epistemic logic, Synthese Library Series. Springer, Berlin, 2007). The result is a new type of inter-agent dialogue, for consistency-checking, and analyzing obligationes in this way also sheds light on interpretational and historical questions concerning their use and purpose in medieval academia.