Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Ivory Cubicle | How to Have an Argument

Well, as I touched on briefly in my last post, Scripture tells us that “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Doing so requires rolling up our sleeves and getting into the nitty-gritty of what our opponents have to say. It requires a depth of analysis and understanding of both ourselves and our opponents.

I’ve noticed, however, that a lot of argumentation that goes on in politics today is rather shallow and unconvincing. It mostly consists of person A yelling very loudly “I believe this!” Person B responds in a slightly louder tone of voice “I believe that!” Person A then repeats his original point EVEN LOUDER with some sort of personal insult attached. Person B, not to be outdone, repeats his original claim, usually with some insinuation that Person A is destroying the country. Very rarely do people flesh out the reason why someone believes what they believe. It ends up looking a little bit like this...


The Toulmin Model of Argumentation

In 1958, British ethicist Stephen Toulmin determined that his field of ethics lacked a model for effectively analyzing the moral reasoning behind an argument. In response, he presented a model of argumentation that has since become standard model for evaluating and structuring arguments. Toulmin believed that an argument was comprised of the following components.

1). Claim. The claim is the conclusion that the argument is seeking to defend. This is the component of the argument that is most frequently asserted in political discourse. An example would be “abortion should be banned.”

2). Ground. The ground is the fact which undergirds the claim. It is usually provided when the claim is initially challenged. It is the data or evidence from which the arguer reasons to his conclusion. For our pro-life example, a ground we could offer is “we disallow murder” (the implication is, of course, “as it should be”).

3). Warrant. The warrant is the unspoken connection between the ground and the claim. For our pro-life example, the warrant would be “abortion is murder.” Toulmin emphasized the fact that warrants are implied, not presented formally as in a syllogism. They are interpreted from the claim and the ground. The ground and warrant can be translated into syllogistic form, but that is not the initial form in which arguments are discovered.

The syllogism below shows how the claim, ground and warrant can be “translated” into syllogistic form.

P1). All murder should be banned. (Derived from the ground)
P2). Abortion is murder. (Warrant)
C). Therefore, abortion should be banned. (Claim)

4). Backing. We’re presuming, in this case, that most people are going to agree with our ground (“all murder should be banned”). In that case, the issue that they’re going to be contesting is our warrant, “abortion is murder.” The backing of the argument is the part of the argument where we defend our warrant. There can be multiple backings for a given warrant. For our pro-life analogy, backing for the warrant “abortion is murder” could be “because it takes the life of a person who possesses a natural, inherent capacity for performing personal acts” (to borrow Peter Kreeft’s argument, which is fleshed out in more detail here).

5). Rebuttal. A rebuttal would be a statement recognizing restrictions which could be legitimately applied to the claim. There may or may not be a rebuttal attached to your argument. For the pro-life argument, an example rebuttal that has been offered is “except in cases where the life of the mother is endangered.” Backing for the rebuttal can also be presented, for example, “the mother is also a person whose life is worth preserving.”

6). Qualifier. The qualifier specifies the force or certainty with which the arguer is presenting his claim. For example, the arguer may say “abortion should always be banned,”  “abortion should almost always be banned,” “abortion should be banned in certain cases,” “abortion should probably be banned,” “abortion should definitely be banned,” et cetera.

If we consolidate all of these components, we come up with this example argument.

“Abortion should be banned (claim) in almost every case (qualifier). As a society, we already disallow murder (ground), and abortion is murder (warrant) because it takes the life of a person who possesses a natural, inherent capacity for performing personal acts (backing for the warrant). Exceptions could be permitted in the case of the life of the mother (rebuttal), due to the fact that the mother is also a person whose life is worth preserving (backing for the rebuttal).”

As always, feel free to leave any questions or comments. I’m interested to see if any of you have your own example arguments.

Posted by Nick Barden

1 comment:

  1. If people actually listened to this, truth instead of anger would come out of arguments. I think people need to go watch some official debates and take notes on all the fail that they see, and then stop doing the same thing in informal discourse. Perhaps if people learned to argue effectively and decently, argument would not have such a negative connotation.

    Thank you Nick, good post.

    - Leah Brock

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