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The Structure of Argument

By Annette T. Rottenberg

Chapter One. Understanding Argument

The nature of argument

  • argument vs quarrel
  • argument: a process of reasoning and advancing proof.
  • argumentation is the art of influencing others, through the medium of reasoned discourse, to believe or act as we wish them to believe or act.
  • In the court, … Tensions are high because a life is in balance. In the classroom the stakes are neither so intimidating nor so melodramatic, but even here a well-conducted argument can throw off sparks.
  • “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert (French philosopher.)
  • real-life problems, both public and private, are often resolved through negotiation. Courtroom battles may result in compromise, and the law itself allows for exemptions and extenuating circumstances. … the importance of “trade-offs” in social and political transactions, giving up one thing in return for another.
  • Keep in mind, however, some compromises will not be morally defensible. “the common good”
  • matters of public controversy: concerns us as members of a community. “They are the problems of war and peace, race and creed, poverty, wealth, and population, of democracy and communism…. Specific issues arise on which we must take decision from time to time…. ” (Karl R. Wallace)
  • the restless, seeking, contentious nature of human beings and their conflicting interests. …
  • We value the argumentative process because it is indispensable to the preservation of a free society.
  • “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary.” How can we know the truth, he asked, unless there is a “free and open encounter” between all ideas? “Give me liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” (John Milton – Areopagitica)

Why study argument?

  • defining terms, evaluating evidence, and arriving at conclusions
  • a worker who can articulate his or her views clearly and forcefully has an important advantage in gaining access to positions of greater interest and challenge.
  • most of us are painfully aware of opportunities we lost because we were uncertain of how to proceed, even in matters that affected us deeply.
  • studying argumentation can help you to cope with the bewildering confusion of voices in the world around you. it can even offer strategies for arguing with yourself about a personal dilemma.
  • choosing argument over force or evasion has clear moral benefits for society as well. “democracy depends on a citizenry that can reason for themselves, on men who know whether a case has been proved, or at least made probable.” (Wayne C. Booth, “Boring from within: the art of the Freshman essay.” presentation slides)
  • The demands of the demonstrators are often passionately and sincerely held, and the protesters sometimes succeed through force or intimidation in influencing policy changes. When this happens, however, we cannot be sure that the change is justified.
  • “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Those who accept a position after engaging in a dialogue offering good reasons on both sides will think and act with greater willingness and conviction than those who have been coerced or denied the privilege of participating in the decision.

Why write?

  • In the effort to produce a clear and convincing argument, a writer matures as a thinker and a critic. The very process of writing calls for skills that make us better thinker. Writing argumentative essays tests and enlarges important mental skills – developing and organizing ideas, evaluating evidence, observing logical consistency, expressing ourselves clearly and economically.

The terms of argument

  • Argument gives primary importance to logical appeals. Persuasion introduces the element of ethical and emotional appeals.
  • an argument is a statement or statements offering support for a claim.
  • three parts: the claim, the support, and the warrant.
  • The Claim (proposition): of fact – data, of value (standards of taste and morality), of policy (both fact and value, should / must/ ought to)
  • The support: evidence (facts, statistics, testimony from experts) and motivational appeals (to the values and attitudes to win an audience)
  • The warrant: an inference of an assumption, a belief, or principle that is taken for granted; a guarantee of reliability; it guarantees the soundness of the relationship between the support and the claim. It allows the reader to make connection between the support and the claim.
  • A writer may also need to offer support for the warrant. such as the quoted author is trustworthy by introducing proof of the author’s credentials in science and medicine.
  • definition, language, logic (induction and deduction)

The audience

  • assume there is a reader who may not agree with you.
  • they discover their audiences through sophisticated polling and marketing techniques and direct their message to a well-targeted group of prospective buyers.
  • Questions to ask the audience:
  • Why has this audience requested this report? What do they want to get out of it?
  • How much do they already know about the subject?
  • Are they divided or agreed on the subject?
  • What is their emotional involvement with the issues?
  • Assessing Credibility. Aristotle: credibility – ethos – the most important element in the arguer’s ability to persuade the audience to accept his or her claim. “intelligence, character, and goodwill” as the attributes that produce credibility. — trust. Author must be 1) knowledgeable, 2) truthful in presenting his evidence but also morally upright and dependable; 3) with good intentions, he has considered the interests and needs of others as well as his own.
  • We give no credit to a liar, even when he speaks the truth. — Cicero.
  • To encourage another person to make a decision on the basis of incomplete or dishonestly used data is profoundly unethical. It indicates lack of respect for the rights of others – their right to know at least as much as you do about the subject, to be allowed to judge and compare, to disagree with you if they challenge your own interests.
  • There is also a danger in measuring success wholly by the degree to which audiences accept our argument. It is not enough to know that this person or that finds it “credible”: the proposition itself must be worthy of credence. — Toulmin
  • Acquiring Credibility. 1. higher level learning and research. 2. thoughtful and judicious tone, to be fair. such an attitude will also dispose the reader to be more generous in evaluating the writer’s argument. 3) a clean, literate, well-organized paper.


  • vegetarianism
  • capital punishment: I almost lost my breakfast listening to it.
  • unfair insurance rate for young guys.
  • Grades are the play money in a university Monopoly game. lecture-note-read-note-test process. Roy E. Terry “Does Standard Grading Encourage Excessive Competitiveness?
  • Benjamin Franklin: don’t say certainly, absolutely, undoubtedly; instead, say I conceive, I apprehend a thing to be so or so; it appears to me, I should think it so or so for such and such reasons.
  • The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson
  • Claim: The American colonies are justified in declaring their independence from British rule.
  • Support:
  • Factual evidence: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these Sates. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”
  • Appeal to values: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” ‘just power’ “consent of the governed.””safety”
  • Warrant: People have a right to revolution in order to free themselves from oppression. 17th-century political philosophy – defines government as a social compact between the government and the governed.
  • Audience: the American colonists, the British people; the British Parliament, the British king, George III; the mankind or a universal audience.
  • Definitions: “all men are created equal.” “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.””laws of Nature and Nature’s God. “
  • Language: Parallelism, Diction (choice of words), tone – reason and patience
  • Logic: deductive: certain broad general statements which we know or believe to be true and which to lead us to other statements that follow from the ones already laid down. the equality of men, the inalienable rights derived from the Creator, and the powers of the governed.

Questions for G.

  • What to do to make you sound more credible in your writing?
  • Danes
  • quack
  • colloquial
  • bumbling
  • verdict
  • melodramatic, melodrama
  • auspices
  • extenuating
  • rhetorician
  • creed
  • contentious
  • heckling
  • cliches
  • conspicuous
  • perpetrator
  • evince
  • despotism
  • fatiguing
  • convulsions
  • consanguinity
  • rectitude

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