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Argument and Argumentation

Argument is a central concept for philosophy. Philosophers rely heavily on arguments to justify claims, and these practices have been motivating reflections on what arguments and argumentation are for millennia. Moreover, argumentative practices are also pervasive elsewhere; they permeate scientific inquiry, legal procedures, education, and political institutions. The study of argumentation is an inter-disciplinary field of inquiry, involving philosophers, language theorists, legal scholars, cognitive scientists, computer scientists, and political scientists, among many others. This entry provides an overview of the literature on argumentation drawing primarily on philosophical sources, but also engaging extensively with relevant sources from other disciplines.

1. Terminological Clarifications

2.1 deduction, 2.2 induction, 2.3 abduction, 2.4 analogy, 2.5 fallacies, 3.1 adversarial and cooperative argumentation, 3.2 argumentation as an epistemic practice, 3.3 consensus-oriented argumentation, 3.4 argumentation and conflict management, 3.5 conclusion, 4.1 argumentation theory, 4.2 artificial intelligence and computer science, 4.3 cognitive science and psychology, 4.4 language and communication, 4.5 argumentation in specific social practices, 5.1 argumentative injustice and virtuous argumentation, 5.2 emotions and argumentation, 5.3 cross-cultural perspectives on argumentation, 5.4 argumentation and the internet, 6. conclusion, references for the main text, references for the historical supplement, other internet resources, related entries.

An argument can be defined as a complex symbolic structure where some parts, known as the premises, offer support to another part, the conclusion. Alternatively, an argument can be viewed as a complex speech act consisting of one or more acts of premising (which assert propositions in favor of the conclusion), an act of concluding, and a stated or implicit marker (“hence”, “therefore”) that indicates that the conclusion follows from the premises (Hitchcock 2007). [ 1 ] The relation of support between premises and conclusion can be cashed out in different ways: the premises may guarantee the truth of the conclusion, or make its truth more probable; the premises may imply the conclusion; the premises may make the conclusion more acceptable (or assertible).

For theoretical purposes, arguments may be considered as freestanding entities, abstracted from their contexts of use in actual human activities. But depending on one’s explanatory goals, there is also much to be gained from considering arguments as they in fact occur in human communicative practices. The term generally used for instances of exchange of arguments is argumentation . In what follows, the convention of using “argument” to refer to structures of premises and conclusion, and “argumentation” to refer to human practices and activities where arguments occur as communicative actions will be adopted.

Argumentation can be defined as the communicative activity of producing and exchanging reasons in order to support claims or defend/challenge positions, especially in situations of doubt or disagreement (Lewiński & Mohammed 2016). It is arguably best conceived as a kind of dialogue , even if one can also “argue” with oneself, in long speeches or in writing (in articles or books) for an intended but silent audience, or in groups rather than in dyads (Lewiński & Aakhus 2014). But argumentation is a special kind of dialogue: indeed, most of the dialogues we engage in are not instances of argumentation, for example when asking someone if they know what time it is, or when someone shares details about their vacation. Argumentation only occurs when, upon making a claim, someone receives a request for further support for the claim in the form of reasons, or estimates herself that further justification is required (Jackson & Jacobs 1980; Jackson, 2019). In such cases, dialogues of “giving and asking for reasons” ensue (Brandom, 1994; Bermejo Luque 2011). Since most of what we know we learn from others, argumentation seems to be an important mechanism to filter the information we receive, instead of accepting what others tell us uncritically (Sperber, Clément, et al. 2010).

The study of arguments and argumentation is also closely connected to the study of reasoning , understood as the process of reaching conclusions on the basis of careful, reflective consideration of the available information, i.e., by an examination of reasons . According to a widespread view, reasoning and argumentation are related (as both concern reasons) but fundamentally different phenomena: reasoning would belong to the mental realm of thinking—an individual inferring new information from the available information by means of careful consideration of reasons—whereas argumentation would belong to the public realm of the exchange of reasons, expressed in language or other symbolic media and intended for an audience. However, a number of authors have argued for a different view, namely that reasoning and argumentation are in fact two sides of the same coin, and that what is known as reasoning is by and large the internalization of practices of argumentation (MacKenzie 1989; Mercier & Sperber 2017; Mercier 2018). For the purposes of this entry, we can assume a close connection between reasoning and argumentation so that relevant research on reasoning can be suitably included in the discussions to come.

2. Types of Arguments

Arguments come in many kinds. In some of them, the truth of the premises is supposed to guarantee the truth of the conclusion, and these are known as deductive arguments. In others, the truth of the premises should make the truth of the conclusion more likely while not ensuring complete certainty; two well-known classes of such arguments are inductive and abductive arguments (a distinction introduced by Peirce, see entry on C.S. Peirce ). Unlike deduction, induction and abduction are thought to be ampliative: the conclusion goes beyond what is (logically) contained in the premises. Moreover, a type of argument that features prominently across different philosophical traditions, and yet does not fit neatly into any of the categories so far discussed, are analogical arguments. In this section, these four kinds of arguments are presented. The section closes with a discussion of fallacious arguments, that is, arguments that seem legitimate and “good”, but in fact are not. [ 2 ]

Valid deductive arguments are those where the truth of the premises necessitates the truth of the conclusion: the conclusion cannot but be true if the premises are true. Arguments having this property are said to be deductively valid . A valid argument whose premises are also true is said to be sound . Examples of valid deductive arguments are the familiar syllogisms, such as:

All humans are living beings. All living beings are mortal. Therefore, all humans are mortal.

In a deductively valid argument, the conclusion will be true in all situations where the premises are true, with no exceptions. A slightly more technical gloss of this idea goes as follows: in all possible worlds where the premises hold, the conclusion will also hold. This means that, if I know the premises of a deductively valid argument to be true of a given situation, then I can conclude with absolute certainty that the conclusion is also true of that situation. An important property typically associated with deductive arguments (but with exceptions, such as in relevant logic), and which differentiates them from inductive and abductive arguments, is the property of monotonicity : if premises A and B deductively imply conclusion C , then the addition of any arbitrary premise D will not invalidate the argument. In other words, if the argument “ A and B ; therefore C ” is deductively valid, then the argument “ A , B and D ; therefore C ” is equally deductively valid.

Deductive arguments are the objects of study of familiar logical systems such as (classical) propositional and predicate logic, as well as of subclassical systems such as intuitionistic and relevant logics (although in relevant logic the property of monotonicity does not hold, as it may lead to violations of criteria of relevance between premises and conclusion—see entry on relevance logic ). In each of these systems, the relation of logical consequence in question satisfies the property of necessary truth-preservation (see entry on logical consequence ). This is not surprising, as these systems were originally designed to capture arguments of a very specific kind, namely mathematical arguments (proofs), in the pioneering work of Frege, Russell, Hilbert, Gentzen, and others. Following a paradigm established in ancient Greek mathematics and famously captured in Euclid’s Elements , argumentative steps in mathematical proofs (in this tradition at least) must have the property of necessary truth preservation (Netz 1999). This paradigm remained influential for millennia, and still codifies what can be described as the “classical” conception of mathematical proof (Dutilh Novaes 2020a), even if practices of proof are ultimately also quite diverse. (In fact, there is much more to argumentation in mathematics than just deductive argumentation [Aberdein & Dove 2013].)

However, a number of philosophers have argued that deductive validity and necessary truth preservation in fact come apart. Some have reached this conclusion motivated by the familiar logical paradoxes such as the Liar or Curry’s paradox (Beall 2009; Field 2008; see entries on the Liar paradox and on Curry’s paradox ). Others have defended the idea that there are such things as contingent logical truths (Kaplan 1989; Nelson & Zalta 2012), which thus challenge the idea of necessary truth preservation. It has also been suggested that what is preserved in the transition from premises to conclusions in deductive arguments is in fact warrant or assertibility rather than truth (Restall 2004). Yet others, such as proponents of preservationist approaches to paraconsistent logic, posit that what is preserved by the deductive consequence relation is the coherence, or incoherence, of a set of premises (Schotch, Brown, & Jennings 2009; see entry on paraconsistent logic ). Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the view that deductive validity is to be understood primarily in terms of necessary truth preservation is still the received view.

Relatedly, there are a number of pressing philosophical issues pertaining to the justification of deduction, such as the exact nature of the necessity involved in deduction (metaphysical, logical, linguistic, epistemic; Shapiro 2005), and the possibility of offering a non-circular foundation for deduction (Dummett 1978). Furthermore, it is often remarked that the fact that a deductive argument is not ampliative may entail that it cannot be informative, which in turn would mean that its usefulness is quite limited; this problem has been described as “the scandal of deduction” (Sequoiah-Grayson 2008).

Be that as it may, deductive arguments have occupied a special place in philosophy and the sciences, ever since Aristotle presented the first fully-fledged theory of deductive argumentation and reasoning in the Prior Analytics (and the corresponding theory of scientific demonstration in the Posterior Analytics ; see Historical Supplement ). The fascination for deductive arguments is understandable, given their allure of certainty and indubitability. The more geometrico (a phrase introduced by Spinoza to describe the argumentative structure of his Ethics as following “a geometrical style”—see entry on Spinoza ) has been influential in many fields other than mathematics. However, the focus on deductive arguments at the expense of other types of arguments has arguably skewed investigations on argument and argumentation too much in one specific direction (see (Bermejo-Luque 2020) for a critique of deductivism in the study of argumentation).

In recent decades, the view that everyday reasoning and argumentation by and large do not follow the canons of deductive argumentation has been gaining traction. In psychology of reasoning, Oaksford and Chater were the first to argue already in the 1980s that human reasoning “in the wild” is essentially probabilistic, following the basic canons of Bayesian probabilities (Oaksford & Chater 2018; Elqayam 2018; see section 5.3 below). Computer scientists and artificial intelligence researchers have also developed a strong interest in non-monotonic reasoning and argumentation (Reiter 1980), recognizing that, outside specific scientific contexts, human reasoning tends to be deeply defeasible (Pollock 1987; see entries on non-monotonic logic and defeasible reasoning ). Thus seen, deductive argumentation might be considered as the exception rather than the rule in human argumentative practices taken as a whole (Dutilh Novaes 2020a). But there are others, especially philosophers, who still maintain that the use of deductive reasoning and argumentation is widespread and extends beyond niches of specialists (Shapiro 2014; Williamson 2018).

Inductive arguments are arguments where observations about past instances and regularities lead to conclusions about future instances and general principles. For example, the observation that the sun has risen in the east every single day until now leads to the conclusion that it will rise in the east tomorrow, and to the general principle “the sun always rises in the east”. Generally speaking, inductive arguments are based on statistical frequencies, which then lead to generalizations beyond the sample of cases initially under consideration: from the observed to the unobserved. In a good, i.e., cogent , inductive argument, the truth of the premises provides some degree of support for the truth of the conclusion. In contrast with a deductively valid argument, in an inductive argument the degree of support will never be maximal, as there is always the possibility of the conclusion being false given the truth of the premises. A gloss in terms of possible worlds might be that, while in a deductively valid argument the conclusion will hold in all possible worlds where the premises hold, in a good inductive argument the conclusion will hold in a significant proportion of the possible worlds where the premises hold. The proportion of such worlds may give a measure of the strength of support of the premises for the conclusion (see entry on inductive logic ).

Inductive arguments have been recognized and used in science and elsewhere for millennia. The concept of induction ( epagoge in Greek) was understood by Aristotle as a progression from particulars to a universal, and figured prominently both in his conception of the scientific method and in dialectical practices (see entry on Aristotle’s logic, section 3.1 ). However, a deductivist conception of the scientific method remained overall more influential in Aristotelian traditions, inspired by the theory of scientific demonstration of the Posterior Analytics . It is only with the so-called “scientific revolution” of the early modern period that experiments and observation of individual cases became one of the pillars of scientific methodology, a transition that is strongly associated with the figure of Francis Bacon (1561–1626; see entry on Francis Bacon ).

Inductive inferences/arguments are ubiquitous both in science and in everyday life, and for the most part quite reliable. The functioning of the world around us seems to display a fair amount of statistical regularity, and this is referred to as the “Uniformity Principle” in the literature on the problem of induction (to be discussed shortly). Moreover, it has been argued that generalizing from previously observed frequencies is the most basic principle of human cognition (Clark 2016).

However, it has long been recognized that inductive inferences/arguments are not unproblematic. Hume famously offered the first influential formulation of what became known as “the problem of induction” in his Treatise of Human Nature (see entries on David Hume and on the problem of induction ; Howson 2000). Hume raises the question of what grounds the correctness of inductive inferences/arguments, and posits that there must be an argument establishing the validity of the Uniformity Principle for inductive inferences to be truly justified. He goes on to argue that this argument cannot be deductive, as it is not inconceivable that the course of nature may change. But it cannot be probable either, as probable arguments already presuppose the validity of the Uniformity Principle; circularity would ensue. Since these are the only two options, he concludes that the Uniformity Principle cannot be established by rational argument, and hence that induction cannot be justified.

A more recent influential critique of inductive arguments is the one offered in (Harman 1965). Harman argues that either enumerative induction is not always warranted, or it is always warranted but constitutes an uninteresting special case of the more general category of inference to the best explanation (see next section). The upshot is that, for Harman, induction should not be considered a warranted form of inference in its own right.

Given the centrality of induction for scientific practice, there have been numerous attempts to respond to the critics of induction, with various degrees of success. Among those, an influential recent response to the problem of induction is Norton’s material theory of induction (Norton 2003). But the problem has not prevented scientists and laypeople alike from continuing to use induction widely. More recently, the use of statistical frequencies for social categories to draw conclusions about specific individuals has become a matter of contention, both at the individual level (see entry on implicit bias ) and at the institutional level (e.g., the use of predictive algorithms for law enforcement [Jorgensen Bolinger 2021]). These debates can be seen as reoccurrences of Hume’s problem of induction, now in the domain of social rather than of natural phenomena.

An abductive argument is one where, from the observation of a few relevant facts, a conclusion is drawn as to what could possibly explain the occurrence of these facts (see entry on abduction ). Abduction is widely thought to be ubiquitous both in science and in everyday life, as well as in other specific domains such as the law, medical diagnosis, and explainable artificial intelligence (Josephson & Josephson 1994). Indeed, a good example of abduction is the closing argument by a prosecutor in a court of law who, after summarizing the available evidence, concludes that the most plausible explanation for it is that the defendant must have committed the crime they are accused of.

Like induction, and unlike deduction, abduction is not necessarily truth-preserving: in the example above, it is still possible that the defendant is not guilty after all, and that some other, unexpected phenomena caused the evidence to emerge. But abduction is significantly different from induction in that it does not only concern the generalization of prior observation for prediction (though it may also involve statistical data): rather, abduction is often backward-looking in that it seeks to explain something that has already happened. The key notion is that of bringing together apparently independent phenomena or events as explanatorily and/or causally connected to each other, something that is absent from a purely inductive argument that only appeals to observed frequencies. Cognitively, abduction taps into the well-known human tendency to seek (causal) explanations for phenomena (Keil 2006).

As noted, deduction and induction have been recognized as important classes of arguments for millennia; the concept of abduction is by comparison a latecomer. It is important to notice though that explanatory arguments as such are not latecomers; indeed, Aristotle’s very conception of scientific demonstration is based on the concept of explaining causes (see entry on Aristotle ). What is recent is the conceptualization of abduction as a special class of arguments, and the term itself. The term was introduced by Peirce as a third class of inferences distinct from deduction and induction: for Peirce, abduction is understood as the process of forming explanatory hypotheses, thus leading to new ideas and concepts (whereas for him deduction and induction could not lead to new ideas or theories; see the entry on Peirce ). Thus seen, abduction pertains to contexts of discovery , in which case it is not clear that it corresponds to instances of arguments, properly speaking. In its modern meaning, however, abduction pertains to contexts of justification , and thus to speak of abductive arguments becomes appropriate. An abductive argument is now typically understood as an inference to the best explanation (Lipton 1971 [2003]), although some authors contend that there are good reasons to distinguish the two concepts (Campos 2011).

While the main ideas behind abduction may seem simple enough, cashing out more precisely how exactly abduction works is a complex matter (see entry on abduction ). Moreover, it is not clear that abductive arguments are always or even generally reliable and cogent. Humans seem to have a tendency to overshoot in their quest for causal explanations, and often look for simplicity where there is none to be found (Lombrozo 2007; but see Sober 2015 on the significance of parsimony in scientific reasoning). There are also a number of philosophical worries pertaining to the justification of abduction, especially in scientific contexts; one influential critique of abduction/inference to the best explanation is the one articulated by van Fraassen (Fraassen 1989). A frequent concern pertains to the connection between explanatory superiority and truth: are we entitled to conclude that the conclusion of an abductive argument is true solely on the basis of it being a good (or even the best) explanation for the phenomena in question? It seems that no amount of philosophical a priori theorizing will provide justification for the leap from explanatory superiority to truth. Instead, defenders of abduction tend to offer empirical arguments showing that abduction tends to be a reliable rule of inference. In this sense, abduction and induction are comparable: they are widely used, grounded in very basic human cognitive tendencies, but they give rise to a number of difficult philosophical problems.

Arguments by analogy are based on the idea that, if two things are similar, what is true of one of them is likely to be true of the other as well (see entry on analogy and analogical reasoning ). Analogical arguments are widely used across different domains of human activity, for example in legal contexts (see entry on precedent and analogy in legal reasoning ). As an example, take an argument for the wrongness of farming non-human animals for food consumption: if an alien species farmed humans for food, that would be wrong; so, by analogy, it is wrong for us humans to farm non-human animals for food. The general idea is captured in the following schema (adapted from the entry on analogy and analogical reasoning ; S is the source domain and T the target domain of the analogy):

  • S is similar to T in certain (known) respects.
  • S has some further feature Q .
  • Therefore, T also has the feature Q , or some feature Q * similar to Q .

The first premise establishes the analogy between two situations, objects, phenomena etc. The second premise states that the source domain has a given property. The conclusion is then that the target domain also has this property, or a suitable counterpart thereof. While informative, this schema does not differentiate between good and bad analogical arguments, and so does not offer much by way of explaining what grounds (good) analogical arguments. Indeed, contentious cases usually pertain to premise 1, and in particular to whether S and T are sufficiently similar in a way that is relevant for having or not having feature Q .

Analogical arguments are widely present in all known philosophical traditions, including three major ancient traditions: Greek, Chinese, and Indian (see Historical Supplement ). Analogies abound in ancient Greek philosophical texts, for example in Plato’s dialogues. In the Gorgias , for instance, the knack of rhetoric is compared to pastry-baking—seductive but ultimately unhealthy—whereas philosophy would correspond to medicine—potentially painful and unpleasant but good for the soul/body (Irani 2017). Aristotle discussed analogy extensively in the Prior Analytics and in the Topics (see section 3.2 of the entry on analogy and analogical reasoning ). In ancient Chinese philosophy, analogy occupies a very prominent position; indeed, it is perhaps the main form of argumentation for Chinese thinkers. Mohist thinkers were particularly interested in analogical arguments (see entries on logic and language in early Chinese philosophy , Mohism and the Mohist canons ). In the Latin medieval tradition too analogy received sustained attention, in particular in the domains of logic, theology and metaphysics (see entry on medieval theories of analogy ).

Analogical arguments continue to occupy a central position in philosophical discussions, and a number of the most prominent philosophical arguments of the last decades are analogical arguments, e.g., Jarvis Thomson’s violinist argument purportedly showing the permissibility of abortion (Thomson 1971), and Searle’s Chinese Room argument purportedly showing that computers cannot display real understanding (see entry on the Chinese Room argument ). (Notice that these two arguments are often described as thought experiments [see entry on thought experiments ], but thought experiments are often based on analogical principles when seeking to make a point that transcends the thought experiment as such.) The Achilles’ heel of analogical arguments can be illustrated by these two examples: both arguments have been criticized on the grounds that the purported similarity between the source and the target domains is not sufficient to extrapolate the property of the source domain (the permissibility of disconnecting from the violinist; the absence of understanding in the Chinese room) to the target domain (abortion; digital computers and artificial intelligence).

In sum, while analogical arguments in general perhaps confer a lesser degree of conviction than the other three kinds of arguments discussed, they are widely used both in professional circles and in everyday life. They have rightly attracted a fair amount of attention from scholars in different disciplines, and remain an important object of study (see entry on analogy and analogical reasoning ).

One of the most extensively studied types of arguments throughout the centuries are, perhaps surprisingly, arguments that appear legitimate but are not, known as fallacious arguments . From early on, the investigation of such arguments occupied a prominent position in Aristotelian logical traditions, inspired in particular by his book Sophistical Refutations (see Historical Supplement ). The thought is that, to argue well, it is not sufficient to be able to produce and recognize good arguments; it is equally (or perhaps even more) important to be able to recognize bad arguments by others, and to avoid producing bad arguments oneself. This is particularly true of the tricky cases, namely arguments that appear legitimate but are not, i.e., fallacies.

Some well-know types of fallacies include (see entry on fallacies for a more extensive discussion):

  • The fallacy of equivocation, which occurs when an arguer exploits the ambiguity of a term or phrase which has occurred at least twice in an argument to draw an unwarranted conclusion.
  • The fallacy of begging the question, when one of the premises and the conclusion of an argument are the same proposition, but differently formulated.
  • The fallacy of appeal to authority, when a claim is supported by reference to an authority instead of offering reasons to support it.
  • The ad hominem fallacy, which involves bringing negative aspects of an arguer, or their situation, to argue against the view they are advancing.
  • The fallacy of faulty analogy, when an analogy is used as an argument but there is not sufficient relevant similarity between the source domain and the target domain (as discussed above).

Beyond their (presumed?) usefulness in teaching argumentative skills, the literature on fallacies raises a number of important philosophical discussions, such as: What determines when an argument is fallacious or rather a legitimate argument? (See section 4.3 below on Bayesian accounts of fallacies) What causes certain arguments to be fallacious? Is the focus on fallacies a useful approach to arguments at all? (Massey 1981) Despite the occasional criticism, the concept of fallacies remains central in the study of arguments and argumentation.

3. Types of Argumentation

Just as there are different types of arguments, there are different types of argumentative situations, depending on the communicative goals of the persons involved and background conditions. Argumentation may occur when people are trying to reach consensus in a situation of dissent, but it may also occur when scientists discuss their findings with each other (to name but two examples). Specific rules of argumentative engagement may vary depending on these different types of argumentation.

A related point extensively discussed in the recent literature pertains to the function(s) of argumentation. [ 3 ] What’s the point of arguing? While it is often recognized that argumentation may have multiple functions, different authors tend to emphasize specific functions for argumentation at the expense of others. This section offers an overview of discussions on types of argumentation and its functions, demonstrating that argumentation is a multifaceted phenomenon that has different applications in different circumstances.

A question that has received much attention in the literature of the past decades pertains to whether the activity of argumentation is primarily adversarial or primarily cooperative. This question in fact corresponds to two sub-questions: the descriptive question of whether instances of argumentation are on the whole primarily adversarial or cooperative; and the normative question of whether argumentation should be (primarily) adversarial or cooperative. A number of authors have answered “adversarial” to the descriptive question and “cooperative” to the normative question, thus identifying a discrepancy between practices and normative ideals that must be remedied (or so they claim; Cohen 1995).

A case in point: recently, a number of far-right Internet personalities have advocated the idea that argumentation can be used to overpower one’s opponents, as described in the book The Art of the Argument: Western Civilization’s Last Stand (2017) by the white supremacist S. Molyneux. Such aggressive practices reflect a vision of argumentation as a kind of competition or battle, where the goal is to “score points” and “beat the opponent”. Authors who have criticized (overly) adversarial practices of argumentation include (Moulton 1983; Gilbert 1994; Rooney 2012; Hundleby 2013; Bailin & Battersby 2016). Many (but not all) of these authors formulated their criticism specifically from a feminist perspective (see entry on feminist perspectives on argumentation ).

Feminist critiques of adversarial argumentation challenge ideals of argumentation as a form of competition, where masculine-coded values of aggression and violence prevail (Kidd 2020). For these authors, such ideals encourage argumentative performances where excessive use of forcefulness is on display. Instances of aggressive argumentation in turn have a number of problematic consequences: epistemic consequences—the pursuit of truth is not best served by adversarial argumentation—as well as moral/ethical/political consequences—these practices exclude a number of people from participating in argumentative encounters, namely those for whom displays of aggression do not constitute socially acceptable behavior (women and other socially disadvantaged groups in particular). These authors defend alternative conceptions of argumentation as a cooperative, nurturing activity (Gilbert 1994; Bailin & Battersby 2016), which are traditionally feminine-coded values. Crucially, they view adversarial conceptions of argumentation as optional , maintaining that the alternatives are equally legitimate and that cooperative conceptions should be adopted and cultivated.

By contrast, others have argued that adversariality, when suitably understood, can be seen as an integral and in fact desirable component of argumentation (Govier 1999; Aikin 2011; Casey 2020; but notice that these authors each develop different accounts of adversariality in argumentation). Such authors answer “adversarial” both to the descriptive and to the normative questions stated above. One overall theme is the need to draw a distinction between (excessive) aggressiveness and adversariality as such. Govier, for example, distinguishes between ancillary (negative) adversariality and minimal adversariality (Govier 1999). The thought is that, while the feminist critique of excessive aggression in argumentation is well taken, adversariality conceived and practiced in different ways need not have the detrimental consequences of more extreme versions of belligerent argumentation. Moreover, for these authors, adversariality in argumentation is simply not optional: it is an intrinsic feature of argumentative practices, but these practices also require a background of cooperation and agreement regarding, e.g., the accepted rules of inference.

But ultimately, the presumed opposition between adversarial and cooperative conceptions of argumentation may well be merely apparent. It may be argued for example that actual argumentative encounters ought to be adversarial or cooperative to different degrees, as different types of argumentation are required for different situations (Dutilh Novaes forthcoming). Indeed, perhaps we should not look for a one-fits-all model of how argumentation ought to be conducted across different contexts and situation, given the diversity of uses of argumentation.

We speak of argumentation as an epistemic practice when we take its primary purpose to be that of improving our beliefs and increasing knowledge, or of fostering understanding. To engage in argumentation can be a way to acquire more accurate beliefs: by examining critically reasons for and against a given position, we would be able to weed out weaker, poorly justified beliefs (likely to be false) and end up with stronger, suitably justified beliefs (likely to be true). From this perspective, the goal of engaging in argumentation is to learn , i.e., to improve one’s epistemic position (as opposed to argumentation “to win” (Fisher & Keil 2016)). Indeed, argumentation is often said to be truth-conducive (Betz 2013).

The idea that argumentation can be an epistemically beneficial process is as old as philosophy itself. In every major historical philosophical tradition, argumentation is viewed as an essential component of philosophical reflection precisely because it may be used to aim at the truth (indeed this is the core of Plato’s critique of the Sophists and their excessive focus on persuasion at the expense of truth (Irani 2017; see Historical Supplement ). Recent proponents of an epistemological approach to argumentation include (Goldman 2004; Lumer 2005; Biro & Siegel 2006). Alvin Goldman captures this general idea in the following terms:

Norms of good argumentation are substantially dedicated to the promotion of truthful speech and the exposure of falsehood, whether intentional or unintentional. […] Norms of good argumentation are part of a practice to encourage the exchange of truths through sincere, non-negligent, and mutually corrective speech. (Goldman 1994: 30)

Of course, it is at least in theory possible to engage in argumentation with oneself along these lines, solitarily weighing the pros and cons of a position. But a number of philosophers, most notably John Stuart Mill, maintain that interpersonal argumentative situations, involving people who truly disagree with each other, work best to realize the epistemic potential of argumentation to improve our beliefs (a point he developed in On Liberty (1859; see entry on John Stuart Mill ). When our ideas are challenged by engagement with those who disagree with us, we are forced to consider our own beliefs more thoroughly and critically. The result is that the remaining beliefs, those that have survived critical challenge, will be better grounded than those we held before such encounters. Dissenters thus force us to stay epistemically alert instead of becoming too comfortable with existing, entrenched beliefs. On this conception, arguers cooperate with each other precisely by being adversarial, i.e., by adopting a critical stance towards the positions one disagrees with.

The view that argumentation aims at epistemic improvement is in many senses appealing, but it is doubtful that it reflects the actual outcomes of argumentation in many real-life situations. Indeed, it seems that, more often than not, we are not Millians when arguing: we do not tend to engage with dissenting opinions with an open mind. Indeed, there is quite some evidence suggesting that arguments are in fact not a very efficient means to change minds in most real-life situations (Gordon-Smith 2019). People typically do not like to change their minds about firmly entrenched beliefs, and so when confronted with arguments or evidence that contradict these beliefs, they tend to either look away or to discredit the source of the argument as unreliable (Dutilh Novaes 2020c)—a phenomenon also known as “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998).

In particular, arguments that threaten our core beliefs and our sense of belonging to a group (e.g., political beliefs) typically trigger all kinds of motivated reasoning (Taber & Lodge 2006; Kahan 2017) whereby one outright rejects those arguments without properly engaging with their content. Relatedly, when choosing among a vast supply of options, people tend to gravitate towards content and sources that confirm their existing opinions, thus giving rise to so-called “echo chambers” and “epistemic bubbles” (Nguyen 2020). Furthermore, some arguments can be deceptively convincing in that they look valid but are not (Tindale 2007; see entry on fallacies ). Because most of us are arguably not very good at spotting fallacious arguments, especially if they are arguments that lend support to the beliefs we already hold, engaging in argumentation may in fact decrease the accuracy of our beliefs by persuading us of false conclusions with incorrect arguments (Fantl 2018).

In sum, despite the optimism of Mill and many others, it seems that engaging in argumentation will not automatically improve our beliefs (even if this may occur in some circumstances). [ 4 ] However, it may still be argued that an epistemological approach to argumentation can serve the purpose of providing a normative ideal for argumentative practices, even if it is not always a descriptively accurate account of these practices in the messy real world. Moreover, at least some concrete instances of argumentation, in particular argumentation in science (see section 4.5 below) seem to offer successful examples of epistemic-oriented argumentative practices.

Another important strand in the literature on argumentation are theories that view consensus as the primary goal of argumentative processes: to eliminate or resolve a difference of (expressed) opinion. The tradition of pragma-dialectics is a prominent recent exponent of this strand (Eemeren & Grootendorst 2004). These consensus-oriented approaches are motivated by the social complexity of human life, and the attribution of a role of social coordination to argumentation. Because humans are social animals who must often cooperate with other humans to successfully accomplish certain tasks, they must have mechanisms to align their beliefs and intentions, and subsequently their actions (Tomasello 2014). The thought is that argumentation would be a particularly suitable mechanism for such alignment, as an exchange of reasons would make it more likely that differences of opinion would decrease (Norman 2016). This may happen precisely because argumentation would be a good way to track truths and avoid falsehoods, as discussed in the previous section; by being involved in the same epistemic process of exchanging reasons, the participants in an argumentative situation would all come to converge towards the truth, and thus the upshot would be that they also come to agree with each other. However, consensus-oriented views need not presuppose that argumentation is truth-conducive: the ultimate goal of such instances of argumentation is that of social coordination, and for this tracking truth is not a requirement (Patterson 2011).

In particular, the very notion of deliberative democracy is viewed as resting crucially on argumentative practices that aim for consensus (Fishkin 2016; see entry on democracy ). (For present purposes, “deliberation” and “argumentation” can be treated as roughly synonymous). In a deliberative democracy, for a decision to be legitimate, it must be preceded by authentic public deliberation—a discussion of the pros and cons of the different options—not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting. Moreover, in democratic deliberation, when full consensus does not emerge, the parties involved may opt for a compromise solution, e.g., a coalition-based political system.

A prominent theorist of deliberative democracy thus understood is Jürgen Habermas, whose “discourse theory of law and democracy” relies heavily on practices of political justification and argumentation taking place in what he calls “the public sphere” (Habermas 1992 [1996]; 1981 [1984]; see entry on Habermas ). He starts from the idea that politics allows for the collective organization of people’s lives, including the common rules they will live by. Political argumentation is a form of communicative practice, so general assumptions for communicative practices in general apply. However, additional assumptions apply as well (Olson 2011 [2014]). In particular, deliberating participants must accept that anyone can participate in these discursive practices (democratic deliberation should be inclusive), and that anyone can introduce and challenge claims that are made in the public sphere (democratic deliberation should be free). They must also see one another as having equal status, at least for the purposes of deliberation (democratic deliberation should be equal). In turn, critics of Habermas’s account view it as unrealistic, as it presupposes an ideal situation where all citizens are treated equally and engage in public debates in good faith (Mouffe 1999; Geuss 2019).

More generally, it seems that it is only under quite specific conditions that argumentation reliably leads to consensus (as also suggested by formal modeling of argumentative situations (Betz 2013; Olsson 2013; Mäs & Flache 2013)). Consensus-oriented argumentation seems to work well in cooperative contexts, but not so much in situations of conflict (Dutilh Novaes forthcoming). In particular, the discussing parties must already have a significant amount of background agreement—especially agreement on what counts as a legitimate argument or compelling evidence—for argumentation and deliberation to lead to consensus. Especially in situations of deep disagreement (Fogelin 1985), it seems that the potential of argumentation to lead to consensus is quite limited. Instead, in many real-life situations, argumentation often leads to the opposite result; people disagree with each other even more after engaging in argumentation (Sunstein 2002). This is the well-documented phenomenon of group polarization , which occurs when an initial position or tendency of individual members of a group becomes more extreme after group discussion (Isenberg 1986).

In fact, it may be argued that argumentation will often create or exacerbate conflict and adversariality, rather than leading to the resolution of differences of opinions. Furthermore, a focus on consensus may end up reinforcing and perpetuating existing unequal power relations in a society.

In an unjust society, what purports to be a cooperative exchange of reasons really perpetuates patterns of oppression. (Goodwin 2007: 77)

This general point has been made by a number of political thinkers (e.g., Young 2000), who have highlighted the exclusionary implications of consensus-oriented political deliberation. The upshot is that consensus may not only be an unrealistic goal for argumentation; it may not even be a desirable goal for argumentation in a number of situations (e.g., when there is great power imbalance). Despite these concerns, the view that the primary goal of argumentation is to aim for consensus remains influential in the literature.

Finally, a number of authors have attributed to argumentation the potential to manage (pre-existing) conflict. In a sense, the consensus-oriented view of argumentation just discussed is a special case of conflict management argumentation, based on the assumption that the best way to manage conflict and disagreement is to aim for consensus and thus eliminate conflict. But conflict can be managed in different ways, not all of them leading to consensus; indeed, some authors maintain that argumentation may help mitigate conflict even when the explicit aim is not that of reaching consensus. Importantly, authors who identify conflict management (or variations thereof) as a function for argumentation differ in their overall appreciation of the value of argumentation: some take it to be at best futile and at worst destructive, [ 5 ] while others attribute a more positive role to argumentation in conflict management.

To this category also belong the conceptualizations of argumentation-as-war discussed (and criticized) by a number of authors (Cohen 1995; Bailin & Battersby 2016); in such cases, conflict is not so much managed but rather enacted (and possibly exacerbated) by means of argumentation. Thus seen, the function of argumentation would not be fundamentally different from the function of organized competitive activities such as sports or even war (with suitable rules of engagement; Aikin 2011).

When conflict emerges, people have various options: they may choose not to engage and instead prefer to flee; they may go into full-blown fighting mode, which may include physical aggression; or they may opt for approaches somewhere in between the fight-or-flee extremes of the spectrum. Argumentation can be plausibly classified as an intermediary response:

[A]rgument literally is a form of pacifism—we are using words instead of swords to settle our disputes. With argument, we settle our disputes in ways that are most respectful of those who disagree—we do not buy them off, we do not threaten them, and we do not beat them into submission. Instead, we give them reasons that bear on the truth or falsity of their beliefs. However adversarial argument may be, it isn’t bombing. […] argument is a pacifistic replacement for truly violent solutions to disagreements…. (Aikin 2011: 256)

This is not to say that argumentation will always or even typically be the best approach to handle conflict and disagreement; the point is rather that argumentation at least has the potential to do so, provided that the background conditions are suitable and that provisions to mitigate escalation are in place (Aikin 2011). Versions of this view can be found in the work of proponents of agonistic conceptions of democracy and political deliberation (Wenman 2013; see entry on feminist political philosophy ). For agonist thinkers, conflict and strife are inevitable features of human lives, and so cannot be eliminated; but they can be managed. One of them is Chantal Mouffe (Mouffe 2000), for whom democratic practices, including argumentation/deliberation, can serve to contain hostility and transform it into more constructive forms of contest. However, it is far from obvious that argumentation by itself will suffice to manage conflict; typically, other kinds of intervention must be involved (Young 2000), as the risk of argumentation being used to exercise power rather than as a tool to manage conflict always looms large (van Laar & Krabbe 2019).

From these observations on different types of argumentation, a pluralistic picture emerges: argumentation, understood as the exchange of reasons to justify claims, seems to have different applications in different situations. However, it is not clear that some of the goals often attributed to argumentation such as epistemic improvement and reaching consensus can in fact be reliably achieved in many real life situations. Does this mean that argumentation is useless and futile? Not necessarily, but it may mean that engaging in argumentation will not always be the optimal response in a number of contexts.

4. Argumentation Across Fields of Inquiry and Social Practices

Argumentation is practiced and studied in many fields of inquiry; philosophers interested in argumentation have much to benefit from engaging with these bodies of research as well.

To understand the emergence of argumentation theory as a specific field of research in the twentieth century, a brief discussion of preceding events is necessary. In the nineteenth century, a number of textbooks aiming to improve everyday reasoning via public education emphasized logical and rhetorical concerns, such as those by Richard Whately (see entry on fallacies ). As noted in section 3.2 , John Stuart Mill also had a keen interest in argumentation and its role in public discourse (Mill 1859), as well as an interest in logic and reasoning (see entries on Mill and on fallacies ). But with the advent of mathematical logic in the final decades of the nineteenth century, logic and the study of ordinary, everyday argumentation came apart, as logicians such as Frege, Hilbert, Russell etc. were primarily interested in mathematical reasoning and argumentation. As a result, their logical systems are not particularly suitable to study everyday argumentation, as this is simply not what they were designed to do. [ 6 ]

Nevertheless, in the twentieth century a number of authors took inspiration from developments in formal logic and expanded the use of logical tools to the analysis of ordinary argumentation. A pioneer in this tradition is Susan Stebbing, who wrote what can be seen as the first textbook in analytic philosophy, and then went on to write a number of books aimed at a general audience addressing everyday and public discourse from a philosophical/logical perspective (see entry on Susan Stebbing ). Her 1939 book Thinking to Some Purpose , which can be considered as one of the first textbooks in critical thinking, was widely read at the time, but did not become particularly influential for the development of argumentation theory in the decades to follow.

By contrast, Stephen Toulmin’s 1958 book The Uses of Argument has been tremendously influential in a wide range of fields, including critical thinking education, rhetoric, speech communication, and computer science (perhaps even more so than in Toulmin’s own original field, philosophy). Toulmin’s aim was to criticize the assumption (widely held by Anglo-American philosophers at the time) that any significant argument can be formulated in purely formal, deductive terms, using the formal logical systems that had emerged in the preceding decades (see (Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 4). While this critique was met with much hostility among fellow philosophers, it eventually gave rise to an alternative way of approaching argumentation, which is often described as “informal logic” (see entry on informal logic ). This approach seeks to engage and analyze instances of argumentation in everyday life; it recognizes that, while useful, the tools of deductive logic alone do not suffice to investigate argumentation in all its complexity and pragmatic import. In a similar vein, Charles Hamblin’s 1970 book Fallacies reinvigorated the study of fallacies in the context of argumentation by re-emphasizing (following Aristotle) the importance of a dialectical-dialogical background when reflecting on fallacies in argumentation (see entry on fallacies ).

Around the same time as Toulmin, Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca were developing an approach to argumentation that emphasized its persuasive component. To this end, they turned to classical theories of rhetoric, and adapted them to give rise to what they described as the “New Rhetoric”. Their book Traité de l’argumentation: La nouvelle rhétorique was published in 1958 in French, and translated into English in 1969. Its key idea:

since argumentation aims at securing the adherence of those to whom it is addressed, it is, in its entirety, relative to the audience to be influenced. (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca 1958 [1969: 19])

They introduced the influential distinction between universal and particular audiences: while every argument is directed at a specific individual or group, the concept of a universal audience serves as a normative ideal encapsulating shared standards of agreement on what counts as legitimate argumentation (see Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 5).

The work of these pioneers provided the foundations for subsequent research in argumentation theory. One approach that became influential in the following decades is the pragma-dialectics tradition developed by Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst (Eemeren & Grootendorst 1984, 2004). They also founded the journal Argumentation , one of the flagship journals in argumentation theory. Pragma-dialectics was developed to study argumentation as a discourse activity, a complex speech act that occurs as part of interactional linguistic activities with specific communicative goals (“pragma” refers to the functional perspective of goals, and “dialectic” to the interactive component). For these authors, argumentative discourse is primarily directed at the reasonable resolution of a difference of opinion. Pragma-dialectics has a descriptive as well as a normative component, thus offering tools both for the analysis of concrete instances of argumentation and for the evaluation of argumentation correctness and success (see Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 10).

Another leading author in argumentation theory is Douglas Walton, who pioneered the argument schemes approach to argumentation that borrows tools from formal logic but expands them so as to treat a wider range of arguments than those covered by traditional logical systems (Walton, Reed, & Macagno 2008). Walton also formulated an influential account of argumentation in dialogue in collaboration with Erik Krabbe (Walton & Krabbe 1995). Ralph Johnson and Anthony Blair further helped to consolidate the field of argumentation theory and informal logic by founding the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation, and Rhetoric in Windsor (Ontario, Canada), and by initiating the journal Informal Logic . Their textbook Logical Self-Defense (Johnson & Blair 1977) has also been particularly influential.

The study of argumentation within computer science and artificial intelligence is a thriving field of research, with dedicated journals such as Argument and Computation and regular conference series such as COMMA (International Conference on Computational Models of Argument; see Rahwan & Simari 2009 and Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 11 for overviews).

The historical roots of argumentation research in artificial intelligence can be traced back to work on non-monotonic logics (see entry on non-monotonic logics ) and defeasible reasoning (see entry on defeasible reasoning ). Since then, three main different perspectives have emerged (Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 11): the theoretical systems perspective, where the focus is on theoretical and formal models of argumentation (following the tradition of philosophical and formal logic); the artificial systems perspective, where the aim is to build computer programs that model or support argumentative tasks, for instance, in online dialogue games or in expert systems; the natural systems perspective, which investigates argumentation in its natural form with the help of computational tools (e.g., argumentation mining [Peldszus & Stede 2013; Habernal & Gurevych 2017], where computational methods are used to identify argumentative structures in large corpora of texts).

An influential approach in this research tradition is that of abstract argumentation frameworks , initiated by the pioneering work of Dung (1995). Before that, argumentation in AI was studied mostly under the inspiration of concepts coming from informal logic such as argumentation schemes, context, stages of dialogues and argument moves. By contrast, the key notion in the framework proposed by Dung is that of argument attack , understood as an abstract formal relation roughly intended to capture the idea that it is possible to challenge an argument by means of another argument (assertions are understood as a special case of arguments with zero premises). Arguments can then be represented in networks of attacks and defenses: an argument A can attack an argument B , and B in turn may attack further arguments C and D (the connection with the notion of defeaters is a natural one, which Dung also addresses).

Besides abstract argumentation, three other important lines of research in AI are: the (internal) structure of arguments; argumentation in multi-agent systems; applications to specific tasks and domains (Rahwan & Siwari 2009). The structural approach investigates formally features such as argument strength/force (e.g., a conclusive argument is stronger than a defeasible argument), argument schemes (Bex, Prakken, Reed, & Walton 2003) etc. Argumentation in multi-agent systems is a thriving subfield with its own dedicated conference series (ArgMAS), based on the recognition that argumentation is a particularly suitable vehicle to facilitate interaction in the artificial environments studied by AI researchers working on multi-agent systems (see a special issue of the journal Argument & Computation [Atkinson, Cerutti, et al. 2016]). Finally, computational approaches in argumentation have also thrived with respect to specific domains and applications, such as legal argumentation (Prakken & Sartor 2015). Recently, as a reaction to the machine-learning paradigm, the idea of explainable AI has gotten traction, and the concept of argumentation is thought to play a fundamental role for explainable AI (Sklar & Azhar 2018).

Argumentation is also an important topic of investigation within cognitive science and psychology. Researchers in these fields are predominantly interested in the descriptive question of how people in fact engage in argumentation, rather than in the normative question of how they ought to do it (although some of them have also drawn normative conclusions, e.g., Hahn & Oaksford 2006; Hahn & Hornikx, 2016). Controlled experiments are one of the ways in which the descriptive question can be investigated.

Systematic research specifically on argumentation within cognitive science and psychology has significantly increased over the last 10 years. Before that, there had been extensive research on reasoning conceived as an individual, internal process, much of which had been conducted using task materials such as syllogistic arguments (Dutilh Novaes 2020b). But due to what may be described as an individualist bias in cognitive science and psychology (Mercier 2018), these researchers did not draw explicit connections between their findings and the public acts of “giving and asking for reasons”. It is only somewhat recently that argumentation began to receive sustained attention from these researchers. The investigations of Hugo Mercier and colleagues (Mercier & Sperber 2017; Mercier 2018) and of Ulrike Hahn and colleagues (Hahn & Oaksford 2007; Hornikx & Hahn 2012; Collins & Hahn 2018) have been particularly influential. (See also Paglieri, Bonelli, & Felletti 2016, an edited volume containing a representative overview of research on the psychology of argumentation.) Another interesting line of research has been the study of the development of reasoning and argumentative skills in young children (Köymen, Mammen, & Tomasello 2016; Köymen & Tomasello 2020).

Mercier and Sperber defend an interactionist account of reasoning, according to which the primary function of reasoning is for social interactions, where reasons are exchanged and receivers of reasons decide whether they find them convincing—in other words, for argumentation (Mercier & Sperber 2017). They review a wealth of evidence suggesting that reasoning is rather flawed when it comes to drawing conclusions from premises in order to expand one’s knowledge. From this they conclude, on the basis of evolutionary arguments, that the function of reasoning must be a different one, indeed one that responds to features of human sociality and the need to exercise epistemic vigilance when receiving information from others. This account has inaugurated a rich research program which they have been pursuing with colleagues for over a decade now, and which has delivered some interesting results—for example, that we seem to be better at evaluating the quality of arguments proposed by others than at formulating high-quality arguments ourselves (Mercier 2018).

In the context of the Bayesian (see entry on Bayes’ theorem ) approach to reasoning that was first developed by Mike Oaksford and Nick Chater in the 1980s (Oaksford & Chater 2018), Hahn and colleagues have extended the Bayesian framework to the investigation of argumentation. They claim that Bayesian probabilities offer an accurate descriptive model of how people evaluate the strength of arguments (Hahn & Oaksford 2007) as well as a solid perspective to address normative questions pertaining to argument strength (Hahn & Oaksford 2006; Hahn & Hornikx 2016). The Bayesian approach allows for the formulation of probabilistic measures of argument strength, showing that many so-called “fallacies” may nevertheless be good arguments in the sense that they considerably raise the probability of the conclusion. For example, deductively invalid argument schemes (such as affirming the consequent (AC) and denying the antecedent (DA)) can also provide considerable support for a conclusion, depending on the contents in question. The extent to which this is the case depends primarily on the specific informational context, captured by the prior probability distribution, not on the structure of the argument. This means that some instances of, say, AC, may offer support to a conclusion while others may fail to do so (Eva & Hartmann 2018). Thus seen, Bayesian argumentation represents a significantly different approach to argumentation from those inspired by logic (e.g., argument schemes), but they are not necessarily incompatible; they may well be complementary perspectives (see also [Zenker 2013]).

Argumentation is primarily (though not exclusively) a linguistic phenomenon. Accordingly, argumentation is extensively studied in fields dedicated to the study of language, such as rhetoric, linguistics, discourse analysis, communication, and pragmatics, among others (see Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: chs 8 and 9). Researchers in these areas develop general theoretical models of argumentation and investigate concrete instances of argumentation in specific domains on the basis of linguistic corpora, discourse analysis, and other methods used in the language sciences (see the edited volume Oswald, Herman, & Jacquin [2018] for a sample of the different lines of research). Overall, research on argumentation within the language sciences tends to focus primarily on concrete occurrences of arguments in a variety of domains, adopting a largely descriptive rather than normative perspective (though some of these researchers also tackle normative considerations).

Some of these analyses approach arguments and argumentation primarily as text or self-contained speeches, while others emphasize the interpersonal, communicative nature of “face-to-face” argumentation (see Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: section 8.9). One prominent approach in this tradition is due to communication scholars Sally Jackson and Scott Jacobs. They have drawn on speech act theory and conversation analysis to investigate argumentation as a disagreement-relevant expansion of speech acts that, through mutually recognized reasons, allows us to manage disagreements despite the challenges they pose for communication and coordination of activities (Jackson & Jacobs 1980; Jackson 2019). Moreover, they perceive institutionalized practices of argumentation and concrete “argumentation designs”—such as for example randomized controlled trials in medicine—as interventions aimed at improving methods of disagreement management through argumentation.

Another communication scholar, Dale Hample, has further argued for the importance of approaching argumentation as an essentially interpersonal communicative activity (Hample 2006, 2018). This perspective allows for the consideration of a broader range of factors, not only the arguments themselves but also (and primarily) the people involved in those processes: their motivations, psychological processes, and emotions. It also allows for the formulation of questions pertaining to individual as well as cultural differences in argumentative styles (see section 5.3 below).

Another illuminating perspective views argumentative practices as inherently tied to broader socio-cultural contexts (Amossy 2009). The Journal of Argumentation in Context was founded in 2012 precisely to promote a contextual approach to argumentation. Once argumentation is no longer only considered in abstraction from concrete instances taking place in real-life situations, it becomes imperative to recognize that argumentation does not take place in a vacuum; typically, argumentative practices are embedded in other kinds of practices and institutions, against the background of specific socio-cultural, political structures. The method of discourse analysis is particularly suitable for a broader perspective on argumentation, as shown by the work of Ruth Amossy (2002) and Marianne Doury (2009), among others.

Argumentation is crucial in a number of specific organized social practices, in particular in politics, science, law, and education. The relevant argumentative practices are studied in each of the corresponding knowledge domains; indeed, while some general principles may govern argumentative practices across the board, some may be specific to particular applications and domains.

As already mentioned, argumentation is typically viewed as an essential component of political democratic practices, and as such it is of great interest to political scientists and political theorists (Habermas 1992 [1996]; Young 2000; Landemore 2013; Fishkin 2016; see entry on democracy ). (The term typically used in this context is “deliberation” instead of “argumentation”, but these can be viewed as roughly synonymous for our purposes.) General theories of argumentation such as pragma-dialectic and the Toulmin model can be applied to political argumentation with illuminating results (Wodak 2016; Mohammed 2016). More generally, political discourse seems to have a strong argumentative component, in particular if argumentation is understood more broadly as not only pertaining to rational discourse ( logos ) but as also including what rhetoricians refer to as pathos and ethos (Zarefsky 2014; Amossy 2018). But critics of argumentation and deliberation in political contexts also point out the limitations of the classical deliberative model (Sanders 1997; Talisse 2019).

Moreover, scientific communities seem to offer good examples of (largely) well-functioning argumentative practices. These are disciplined systems of collective epistemic activity, with tacit but widely endorsed norms for argumentative engagement for each domain (which does not mean that there are not disagreements on these very norms). The case of mathematics has already been mentioned above: practices of mathematical proof are quite naturally understood as argumentative practices (Dutilh Novaes 2020a). Furthermore, when a scientist presents a new scientific claim, it must be backed by arguments and evidence that her peers are likely to find convincing, as they follow from the application of widely agreed-upon scientific methods (Longino 1990; Weinstein 1990; Rehg 2008; see entry on the social dimensions of scientific knowledge ). Other scientists will in turn critically examine the evidence and arguments provided, and will voice objections or concerns if they find aspects of the theory to be insufficiently convincing. Thus seen, science may be viewed as a “game of giving and asking for reasons” (Zamora Bonilla 2006). Certain features of scientific argumentation seem to ensure its success: scientists see other scientists as prima facie peers, and so (typically at least) place a fair amount of trust in other scientists by default; science is based on the principle of “organized skepticism” (a term introduced by the pioneer sociologist of science Robert Merton [Merton, 1942]), which means that asking for further reasons should not be perceived as a personal attack. These are arguably aspects that distinguish argumentation in science from argumentation in other domains in virtue of these institutional factors (Mercier & Heintz 2014). But ultimately, scientists are part of society as a whole, and thus the question of how scientific and political argumentation intersect becomes particularly relevant (Kitcher 2001).

Another area where argumentation is essential is the law, which also corresponds to disciplined systems of collective activity with rules and principles for what counts as acceptable arguments and evidence. legal reasoning ).--> In litigation (in particular in adversarial justice systems), there are typically two sides disagreeing on what is lawful or just, and the basic idea is that each side will present its strongest arguments; it is the comparison between the two sets of arguments that should lead to the best judgment (Walton 2002). Legal reasoning and argumentation have been extensively studied within jurisprudence for decades, in particular since Ronald Dworkin’s (1977) and Neil MacCormick’s (1978) responses to HLA Hart’s highly influential The Concept of Law (1961). A number of other views and approaches have been developed, in particular from the perspectives of natural law theory, legal positivism, common law, and rhetoric (see Feteris 2017 for an overview). Overall, legal argumentation is characterized by extensive uses of analogies (Lamond 2014), abduction (Askeland 2020), and defeasible/non-monotonic reasoning (Bex & Verheij 2013). An interesting question is whether argumentation in law is fundamentally different from argumentation in other domains, or whether it follows the same overall canons and norms but applied to legal topics (Raz 2001).

Finally, the development of argumentative skills is arguably a fundamental aspect of (formal) education (Muller Mirza & Perret-Clermont 2009). Ideally, when presented with arguments, a learner should not simply accept what is being said at face value, but should instead reflect on the reasons offered and come to her own conclusions. Argumentation thus fosters independent, critical thinking, which is viewed as an important goal for education (Siegel 1995; see entry on critical thinking ). A number of education theorists and developmental psychologists have empirically investigated the effects of emphasizing argumentative skills in educational settings, with encouraging results (Kuhn & Crowell 2011). There has been in particular much emphasis on argumentation specifically in science education, based on the assumption that argumentation is a key component of scientific practice (as noted above); the thought is that this feature of scientific practice should be reflected in science education (Driver, Newton, & Osborne 2000; Erduran & Jiménez-Aleixandre 2007).

5. Further Topics

Argumentation is a multi-faceted phenomenon, and the literature on arguments and argumentation is massive and varied. This entry can only scratch the surface of the richness of this material, and many interesting, relevant topics must be left out for reasons of space. In this final section, a selection of topics that are likely to attract considerable interest in future research are discussed.

In recent years, the concept of epistemic injustice has received much attention among philosophers (Fricker 2007; McKinnon 2016). Epistemic injustice occurs when a person is unfairly treated qua knower on the basis of prejudices pertaining to social categories such as gender, race, class, ability etc. (see entry on feminist epistemology and philosophy of science ). One of the main categories of epistemic injustice discussed in the literature pertains to testimony and is known as testimonial injustice : this occurs when a testifier is not given a degree of credibility commensurate to their actual expertise on the relevant topic, as a result of prejudice. (Whether credibility excess is also a form of testimonial injustice is a moot point in the literature [Medina 2011].)

Since argumentation can be viewed as an important mechanism for sharing knowledge and information, i.e., as having significant epistemic import (Goldman 2004), the question arises whether there might be instances of epistemic injustice pertaining specifically to argumentation, which may be described as argumentative injustice , and which would be notably different from other recognized forms of epistemic injustice such as testimonial injustice. Bondy (Bondy 2010) presented a first articulation of the notion of argumentative injustice, modeled after Fricker’s notion of epistemic injustice and relying on a broadly epistemological conception of argumentation. However, Bondy’s analysis does not take into account some of the structural elements that have become central to the analysis of epistemic injustice since Fricker’s influential work, so it seems further discussion of epistemic injustice in argumentation is still needed. For example, in situations of disagreement, epistemic injustice can give rise to further obstacles to rational argumentation, leading to deep disagreement (Lagewaard 2021).

Moreover, as often noted by critics of adversarial approaches, argumentation can also be used as an instrument of domination and oppression used to overpower and denigrate an interlocutor (Nozick 1981), especially an interlocutor of “lower” status in the context in question (Moulton 1983; see entry on feminist approaches to argumentation ). From this perspective, it is clear that argumentation may also be used to reinforce and exacerbate injustice, inequalities and power differentials (Goodwin 2007). Given this possibility, and in response to the perennial risk of excessive aggressiveness in argumentative situations, a normative account of how argumentation ought to be conducted so as to avoid these problematic outcomes seem to be required.

One such approach is virtue argumentation theory . Drawing on virtue ethics and virtue epistemology (see entries on virtue ethics and virtue epistemology ), virtue argumentation theory seeks to theorize how to argue well in terms of the dispositions and character of arguers rather than, for example, in terms of properties of arguments considered in abstraction from arguers (Aberdein & Cohen 2016). Some of the argumentative virtues identified in the literature are: willingness to listen to others (Cohen 2019), willingness to take a novel viewpoint seriously (Kwong 2016), humility (Kidd 2016), and open-mindedness (Tanesini 2020).

By the same token, defective argumentation is conceptualized not (only) in terms of structural properties of arguments (e.g., fallacious argument patterns), but in terms of the vices displayed by arguers such as arrogance and narrow-mindedness, among others (Aberdein 2016). Virtue argumentation theory now constitutes a vibrant research program, as attested by a special issue of Topoi dedicated to the topic (see [Aberdein & Cohen 2016] for its Introduction). It allows for a reconceptualization of classical themes within argumentation theory while also promising to provide concrete recommendations on how to argue better. Whether it can fully counter the risk of epistemic injustice and oppressive uses of argumentation is however debatable, at least as long as broader structural factors related to power dynamics are not sufficiently taken into account (Kukla 2014).

On some idealized construals, argumentation is conceived as a purely rational, emotionless endeavor. But the strong connection between argumentative activities and emotional responses has also long been recognized (in particular in rhetorical analyses of argumentation), and more recently has become the object of extensive research (Walton 1992; Gilbert 2004; Hample 2006: ch. 5). Importantly, the recognition of a role for emotions in argumentation does not entail a complete rejection of the “rationality” of argumentation; rather, it is based on the rejection of a strict dichotomy between reason and emotion (see entry on emotion ), and on a more encompassing conception of argumentation as a multi-layered human activity.

Rather than dispassionate exchanges of reasons, instances of argumentation typically start against the background of existing emotional relations, and give rise to further affective responses—often, though not necessarily, negative responses of aggression and hostility. Indeed, it has been noted that, by itself, argumentation can give rise to conflict and friction where there was none to be found prior to the argumentative engagement (Aikin 2011). This occurs in particular because critical engagement and requests for reasons are at odds with default norms of credulity in most mundane dialogical interactions, thus creating a perception of antagonism. But argumentation may also give rise to positive affective responses if the focus is on coalescence and cooperation rather than on hostility (Gilbert 1997).

The descriptive claim that instances of argumentation are typically emotionally charged is not particularly controversial, though it deserves to be further investigated; the details of affective responses during instances of argumentation and how to deal with them are non-trivial (Krabbe & van Laar 2015). What is potentially more controversial is the normative claim that instances of argumentation may or should be emotionally charged, i.e., that emotions may or ought to be involved in argumentative processes, even if it may be necessary to regulate them in such situations rather than giving them free rein (González, Gómez, & Lemos 2019). The significance of emotions for persuasion has been recognized for millennia (see entry on Aristotle’s rhetoric ), but more recently it has become clear that emotions also have a fundamental role to play for choices of what to focus on and what to care about (Sinhababu 2017). This general point seems to apply to instances of argumentation as well. For example, Howes and Hundleby (Howes & Hundleby 2018) argue that, contrary to what is often thought, anger can in fact make a positive contribution to argumentative encounters. Indeed, anger may have an important epistemological role in such encounters by drawing attention to relevant premises and information that may otherwise go unnoticed. (They recognize that anger may also derail argumentation when the encounter becomes a full-on confrontation.)

In sum, the study of the role of emotions for argumentation, both descriptively and normatively speaking, has attracted the interest of a number of scholars, traditionally in connection with rhetoric and more recently also from the perspective of argumentation as interpersonal communication (Hample 2006). And yet, much work remains to be done on the significance of emotions for argumentation, in particular given that the view that argumentation should be a purely rational, dispassionate endeavor remains widely (even if tacitly) endorsed.

Once we adopt the perspective of argumentation as a communicative practice, the question of the influence of cultural factors on argumentative practices naturally arises. Is there significant variability in how people engage in argumentation depending on their sociocultural backgrounds? Or is argumentation largely the same phenomenon across different cultures? Actually, we may even ask ourselves whether argumentation in fact occurs in all human cultures, or whether it is the product of specific, contingent background conditions, thus not being a human universal. For comparison: it had long been assumed that practices of counting were present in all human cultures, even if with different degrees of complexity. But in recent decades it has been shown that some cultures do not engage systematically in practices of counting and basic arithmetic at all, such as the Pirahã in the Amazon (Gordon 2004; see entry on culture and cognitive science ). By analogy, it seems that the purported universality of argumentative practices should not be taken for granted, but rather be treated as a legitimate empirical question. (Incidentally, there is some anecdotal evidence that the Pirahã themselves engage in argumentative exchanges [Everett 2008], but to date their argumentative skills have not been investigated systematically, as is the case with their numerical skills.)

Of course, how widespread argumentative practices will be also depends on how the concept of “argumentative practices” is defined and operationalized in the first place. If it is narrowly defined as corresponding to regimented practices of reason-giving requiring clear markers and explicit criteria for what counts as premises, conclusions and relations of support between them, then argumentation may well be restricted to cultures and subcultures where such practices have been explicitly codified. By contrast, if argumentation is defined more loosely, then a wider range of communicative practices will be considered as instances of argumentation, and thus presumably more cultures will be found to engage in (what is thus viewed as) argumentation. This means that the spread of argumentative practices across cultures is not only an empirical question; it also requires significant conceptual input to be addressed.

But if (as appears to be the case) argumentation is not a strictly WEIRD phenomenon, restricted to Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies (Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan 2010), then the issue of cross-cultural variability in argumentative practices gives rise to a host of research questions, again both at the descriptive and at the normative level. Indeed, even if at the descriptive level considerable variability in argumentative practices is identified, the normative question of whether there should be universally valid canons for argumentation, or instead specific norms for specific contexts, remains pressing. At the descriptive level, a number of researchers have investigated argumentative practices in different WEIRD as well as non-WEIRD cultures, also addressing questions of cultural variability (Hornikx & Hoeken 2007; Hornikx & de Best 2011).

A foundational work in this context is Edwin Hutchins’ 1980 book Culture and Inference , a study of the Trobriand Islanders’ system of land tenure in Papua New Guinea (Hutchins 1980). While presented as a study of inference and reasoning among the Trobriand Islanders, what Hutchins in fact investigated were instances of legal argumentation in land courts by means of ethnographic observation and interviews with litigants. This led to the formulation of a set of twelve basic propositions codifying knowledge about land tenure, as well as transfer formulas governing how this knowledge can be applied to new disputes. Hutchins’ analysis showed that the Trobriand Islanders had a sophisticated argumentation system to resolve issues pertaining to land tenure, in many senses resembling argumentation and reasoning in so-called WEIRD societies in that it seemed to recognize as valid simple logical structures such as modus ponens and modus tollens .

More recently, Hugo Mercier and colleagues have been conducting studies in countries such as Japan (Mercier, Deguchi, Van der Henst, & Yama 2016) and Guatemala (Castelain, Girotto, Jamet, & Mercier 2016). While recognizing the significance and interest of cultural differences (Mercier 2013), Mercier maintains that argumentation is a human universal, as argumentative capacities and tendencies are a result of natural selection, genetically encoded in human cognition (Mercier 2011; Mercier & Sperber 2017). He takes the results of the cross-cultural studies conducted so far as confirming the universality of argumentation, even considering cultural differences (Mercier 2018).

Another scholar who has been carrying out an extensive research program on cultural differences in argumentation is communication theorist Dale Hample. With different sets of colleagues, he has conducted studies by means of surveys where participants (typically, university undergraduates) self-report on their argumentative practices in countries such as China, Japan, Turkey, Chile, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United States (among others; Hample 2018: ch. 7). His results overall show a number of similarities, which may be partially explained by the specific demographic (university students) from which participants are usually recruited. But interesting differences have also been identified, for example different levels of willingness to engage in argumentative encounters.

In a recent book (Tindale 2021), philosopher Chris Tindale adopts an anthropological perspective to investigate how argumentative practices emerge from the experiences of peoples with diverse backgrounds. He emphasizes the argumentative roles of place, orality, myth, narrative, and audience, also assessing the impacts of colonialism on the study of argumentation. Tindale reviews a wealth of anthropological and ethnographic studies on argumentative practices in different cultures, thus providing what is to date perhaps the most comprehensive study on argumentation from an anthropological perspective.

On the whole, the study of differences and commonalities in argumentative practices across cultures is an established line of research on argumentation, but arguably much work remains to be done to investigate these complex phenomena more thoroughly.

So far we have not yet considered the question of the different media through which argumentation can take place. Naturally, argumentation can unfold orally in face-to-face encounters—discussions in parliament, political debates, in a court of law—as well as in writing—in scientific articles, on the Internet, in newspaper editorials. Moreover, it can happen synchronically, with real-time exchanges of reasons, or asynchronically. While it is reasonable to expect that there will be some commonalities across these different media and environments, it is also plausible that specific features of different environments may significantly influence how argumentation is conducted: different environments present different kinds of affordances for arguers (Halpern & Gibbs 2013; Weger & Aakhus 2003; see entry on embodied cognition for the concept of affordance). Indeed, if the Internet represents a fundamentally novel cognitive ecology (Smart, Heersmink, & Clowes 2017), then it will likely give rise to different forms of argumentative engagement (Lewiński 2010). Whether these new forms will represent progress (according to some suitable metric) is however a moot point.

In the early days of the Internet in the 1990s, there was much hope that online spaces would finally realize the Habermasian ideal of a public sphere for political deliberation (Hindman 2009). The Internet was supposed to act as the great equalizer in the worldwide marketplace of ideas, finally attaining the Millian ideal of free exchange of ideas (Mill 1859). Online, everyone’s voice would have an equal chance of being heard, everyone could contribute to the conversation, and everyone could simultaneously be a journalist, news consumer, engaged citizen, advocate, and activist.

A few decades later, these hopes have not really materialized. It is probably true that most people now argue more —in social media, blogs, chat rooms, discussion boards etc.—but it is much less obvious that they argue better . Indeed, rather than enhancing democratic ideals, some have gone as far as claiming that instead, the Internet is “killing democracy” (Bartlett 2018). There is very little oversight when it comes to the spreading of propaganda and disinformation online (Benkler, Faris, & Roberts 2018), which means that citizens are often being fed faulty information and arguments. Moreover, it seems that online environments may lead to increased polarization when polemic topics are being discussed (Yardi & Boyd 2010), and to “intellectual arrogance” (Lynch 2019). Some have argued that online discussions lead to more overly emotional engagement when compared to other forms of debate (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock 2014). But not everyone is convinced that the Internet has only made things worse when it comes to argumentation, or in any case that it cannot be suitably redesigned so as to foster rather than destroy democratic ideals and deliberation (Sunstein 2017).

Be that as it may, the Internet is here to stay, and online argumentation is a pervasive phenomenon that argumentation theorists have been studying and will continue to study for years to come. In fact, if anything, online argumentation is now more often investigated empirically than other forms of argumentation, among other reasons thanks to the development of argument mining techniques (see section 4.2 above) which greatly facilitate the study of large corpora of textual material such as those produced by online discussions. Beyond the very numerous specific case studies available in the literature, there have been also attempts to reflect on the phenomenon of online argumentation in general, for example in journal special issues dedicated to argumentation in digital media such as in Argumentation and Advocacy (Volume 47(2), 2010) and Philosophy & Technology (Volume 30(2), 2017). However, a systematic analysis of online argumentation and how it differs from other forms of argumentation remains to be produced.

Argument and argumentation are multifaceted phenomena that have attracted the interest of philosophers as well as scholars in other fields for millennia, and continue to be studied extensively in various domains. This entry presents an overview of the main strands in these discussions, while acknowledging the impossibility of fully doing justice to the enormous literature on the topic. But the literature references below should at least provide a useful starting point for the interested reader.

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abduction | analogy: medieval theories of | analogy and analogical reasoning | Aristotle | Aristotle, General Topics: logic | Aristotle, General Topics: rhetoric | Bacon, Francis | Bayes’ Theorem | bias, implicit | Chinese Philosophy: logic and language in Early Chinese Philosophy | Chinese Philosophy: Mohism | Chinese Philosophy: Mohist Canons | Chinese room argument | cognition: embodied | critical thinking | Curry’s paradox | democracy | emotion | epistemology: virtue | ethics: virtue | fallacies | feminist philosophy, interventions: epistemology and philosophy of science | feminist philosophy, interventions: political philosophy | feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on argumentation | Habermas, Jürgen | Hume, David | induction: problem of | legal reasoning: precedent and analogy in | liar paradox | logic: inductive | logic: informal | logic: non-monotonic | logic: paraconsistent | logic: relevance | logical consequence | Peirce, Charles Sanders | reasoning: defeasible | scientific knowledge: social dimensions of | Spinoza, Baruch | Stebbing, Susan | thought experiments


Thanks to Merel Talbi, Elias Anttila, César dos Santos, Hein Duijf, Silvia Ivani, Caglar Dede, Colin Rittberg, Marcin Lewiński, Andrew Aberdein, Malcolm Keating, Maksymillian Del Mar, and an anonymous referee for suggestions and/or comments on earlier drafts. This research was supported by H2020 European Research Council [771074-SEA].

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Structure your argument

To make sure your argument is logical and well organised, you can create a “map” of your argument. An argument map is a visual representation of an argument. It is especially useful when creating complex arguments or when developing an argument based on a review of literature.

The advantage of an argument map is that you can “see” the argument and how the different components are interconnected and support each other. An argument map can make it easier to manage information from a variety of sources and to identify key claims based on different reasons. It can help you strengthen and focus your themes and logical relationships between claims.

How do I create my own argument map?

You can build an argument map using specialised argument or mind mapping software. You can also use sticky notes or hand draw the argument.


  • Rasmussen University
  • Transferable Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Step 5: Structuring Arguments

Critical Thinking: Step 5: Structuring Arguments

  • Steps 1 & 2: Reflection and Analysis
  • Step 3: Acquisition of Information
  • Step 4: Creativity
  • Step 6: Decision Making
  • Steps 7 & 8: Commitment and Debate
  • In the Classroom
  • In the Workplace

Argument Activity

Rank the following arguments from 1-5 (5 being the best) as “reason” for taking an umbrella to school.

  • March is usually a rainy month, and this is the first day of March. It will probably rain today.
  • I listened to three weather forecasters last night and they, all predicted rain for this afternoon. It will probably rain today.
  • Last week, one of the television weather forecasters said rain was a possibility for today. It will probably rain today, and I’m going to be carrying some books that I don’t want to get wet.
  • The weather predictions on station WETT have always been accurate, and last night they said the rain will be heavy most of today. It will probably rain.

structure of argument critical thinking

Structuring an Argument

The tabs in this box are laid out in the order of which you should consider structuring your arguments. Click through each tab to view the step in structuring an argument, as well as good and bad examples of that step.

Clearly state your main point in the form of an assertion. This should be an arguable point - NOT a fact.  Good Example : All shopping centers should be smoke free. 

Bad Example : Smoking causes cancer.

Offer insight into the main idea of the argument by providing background information. 

Good Example : Most shopping malls are enclosed, and when one person smokes inside, it can affect the health of those around them.

Bad example (This does not support the main idea) : Shopping malls have stores in them, and some of those stores sell tobacco.

It is up to you (not your reader or conversation partner) to provide specific information to prove the main points of your argument.

Good Example : According to the Centers for Disease Control (2014), "cigarette smoking kills more than 480,00 Americans each year, with more than 41,000 of these deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke."

Bad Example : Lots of people smoke and then subsequently die from lung cancer.

In your own words, clearly and thoroughly offer evidence and support for your argument. 

Good Example : Children of smokers are exposed to secondhand smoke at home. Doctors suggest that there is an increased risk for them to contract lung cancer despite having never smoked. 

Bad Example : As a child of a smoker, I was exposed to secondhand smoke at home. My doctor says that I have an increased risk to get lung cancer, even though I have never smoked a cigarette in my life.

Any argument must take into account the opposing points of view. Acknowledge the existence of differing views and have a clear counter-point to that perception.

Good Example : While many believe they should be free to smoke wherever they choose, statistics show that smoking puts otherwise healthy people at risk for disease. As an alternative to being able to smoke wherever they desire, smokers should be provided with a smoking area outside of the enclosed mall environment.

Bad Example : Statistics show that smoking puts otherwise healthy people at risk for cancer. All malls should be smoke and alcohol free.

Without using the exact phrasing, clearly restate and summarize your thesis/argument.

Good Example : To provide the healthiest environment for everyone, all enclosed shopping centers should be smoke free with designated smoking areas.

Bad Example : Smoking causes cancer and all shopping centers should be smoke free.

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2 Logic and the Study of Arguments

If we want to study how we ought to reason (normative) we should start by looking at the primary way that we do reason (descriptive): through the use of arguments. In order to develop a theory of good reasoning, we will start with an account of what an argument is and then proceed to talk about what constitutes a “good” argument.

I. Arguments

  • Arguments are a set of statements (premises and conclusion).
  • The premises provide evidence, reasons, and grounds for the conclusion.
  • The conclusion is what is being argued for.
  • An argument attempts to draw some logical connection between the premises and the conclusion.
  • And in doing so, the argument expresses an inference: a process of reasoning from the truth of the premises to the truth of the conclusion.

Example : The world will end on August 6, 2045. I know this because my dad told me so and my dad is smart.

In this instance, the conclusion is the first sentence (“The world will end…”); the premises (however dubious) are revealed in the second sentence (“I know this because…”).

II. Statements

Conclusions and premises are articulated in the form of statements . Statements are sentences that can be determined to possess or lack truth. Some examples of true-or-false statements can be found below. (Notice that while some statements are categorically true or false, others may or may not be true depending on when they are made or who is making them.)

Examples of sentences that are statements:

  • It is below 40°F outside.
  • Oklahoma is north of Texas.
  • The Denver Broncos will make it to the Super Bowl.
  • Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the league.
  • I like broccoli.
  • I shouldn’t eat French fries.
  • Time travel is possible.
  • If time travel is possible, then you can be your own father or mother.

However, there are many sentences that cannot so easily be determined to be true or false. For this reason, these sentences identified below are not considered statements.

  • Questions: “What time is it?”
  • Commands: “Do your homework.”
  • Requests: “Please clean the kitchen.”
  • Proposals: “Let’s go to the museum tomorrow.”

Question: Why are arguments only made up of statements?

First, we only believe statements . It doesn’t make sense to talk about believing questions, commands, requests or proposals. Contrast sentences on the left that are not statements with sentences on the right that are statements:

It would be non-sensical to say that we believe the non-statements (e.g. “I believe what time is it?”). But it makes perfect sense to say that we believe the statements (e.g. “I believe the time is 11 a.m.”). If conclusions are the statements being argued for, then they are also ideas we are being persuaded to believe. Therefore, only statements can be conclusions.

Second, only statements can provide reasons to believe.

  • Q: Why should I believe that it is 11:00 a.m.? A: Because the clock says it is 11a.m.
  • Q: Why should I believe that we are going to the museum tomorrow? A: Because today we are making plans to go.

Sentences that cannot be true or false cannot provide reasons to believe. So, if premises are meant to provide reasons to believe, then only statements can be premises.

III. Representing Arguments

As we concern ourselves with arguments, we will want to represent our arguments in some way, indicating which statements are the premises and which statement is the conclusion. We shall represent arguments in two ways. For both ways, we will number the premises.

In order to identify the conclusion, we will either label the conclusion with a (c) or (conclusion). Or we will mark the conclusion with the ∴ symbol

Example Argument:

There will be a war in the next year. I know this because there has been a massive buildup in weapons. And every time there is a massive buildup in weapons, there is a war. My guru said the world will end on August 6, 2045.

  • There has been a massive buildup in weapons.
  • Every time there has been a massive buildup in weapons, there is a war.

(c) There will be a war in the next year.

∴ There will be a war in the next year.

Of course, arguments do not come labeled as such. And so we must be able to look at a passage and identify whether the passage contains an argument and if it does, we should also be identify which statements are the premises and which statement is the conclusion. This is harder than you might think!

There is no argument here. There is no statement being argued for. There are no statements being used as reasons to believe. This is simply a report of information.

The following are also not arguments:

Advice: Be good to your friends; your friends will be good to you.

Warnings: No lifeguard on duty. Be careful.

Associated claims: Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to the dark side.

When you have an argument, the passage will express some process of reasoning. There will be statements presented that serve to help the speaker building a case for the conclusion.

IV. How to L ook for A rguments [1]

How do we identify arguments in real life? There are no easy, mechanical rules, and we usually have to rely on the context in order to determine which are the premises and the conclusions. But sometimes the job can be made easier by the presence of certain premise or conclusion indicators. For example, if a person makes a statement, and then adds “this is because …,” then it is quite likely that the first statement is presented as a conclusion, supported by the statements that come afterward. Other words in English that might be used to indicate the premises to follow include:

  • firstly, secondly, …
  • for, as, after all
  • assuming that, in view of the fact that
  • follows from, as shown / indicated by
  • may be inferred / deduced / derived from

Of course whether such words are used to indicate premises or not depends on the context. For example, “since” has a very different function in a statement like “I have been here since noon,” unlike “X is an even number since X is divisible by 4.” In the first instance (“since noon”) “since” means “from.” In the second instance, “since” means “because.”

Conclusions, on the other hand, are often preceded by words like:

  • therefore, so, it follows that
  • hence, consequently
  • suggests / proves / demonstrates that
  • entails, implies

Here are some examples of passages that do not contain arguments.

1. When people sweat a lot they tend to drink more water. [Just a single statement, not enough to make an argument.]

2. Once upon a time there was a prince and a princess. They lived happily together and one day they decided to have a baby. But the baby grew up to be a nasty and cruel person and they regret it very much. [A chronological description of facts composed of statements but no premise or conclusion.]

3. Can you come to the meeting tomorrow? [A question that does not contain an argument.]

Do these passages contain arguments? If so, what are their conclusions?

  • Cutting the interest rate will have no effect on the stock market this time around, as people have been expecting a rate cut all along. This factor has already been reflected in the market.
  • So it is raining heavily and this building might collapse. But I don’t really care.
  • Virgin would then dominate the rail system. Is that something the government should worry about? Not necessarily. The industry is regulated, and one powerful company might at least offer a more coherent schedule of services than the present arrangement has produced. The reason the industry was broken up into more than 100 companies at privatization was not operational, but political: the Conservative government thought it would thus be harder to renationalize (The Economist 12/16/2000).
  • Bill will pay the ransom. After all, he loves his wife and children and would do everything to save them.
  • All of Russia’s problems of human rights and democracy come back to three things: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. None works as well as it should. Parliament passes laws in a hurry, and has neither the ability nor the will to call high officials to account. State officials abuse human rights (either on their own, or on orders from on high) and work with remarkable slowness and disorganization. The courts almost completely fail in their role as the ultimate safeguard of freedom and order (The Economist 11/25/2000).
  • Most mornings, Park Chang Woo arrives at a train station in central Seoul, South Korea’s capital. But he is not commuter. He is unemployed and goes there to kill time. Around him, dozens of jobless people pass their days drinking soju, a local version of vodka. For the moment, middle-aged Mr. Park would rather read a newspaper. He used to be a bricklayer for a small construction company in Pusan, a southern port city. But three years ago the country’s financial crisis cost him that job, so he came to Seoul, leaving his wife and two children behind. Still looking for work, he has little hope of going home any time soon (The Economist 11/25/2000).
  • For a long time, astronomers suspected that Europa, one of Jupiter’s many moons, might harbour a watery ocean beneath its ice-covered surface. They were right. Now the technique used earlier this year to demonstrate the existence of the Europan ocean has been employed to detect an ocean on another Jovian satellite, Ganymede, according to work announced at the recent American Geo-physical Union meeting in San Francisco (The Economist 12/16/2000).
  • There are no hard numbers, but the evidence from Asia’s expatriate community is unequivocal. Three years after its handover from Britain to China, Hong Kong is unlearning English. The city’s gweilos (Cantonese for “ghost men”) must go to ever greater lengths to catch the oldest taxi driver available to maximize their chances of comprehension. Hotel managers are complaining that they can no longer find enough English-speakers to act as receptionists. Departing tourists, polled at the airport, voice growing frustration at not being understood (The Economist 1/20/2001).

V. Evaluating Arguments

Q: What does it mean for an argument to be good? What are the different ways in which arguments can be good? Good arguments:

  • Are persuasive.
  • Have premises that provide good evidence for the conclusion.
  • Contain premises that are true.
  • Reach a true conclusion.
  • Provide the audience good reasons for accepting the conclusion.

The focus of logic is primarily about one type of goodness: The logical relationship between premises and conclusion.

An argument is good in this sense if the premises provide good evidence for the conclusion. But what does it mean for premises to provide good evidence? We need some new concepts to capture this idea of premises providing good logical support. In order to do so, we will first need to distinguish between two types of argument.

VI. Two Types of Arguments

The two main types of arguments are called deductive and inductive arguments. We differentiate them in terms of the type of support that the premises are meant to provide for the conclusion.

Deductive Arguments are arguments in which the premises are meant to provide conclusive logical support for the conclusion.

1. All humans are mortal

2. Socrates is a human.

∴ Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

1. No student in this class will fail.

2. Mary is a student in this class.

∴ Therefore, Mary will not fail.

1. A intersects lines B and C.

2. Lines A and B form a 90-degree angle

3. Lines A and C form a 90-degree angle.

∴ B and C are parallel lines.

Inductive arguments are, by their very nature, risky arguments.

Arguments in which premises provide probable support for the conclusion.

Statistical Examples:

1. Ten percent of all customers in this restaurant order soda.

2. John is a customer.

∴ John will not order Soda..

1. Some students work on campus.

2. Bill is a student.

∴ Bill works on campus.

1. Vegas has the Carolina Panthers as a six-point favorite for the super bowl.

∴ Carolina will win the Super Bowl.

VII. Good Deductive Arguments

The First Type of Goodness: Premises play their function – they provide conclusive logical support.

Deductive and inductive arguments have different aims. Deductive argument attempt to provide conclusive support or reasons; inductive argument attempt to provide probable reasons or support. So we must evaluate these two types of arguments.

Deductive arguments attempt to be valid.

To put validity in another way: if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true.

It is very important to note that validity has nothing to do with whether or not the premises are, in fact, true and whether or not the conclusion is in fact true; it merely has to do with a certain conditional claim. If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true.

Q: What does this mean?

  • The validity of an argument does not depend upon the actual world. Rather, it depends upon the world described by the premises.
  • First, consider the world described by the premises. In this world, is it logically possible for the conclusion to be false? That is, can you even imagine a world in which the conclusion is false?

Reflection Questions:

  • If you cannot, then why not?
  • If you can, then provide an example of a valid argument.

You should convince yourself that validity is not just about the actual truth or falsity of the premises and conclusion. Rather, validity only has to do with a certain logical relationship between the truth of the premise and the truth of the conclusion. So the only possible combination that is ruled out by a valid argument is a set of true premises and false conclusion.

Let’s go back to example #1. Here are the premises:

1. All humans are mortal.

If both of these premises are true, then every human that we find must be a mortal. And this means, that it must be the case that if Socrates is a human, that Socrates is mortal.

Reflection Questions about Invalid Arguments:

  • Can you have an invalid argument with a true premise?
  • Can you have an invalid argument with true premises and a true conclusion?

The s econd type of goodness for deductive arguments: The premises provide us the right reasons to accept the conclusion.

Soundness V ersus V alidity:

Our original argument is a sound one:

∴ Socrates is mortal.

Question: Can a sound argument have a false conclusion?

VIII. From Deductive Arguments to Inductive Arguments

Question: What happens if we mix around the premises and conclusion?

2. Socrates is mortal.

∴ Socrates is a human.

1. Socrates is mortal

∴ All humans are mortal.

Are these valid deductive arguments?

NO, but they are common inductive arguments.

Other examples :

Suppose that there are two opaque glass jars with different color marbles in them.

1. All the marbles in jar #1 are blue.

2. This marble is blue.

∴ This marble came from jar #1.

1. This marble came from jar #2.

2. This marble is red.

∴ All the marbles in jar #2 are red.

While this is a very risky argument, what if we drew 100 marbles from jar #2 and found that they were all red? Would this affect the second argument’s validity?

IX. Inductive Arguments:

The aim of an inductive argument is different from the aim of deductive argument because the type of reasons we are trying to provide are different. Therefore, the function of the premises is different in deductive and inductive arguments. And again, we can split up goodness into two types when considering inductive arguments:

  • The premises provide the right logical support.
  • The premises provide the right type of reason.

Logical S upport:

Remember that for inductive arguments, the premises are intended to provide probable support for the conclusion. Thus, we shall begin by discussing a fairly rough, coarse-grained way of talking about probable support by introducing the notions of strong and weak inductive arguments.

A strong inductive argument:

  • The vast majority of Europeans speak at least two languages.
  • Sam is a European.

∴ Sam speaks two languages.

Weak inductive argument:

  • This quarter is a fair coin.

∴ Therefore, the next coin flip will land heads.

  • At least one dog in this town has rabies.
  • Fido is a dog that lives in this town.

∴ Fido has rabies.

The R ight T ype of R easons. As we noted above, the right type of reasons are true statements. So what happens when we get an inductive argument that is good in the first sense (right type of logical support) and good in the second sense (the right type of reasons)? Corresponding to the notion of soundness for deductive arguments, we call inductive arguments that are good in both senses cogent arguments.

  • With which of the following types of premises and conclusions can you have a strong inductive argument?
  • With which of the following types of premises and conclusions can you have a cogent inductive argument?

X. Steps for Evaluating Arguments:

  • Read a passage and assess whether or not it contains an argument.
  • If it does contain an argument, then identify the conclusion and premises.
  • If yes, then assess it for soundness.
  • If not, then treat it as an inductive argument (step 3).
  • If the inductive argument is strong, then is it cogent?

XI. Evaluating Real – World Arguments

An important part of evaluating arguments is not to represent the arguments of others in a deliberately weak way.

For example, suppose that I state the following:

All humans are mortal, so Socrates is mortal.

Is this valid? Not as it stands. But clearly, I believe that Socrates is a human being. Or I thought that was assumed in the conversation. That premise was clearly an implicit one.

So one of the things we can do in the evaluation of argument is to take an argument as it is stated, and represent it in a way such that it is a valid deductive argument or a strong inductive one. In doing so, we are making explicit what one would have to assume to provide a good argument (in the sense that the premises provide good – conclusive or probable – reason to accept the conclusion).

The teacher’s policy on extra credit was unfair because Sally was the only person to have a chance at receiving extra credit.

  • Sally was the only person to have a chance at receiving extra credit.
  • The teacher’s policy on extra credit is fair only if everyone gets a chance to receive extra credit.

Therefore, the teacher’s policy on extra credit was unfair.

Valid argument

Sally didn’t train very hard so she didn’t win the race.

  • Sally didn’t train very hard.
  • If you don’t train hard, you won’t win the race.

Therefore, Sally didn’t win the race.

Strong (not valid):

  • If you won the race, you trained hard.
  • Those who don’t train hard are likely not to win.

Therefore, Sally didn’t win.

Ordinary workers receive worker’s compensation benefits if they suffer an on-the-job injury. However, universities have no obligations to pay similar compensation to student athletes if they are hurt while playing sports. So, universities are not doing what they should.

  • Ordinary workers receive worker’s compensation benefits if they suffer an on-the-job injury that prevents them working.
  • Student athletes are just like ordinary workers except that their job is to play sports.
  • So if student athletes are injured while playing sports, they should also be provided worker’s compensation benefits.
  • Universities have no obligations to provide injured student athletes compensation.

Therefore, universities are not doing what they should.

Deductively valid argument

If Obama couldn’t implement a single-payer healthcare system in his first term as president, then the next president will not be able to implement a single-payer healthcare system.

  • Obama couldn’t implement a single-payer healthcare system.
  • In Obama’s first term as president, both the House and Senate were under Democratic control.
  • The next president will either be dealing with the Republican-controlled house and senate or at best, a split legislature.
  • Obama’s first term as president will be much easier than the next president’s term in terms of passing legislation.

Therefore, the next president will not be able to implement a single-payer healthcare system.

Strong inductive argument

Sam is weaker than John. Sam is slower than John. So Sam’s time on the obstacle will be slower than John’s.

  • Sam is weaker than John.
  • Sam is slower than John.
  • A person’s strength and speed inversely correlate with their time on the obstacle course.

Therefore, Sam’s time will be slower than John’s.

XII. Diagramming Arguments

All the arguments we’ve dealt with – except for the last two – have been fairly simple in that the premises always provided direct support for the conclusion. But in many arguments, such as the last one, there are often arguments within arguments.

Obama example :

  • The next president will either be dealing with the Republican controlled house and senate or at best, a split legislature.

∴ The next president will not be able to implement a single-payer healthcare system.

It’s clear that premises #2 and #3 are used in support of #4. And #1 in combination with #4 provides support for the conclusion.

When we diagram arguments, the aim is to represent the logical relationships between premises and conclusion. More specifically, we want to identify what each premise supports and how.

structure of argument critical thinking

This represents that 2+3 together provide support for 4

This represents that 4+1 together provide support for 5

When we say that 2+3 together or 4+1 together support some statement, we mean that the logical support of these statements are dependent upon each other. Without the other, these statements would not provide evidence for the conclusion. In order to identify when statements are dependent upon one another, we simply underline the set that are logically dependent upon one another for their evidential support. Every argument has a single conclusion, which the premises support; therefore, every argument diagram should point to the conclusion (c).

Sam Example:

  • Sam is less flexible than John.
  • A person’s strength and flexibility inversely correlate with their time on the obstacle course.

∴ Therefore, Sam’s time will be slower than John’s.

structure of argument critical thinking

In some cases, different sets of premises provide evidence for the conclusion independently of one another. In the argument above, there are two logically independent arguments for the conclusion that Sam’s time will be slower than John’s. That Sam is weaker than John and that being weaker correlates with a slower time provide evidence for the conclusion that Sam will be slower than John. Completely independent of this argument is the fact that Sam is less flexible and that being less flexible corresponds with a slower time. The diagram above represent these logical relations by showing that #1 and #3 dependently provide support for #4. Independent of that argument, #2 and #3 also dependently provide support for #4. Therefore, there are two logically independent sets of premises that provide support for the conclusion.

Try diagramming the following argument for yourself. The structure of the argument has been provided below:

  • All humans are mortal
  • Socrates is human
  • So Socrates is mortal.
  • If you feed a mortal person poison, he will die.

∴ Therefore, Socrates has been fed poison, so he will die.

structure of argument critical thinking

  • This section is taken from and is in use under creative commons license. Some modifications have been made to the original content. ↵

Critical Thinking Copyright © 2019 by Brian Kim is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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ENGL001: English Composition I

Five essential parts of an argument.

Read article on the parts of an argument, especially warrants. How do warrants differ from reasons and evidence?

Why Does Little Red Schoolhouse (LRS) View Writing as Argument?

When we disagree about an issue, care deeply about an outcome, or try to convince others of the validity of our approach, we often resort to argument. Argument as it is depicted on television and experienced in times of stress or conflict carries with it many negative connotations of anger, high emotion, and even irrationality. But each of us also makes arguments every day, and in settings that help us become more rational, better informed, and more clearly understood.

Arguments help us to gather information from our own experience and that of others, to make judgments based on evidence, and to marshal information toward sound conclusions. Argument is appropriate when we seek understanding or agreement, when we want to solve a problem or answer a question, and when we want others to act or think in ways we deem beneficial, suitable, or necessary. Argument also comes in handy when we seek to convince, persuade, or produce change in our audience, and when circumstances require trust, respect, belief in our evidence or agreement with our reasoning.

Argument is everywhere – on television and radio, in politics and publications, and also in our day-to-day decisions about what to have for dinner, when to schedule the next meeting, and who should walk the family dog. As Colomb and Williams point out, the common notion that argument must be combative is built into our very language: opposing sides attack , defend , hold off , triumph , struggle , crush objections and slaughter competitors. On the other hand, in order to use argument as productive and collaborative communication, we must certainly find a way to transcend the vocabulary of argument-as-war. We must negotiate the audience's needs along with the speaker's agenda.

Argument is also about conversation. Although sometimes we forget, the best arguments are a forum for:

  • Obtaining and expressing information;
  • Airing and sharing assumptions and reasons;
  • Establishing common ground;
  • Coming to mutual agreement.

Productive argumentation starts with a problem. It makes us realize why we have an interest in seeing that problem solved. It also claims a solution, convincing its audience of the validity of that solution with evidence and reasons that it will accept.

Writing and Argument

The Little Red Schoolhouse (LRS) focus on argumentation raises writers' and readers' awareness of:

  • The importance of audience;
  • The intersecting languages of information and persuasion; and
  • The reading process through which we share the tasks of critical thinking and decision-making.

Argument structure also helps writers to avoid:

  • The formulaic "five paragraph essay" that is often assigned in high school ("Scientific progress is good. Here are several reasons why scientific progress is good. In conclusion, scientific progress is good.");
  • The default structure of chronological order (First I set up the lab, then I opened my notebook, then performed the first step in my experiment…);
  • Simple summary with no so what ; and
  • Binary structures where two issues or ideas are described without connection to each other.

Preparing Your Argument

To prepare to make an effective argument you must first:

  • Translate your topic into a problem statement ;
  • Frame a situation that is debatable or contestable;
  • Formulate a question about which reasonable people might disagree; and
  • Find a claim your analysis has led you to assert.

Now you can begin to imagine what it will take to convince your audience. What evidence, methods, or models do they expect? What conventions must you follow to win approval?

Sketch Your Approach

  • What do you want to show?
  • Why should readers agree?
  • Based on what evidence?
  • What are some possible alternatives or objections?
  • What conclusion will you offer, and why should your readers accept it as valuable?

The Five Parts of Argument

The questions that lead to your topic, broadly conceived, also steer you toward what The Craft of Argument formalizes in the five parts of argument .

  • Acknowledgement and Response.

These Correspond to the Williams' and Colomb's Five Questions of Argument:

  • What are you claiming?
  • What reasons do you have for believing your claim?
  • What evidence do you base those reasons on?
  • What principle connects or makes your reasons relevant to your claims?
  • What about such-and-such potential disagreement/difficulty?

Constructing Claims

We learn that, at bottom, an argument is just a claim and its support:

Reason therefore Claim
Claim because of Reason .

Your claim is your main point. It should either be clearly conceptual (seeking to change how we think) or clearly pragmatic (seeking to change how we act). Claims should, by definition, require good reasons. Audiences should be able to disagree with your claim and, by extension, to be convinced and converted by your evidence.

More about Claims

  • Make sure your readers can recognize why your claim is significant.
  • Ensure that your claim is clear and concise. Readers should be able to tell what is at stake and what principles you intend to use to argue your point.
  • Confirm that the claim accurately describes the main tenets of the argument to follow.
  • Moderate your claim with appropriate qualifiers like "many", "most", "often", in place of "all", "always", etc.

Evaluating Good Claims

  • Your solution is possible.
  • Your solution is ethical (moral, legal, fair, etc.).
  • Your solution is prudent – it takes into consideration both the problem you seek to resolve and the possible ramifications of your proposal.

Reasons and Evidence

Most arguers know from experience that reasons and evidence help to convince audiences. In the simplest terms, reasons answer the question: "Why are you making that claim?" Evidence offers tangible support for reasons.

When stating reasons, always be aware of your audience. You will need to choose the reasons that support your evidence that are also the most likely to convince your specific readers or listeners. Knowing the general values and priorities of your readers will help you to determine what they will count as compelling reasons.

Knowing what kind of arguments and evidence they will expect from you will guide you in choosing reasons that meet those expectations.

Tailor your appeal to the specific needs and acknowledged concerns of your reading community, because arguments are always audience specific.

Evidence should be reliable and based upon authoritative and trustworthy research and sources. It should be appropriately cited, and ample enough to convince. Evidence should also be designed to appeal to your target audience's values and priorities.

When Arguing through Evidence

  • Present evidence from general to specific.
  • Build on what readers know.
  • Do not rehearse your own work process; instead, support your conclusions.
  • Use diagrams, graphs, and other visuals.
  • Keep support appropriate and simple.
  • Make sure data is authoritative/expert.
  • Help the audience to know what is important.

The words reason and evidence are much more familiar to most students of written and oral argument than the term warrant . But reasons and evidence are most powerful when they are utilized within the structure of argument we have been discussing.

To be convincing, the reasons and evidence you present in support of your claim need to be connected through warrants. Warrants express a general belief or principle in a way that influences or explains our judgments in specific cases.

Take, for example, the old saying:  "Measure twice, cut once".

Expressing as it does a general belief or principle – that when you take the time to do a thing properly, you don't make mistakes – the saying provides a viable warrant for an argument like:

"It is never a good idea to hurry a task. [Reason] [Connected by the beliefs and assumptions expressed by the warrant to the supporting evidence that] Careless mistakes take longer to fix than it would to do things right the first time." [Evidence]

Warrants express justifying principles, shared beliefs, or general assumptions. They are the spoken or unspoken logic that connects your reasons to your evidence. Warrants take many forms, but Williams and Colomb emphasize that they always have or imply two parts:

  • One articulating a general belief or circumstance.
  • One stating a conclusion we can infer from applying that circumstance to a specific situation.

Warrants often take the form: Whenever X, then Y. For example, take the commonly held belief expressed by the old saying "When it rains, it pours". The same sentiment and set of assumptions could be described by the general truism "If one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong". Whether implied or explicit, and whether it takes the form of a general observation or a cultural belief, a warrant states a broader principle that can be applied in a particular case to justify the thinking behind an argument.

More on Clear Warrants

Warrants connect your reasons to your claim in logical ways. Whether a warrant is assumed or implied, it is still crucial that the audience be able to recognize your warrant and be able to determine that they agree with or accept your warrant.

Questions for Determining Good Warrants

  • Do readers know the warrant already?
  • Will all readers think it is true?
  • Will they see its connection to this circumstance or situation?
  • If they think it is both valid and appropriate, will they think it applies to their family, corporation, or community?

Warranting: A Specific Case

Consider a case when an audience might not accept your argument unless it first accepts your warrant. Take, for example, the following discussion between a mother and her child.

Child (to mother): "I need new shoes."
Mother: "But why, what are your reasons?"
Child: "Because all the other kids have them." X
Child: "Because red is 'in' this season and my shoes are blue." X
Mother: "Sorry, but I don't accept your argument that you need new shoes."

Above all, warrants require common ground. In the example above, the success of the child's argument depends upon his mother's sharing the values and assumptions upon which the argument for new shoes is based.

Productive argument will require that the child find, and address, some common belief or assumption about what constitutes "need". While his mother might not be influenced by peer pressure or style trends, she probably does share a set of values that would ultimately lead to agreement (Common Ground).

Consider a situation in which the child's previous reasons had not convinced his mother to accept his argument, and we can see how compelling reasons and evidence can be developed alongside shared warrants.

Child: "I need new shoes because these ones have holes in them and it's the rainy season." √
Mother: "Well why didn't you say so?! I agree that you shouldn't be walking around with wet feet!"

We are most likely to accept an argument when we share a warrant. In this case, it is unstated, but implied:

Warrant = When shoes no longer protect the feet from stones and weather, it is time to buy new ones.

There is another way to look at warrants that don't necessarily fit a certain mold. If you believe in a general principle stated about general circumstances (for example, "People who fall asleep at work probably aren't getting enough sleep at home".), then you are likely to link a specific instance (of nodding off at your computer) with a specific conclusion (that you haven't gotten adequate rest). Warrants here can be defined as general truths that lead us to accepted conclusions.

Acknowledgement and Response

Acknowledgement and response can be included in your argument in order to:

  • Produce trust;
  • Mediate or moderate objections;
  • Limit the scope of your claim;
  • Demonstrate experience or immersion in a wider field or discipline.

Brainstorm useful concessions to potential dissenters by thinking about the difficulties or questions your argument is likely to produce. Within your argument, acknowledgements and responses often begin with: To be sure , admittedly , some have claimed , etc.

Concessions allow the writer to predict problems that might weaken an argument and respond with rebuttals and reassessments. Acknowledgement and response frequently employs terms like but , however , on the other hand , etc.

Using the Five Parts of Argument

After you have sketched out your full argument, and even after you have drafted the entire piece of writing, you should revisit your claim. Ask yourself: Does the claim still introduce and frame the discussion that follows? Are there elements of the claim that need to be revised? Built upon? Eliminated? Explained?

  • Is your claim clear and concise?
  • Is it contestable?
  • Is there good evidence for your solution?
  • Will your audience agree?

Evaluate and Revise Reasons

Consider the specific needs and perspectives of your audience and select reasons that will connect to their priorities and motivations. Make sure that you provide ample reasons for each claim or subclaim you assert. Order your reasons in a way that is logical and compelling: Depending on your argument, you may want to lead with your best reason or save your strongest reason for last. Finally, ask yourself whether any essential evidence is missing from your discussion of the problem.

  • Do your reasons make a strong case for the validity of your claim?
  • Can you imagine other reasons that would appeal more strongly to your audience?

Assess and Improve Evidence

If there are authorities to appeal to, experts who agree, or compelling facts that support your argument, make sure you have included them in full. Whether you are speaking from experience, research, or reading, make sure to situate yourself firmly in your field. Create confidence in your authority and establish the trustworthiness of your account.

  • Have you consulted reputable sources?
  • Have you conducted your research and formatted your findings according to accepted standards?
  • What does your audience need to know to appreciate the solution you propose?
  • What makes it easy or difficult to accept?
  • What further support might you offer?

Scrutinize Your Warrants

If you can't articulate the connection between what you claim and why you believe the audience should accept your assertion, your readers probably can't either! Good warrants often take the form of assumptions shared by individuals, communities or organizations. They stem from a shared culture, experience, or perspective. If understanding your claim means sharing a particular set of beliefs or establishing common ground with your reader, make sure your argument takes time to do so.

  • Can your audience easily connect your claim to your reasons?
  • Are your warrants shared? Explicit? Implied?
  • What unspoken agreements do your conclusions depend upon?

Concede and Explain

Gracefully acknowledge potential objections when it can produce trust and reinforce the fairness and authority of your perspective. Try to anticipate the difficulties that different types of readers might have with your evidence or reasoning

  • Where are my readers most likely to object or feel unsettled?
  • How can I concede potential problems while still advancing the authority of my claim?

Assessing and Revising Your Argument

By way of conclusion, we can revisit the issue of method. Little Red Schoolhouse (LRS) encourages thinking about the parts of argument in order to produce logic that is

  • Easy to understand, and
  • Easy to acknowledge or accept.

Argument structures comprehension by giving readers a framework within which to understand a given discussion. Argument supplies criteria for judgment, and connects reasons with claims through implicit or explicit warrants. Sometimes, crafting a good argument is as simple as asking yourself three basic questions:

  • What do you want to say?
  • Why should readers care?

When you set about answering these questions using the five parts of argument, you will hone introductions and thesis statements to make clear and precise claims, make relevant costs and benefits explicit, and connect reasons and evidence through shared and compelling warrants.

Examples taken or adapted from:

  • Williams, J. (2005). Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. (8th ed.). New York: Pearson.
  • Williams, J., Colomb, G. (200 3). The Craft of Argument. ( Concise ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

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Identifying the topic

Identifying the topic is the first step in critical analysis of a text.

Topic refers to the word or sentence, which states the main subject of the work, i.e. the issue or idea with which the entire work is related. The work is the author's explanation of the topic. The topic is explicit, and often identified in the main title and should be evident in the abstract or opening paragraph. It answers the pivotal questions of who, what and why through data and facts.

Critical thinking processes:

The critical thinking process has three key elements.

  • evaluate and 
  • synthesise.
  • Identify the parts of an argument.
  • deconstruct, divide, determine, resolve, anatomise, cut up, break up, disintegrate, separate, lay bare, dissect, part

When you analyse you:

  • identify the main elements of a text, particularly the key ideas, the argument and the evidence
  • draw out inferences 
  • draw out implications 
  • identify persuasive tactics if used.

Examples of language that analyses

The first suggests that........... . The implication is that.......... although.......... .

The second component of the evidence provided is derived from...........and indicates a high level of....... .This could be seen as implying....... .

The third element is comprised of.......... . It supports Wright’s claim in that it........... .

Overall, the research demonstrates........... and.......... .However, it also suggests that........... .

  • gauge, appraise, assess, calculate, allocate value, decide, criticise, grade, size up, take measure

When you evaluate you:

  • identify the strengths and weaknesses in an argument (credibility)
  • weigh up the value of evidence (validity)
  • identify and evaluate the assumptions underlying the argument (integrity).

Examples of language that evaluates

The latter, a survey of.........strongly suggests that......... . This evidence is relevant in that it.........and credible in that it.......... .

However, the analysis of the narrative component of the research does not support her assertion that....... .

It suggests rather that........ which undermines her claim that.......... .

Furthermore, it is based on the assumption that.........which is not .........given the ........... .

  • to combine; to make whole.
  • amalgamate, incorporate, harmonise, blend, integrate, orchestrate, symphonise, unify, arrange, manufacture

When you synthesise you:

  • put information together in a new pattern
  • provide a new point of view
  • show how the relationship between the parts, and between the parts and the whole produce a unique communication.

Examples of language that synthesises

In contrast, Jones (2012), in highlighting...........provides insight into..........and demonstrates a high level of correlation between........and........ .

Jones’s (2012) analytic focus on..........facilitates a further contribution .

Overall, the research demonstrates that..........and.......... .

  • What is critical thinking?
  • Why think critically?
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The Role of Argument in Critical Thinking

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

Learning from the Facts

Have you ever held an opinion about something and you turned out to be wrong? Somehow you discovered the facts and realized, 'Oops, I goofed,' and had to recognize the new information as valid.

In this lesson, you'll consider the value of a logical approach when aiming to prove something is valid and correct. You'll compare this approach to using subjective opinions rather than facts. You'll also spend some time considering the role of intuition in philosophical traditions.

structure of argument critical thinking

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  • 0:01 Learning from the Facts
  • 0:34 Texting and Driving
  • 1:08 An Argument without Evidence
  • 2:43 Opinions vs. Justified Claims
  • 4:17 Intuition
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary

Texting and Driving

There are people out on the roads as we speak who believe they can text and drive at the same time and stay effective at both tasks. They've done it before, and they've survived to do it again.

What evidence do they have that this behavior isn't really dangerous? Perhaps they know others who've done it and haven't yet had an accident. Or, they themselves do it and have had no close calls yet.

What if a person who thinks it's possible to text and drive at the same time were to construct an argument about their claim? Let's look at whether a person is using critical thinking skills if they make this argument.

An Argument without Evidence

Zoey often drives distracted, and she's willing to take a stab at explaining why she thinks it's not a problem. She starts off by saying, 'In my opinion, people are too worried about what may or may not happen.' Is Zoey's argument strong in this case? Not at all. She's using her general opinion to express a viewpoint that has no basis in any solid reasoning except that she thinks people worry too much overall.

What if she was pressed to give evidence as to why it's safe to drive and text at the same time? Zoey might respond by saying, 'I've never had an accident. My friends have never had accidents.' She is using a very minimal sample of people to prove her point, which is not effective evidence in this case given how many people drive on the road.

What if we presented Zoey with statistics that have been gathered by those that do have access to what causes great numbers of drivers to crash? According to the official website of the U.S. Government that deals with distracted driving, 'Engaging in visual-manual sub-tasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.' The research was released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which utilized official reports of real-life accidents as examples. This makes a much more compelling case. Zoey may have a harder time refuting this specific data that estimates that a person is three times more likely to get in a crash, a significant jump up from the usual level of risk.

Opinions vs. Justified Claims

What about in philosophy, where there may or may not be statistics and concrete data like the distracted driving information from Virginia Tech? Even when there is not a vast amount of data available, many philosophers still aim to make arguments using critical thinking.

A critical thinking approach avoids relying on subjective opinions . Subjective opinions are ones that are based on our interpretation of very limited information and making judgment calls before weighing the evidence. Often, opinions rely on emotional responses and assumptions we have made about an issue, rather than careful, conscious thought.

So, subjective opinions have their shortcomings. This doesn't make opinions worthless. We often have to make these types of judgments in life. Yet when you are making an argument in philosophy, a person will want to focus more heavily on justified claims , or conclusions that are valid and sound based on evidence.

Zoey had a subjective opinion about texting and driving that didn't really turn out to be a justified claim. But a person who hasn't seen statistics on texting and driving may also come up with a subjective opinion about the issue. This opinion may turn out to be a justified claim, which - based on the statistics of being three times more likely to be in a crash - appears accurate.

Opinions aren't necessarily false. They could turn out to be true. But until you have reasoned through your assumptions to determine why they are valid, an opinion is limited in its usefulness in many philosophical traditions.

Most people do experience a sense of intuition about certain situations in life, coming to a conclusion without a rational explanation or an internal sense of knowing something to be true without knowing why. If you've ever had an uneasy feeling about a situation without being able to pinpoint exactly why, you may have experienced this sense of intuition. We may rely on intuition in various areas of our life, especially ones involving our safety, when all of the needed information is not available and we have to make a snap judgment quickly.

Like opinions, our intuition could turn out to prove correct. However, it's also possible that a sense of intuition in some cases could come from less positive qualities, such as our prejudice or personal bias. Imagine having an uneasy feeling about someone of another ethnicity. You might think this is your internal knowledge that something is wrong with that person. What if, in reality, your feelings are just based on prejudice? This is one reason why examining assumptions is important to critical thinking.

For many philosophers, logical reasoning is the preferred approach to arguments instead of intuition. Other traditions may place more emphasis on intuition or view it differently. For a critical thinker, balancing intuition with external evidence is important. This helps avoid coming to a conclusion such as the one Zoey made when she believed intuitively that she was not at risk by texting and driving.

Lesson Summary

When you are making an argument using a critical thinking approach, a person will focus on justified claims , or conclusions that are valid and sound based on evidence. Justified claims are considered more valid than subjective opinions , ones based on our interpretation of very limited information involving making judgment calls before weighing the evidence.

In some philosophical traditions, intuition is more highly valued while in others it is held to be more suspect. Using intuition is a way of coming to a conclusion without a rational explanation or an internal sense of knowing something to be true without knowing why. An approach that uses critical thinking will be careful of the influence of personal bias that can influence our judgment.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Explain why justified claims have more merit than subjective opinions in an argument
  • Describe how intuition may be used when working with a critical thinking approach

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Christopher Dwyer Ph.D.

Improving Critical Thinking Through Argument Mapping

Dual-coding, gestalt grouping, and hierarchical organization..

Posted November 9, 2018

As you may have figured out from the focus of my ongoing blog, my book and my previous research, critical thinking (CT) is my specialty area of research. However, perhaps something that I don’t mention enough within this blog is that CT wasn’t the primary focus of my Ph.D. research—rather, it was The Evaluation of Argument Mapping as a Learning Tool ; that is, argument mapping’s effects on a series of educational outcomes, including memory and CT. To clarify, an argument map is a visual representation of a logically structured network of reasoning, in which the argument is made unambiguous and explicit via a ‘box and arrow’ design, in which the boxes represent propositions (i.e. the central claim, reasons, objections, and rebuttals) and the ‘arrows’ among propositions indicate the inferential relationships linking the propositions together (Dwyer, 2011; van Gelder, 2002). As part of my Ph.D., three large-scale experimental studies were conducted with the main results indicating that argument mapping (AM) can significantly facilitate memory performance beyond that of more traditional study methods and that the provision of AM-infused CT training can significantly enhance CT performance (Dwyer, 2011). Given these observed benefits, I think it worthwhile to share a little bit about AM here and the rationale for why it works, especially for those who wish to enhance their own or even others’ CT.

(Dwyer, 2011; van Gelder, 2007)

Notably, though other forms of argument diagramming exist, such as concept mapping and mind-mapping , they differ substantially from AM based on the manner in which they are organized and the way in which each ‘proposition’ is presented. The problem with many concept mapping techniques is that they do not present an argument per se. Instead, they present a graphical structure that acts as a representation of a separate text, which might be used to diagram: the links among concepts, decision-making schemes, a set of plans or instructions, or at best, act as an argument overview – which does not represent the argument in full. Thus, because the text of the argument and the diagram may often be separate entities, concept mapping may become more cognitively demanding by adding the necessity of switching attention from text to diagram and vice versa (e.g. Chandler & Sweller, 1991; Pollock, Chandler & Sweller, 2002; Tindall-Ford, Chandler & Sweller, 1997). In addition, if the reader of a concept map is not familiar with the information from the text that the map is derived, then the map itself becomes meaningless. Neither sentences nor any inferential structures to facilitate comprehension are requisite. In this context, concept mapping strategies may not necessarily be useful pedagogical aids that are open to analysis by everyone.

Although AMs have been in existence for almost 200 years (Buckingham-Shum, 2003; see Whately, 1826), their construction was a slow, tedious task completed through pen and paper; and thus, not widely used as a learning tool, despite potential advantages over standard prose as a medium for presenting reasoning. With the advent of various user-friendly AM software programs, the time required to construct an AM has been substantially reduced. Perhaps as a result of the relatively recent advancements in AM software, little research has been conducted to test its effects on learning. However, the little research that has examined AM’s effects on CT has revealed beneficial effects (Alvarez-Ortiz, 2007; Butchart et al., 2009; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2011; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2012; van Gelder, 2001; van Gelder, Bissett & Cumming, 2004). The rationale for why AM has a beneficial effect on CT consists of reasoning pertaining to the former’s diagrammatic, dual-coding nature, Gestalt grouping principles and hierarchical organization.

First, unlike standard text, AMs represent arguments through dual modalities (visual-spatial/diagrammatic and verbal/propositional), thus facilitating the latent information processing capacity of individual learners. Dual-coding theory (Paivio, 1971; 1986), Mayer’s (1997) conceptualisation and empirical analysis of multimedia learning, as well as Sweller and colleagues’ research on cognitive load (Sweller, 2010) suggest that learning can be enhanced and cognitive load decreased by the presentation of information in a visual-verbal dual-modality, provided that both visual and verbal forms of representation are adequately integrated (i.e. to avoid attention-switching demands). Given that AM supports dual-coding of information in working memory via integration of text into a diagrammatic representation, cognitive resources previously devoted to translating prose-based arguments into a coherent, organised and integrated representation are ‘freed up’ and can be used to facilitate deeper encoding of arguments within AMs, which in turn facilitates later recall (e.g. Craik & Watkins, 1973), as well as subsequent, higher-order thinking processes, such as CT (Halpern, 2014; Maybery, Bain and Halford, 1986). Furthermore, previous research on using diagrammatic learning tools, like AM, has shown positive effects on learning outcomes (Berkowitz, 1986; Larkin & Simon, 1987; Oliver 2009; Robinson & Kiewra, 1995) and offers advantages over traditional text-based presentation of information because the indexing and structuring of information can potentially support essential computational processes necessary for CT.

Second, AMs utilize Gestalt grouping principles (e.g. similar color-coding and close proximity) that facilitate the organization of information in working memory and long-term memory , which in turn facilitates CT. For example, color can be used in an AM to distinguish evidence for a claim (i.e. green) from evidence against a claim (i.e. red); thus, all reasons are similarly color-coded, as are objections. More generally, a good AM is designed in such a way that if one proposition is evidence for another, the two will be appropriately juxtaposed and the link explained via a relational cue, such as because , but and however (van Gelder, 2001).

With respect to proximity, modern AM allows single propositions or entire branches of the argument to be removed or transferred from one location to another (and edited in the process) in order to facilitate reconstruction. The manner in which propositions and chains of reasoning can be manipulated within an AM may encourage deeper analysis and evaluation of the argument, as well as further refinements of its inferential structure. Similar propositions can be grouped together, which eases their assimilation and removes the need to switch attention as in text-based information (e.g. from one paragraph, or even one page, to another and back and forth). Such grouping also makes the search for specific, relevant information more efficient, which in turn supports perceptual inferences.

Finally, the third potential reason for why AM has a beneficial effect on CT is that AMs present information in a hierarchical manner, which also facilitates the organization of information for promoting CT. When arguing from a central claim, one may present any number of argument levels which need to be adequately represented for the argument to be properly conveyed. For example, an argument that provides a (1) support for a (2) support for a (3) support for a (4) claim has four levels in its hierarchical structure. More complex or ‘deeper’ arguments (e.g. with three or more argument levels beneath a central claim) are difficult to represent in text due to its linear nature; and yet it is essential that these complex argument structures are understood by a student if their goal is to analyze and evaluate the argument, to infer their own conclusions. The hierarchical nature of AM allows the reader to choose and follow a specific branch of the argument in which each individual proposition is integrated with other relevant propositions in terms of their inferential relationship.

Moreover, asking students to produce AMs can provide educators with valuable insights into a student’s ‘mental model of the argument in question’ (Butchart et al., 2009). Such information can be used to support teachers in offering feedback to students or scaffolding student learning from simple to complex levels of argument comprehension, analysis, and evaluation. Logically, as expertise in AM grows, so does the ability to present a well-structured argument, which allows for improvement in writing ability as well.

Alvarez-Ortiz, C. (2007). Does Philosophy Improve Critical Thinking Skills? Master’s Thesis. University of Melbourne, Australia.

Berkowitz, S.J. (1986). Effects of instruction in text organization on sixth-grade students’ memory for expository reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 2, 161-178.

Buckingham-Shum, S.J. (2003). The roots of computer supported argument visualization. In P. A. Kirschner, S. Buckingham-Shum, & C. Carr (Eds.), Visualizing argumentation: Software tools for collaborative and educational sense-making, 3-24. London: Springer-Verlag.

Butchart, S., Bigelow, J., Oppy, G., Korb, K., & Gold, I. (2009). Improving critical thinking using web-based argument mapping exercises with automated feedback. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25, 2, 268-291.

Chandler, P., & J. Sweller, J. (1991). Evidence for cognitive load theory. Cognition and Instruction, 8, 4, 351-362.

Craik, F. I. M., & Watkins, M.J. (1973). The role of rehearsal in short-term memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 12, 6, 599-607.

Dwyer, C.P. (2011). The evaluation of argument mapping as a learning tool. Doctoral Thesis. National University of Ireland, Galway.

Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J., & Stewart, I. (2011). The promotion of critical thinking skills through argument mapping. In C.P. Horvart & J.M. Forte (Eds.), Critical Thinking, 97-122. Nova Science Publishers, New York.

Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J., & Stewart, I. (2012). An evaluation of argument mapping as a method of enhancing critical thinking performance in e-learning environments. Metacognition and Learning, 7, 219-244.

Halpern, D.F. (2014). Thought & knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking (5th Ed.). UK: Psychology Press.

Larkin, J., & Simon, H. (1987). Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth ten thousand words. Cognitive Science, 11, 65–99.

Maybery, M.T., Bain, J.D., & Halford, G.S. (1986). Information-processing demands of transitive inference. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 12, 4, 600-613.

Mayer, R.E. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking the right questions? Educational Psychologist, 32, 1, 1-19.

Oliver, K. (2009). An investigation of concept mapping to improve the reading comprehension of science texts. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18, 5, 402-414.

Paivio, A. (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Paivio, A. (1986). Mental representations: A dual-coding approach. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pollock, E., Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (2002) Assimilating complex information. Learning & Instruction, 12, 61-86.

Robinson, D. H., & Kiewra, K. A. (1995). Visual argument: Graphic organizers are superior to outlines in improving learning from text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87, 3, 455–467.

Sweller, J. (2010). Cognitive load theory: Recent theoretical advances. In J.L. Plass, R. Moreno & R. Brünken (Eds.), Cognitive Load Theory, 29-47. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tindall-Ford, S., Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (1997). When two sensory modes are better than one. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 3, 4, 257 -287.

van Gelder, T. J. (2001). How to improve critical thinking using educational technology. In G. Kennedy, M. Keppell, C. McNaught & T. Petrovic (Eds.), Meeting at the Crossroads: Proceedings of the 18th Annual Conference of the Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, 539–548. Melbourne: Biomedical Multimedia Unit, University of Melbourne.

van Gelder, T.J. (2002). Argument mapping with Reason!Able. APA Newsletter:Philosophy & Computers, 2, 1, 85-90.

van Gelder, T.J. (2007). The rationale for RationaleTM. Law, Probability & Risk, 6, 23-42.

van Gelder, T.J., Bissett, M., & Cumming, G. (2004). Enhancing expertise in informalreasoning. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology 58, 142-52.

Whately, R. (1826). Elements of Logic. London: Fellowes.

Christopher Dwyer Ph.D.

Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the Technological University of the Shannon in Athlone, Ireland.

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Critical thinking arguments for beginners

critical thinking arguments

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Critical thinking is one of the most valuable sets of life skills you can ever have and it’s never too late to learn them. People who can think critically are better at problem solving of all kinds, whether at school or work, in ordinary daily life, and even in crises. You can practice critical thinking by working through typical arguments from premises to conclusions.

Thinking critically isn’t about following a single path to an inevitable conclusion. It’s about developing a set of powerful and versatile mental processing tools in your head and being able to apply these meaningfully to the world around you.

You need no special qualifications to become a strong critical thinker, and can’t pick it up simply from reading books about critical thinking. The only way to hone critical thinking skills is to practice critical thinking.

If you’re ready to learn more about critical thinking arguments for beginners then read on…

What is critical thinking?

Let’s first illustrate the answer to this question by taking a look at how we can think critically about potential misinformation online.

Your friend on a social media site has shared a photograph of election ballot slips apparently being tipped into a river by a postal truck driver, reportedly a supporter of a political party who will benefit from lower postal voter turnout.

Your friend is a supporter of another party and expresses outrage at the alleged law-breaking, election influencing, and reduced chances for her own party candidate. Many other friends pile in with sympathetic and equally outraged comments, or new allegations.

The temptation might be strong to accept the narrative caption which accompanies the picture, echo your friends’ emotional responses, and share the photo further. However, as a critical thinker, you should step back and ask some crucial questions first:

  • Is the photo obviously manipulated? Sophisticated image alterations can now be made which won’t be spotted by the majority of non-experts. Could this be an image of a simple truck crash with ballot papers photoshopped in?
  • Does your friend fact-check stories, pictures, memes etc.. before posting them online? If she has a history of posting stories which turned out to be false, it reduces her credibility in presenting the current story.
  • I s there anything in the photograph which supports or undermines the claims made? If you can see that the van has a foreign registration plate, the ballot papers aren’t in English, or the date on the clock is actually several years ago, it is clear that the true story is somewhat different to the one being told.

Let’s say that your initial suspicions after asking yourself these questions are enough that you do a quick web search for the story.

Your search reveals that credible sources have already uncovered the photo as having been manipulated and spread by an online political group. It was originally a local news story about a crashed postal truck in another country five years earlier and has no relationship whatsoever to the current election in your country…

Your critical thinking helped you to avoid falling into group-think along with your friends and saved you from spreading more misinformation online. These real life type examples are are an excellent way to grasp the relevance and value of critical thinking arguments for beginners.

Now for a little of the theory. Critical thinking is a description that brings together a range of useful intellectual skills and their synergies. While there is no definitive list, there are some common key competences necessary for critical thinking:

  • Conducting analysis. Being able to understand the issue in question; distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information; identify commonalities, differences and connections.
  • Making inferences. Using inductive or deductive reasoning to draw out meanings; identifying assumptions; abstracting ideas; applying analogies and recognizing cause and effect relationships in order to develop theories or potential conclusions.
  • Evaluating evidence. Making a judgement about whether a theory or statement is credible or correct; adjusting views and theories in the light of new data or perspectives; grasping the significance of events and information.
  • Making robust decisions. Reaching sound conclusions by applying critical thinking skills to the available evidence.

To apply critical thinking in real life, you also need to possess the right attitude to problem solving, as well as the critical thinking skills themselves.

This means being automatically inclined to think critically in the face of a difficult question or problem. Being fair, open-minded, curious and free from ideology or group-think will all help to create a mindset in which critical thinking can thrive.

What are critical thinking arguments?

Let’s now look at some of the basic building blocks underpinning critical thinking arguments for beginners.

In critical thinking and logic, ‘argument’ has a particular meaning. It refers to a set of statements, consisting of one conclusion and one or more premises. The conclusion is the statement that the argument is intended to prove. The premises are the reasons offered for believing that the conclusion is true.

A critical thinking argument could use a deductive reasoning approach, an inductive reasoning approach, or both.

Deductive reasoning

Deductive reasoning attempts to absolutely guarantee a conclusion’s truth through logic. If a deductive argument’s premises are true, it should be impossible for its conclusion to be false. For example:

  • All humans are mortal. (Premise)
  • Socrates is a human. (Premise)
  • Therefore, Socrates is mortal.  (Conclusion)

Inductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning attempts to show that the conclusion is probably true, with each premise making the case for the conclusion stronger or weaker. For example:

  • Three independent witnesses saw Max climb in through the window of the house. (Premise)
  • Max’s fingerprints are on the window frame and several stolen items. (Premise)
  • Max confessed to the burglary. (Premise)
  • Therefore, Max committed the burglary. (Conclusion)

Do note that in either case, straight assertions, explanations or conditional sentences are not arguments.

How do I assess a critical thinking argument?

You can evaluate whether an argument is valid or invalid, sound or unsound, strong or weak .

If an argument is said to be ‘valid’, it means that it is impossible for the conclusion to be false if the premises are true. If an argument is ‘invalid’, it is possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.

An argument is ‘sound’ if it is both valid and contains only true premises. If either of these conditions isn’t met then the argument is ‘unsound’.

A deductively ‘strong’ argument is both valid and it is reasonable for the person in question to believe the premises are true. In a deductively weak argument , the person considering the premises may have good reason to doubt them.

When an argument is inductively strong, the truth of the premises makes the the truth of the conclusion probable. In contrast, in an inductively ‘weak’ argument, the truth of the premises do not make the truth of the conclusion probable.


A ‘counterexample’ is a consistent story which shows that an argument can have true premises but a false conclusion, rendering it invalid.

NB A valid argument is not necessarily true, and a weak argument is not necessarily false.

All of these fundamentals can be applied both to simple practice arguments and then to more complex problems of the type you might encounter in real life.

For example:

  • All unicorns are Swedish (Premise)
  • My new pet is a unicorn (Premise)
  • Therefore,  my new pet is Swedish (Conclusion)

The premises here are both false – unicorns do not exist, and I therefore cannot own one as a pet. However, if they were true, then the conclusion would be true. What we have here is a valid argument, but not a sound one, nor a strong one.

How can I practice critical thinking arguments for beginners?

Now that you have the basic tools and concepts for putting together a critical thinking argument, you can look  out for real life examples to practice with.

News stories

Look at the headlines covering stories in TV,  online or paper news. Do you agree that the facts of the story are credible and constitute premises strong enough to justify the headline drawn from them?

Social media

Critically examine stories and claims shared by friends and contacts online. Ask yourself whether the evidence presented is credible and justifies the claims being made.

Corporate statements

Evaluate claims made by big corporations in public statements and annual reports alongside their actions and impacts. For example, if a major oil company claims that it is working to combat climate change, how strong, valid and sound are their arguments?


Whatever your starting point, we hope this article has set you on the road to becoming a critical thinker, and that these developing skills might open new doors at school, at work or in other areas of life. The world needs more critical thinking at all levels and your contribution might one day be valuable.

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structure of argument critical thinking

structure of argument critical thinking

  • An Introduction to Critical Thinking:
  • The Basic Structure of Argument
  • Roles of Supporting Statements
  • The Need for Precision Language
  • Valid & Invalid Arguments
  • Analogy & Causal Relationship
  • Fallacies I & II
  • Media & Advertising
  • Applications of Critical Thinking

structure of argument critical thinking

1. What is argument?

–  Basically, argument is a claim defended with reasons. It is composed of a group of statements with one or more statements (premises) supporting another statement (conclusion).

2. What is statement?

–  A sentence declaring something that can be true or false.

3. What is argument in Critical Thinking?

–   In Critical Thinking, argument is an act of presenting reasons to support individual’s position or point of view. It is not quarrel or dispute. Or simply, as Bassham’s definition of an argument: A claim defended with reasons. –  Non-arguments are descriptions, explanations & summaries, command, etc.

4. Main components in argument. (a) Premises, (b) Conclusion:

–  A simple argument must have a conclusion and at least two premises. –   Premises or propositions are statements that directly support the conclusion. –  Conclusion is what an author or an individual wants me to believe, accept or do.

5. Implicit conclusion & implicit premise:

–  An implicit conclusion is when the conclusion is not stated outright and the arguer assumes that you will know it. –  An implicit premise is when the premise is not stated outright and the arguer assumes that you will know it. 6. The roles of questions as as conclusion and premise, interrogative and rhetorical questions:

–  This is the part I interested the most in this chapter because being able to put questions in a certain ways, gives us advantage and skill. –  When giving interrogative questions we want to find some information. For instance: Q)Who is your favorite lecturer? A) Mr. Muhammad Nizam. –  But when we give rhetorical questions we are trying to encourage someone to agree or encourage them to act in same way. For example: My friend, our group assignment is due this week. I have not received your part. Your are going to send me by tomorrow before the deadline, don’t you? –  Lastly, Another interesting form of question is leading questions which is used when trying to guide someone’s answer in a certain direction or trying to get them to say the things you want. This tactic widely used by lawyers. For instance: Instead of asking a witness on the stand: “Where were you on the night of September 5th, 2012?” The questioner would say: “You were driving to Kuala Lumpur on the night of Septemebr 5th, weren’t you?”

7. Why do we use use rhetorical and leading questions?

–  Because by putting a premise in the form of rhetorical question, we are inviting the person to be pulled into thinking about the argument, rather than just listening to it and more powerful persuasion can be achieved if we involve the other person in the exchange of ideas.

Finally, An example of an argument and its analysis:

“Bilingualism and multilingualism confer many benefits. Speakers of more than one language have better understanding of how languages are structured because they can compere across two different systems. However, people who speak only one language lack this essential point of reference. In many cases, a second language can help people to have better understanding and appreciation of their first language.” (Taken from an Article in The Star news magazine).

–  This is an example of argument and its conclusion is in the first sentence: Bilingualism and multilingualism confer many benefits. The premises given are: 1) that speakers of more than one language have better understanding of how languages are structured; 2) a second language can help people to have better understanding and appreciation of their first language.

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School Drillers

The basic concepts of argument and critical thinking..

Concepts of argument and critical thinking includes logic, proposition and argument; For the purpose of knowledge,  We shall be looking at this basic concepts in Arguments and Critical Thinking one after the other.

Concepts of Argument and Critical Thinking

Arguments come in various forms and they make up a large part of our daily lives. If you develop an ability to understand others’ attempts to persuade you and you if can figure out their arguments, you can also see what the ‘good’ reasons are for doing or not doing something.

But why is it important to get good reasons before you are persuaded? An important reason is that you can get closer to the truth this way.

In addition, making good, well-founded decisions is sometimes of vital importance (just think of the decisions that a judge must make). Critical thinking is therefore important.

Basic Concepts of Argument and Critical Thinking

Arguments for analysis are plotted in a various form, Depending on how we use a sentence, it can express different aspects of meaning in addition to the actual content. Here’s the basic concepts of argument and critical thinking:

L ogic as one the Concepts of Argument and Critical Thinking can be used in different ways. It can be used to describe the totality of all laws guiding the human thought since we are rational beings whose thinking processes are based on certain principles.

In strict, technical and professional sense, however, “logic is that branch of philosophy that deals with the study of the basic principles, techniques or methods for evaluating arguments”.

This definition shows that logic as a branch of philosophy attempts mainly to distinguish between good and bad arguments. It also can be defined as “the study of the methods and principles used to distinguish correct from incorrect reasoning”.

Thus, basically, logic is “the study of the nature and characteristics of good reasoning, and the differences between good (“correct”) and bad (“incorrect”) reasoning.

2. Propositions

A proposition can be used to refer to the content of a meaningful declarative sentence or the pattern of symbols, marks or sounds that make up a meaningful declarative sentence.

It “asserts that something is (or is not) the case; any proposition may be affirmed or denied”.  A proposition has the quality or property of being true or false, implying that every proposition must be either true or false.

This is why a proposition is sometimes referred to as “truthbearers”. Truth and falsity therefore apply always to propositions. Copi et al distinguish between propositions and sentences.

They point out that sentences are the means by which propositions are asserted. In other words, “Two different sentences, consisting of different words differently arranged, may have the same meaning and be used to assert the same proposition”.

For example, the following are two different sentences that make the same assertion: “Goodluck Jonathan won the 2011 Presidential Election in Nigeria” and “The 2011 Presidential Election was won by Goodluck Jonathan”.

We must add here that the terms “proposition” and “statement” have been used interchangeably by some logicians. Therefore, the term “statement”, though not an exact synonym of proposition, “is used in logic in much the same sense.

Some logicians prefer statement to propositions, although the latter has been more common in the history of logic”.

There are simple as well as compound propositions.A simple proposition makes only one assertion, while a compound proposition contains two or more simple propositions. In other words, you assert more than one proposition in a compound proposition. For example:

⇒The largest country in the world is the third most populous country in the

⇒The man who won the 2011 Presidential Election is the President of Nigeria.

⇒By the 1830s the white men were the dominant race in the Hunter Valley. Most of the prime land along the main river frontages had been taken up for crops and cattle and settlers were moving into the back country north and west of the Hunter.

After 1830 most resistance by the Kooris was passive, although there were spasmodic outbreaks of violence. Nevertheless, the two races could not live completely apart and growing contact was inevitable.

⇒Turning local government areas to development areas will maximise growth. We say this because turning local government areas into development areas will depoliticise development, as suspicions of neglect due to fears of ethnic domination in various states will diminish and support for the party at the helm of affairs at the state capital or centre will also cease to be the basis for the provision of amenities in local  government areas.

Examples (i) and (ii) are simple propositions, while (iii) and (iv) are examples of compound propositions.

3. Arguments

The term ‘argument’ can have a dual meaning. In ordinary discourse, it connotes a quarrel or disagreement, whereas in logic – thatis, in the technical sense – an argument is a sequence of statements, ‘declarative sentences’ or propositions, in which one part known as the conclusion is claimed to follow from the others called the premises.

In clear terms, therefore, an argument is any group of propositions of which one is claimed to follow from the others, which are regarded as providing support or grounds for the truth of that one.

That means that an argument is not just a mere collection of statements. An argument has a structure which is defined by the terms ‘premises’ and ‘conclusion’ and the nature of the relationship between them.

The conclusion of an argument is that proposition which is affirmed on the basis of some other propositions, which serve as justification for the acceptance of the conclusion.

These other propositions, which go by various names such as evidence, grounds, or reasons, are more professionally called premises. In an argument, therefore, the premises are intended to provide sufficient grounds for the acceptance of the conclusion.

For an argument to be present, “there must be some structure within the cluster of propositions, a structure that captures or exhibits some inference.

This structure we describe using the terms premise and conclusion . Thus, the premise is a proposition used in an argument to support some other proposition, while the conclusion is the proposition in an argument that the other propositions (that is, the premises) support.

Where there is no relationship whatsoever between the putative claim or conclusion and the reasons given for its acceptance, then there is no argument.

An argument may have two sentences where the first sentence serves as the basis for accepting the other which is the conclusion. In other words, the premise and the conclusion may be stated separately, each in a separate sentence. For example:

  • Donte Drumm has not been convicted of the crime of murder. Therefore, any statement indicting him of the murder should be jettisoned as mere insinuation.
  • Okorocha is a politician who has recorded great success at the state level. Therefore, he will win the presidential election in

Sometimes, both the premise and the conclusion may be stated in the same sentence. For example:

  • Since it turns out that all humans are descended from a small number of African ancestors in our recent evolutionary past, believing in profound differences between the races is as ridiculous as believing in a flat earth.
  • Since it was clear that Daryll was not in London when her husband died, it would be wrong to bring her to court for questioning.

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