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Transcript of Analyzing Arguments
What is argument?
Is it a conflict? A contest between opposing forces to prove the other side wrong? A battle with words? Or is it, rather, a process of reasoned inquiry and rational discourse seeking common ground?
Or is it?
We define argument as...
a persuasive discourse, a coherent and considered movement from a claim to a conclusion.
Avoid thinking of argument as a zero-sum game of winners and losers but, instead, to see it as a means of better understanding other people's ideas as well as your own.
Stressed the importance of replacing confrontational argument tactics with ones that promote negotiation, compromise, and cooperation.
Based on the assumption that having a full understanding of an opposing position is essential to responding to it persuasively and refuting it in a way that is accommodating rather than alienating.
Goal is not to destroy your opponents or dismantle their viewpoints but rather to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
So what does a civil argument look like?
In this piece Amy Domini, a financial advisor and leading voice for socially responsible investing, argues the counterintuitive position that investing in the fast-food industry can be an ethically responsible choice.
What does Domini do?
She begins by reminding her readers of her ethos as "an advocate of the Slow Food movement for many years."
By describing some of the goals of that movement she establishes common ground before discussing her position. (Her position is one the Slow Food advocates are not likely to embrace initially.
Instead of asserting her position in a strong declarative sentence, Domini asks a question that invites her audience to hear her explanation: "Why then do I find myself investing in fast-food companies?"
She provides evidence that supports her choice to take that action - statistics, Greece example, public health/environment examples.
After presenting her viewpoint, Domini ends by acknowledging that her "heart will always be with Slow Food"; but that fact should not preclude her supporting those in the fast-food industry who are making socially and environmentally responsible decisions.
Staking a Claim
Every argument has a claim - also called an assertion or proposition - that states the argument's main idea or position.
It has to be arguable. State a position that some reasonable people might disagree with.
You are stating your informed opinion on the topic.
In the essay you just read...
The general topic is social investing - specifically, social investing in the fast-food industry.
The arguable claim, however, is that investing in fast-food companies can be socially responsible.
Notice the topic may be a single word or a phrase, but the arguable claim has to be stated as a complete sentence.
Types of Claims
Claims of Fact
Claims of Value
Claims of Policy
Claims of Fact
Assert that something is true or not true. You can't argue whether or not Zimbabwe is in Africa. You can, however, argue that Zimbabwe has an unstable government. Arguments of fact often pivot on what exactly is "factual." Facts become arguable when they are questioned, when they raise controversy, when they challenge people's beliefs.
In Domini's article...
The argument in paragraph 3 is guided by the claim of fact that "fast food is a way of life." Is it?
She supports this claim with sales statistics and information on the growth of this industry.
Paragraph 4 is guided by the claim of fact that "fast food is a global phenomenon."
She supports this claim with an explanation of fast-food restaurants opening "in nearly every country" and a specific example discussing the changing diet in Greece.
Claims of Value
Argue that something is good or bad, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable. Must be arguable. Maybe be personal judgements based on taste, or they may be more objective evaluations based on external criteria.
In Domini's article...
Her argument is largely one of value, as she supports her claim that investing in fast-food companies can be a positive thing. The very title suggests a claim of value.
She develops her argument by explaining the impact that such investing can have on what food choices are available, and what the impact of those choices is.
Claims of Policy
Anytime you propose a change, you're making a claim of policy.
Generally begins with a definition of the problem (claim of fact), explains why it is a problem (claim of value), and then explains the change that needs to happen (claim of policy).
While an argument of policy usually calls for some direct action to take place, it may be a recommendation for a change in attitude or viewpoint.
Let's look at an argument of policy
From Claim to Thesis
To develop a claim into a thesis statement, you have to be more specific about what you intend to argue. The claim is traditionally stated explicitly as a one-sentence thesis statement that appears in the introduction of your argument. To be effective, a thesis statement must preview the essay by encapsulating in clear, unambiguous language the main point or points the writer intends to make.
Closed Thesis Statements
A statement of the main idea of the argument that also previews the major points the writer intends to make. It is "closed" because it limits the number of points the writer will make. For instance, here is a closed thesis on the appeal of the Harry Potter book series:
The three-dimensional characters, exciting plot, and complex themes of the Harry Potter series make them not only legendary children's books but enduring literary classics.
This thesis asserts that the series constitutes a "literary classic" and specifies three reasons - characters, plot, and theme - each of which would be discussed in the argument. Often includes or implies the word because.
Closed thesis statements
A reliable way to focus a short essay, particularly one written under time constraints. Explicitly stating the points you'll make can help you organize your thoughts when you are working against the clock, and it can be a way to address specific points that are required by the prompt or argument
Open Thesis Statements
If, however, you are writing a longer essay with five, six, or even more main points, then an open thesis is probably more effective. An open thesis is one that does not list all the points the writer intends to cover in an essay. If you have six or seven points in an essay, for instance, stringing them all out in the thesis will be awkward; plus, while a reader can remember two or three main points, it's confusing to keep track of a whole string of points made way back in an opening paragraph.
You might argue that the Harry Potter series is far from an enduring classic because you think the main characters are either all good or all bad rather than a bit of both, the minor characters devolve into caricatures, the plot is repetitious and formulaic, the magic does not follow a logical system of rules, and so on.
Imagine trying to line all those ideas up in a sentence or two having any clarity and grace at all. By making the overall point without actually stating every subpoint, an open thesis can guide an essay without being cumbersome.
The popularity of the Harry Potter series demonstrates that simplicity trumps complexity when it comes to the taste of readers, both young and old.
Counterargument Thesis Statements
A variant of the open and closed thesis in which a summary of a counterargument usually qualified by although or but precedes the writer's opinion. This type of thesis has the advantage of immediately addressing the counterargument. Doing so may make an argument seem both stronger and more reasonable. It may also create a seamless transition to a more thorough concession and refutation of the counterargument later in the argument.
Using Harry Potter...
Although the Harry Potter Series may have some literary merit, its popularity has less to do with storytelling than with merchandising.
What does this thesis do...
It concedes a counterargument that the series "may have some literary merit" before refuting that claim by saying that the storytelling itself is less popular than movies, toys, and other merchandise that the books inspired. The thesis promises some discussion of literary merit and a critique of its storytelling (concession and refutation) but will ultimately focus on the role of the merchandising machine in making Harry Potter a household name.
You have now established a claim and formed a thesis statement, so what comes next? You now need to use effective evidence to support your claim/thesis.
Consider your audience when choosing evidence. Do you need more statistics/numbers or more anecdotes? What will be the most effective choice for the purpose of your argumentative essay?
Relevant, Accurate, and Sufficient Evidence
Regardless of the type of evidence you choose to best suit your audience, you need to be sure that it is relevant, accurate, and sufficient.
Does the evidence you are bringing in to play have anything to do with the argument you are trying to make? That is something to evaluate.
This requires the writer to take care to quote sources correctly without misrepresenting what the sources are saying or taking the information out of context.
Use credible sources - make sure they aren't biased.
Finally, you should include a sufficient amount to support your thesis. Remember, you had different options for setting up your thesis, so the amount of evidence may need to be adjusted to fit the option you selected.
Logical fallacies are potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses in an argument.
The logical breakdown in most weak arguments occurs in the use of evidence, since evidence is what we use to prove arguments.
So, a more practical definition of a fallacy might be a failure to make a logical connection between the claim and the evidence used to support that claim.
Fallacies of Relevance
Red Herring - Occurs when a speaker skips to a new and irrelevant topic in order to avoid the topic of discussion.
Ad Hominem - Refers to the diversionary tactic of switching the argument from the issue at hand to the character of the other speaker.
Faulty Analogy - Irrelevant or inconsequential similarities between two things.
Fallacies of Accuracy
Straw Man - Occurs when a speaker chooses a deliberately poor or oversimplified example in order to ridicule and refute an opponent's viewpoint.
Either/Or aka False Dilemma - The speaker presents two extreme options as the only possible choices.
Fallacies of Insufficiency
Hasty Generalization - There is not enough evidence to support a particular conclusion.
Circular Reasoning - Involves repeating the claim as a way to provide evidence, resulting in no evidence at all.
Something you know, whether it's from personal experience, anecdotes you've heard from others, observations, or your general knowledge of events.
Bringing in personal experience adds a human element and can be an effective way to appeal to pathos. For example, when writing about whether you do or do not support single-sex classrooms, you might describe your experience as a student, or you might use your observations about your school or classmates to inform your argument.
Works best if the writer can speak as an insider.
In the following essay about the environmentalist movement, Jennifer Oladipo argues that minorities need to become more involved: "The terms environmentalist and minority conjure two distinct images in most people's minds - a false dichotomy that seriously threatens any chance of pulling the planet out of its current ecological tailspin."
FALLACY ALERT: Hasty Generalization
As we described previously, a hasty generalization is a fallacy in which there is not enough evidence to support a particular conclusion. When using personal experience as evidence, it is important to remember that while it might provide some ethos to speak on a topic and it may be an effective way to appeal to pathos, personal experience is rarely universal proof.
Pulling wisdom teeth is just another unnecessary and painful medical procedure. I still have all of mine, and they haven't given me any problems.
Like personal experience, anecdotes can be a useful way to appeal to pathos.
In the following excerpt from an op-ed piece, Fabiola Santiago argues against the policy that children born in the United States to immigrants, including those who are undocumented, must be treated as nonresidents when it comes to receiving state services. To make the case about the specific unfairness of imposing out-of-state tuition on Florida residents who fall into this category, Santiago uses an anecdote as part of her evidence.
First-hand evidence gained through observation.
Staying informed on what is happening locally, nationally, and globally ensures that you have an arsenal of evidence you can use in arguments.
Current events can be interpreted in many ways, so seek out multiple perspectives and be on the lookout for bias.
Here's an example from Political Analyst, Fareed Zakaria, about the plight of the American Education System. He wrote the article around the time of Steve Jobs' death, which was national news.
Second-hand evidence is evidence that is accessed through research, reading, and investigation. It includes factual and historical information, expert opinion, and quantitative data. Anytime you cite what someone else knows, not what you know, you are using second-hand evidence. While second-hand evidence may occasionally appeal to pathos and may certainly establish a writer's ethos, the central appeal is to logos.
Verifiable facts that a writer knows from research. Can provide background and context to current debates; it also can help establish the writer's ethos because it shows that he or she has taken the time and effort to research the matter and become informed.
One possible pitfall is that historical events are complicated. Keep your description of the events brief, but be sure not to misrepresent the events.
In the following paragraph from "Hate Speech: The History of an American Controversy", author Samuel Walker provides historical information to establish the "intolerance" of the 1920s era.
The 1920s are remembered as a decade of intolerance. Bigotry was as much a symbol of the period as Prohibition, flappers, the stock market boom, and Calvin Coolidge. It was the only time when the Ku Klux Klan paraded en masse through the nation's capitol. In 1921 Congress restricted immigration for the first time in American history, drastically reducing the influx of Catholics and Jews from southeastern and eastern Europe, and the nation's leading universities adopted admission quotas to restrict the number of Jewish students. The Sacco and Vanzetti case, in which two Italian American anarchists were executed for robbery and murder in a highly questionable prosecution, has always been one of the symbols of the anti-immigrant tenor of the period.
What did the author do?
To support the claim that the 1920s was a period characterized by bigotry, Walker cites a series of historical examples: the KKK, immigration laws, restriction targeting certain ethnicities, and a high-profile court case.
Let's see another example...
Historical information is often used to develop a point of comparison or contrast to a more contemporary situation. In the following paragraph from Charles Krauthammer's op-ed "The 9/11 'Overreaction'? Nonsense," the political commentator does exactly that by comparing the War on Terror to previous military campaigns in U.S. history.
True, in both [the Iraq and Afghanistan] wars there was much trial, error and tragic loss. In Afghanistan too much emphasis on nation-building. In Iraq, the bloody middle years before we found our general and our strategy. But cannot the same be said of, for example, the Civil War, the terrible years before Lincoln found his general? Or the Pacific campaign of World War II, with its myriad miscalculations, its often questionable island-hopping, that cost infinitely more American lives?
What did the author do?
His evidence is brief but detailed enough to both show his grasp of the history and explicitly lay out his comparison. Simply saying, "These wars are no different from the Civil War or World War II" would have been far too vague and thus ineffective.
FALLACY ALERT: Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
The name of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy is Latin for "after which therefore because of which." What that means is that it is incorrect to always claim that something is a cause just because it happened earlier. In other words, correlation does not imply causation.
We elected Johnson as president and look where it got us: hurricanes, floods, stock market crashes.
That's a simple example, but in reality causality is very tricky to prove because few things have only one cause. When using historical evidence, you should be especially aware of this fallacy. Check your facts. Consider the complexity of the situation. Proceed with caution.
A more formal variation on the use of pointing out that so-and-so agrees with me, therefore I am an expert concept.
An expert is someone who has published research on a topic or whose job or experiences gives him or her specialized knowledge.
Make certain your expert is seen as credible by your audience so that his or her opinion will add weight to your argument.
Following is an excerpt from "Just a Little Princess" by Peggy Orenstein in which she critiques what she call "the princess culture" that Disney promotes. In this paragraph, she is commenting on the phenomenon of "Supergirl." Note the use of an expert - and how that expert is identified - as evidence.
What did the author do?
She is careful to present credentials (in this case, a university professor) and to either quote or paraphrase the relevant information as evidence. She quotes Forman-Brunell and then comments on this expert's viewpoint. Orenstein may have held the same opinion about fairy godmothers and their impact on girls' views of themselves, but the findings of a researcher add credibility to the argument.
FALLACY ALERT: Appeal to False Authority
Appeal to false authority occurs when someone who has no expertise to speak on an issue is cited as an authority. A TV star, for instance, is not a medical expert, even though pharmaceutical advertisements often use celebrity endorsements. When choosing who to cite as an expert, be sure to verify the person's background and qualifications.
Includes things that can be represented in numbers: statistics, surveys, polls, census information. This type of evidence can be persuasive in its appeal to logos. Amy Domini cites numerical evidence in her essay to support her contention that "fast food is a way of life. In America, the average person eats it more than 150 times a year. In 2007, sales for the 400 largest U.S. based fast-food chains totaled $277 billion, up 7 percent from 2006."
It need not be all percentages and dollar figures, however. Zakaria compares the education system of the U.S. with that of other countries by citing quantitative information without a lot of numbers and figures.
FALLACY ALERT: Bandwagon Appeal
Bandwagon appeal (or ad populum fallacy) occurs when evidence boils down to "everybody's doing it, so it must be a good thing to do." Sometimes statistics can be used to prove that "everybody's doing it" and thus give a bandwagon appeal the appearance of cold, hard fact.
You should vote to elect Rachel Johnson - she has a strong lead in the polls!
Polling higher does not necessarily make Senator Johnson the "best" candidate, only the most popular.
The shapt, that is, the organization or arrangement, of an argument reflects a host of factors, including audience and purpose, but it usually follows one of several patterns.
Organization should fit the ideas, rather than forcing ideas to fit into a prescribed organizational pattern.
Introduces the reader to the subject under discussion. In Latin, exordium means "beginning a web," which is an apt description for an introduction. Draws the readers into the text by piquing their interest, challenging them, or otherwise getting the attention. Often the introduction is where the writer establishes ethos.
Provides factual information and background material on the subject at hand, thus beginning the developmental paragraphs, or establishes why the subject is a problem that needs addressing. Level of detail depends on audience's knowledge of the subject. Although classical rhetoric describes narration as appealing to logos, in actuality it often appeals to pathos because the writer attempts to evoke an emotional response about the importance of the issue being discussed.
Classical rhetoricians outlined a five-part structure for an oratory, or speech, that writers still use today, although perhaps not always consciously:
Usually the major part of the text, includes the development or the proof needed to make the writer's case - the nuts and bolts of the essay, containing the most specific and concrete detail in the text. Generally makes the strongest appeal to logos.
Addresses the counterargument, is in many ways a bridge between the writer's proof and conclusion. Although classical rhetoricians recommended placing this section at the end of the text as a way to anticipate objections to the proof given in the confirmation section, this is not a hard-and-fast rule. If opposing views are well known or valued by the audience, a writer will address them before presenting his or her own arugment. Appeal is largely to logos.
Brings the essay to a satisfying close. Here the writer usually appeals to pathos and reminds the reader of the ethos established earlier. Rather than simply repeating what has gone before, the conclusion brings all the writer's ideas together and answers the question, so what? The last words and ideas of a text are those the audience is most likely to remember.
Let's see an example...
Induction and Deduction
Ways of reasoning, but they are often effective ways to structure an entire argument as well.
Means arranging an argument so that it leads from particulars to universals, using specific cases to draw a conclusion.
Regular exercise promotes weight loss.
Exercise lowers stress levels.
Exercise improves mood and outlook.
Exercise contributes to better health.
You reach a conclusion by starting with a general principle or universal truth (a major premise) and applying it to a specific case (a minor premise). Often structured as a syllogism, a logical structure that uses the major premise and minor premise to reach a necessary conclusion.
Using the same example from inductive, we will develop a syllogism to argue deductively:
Major premise: Exercise contributes to better health.
Minor premise: Yoga is a type of exercise.
Conclusion: Yoga contributes to better health.
The strength of deductive logic is that if the first two premises are true, then the conclusion is logically valid. Keep in mind, though, that if either premise is false, then the conclusion is subject to challenge.
Major premise: Celebrities are role models for young people.
Minor premise: Lindsey Lohan is a celebrity.
Conclusion: Lindsey Lohan is a role model for young people.
As you can see, the conclusion is logically valid - but is it true? Deduction is a good way to combat stereotypes that are based on faulty premises.
Major premise: Women are poor drivers.
Minor premise: Ellen is a woman.
Conclusion: Ellen is a poor driver.
What this deductive reasoning does...
Breaking this stereotype down into a syllogism clearly shows the faulty logic. Perhaps some women, just as some men, are poor drivers, but to say that women in general drive poorly is to stereotype by making a hasty generalization. Breaking an idea down into component parts like this helps expose the basic thinking, which then can yield a more nuanced argument. This example might be qualified, for instance, by saying that some women are poor drivers; thus Ellen might be a poor driver.
Combining Induction and Deduction
It's more common for an essay to combine these methods depending on the situation. Induction - a series of examples - may be used to verify a major premise, then that premise can become the foundation for deductive reasoning. The Declaration of Independence is an example of deductive and inductive logic at work. Thomas Jefferson and the framers drafted this document to prove that the colonies were justified in their rebellion against King George III.
The argument of the entire document can be distilled into this syllogism:
Major premise: Citizens have a right to rebel against a despot.
Minor premise: King George III is a despot.
Conclusion: Citizens have a right to rebel against King George III.
You have now read the Declaration of Sentiments, so...
Analyze the use of induction and deduction to support the claim and develop the argument.