The Making of Arguments - Deepstash

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1. What Argument is

When we argue we write or speak with an active purpose of making other people take our view of a case; that is the only essential difference between argument and other modes of writing. Between exposition and argument there is no certain line.

The real difference between argument and exposition lies in the difference of attitude toward the subject in hand: when we are explaining we tacitly assume that there is only one view to be taken of the subject; when we argue we recognize that other people look on it differently.

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2. Conviction and Persuasion

This active purpose of making other people take your view of the case in hand, then, is the distinguishing essence of argument. To accomplish this purpose you have two tools or weapons, or perhaps one should say two sides to the same weapon, conviction and persuasion.

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3. Argument neither Contentiousness nor Dispute

Argument is not contentiousness, nor is it the good-natured and sociable disputation in which we occupy a good deal of time with our friends. 

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4. Arguments and the Audience

In argument, therefore, far more than in other kinds of writing, one must keep the audience definitely in mind. "Persuade" and "convince" for our purposes are active verbs, and in most cases their objects have an important effect on their significance. 

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5. Profitable Subjects for Arguments

To get the best results from practice in writing arguments, you must choose your subjects with care and sagacity.

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6. Suggestions of Subjects for Practice

Many of the subjects will need some adaptation to fit them to local conditions; and these will undoubtedly suggest many others of a similar nature. Other subjects of immediate and local interest may be drawn from the current newspapers; and the larger, perennial ones like prohibition, woman suffrage, immigration laws, are always at the disposal of those who have the time and the courage for the amount of reading they involve. 

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7. The Two Kinds of Arguments

We may divide arguments roughly into two classes, arguments of fact and arguments of policy.

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8. Arguments of Fact

Among the commonest and most important varieties of arguments of fact are those made before juries in courts of law. Other common arguments of fact are those in historical questions, whether in recent or in ancient history. Still another and very important variety of arguments of fact, which are often conveniently described as arguments of theory, includes large scientific questions.

In arguments of fact, it will be noticed, there is little or no element of persuasion, for we deal with such matters almost wholly through our understanding and reason.

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9. Arguments of Policy

Arguments of policy are of endless variety, for we are all of us making them all the time, from the morning hour in which we argue with ourselves, so often ineffectually, that we really ought to get up when the clock strikes, to the arguments about choosing a profession or helping to start a movement for universal peace.

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10. Preparations for the Argument

When you have chosen the subject for your argument there is still much to do before you are ready to write it out. In the first place, you must find out by search and reading what is to be said both for and against the view you are supporting; in the second place, with the facts in mind you must analyze both them and the question to see just what is the point that you are arguing; then, in the third place, you must arrange the material you are going to use so that it will be most effective for your purpose.

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11. Reading for the Argument

The first step in preparing for an argument is to find out what has been already written on the general subject, and what facts are available for your purpose. For this purpose you must go to the best library that is within convenient reach.

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12. Taking Notes

In reading for your argument, as for all scholarly reading, form early your habits of taking thorough and serviceable notes.

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13. Sources for Facts

In the main, there are two kinds of sources for facts, sources in which the facts have already been collected and digested, and sources where they are still scattered and must be brought together and grouped by the investigator. Obviously there is no sharp or permanent distinction between these two classes.

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14. Bibliography

Before starting in earnest on the reading for your argument, begin a bibliography, that is, a list of the books and articles and speeches which will help you. This bibliography should be entered in your notebook, and it is convenient to allow space enough there to keep the different kinds of sources separate.

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15. Planning for a Definite Audience

Before setting to work on the actual planning of your argument there are still two preliminary questions you have to consider—the prepossessions of your audience, and the burden of proof; of these the latter is dependent on the former.

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16. The Burden of Proof

The principle which underlies the responsibility for the burden of proof may be summed up in the adage of the common law, "He who asserts must prove."

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17. The Brief

When you have settled these preliminary questions of the audience you wish to win over to your view, and of the way their prepossessions and knowledge of the subject will affect your responsibilities for the burden of proof, you are ready to begin work on the brief, as the plan for an argument is called. This brief it is better to think of as a statement of the logical framework of the argument, which you are constructing for the purpose of clearing up your own mind on the subject, and especially to help you to see how you can most effectively arrange your material.

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18. The Proposition

The first step in making the introduction to your brief is to formulate the question or proposition (the two terms are interchangeable in practice). Until you have crystallized your view of the subject into a proposition you have nothing to argue about.

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19. Definition of Terms

Making a proposition definite is chiefly a process of defining terms which are found in it; but when these are defined you may still in your argument use others which also need definition. In general the definition of terms, whether in the proposition or not, implies finding out just what a term means for the present purpose. 

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20. Definition through the History of the Case

In some cases the easiest way to put before your readers the precise details or limitations implied in a term is through a brief review of the history of the question.

If you were arguing any question concerning the elective system or the entrance requirements for your own college, you would often do well to sketch the history of the present system as a means of defining it, before you go on to urge that it be changed or kept as it is.

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21. Finding the Issues

Your preparation for your argument should now have given you a clear idea of the interests and prepossessions of your readers, it should have left you with a definite proposition to support or oppose, and it should have made you sure of the meaning of all the terms you are to use, whether in the proposition or in your argument.

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22. The Agreed Statement of Facts

Now that you have compared the points on which the two sides disagree, you can pick out the points on which they agree, and decide which of the latter will enter into the discussion. You are therefore in a position to draw up the agreed statement of facts, in which you will sum up compactly so much of the history of the case, of the origin of the present question, and other relevant facts and necessary definitions, as will be needed to understand the brief. The style of this statement should be strictly expository, and there should be nothing in it to which both sides could not agree.

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23. Arrangement of Material

On the point knowledge of your readers, of their acquaintance with the subject, and of their prepossessions will count as much as knowledge of the subject when you come to the arguments of practical life. In general, if your audience is likely to be lukewarm or indifferent, begin with a point which will stir them up.

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24. The Place of the Refutation

The place of the refutation and its extent also differ greatly with the audience. Sometimes it may occupy practically the whole space. Where there are no such special reasons, it is safe to follow the principle that you should not draw more attention than necessary to the arguments on the other side.

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25. The Brief Proper

Its purpose is to lay out your reasoning in such a way that you can scrutinize each link and make sure that each assertion and each group of assertions is attached to a firm support. For this reason the brief for a written or spoken argument is best thrown into the form of tabulated statements marked with a series of numbers and letters which will show at a glance the exact place of each statement or assertion in the whole system of reasoning.

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26. Rules for Briefing

The rules given below are divided into two groups: those in the first group deal chiefly with the form of the brief; those in the second go more to the substance; but the distinction between the two groups is far from being absolute.

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27. Evidence and Reasoning

Where the facts which you bring forward come from persons with first-hand knowledge of them, they are direct evidence; where you must establish them by reasoning from other facts they are indirect evidence, and in the latter case reasoning is an essential part of establishing the facts.

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28. Direct and Indirect Evidence

When we come now to consider how we establish facts, whether single or complex, we find that, both to aid our own judgment and to convince other people, we rely on evidence. We have seen that evidence falls roughly into two classes: either it comes from persons who testify out of their own observation and experience, or it comes indirectly through reasoning from facts and principles already established or granted.

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29. Direct Evidence

Direct evidence is the testimony of persons who know about the fact from their own observation.

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30. Statistics

Statistics, which are collections of figures, are notoriously treacherous. In general, to use statistics safely you need a wide acquaintance with a subject, especially where the question is in any way mixed up with men's feelings, whether through politics or not. 

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31. The Opinion of Recognized Authorities

The other chief source of evidence to establish a fact which consists of a large and complex state of affairs is the opinion of recognized authorities on the subject. The strength of such evidence depends on whether the audience will accept the person you cite as having authority on the matter.

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32. Indirect Evidence

The term "indirect evidence" may be used for all evidence as to fact in which reasoning consciously plays a part. Without it we should be helpless in large regions of our intellectual life, notably in science and history, and constantly in everyday life. 

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33. Reasoning

Though the various forms of reasoning and the principles which they follow are the concern rather of psychology and logic than of a practical work on the writing of arguments, yet these sciences help us to understand the processes of the mind by which we convince first ourselves, and then other people, of the existence of facts, when for one reason or another direct testimony is wanting.

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34. Reasoning from Analogy

Analogy in its most tenuous form is weak as a basis for an actual inference, though it is often effective as a means of expressing an intuitive judgment where the reasons are too subtle and diffused for formal explanation.

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35. False Analogy

A peculiar danger of the argument from analogy is the fallacy which is known as false analogy, or reasoning to a conclusion which the similarity does not support. Arguments in which there are many figures of speech, especially when the style is at all florid, are apt to slop over into this fallacy.

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36. Reasoning by Classification or Generalization

Obviously the strength of reasoning from analogy increases with the number of cases which you can point to as showing the similarity on which you rely, for you can then begin to generalize and classify.

Generalization and classification, it may be noted in passing, are two aspects of the same process of thought.

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37. Reasoning by Causal Relation

Reasoning by generalization rises greatly in certainty, however, whenever you can show the workings of cause and effect.

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38. Induction and Deduction

Our next step is to consider how we get the generalizations on which we base so much of our reasoning. As we have seen, the science which deals with the making of them, with their basis, and with the rules which govern inferences made from them is logic. Logicians generally distinguish between two branches of their science, inductive and deductive reasoning.

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39. Inductive Reasoning

In inductive reasoning we put individual facts and cases together into a class on the basis of some definable similarity, and then infer from them a general principle.

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40. Faulty Generalization

Both generalization through the method of agreement, and the assignment of causes through the method of difference, however, have their dangers, like all forms of reasoning. A discussion of these dangers will throw light on the processes themselves. The chief danger when you reason through the method of agreement is of jumping to a conclusion too soon, and before you have collected enough cases for a safe conclusion. This is to commit the fallacy known as hasty generalization.

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41. Deductive Logic—the Syllogism

Deductive logic, as we have seen, deals with reasoning which passes from general principles to individual cases. Its typical form is the syllogism, in which we pass from two propositions which are given to a third, the conclusion. Of the two former one is a general principle, the other an assertion of a particular case. The validity of the syllogism lies in the assertion of a general principle, and the bringing of the particular case in hand under that principle: if the principle is granted as incontrovertible, and the special case as really coming under it, the conclusion is inevitable.

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42. The Rules of the Syllogism

  • A syllogism must contain three terms, and not more than three terms.
  • A syllogism must consist of three and only three propositions.
  • The middle term of the syllogism must be distributed at least once in the premises.
  • No term must be distributed in the conclusion unless it was distributed in at least one of the premises.
  • No conclusion can be drawn from two negative premises.
  • If one of the premises is negative, the conclusion must be negative.

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43. The Syllogism in Practical Use

The practical value of the syllogism and its rules comes in the first place, when we expand a condensed form of reasoning into its full grounds in the form of a syllogism. 

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44. The Dilemma

One special form of the syllogism is at times so strong an argument that it deserves special mention here, namely, the dilemma. This is a syllogism in which the major premise consists of two or more hypothetical propositions (that is, propositions with an "if" clause) and the minor of a disjunctive proposition (a proposition with two or more clauses connected by "or"). The dilemma, if it leaves no hole for the other side to creep through, is an extremely effective argument in politics and in competitive debate. On the other hand, a dilemma that is not exhaustive will hold no one

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45. Reasoning from Circumstantial Evidence

The third type of reasoning from similarity is reasoning from circumstantial evidence. The term is familiar to every one from murder trials and detective stories. Reasoning from circumstantial evidence differs from reasoning from analogy or generalization in that it rests on similarities reaching out in a number of separate directions, all of which, however, converge on the case in hand.

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46. Some Pitfalls of Reasoning—Ambiguity

It should be noted that the various kinds of fallacies run into each other, and not infrequently a given piece of bad reasoning can be described under more than one of them. Of all the sources of faulty and misleading reasoning, ambiguity is the most fruitful and the most inclusive. It springs from the facts that words, except those which are almost technically specific, are constantly used in more than one sense, and that a great many of the words which we use in everyday life are essentially vague in meaning.

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47. Begging the Question

The fallacy of "begging the question" consists of assuming as true something that the other side would not admit. A common form of the fallacy consists of slipping in an epithet which quietly takes for granted one's own view of the question, or of using some expression that assumes one's own view as correct. Begging the question is often committed in the course of defining terms.

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48. Ignoring the Question

This is a closely allied error in reasoning that is apt to be due to the same kind of confused and woolly thinking. It consists in slipping away from the question in debate and arguing vigorously at something else.

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49. The Brief and the Argument

If your brief is thoroughly worked out, and based on a careful canvass of the evidence, the work on your argument ought to be at least two thirds over. The last third, however, is not to be slighted, for on it will largely depend your practical results in moving your readers. If your complete argument is merely a copying out of the brief into consecutive sentences and paragraphs, you will get few readers. The making of the brief merely completes what may be called the architectural part of your labors.

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50. The Introduction of the Argument

Much depends on the first part of your argument, the introduction. Its length varies greatly, and it may differ largely in other ways from the introduction to your brief. If the people you are trying to convince are familiar with the subject, you will need little introduction; a brief but clear statement of fundamentals will serve the purpose.

One thing, however, it is almost always wise to do; indeed, one would not go far wrong in prescribing it as a general rule: that is, to state with almost bald explicitness just how many main issues there are, and what they are.

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51. The Body of the Argument

In the main body of the argument the difference from the brief will be largely a matter of expansion: the brief indicates the evidence, the argument states it at length. Here again you cut your argument to fit your audience and the space at your command.

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52. The Refutation

The place of the refutation will vary greatly with the argument and with the audience. Its purpose is to put out of the way as effectively as possible the main points urged by the other side.

In an argument of fact this is done both by exposing weak places in the reasoning and by throwing doubt on the facts cited, either through proof that they are contradicted by better evidence, or that the evidence brought forward to establish them is shaky or inconclusive. In an argument of policy the points on the other side are met either by throwing doubt on the facts on which they rest.

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53. The Conclusion

The conclusion of your argument should be short and pointed. Gather the main issues together, and restate them in terms that will be easy to remember.

Mere repetition of the points as you made them in your introduction may sound too much like lack of resource; on the other hand, it helps to make your points familiar, and to drive them home. In any event make your contentions easy to remember. 

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54. The Power of Convincing

The convincing power of an argument depends on its appeal to the reason of its readers. To put the same fact in another way, an argument has convincing power when it can fit the facts which it deals with smoothly and intelligently into the rest of the reader's experience. If an argument on a complicated mass of facts, such as the evidence in a long murder case, makes the reader say, "Yes, now I see how it all happened."

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55. The Power of Persuading

We have to consider the question of how an argument can be made persuasive—probably the most difficult subject in the range of rhetoric on which to give practical advice. The key to the whole matter lies in remembering that we are here dealing with feelings, and that feelings are irrational and are the product of personal experience. 

In the making of your argument to the point of stirring up the feelings of your readers on the subject, do not waste any time in considering what they ought to feel: the only pertinent question is what they do feel.

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56. The Practical Interests of the Audience

Of directly persuasive power, however, are the other two factors—the appeal to the practical interests of readers, and the appeal to their emotions. Of these the appeal to practical interests has no proper place in arguments on questions of fact, but a large and entirely proper share in most arguments of policy. To make arguments in such cases persuasive you must show how the question affects the practical interests of your readers, and then that the plan which you support will bring them the greatest advantage.

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57. The Appeal to Moral Interests

The appeal to moral motives is sometimes laughed at by men who call themselves practical, but in America it is in the long run the strongest appeal that can be made. We are still near enough to the men who fought through the Civil War, in which each, side held passionately to what it believed to be the moral right, for us to believe without too much complacency that moral forces are the forces that rule us as a nation.

The chief difficulty with making an appeal to moral principles is to set them forth in other than abstract terms.

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58. The Appeal of Style

We have to consider the appeal to the emotions, which is the distinguishing essence of eloquence, and the attempts at it. Accordingly, if you wish to keep the readers of your argument awake and attentive, use terms that touch their everyday experience.

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59. Fairness and Sincerity

In the long run, however, nothing makes an argument appeal more to readers than an air of fairness and sincerity. If it is evident in an argument of fact that you are seeking to establish the truth, or in an argument of policy that your single aim is the greatest good of all concerned, your audience will listen to you with favorable ears. If on the other hand you seem to be chiefly concerned with the vanity of a personal victory, or to be thinking of selfish advantages, they will listen to you coolly and with jealous scrutiny of your points.

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60. The Nature of Debate

The essential difference between debate and written argument lies not so much in the natural difference between all spoken and written discourse as in the fact that in a debate of any kind there is the chance for an immediate answer to an opponent. 

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61. Subjects for Debate

Debate almost always deals with questions of policy. The choice of subject is even more important for debating than for written argument.

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62. Technical Forms

The formal debates of school and college have certain forms and conventions which are partly based on parliamentary procedure, partly have been worked out to make these debates more interesting and better as practice; and there are certain preliminary arrangements that improve debating both as intellectual training and as fun.

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63. Preparations for Debating

Since the chief value of debating, as distinguished from written arguments, is in cultivating readiness and flexibility of wit, the speaking should be as far as possible extemporaneous. This does not imply that the speaking should be without preparation: on the contrary, the preparation for good debating is more arduous than for a written argument, for when you are on your feet on the platform you cannot run to your books or to your notes to refresh your memory or to find new material. 

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64. On the Platform

When it comes to the actual debate experience shows that speeches committed to memory are almost always ineffective as compared with extemporaneous speaking. The rebuttal should always be extemporaneous.

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65. Voice and Position

The matter of delivery is highly important, and here no man can trust to the light of nature. Any voice can be made to carry further and to be more expressive, and the poorest and thinnest voice can be improved.

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66. The Morals of Debating

There is a moral or ethical side to practice in debating which one cannot ignore. The formal debates of school and college are of necessity barren of practical result; yet even here your discussions have a potent effect in molding your opinions. Furthermore, debate is something very different from dispute. Finally, debating should share the zest that comes of any good game that means hard work and an honorable struggle with opponents one respects and likes.

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