Chapter Summaries pertaining to Formal Argumentation

Transnational Research Associates

Summary of Chapter One

If there is one point made in this introductory chapter it seems to be this one: argumentation is not simply the act of yelling and screaming at each other. Arguments, on the contrary, are based on a rational exchange of thought among the parties, and are grounded in the rules of logic and reason.

An argument involves an effort to explain a complex web of factors, to clarify positions and to persuade one's opponent on the basis of well-structured opinion, data, or coherent statements. It is a process which has structure and meaning, not one which leads to confrontation or overt rhetorical attacks. The text emphasizes that the element of persuasion is quite important because one person, when arguing, is attempting to convince another of a specific perspective of the "truth" as he or she views it.

There should be an attempt to avoid deceit in argumentation. This sort of dishonesty was known in the days of the Greeks as 'sophistry' and it is still frowned upon in formal debates and serious arguments today. Multiple points of view can be expressed without outright trickery and purposefully misleading arguments.

Committee debate can result in constructive dialogue, based on mutual respect of the rules of argumentation. Progress can be made as participants evaluate the logic and the line of reasoning of their fellow committee members.

A primary point of this chapter involves the need to provide reasons for your viewpoints. On the basis of actual reasons, logically composed and constructed, it is possible to shift the position of many flexible listeners. The person whose argument is the most convincing is likely to achieve a position of prominence in the decision-making process of any organization. In life, many serious positions have to be taken. By basing decisions on the most solidly constructed lines of reasoning, the 'right' positions can be supported and the flawed ones eliminated, thus avoiding the risks of drifting and aimlessness.

Summary of Chapter Two

This chapter deals with how to read arguments in ways which will facilitate absorption of critical material. By grasping the importance of various types of text, whether summaries, abstracts, analyses or simple citations, the reader will be in a position to move forward in his or her understanding of the argument being presented.

Mentioned as well is the usefulness of reading to writers and composers of arguments. By becoming familiar with the wide variety of writing styles and methods of argumentation used frequently in print, the potential writer can enrich his or her grasp of the best techniques and strategies.

The chapter also underscores the methods most frequently employed to understand and appreciate differing viewpoints, alternative opinions and possible points of contention. Critical reading skills are emphasized., and examples are given which enliven this useful explanatory discussion.

Four principal approaches to reading arguments are also introduced and explained in this chapter. They involve, firstly, the reader's choosing to believe in the argument being presented. Secondly, the opposite approach or strategy is taken, i.e. the reader doubts or questions the article's thrust, thus affording him or her a new perspective and jogging the thought process. Thirdly, the reader ponders the arguments presented and strives, by evaluating the nature of the disagreement, to locate or devise new ways of looking at a possible solution or alternative. Lastly, the chapter suggests that the full range of positions offered in the article be assessed and carefully reviewed by the reader, who doubles as an evaluator.

If care is taken in the reading stage of analyzing an argument, more thought can be given to possible compromises and settlements. By thoughtfully assimilating written material, the reader can, in effect, improve his or her own thought process and proceed validly to the final stage of resolution.

Summary of Chapter Three

Once the art of assimilation has been mastered and the skills of reading have been perfected, it is possible to move on to the stage of attempting to write formal arguments. This chapter explains

in considerable detail the various steps necessary to formulate viable and convincing arguments. There are drafts, re-drafts and revisions, as well as fifth stage and final stage 'polishings' to be completed. The authors seem to take great pains to impress the need for well-structured thought patterns and proper content.

Suggestions are also made for those students who may have difficulty getting started. The "free writing" strategy seems suited to their needs. Brainstorming is discussed within the context of groups of students or participants who may wish to further extend or expand a given line of argumentation (often in the pro or con format), particularly when committing it to writing.

When attacking the actual structure or shape of an argument, the authors suggest reviewing the classical features of Greek and Roman argumentation. There are seven steps which bring the writer through a logical and well-reasoned process. Much of this material is useful in the field of legal practice where, of course, argument is most often put to serious use. However, the amateur debater can profit immensely from careful study of the steps outlined in Chapter 3's summary of the classical steps, from the first stage "attention grabber" to the "final call for action".

Perhaps most useful for me in this chapter was the extensive explanation of the "tree diagram" which allows thoughtful persons the opportunity to examine, restructure and reassess their thought-flow. The fundamental direction of argument can be steered one way or another as well, by looking at the various branches and brain-storming alternate solutions or positions. Such a technique deepens an argument and covers all the bases. This section provides realistic examples for use with the "tree" and sets goals for writers by suggesting further topic exploration and actual rehearsal of arguments.

Summary of Chapter Four

This chapter seems to have more profound substance and depth of content than previous sections. It addresses the issues of tone, content and consistency of the argument. All of these qualities, among many more, are indispensable to convincing opposing parties of the validity of an argumentative thrust or direction. A sense of high purpose is communicated to the student by the presence, once again, of the Greek terminology for several indispensable characteristics of a good, well-grounded argument. Logos, ethos and pathos are, in fact, all necessary for proper balance and equilibrium in a line of thought or feeling. We use these words, fortunately, in modern English and can grasp their meanings pretty much without the detailed explanation in the text. However, stressing them does no harm.

The opening portion of the chapter also discusses the nuances of "explication" (a French term) as contrasted with the standard notion of explanation in American English. The French term has a more analytical overlay to it, with the purpose of informing someone, rather than convincing that person of anything in particular. The term is contrasted with the notion of argumentation.

The framework of argumentation is also briefly considered. The "scaffolding" of an argument must be supported by the "beams" of reason, paraphrasing awkwardly. Indeed, a line of thought needs to be uninterrupted by external or unrelated material that does not contribute to the argument.

The framework can include what the text refers to as "because" clauses, although these are not especially eloquent. This strategy must be supplemented by more sophisticated methods of convincing others that a point of view is, in fact, worthy of embracing. The important thing, of course, is to make sure that, before branching out into flowery rhetoric, that one's main argument is well reasoned, unified and shaped appropriately, built on sequential blocks of facts, data or acceptable well-reasoned emotive or social content.

Summary of Chapter Five

This chapter enters the analytical realm of logic, breaking down its individual elements and explaining the value of certain approaches and models useful in formal argumentation. A definition of the Aristotelian term 'enthymeme' is offered; it is, in fact, an incomplete component of 'argument' or 'logic' which depends on at least one assumption that is unstated or unproven. Many arguments are invalid on the basis of this flaw. So, among other points in this crucial chapter, this one is central to an understanding of argumentation. Being able to properly identify flaws and point them out to one's opponents is truly the height of sophistication in this area.

Similarly, the authors state, when one combines a 'claim' with an 'enthymeme', the whole paradigm is invalid. In a sense, then, this phenomenon is related to syllogistic logic, wherein one's premises must lead to a valid conclusion in accordance with certain rules.

Building on this foundation, the chapter introduces the modern philosopher, Toulmin, who combines Aristotle's concepts and designs a means of determining what is valid and what isn't, particularly in a court of law. The notions of 'warrant', 'grounds' and 'backing' (contemporary terms) are introduced, foreshadowing the concepts of evidence, proof, and admissibility. The inter-relationships of these terms are clarified.

Concrete examples of the characteristics of 'chains of reason' are provided and the inner workings of an argument are explored. The rules of rebuttal and the underpinnings of what can be considered valid evidence are explained in the last section of this chapter.

At this point, the text seems to depart from the friendly atmosphere of informal arguments and debates and begins to delve into the intricacies of structural logic, sequential reasoning and the rules of evidence when arguing -- almost (it seems) within a legal context.

Summary of Chapter Six

After having discussed primary support procedures for arguments, inclusive of chains of reason and the need for valid evidence, the authors, in Chapter 6, embark on a careful analysis of evidence itself. They itemize and categorize evidence by type and nature. Starting with personal evidence, memory and observations (all three fairly weak and subjective for many purposes), they move on toward empirical evidence such as survey data, questionnaires and pre-existing research.

Much of the statistical evidence that can be admitted validly for purposes of argument requires validation or interpretation in accordance with meticulous rules and mathematical norms. When two variables are involved, for example, they can be displayed convincingly in a graphic format for purposes of argument. Bar-graphs and circle charts are introduced to show other relationships. Strategically impressive data can be arranged to make a point. Sometimes, such data can be mis-arranged purposefully to mislead the audience or the decision-maker. It is important, therefore, as a listener, to be informed of the tricks and distortions which can occur. This chapter clarifies the meanings of statistics and makes it easier to appreciate the power of numbers used properly and the risks of numbers skewed unethically.

The authors also address the issue of 'uncertainty.' By placing elements of an argument in proper perspective, and by appreciating what the evidence truly means or does not mean, uncertainty can be minimized. The true value, weight, or importance of an item in the argument is discussed within this context, shedding light on some of the scientific evidence that can be brought to bear on certain issues, notably environmental concerns, an area where public 'arguments' are increasing in frequency.

Good, practical and useful advice is offered from page 133 onward. Selecting data, choosing sources, valid methods of persuasion, and use of recent evidence are all emphasized in this chapter.