WEEK FOUR: The Toulmin Model

READING: Wood, Chapter 4



This week, we took a little time to review some of the concepts from previous weeks before taking our first Quiz (QUIZ #1) of the course and learning about Toulmin's Model for argumentation. (Toulmin, not Toumlin!)

During the first three weeks, we've spent a lot of time determining what argument is and what it is not. At the beginning of class, we looked at three quick clips that demonstrate narrow ways to think about argument.

The first two portray argument as a fight...or the use of force. Lucy offers Linus "Five Good Reasons" (her fists) while Woody Allen suggests that bricks and baseball bats are more effective with Nazis than reason.

The third clip, Jon Stewart's Good Thing Bad Thing, makes fun of those in the media who try to oversimplify big issues by allowing only two choices or two ways to respond.

The truth is, argument is far more nuanced than a simple "agree with me or else" or "for or against" response. During the past three weeks (especially in Week One and Week Two), we have also been looking at different ways to analyze an argument. Remember, when you analyze something you are merely breaking it into its parts to explain how it works.

One way to analyze an argument is to examine the rhetorical situation — the historical context, the occasion, the audience, etc. Another way to analyze an argument is to look at its use of rhetorical devices and to decide whether or not the argument is effective.

Toulmin's Model of Argumentation offers yet another way to think about argument, whether you want to use it to analyze someone else's argument or to write your own. According to Toulmin, good arguments consist of three main parts: Claims, Supports, and Warrants.

The first two parts are pretty easy to identify and understand. Your argument's claim is the big idea...the thing that you are trying to prove or persuade your audience to believe. It is your paper's thesis. Support is just what it sounds like — anything that helps you prove your main claim. I like to break support down into two types: reasons (or subclaims) and evidence. Remember that reasons always answer the question: "Why?" Even the most mundane argument will have this structure: A main claim, supported by at least one reason, supported by at least one piece of evidence.

The Example We Used In Class: Two High School Girls Chatting at Their Lockers

GIRL ONE: "Bethany has turned into such a jerk lately." (Claim, or statement of opinion)

GIRL TWO: "I know, right? It's like, ever since she got promoted to the Varsity Cheerleading squad and we didn't, she acts like a snob." (Reason, or Subclaim)

GIRL ONE: "Totally. I was in the cafeteria yesterday and I waved at Bethany to come sit with me...and she acted like she didn't even see me." (Evidence, example)

This isn't a great argument. There are tons of gaps and logical leaps here...but it does follow the basic structure correctly. This structure will also help you outline when it comes time to write your argument.

Warrants are a little trickier to identify and understand — however, they are often the most important part of the argument; they can determine whether your argument will be effective or ineffective. Warrants are the underlying assumptions or beliefs, often unspoken, that prop up your argument. Warrants are the core values or generally accepted truths that form the argument's foundation. They are so important because if you misjudge your audience's warrants, or if you assume that they are the same as yours, then all of your reasoning and evidence will fall on deaf ears.

A lot of you have kids — and kids are notorious for using warrants poorly. Let's say you have a daughter who is begging you for a cell phone. Over the past few years, she's given you all kinds of reasons why you should buy her one. Everyone at school has one. Her best friend's little brother just got one, and he's two years younger than she is. Her friends can't call her very easily. Everyone will think she's a nerd if she doesn't get one. And so on and so forth.

The problem with all of these reasons and all of this evidence is that your daughter is assuming that your values are the same as hers. She isn't considering her audience. Do you care if she's the only kid at school without a cell phone? Probably not. Do you care that she isn't able to be in constant communication with her friends? Nope. In fact, you'd probably prefer that she weren't. Your values and your daughter's values are very different...yet she's presenting you (her audience) with arguments as if your values were the same. If she were smarter, or at least a more sophisticated arguer, she might come to you with arguments based on safety, cost, convenience for you...the ability to maintain parental control and turn the phone off during school hours. Instead, she's making the fatal mistake of coming to her audience with arguments based on her desires rather than yours.

We'll discuss both warrants and Toulmin's model more in the coming weeks...but I hope this gives you a good start.



Read Wood Chapter 5

Do Exercise E on p. 137