Main Idea: Argumentation is the process of giving reasons for our claims. It combines concern for how messages influence people (rhetoric), sound logical reasoning (logic) and a process of discovering and testing knowledge through questions and answers (Dialectic).
What is Argumentation?
When we talk about arguing, we aren’t talking about fighting or being contentious. The technical definition of Arguing is simply reason giving. Since so much in the world is uncertain, we make claims that we believe are true and would like others to accept as true. We often argue about what we should value or how we should act which are inherently uncertain. Rationality is the ability to give reasons for our claims. We usually give reasons for our claims that will appeal to the audience we are speaking to, but sometimes that audience is ourselves.
To engage in an argument, people need to have a common frame of reference or have relatively similar worldviews. If people have drastically different worldview then reason giving is unlikely to influence either person. Argumentation is the process through which people who have mutually exclusive positions seek to resolve the disagreement. For a true argument to occur, each party tries to convince the other of their claims by giving reasons for those claims but each must remain open to influence from the other. This takes courage, since remaining open to influence may mean you need to change your worldview or you may lose face by appearing “wrong” to the audience.
The field of Argumentation combines three things: Rhetoric, logic and dialectic. Rhetoric is the study of how messages influence people, logic is the study of the form and structure of reasoning and dialectic is the process of discovering and testing knowledge through questions and answers. Argumentation is not supposed to be adversarial but cooperative as the goal of the dialectic is to take a thesis and an antithesis and through argumentation create a synthesis that is a better position than when each side began.
Formal and Informal Logic
There are two major forms of logical reasoning: deductive and inductive reasoning.
Deductive Reasoning: While most people think deductive reasoning means moving from general to specific, it actually means that a given conclusion follows naturally from a premise without any new information being added. This means that deduction simply involves rearranging knowledge and does not tell us anything new. It is analytic in that it need not be factual or refer to the external world. With deductive reasoning, we can achieve certainty but at the cost of limited relevance to everyday life.
The syllogism is the basic model we use for deductive reasoning which involves having two premises and a conclusion. There are three common types of syllogisms that include:
- Categorical Syllogisms: These contain statements that relate categories to other categories and use all, some or none to define quantity. For example, All politicians are compromisers, all compromisers are immoral. Therefore, all politicians are immoral.
- Conditional Syllogisms: These take an “if-then” form in which the if is the antecedent and the then is the consequent. An argument is sound if it affirms the antecedent or denies the consequent. It is unsound if it affirms the consequent or denies the antecedent.
a.) You affirm the consequent when you assume that because the conclusion occurred your premise is true. This is the failure to rule out alternative explanations and to hastily jump to a specific cause.
b.) You deny the antecedent when you assume that because the premise didn’t occur, the conclusion can’t happen either. This is the failure to understand there may be multiple causes of an event.
3. Disjunctive Syllogisms: These take an “either-or” format and involve accepting or rejecting an option and then drawing a conclusion about the other.
Inductive Reasoning: Inductive reason simply means that the conclusions we draw from a premise contain new information and therefore rely on probability and not certainty. With inductive reasoning, we achieve relevance to everyday life by sacrificing certainty. Almost all of the reasoning we engage in is inductive and involves moving from a known premise to an unknown conclusion by making inferential leaps.
Reasoning vs Rationalizing: Reasoning involves starting with a premise and then following it to its natural conclusion. Rationalizing is the inverse of reasoning and involve starting with a conclusion and working backwards to determine a premise that justifies that conclusion. Humans rationalize a lot more than they reason.
The Basic Structure of an Argument
The basic structure of an individual argument consists of:
i.) A claim: that which you are asking the audience to accept as truth.
ii.) Evidence or reasons why the claim is true.
iii.) An inference linking the evidence to the claim, and
iv.) A warrant that justifies the inference.
While arguing is one way to resolve disputes we can also use empirical methods, submit to an authority, deduce answers from what we know or rely on personal judgment. When we don’t argue we can simply deny, ignore or immediately assent to a claim.
There are four common types of claims that people make:
i.) Claim of Fact: These are descriptions that can be independently verified by others and may relate to the past, present or future.
ii.) Claim of Definition: These are claims concerning how something should be interpreted such as what category something should belong to. Definitions are not neutral and have certain connotations.
iii.) Claim of Value: These are claims of judgment, appraisal or evaluation. These are claims about how important something is either in absolute terms or relative to other things.
iv.) Claims of Policy: These are claims about how we should act or what should be done. Congress frequently argue about policy claims or what actions should be taken in response to significant issues.
Stages of Argumentation: Argumentation simply involves moving through the four levels of an argument. A claim is advanced and if it isn’t accepted then an argument begins. Next, the person making the claim has to produce evidence for it. If the evidence isn’t accepted the argument moves to examining the inference linking the evidence to the claim. And then if that inference isn’t accepted the argument moves to the warrant linking the inference to the evidence.
The Complex Structure of an Argument
Most arguments are complex in that they involve multiple claims. There are three common complex structures of arguments:
i.) Series Structure: In this structure, each successive argument depends on the other arguments and all must be valid to support the resolution. For example: The claim: “Beth will do well in school” may be supported by the following structure: People who do their homework consistently do well in school –>Beth does her homework consistently–>Therefore Beth will do well in school.
i.) Parallel (or multiple) structure: In this structure, each argument is independent of the others but each is strong enough to carry the resolution itself. For example, Jack is ha good person. He gives to the poor—>He sacrifices for his family—>He honors and obeys the law.
iii.) Convergent (or coordinative) structure: In this structure, each argument is independent and gives strength to the resolution but is not enough in itself to carry the resolution. For example, Jack is highly intelligent. He does well in school–>He is a quick learner–>He retains what he learns.
Constructing a Case
A case is a set of arguments that are meant to support or oppose a resolution. A resolution is a conclusion about a controversial issue. A case has to appear to be reasonable and persuasive on its face which is the “prima facia” burden of proof that must be met in order for an argument to begin. If a case sounds ridiculous at first glance then it is usually dismissed for failing to satisfy this standard. If the case meets the prima facia standard then the respondent must give a rejoinder which is a response to the case. The burden of rejoinder is meant to keep the discussion going and to avoid repeating the same things over and over.
When constructing your case select the strongest arguments which are those arguments the audience is most likely to find persuasive and the arguments most relevant to your resolution. Amplitude refers to the number and range of arguments you choose to employ.
“Topoi” is the term that refers to the common issues that result from each of the four claims referred to earlier. These are the “places” that arguments tend to go when dealing with each type of claim.
i.) Resolutions of Fact Topoi: What is the criterion for assessing truth? Has the criterion been satisfied?
ii.) Resolutions of Definition Topoi: Is the interpretation relevant? Is it fair? How should we choose among different interpretations?
iii.) Resolutions of Value Topoi: Is the value truly as good or bad as alleged? Which among competing values should be preferred? Has the value been properly applied to the specific situation?
iv.) Resolutions of Policy Topoi: Is there a problem? Where is credit or blame due? Will the proposal solve the problem? Will the proposal be better than some alternative or the current policy?
Stasis or Main Dispute
A Stasis is the focal point of a dispute and is “the resting place between two opposing forces.” To resolve an argument, the stasis must be resolved. There are Four Categories of Stasis which we will now examine using the following example: A person is accused of stealing a car.
i.) Stasis in conjecture concerns whether an act occurred. “I didn’t steal your car.”
ii.) Stasis in definition concerns what the act should be called. “I didn’t steal your car, I just borrowed it.”
iii.) Stasis in quality concerns whether the act is justified. “I stole your car to rush someone to the hospital.”
iv.) Stasis in place concerns whether the discussion is occurring in the proper forum. “If you think I stole your car, file a lawsuit and don’t accuse me here.”
Stasis is Progressive which means that each type of stasis concedes the one’s that occur before it. . For example, if you are arguing that stealing a car was justified (stasis in quality) then you are conceding the act occurred (you did take it) and that the definition is correct (you did steal it). The one exception is stasis in place which may not concede the rest and is just a way of saying this isn’t the right place to argue. You want to focus on the point of stasis closest to the beginning as possible so that you don’t concede what you don’t need to.
The following questions can help you identify the stasis in almost any argument:
i.) Ill – Is there a problem? (Conjecture) Is the problem being defined correctly (Definition) & Is the problem great enough to warrant change (quality)
ii.) Blame – Who is to blame? (Conjecture) Is blame warranted or is this hindsight? (Definition) & Should we consider other circumstances? How culpable are they? (Quality)
iii.) Cure – What potential solutions exist? (Conjecture) Will the solutions work? (Definition) & How much of the problem will be solved (Quality)
iv.) Cost – What costs accompany the solution? (Conjecture) Are they real costs as opposed to the costs of doing nothing? (Definition) Are the costs worth it? (Quality)
Attacking and Defending Arguments
Nuance: Nuance refers to subtle distinctions and differences in meaning. A nuanced argument is thus one that is qualified by subtle distinctions and differences. Nuance is important because it insulates our argument from attacks. An argument that is too general is easily attacked while the more specific an argument is the harder it is to attack.
Qualifiers: A qualifier is a limit or condition on a claim. Good cases have lots of qualifiers and the best argument is the narrowest version of the claim you need for an effective argument. For example, the statement “debt is evil” is a broad claim with very little nuance. It wouldn’t be hard to point out instances in which this is not true such as emergencies, mortgages, investment capital etc… A nuanced version of this argument might be: “Unneeded consumer debt is frequently harmful.” There are several qualifiers in this argument that narrow the claim to make it easier to defend. You now don’t have to defend against some of the good uses of debt previously identified. (https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/the-art-of-debate.html)
The Burden of rejoinder is met through attacking the other person’s arguments and defending your own. When you attack, you need to choose what you will focus on and what you will ignore. You can attack the claim, evidence, inference, warrant or context of the entire argument. There are 6 common forms of attack that include:
i.) Asking a question: You can ask questions about the argument but answers generally nullify these attacks.
ii.) Identify Internal Deficiencies: Show that the argument does not meet the burden of proof.
iii.) Identify inconsistencies: This can cast doubt on the sincerity of the arguer or the rigor of his thought process.
iv.) Labeling the opponent’s argument strategy can cast doubt on the sincerity of the individual to engage in critical reasoning and resolve the disagreement.
v.) Using a counterargument: You can deny the claim through a counter-argument, force the opponent to choose among mutually exclusive claims or you can define a point of stasis.
vi.) Re-contextualizing the argument: This involves putting the argument in a larger context to make it seem deficient.
Defending arguments usually involves doing one of the following five things. Be careful not to let the attack become the focus of the argument instead of your original claim.
i.) One can demonstrate that the attack is inapplicable to the case.
ii.) One can argue that the attack is of trivial consequence.
iii.) One can argue that the attack is inadequately established.
iv.) One can argue the attack is simply wrong.
v.) You can anticipate what attacks will be made against your arguments and you can address them in your original argument.
i.) Reductio ad absurdum suggests that if the argument were accepted it would lead to ridiculous conclusions. (Ketchup is a vegetable could be an example as it leads to ridiculous conclusions like: “relish is a protein.”)
ii.) Turning the tables in an argument means you take the other persons claims and show how they actually support your argument. For example, If a person claims building more airports will reduce congestion and increase safety the other person responds: “If safety is your goal, increasing regulations will do that much better than more airports.”
iii.) Dilemmas: You can try and frame the opponents claim so that he must choose between two undesirable alternatives. For example, if the goal is to reduce the budget you could say you can only do so by cutting social security or the military both unattractive to lots of people.
iv.) Argument from residues: This occurs when you identify your opponents position by eliminating all other possibilities. Similar to the dilemma, you can list unattractive options and say you are only left with one option.
v.) Argument a fortiori suggests that what is true of the lesser is true of the greater, or vice versa.
Language and Style
Language is not neutral but is a strategic resource in the argument. For example, if you have copied someone’s work you could definite it as “fraud” or “careless” both of which have very different consequences. A Persuasive definition is a definition that associates something with either positive or negative connotations. For example, the “death tax” is a persuasive definition for what is often called the “estate tax.” How you define something determines who is involved in the debate.
Unclear Definitions: When definitions are unclear, many fallacies of meaning can result. However, using unclear definitions can be used to your advantage, to appeal to more people and give more flexibility. Use operational definitions, metaphors and analogies or antonyms to help clarify definitions.
i.) Equivocation occurs when you use the same word to achieve different meanings in the same argument. Using “love” numerous times with slightly different meanings is an example.
ii.) Ambiguity occurs when we don’t know the intended meaning of a term with multiple meanings.
iii.) Amphiboly occurs when we don’t know the intended meaning of a phrase with multiple meanings.
iv.) Vagueness occurs when a term is used that does not have a clear meaning in the situation.
v.) Heaps and slippery slopes occur when imprecise boundaries are seen as not existing at all. Heaps happen when because we can’t identify the point of change we say there is no change (it’s hard to tell when exactly a person shifted to having grey hair). A slippery slope occurs when we say since it’s hard to tell when change will stop it will never stop.
The content in this section is a summary of the following course: https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/argumentation-the-study-of-effective-reasoning-2nd-edition.html