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When students tell their parents or friends that they are about to take a course in argumentation, the response very likely may be amazement. “We have too much argumentation as it is,” the parent or friend might reply. “Why would anyone want to study that?”
That is a tricky question because we don’t actually “see” arguments. They are embedded in conversation, speeches, writings, nonverbal expressions – in the interactions we have when we try to influence other people and to justify the claims we make on their belief or action. In fact, they are what people produce during these interactions. They are sets of statements arranged in the proper relationship to each other. But compared with what is actually said or written, they may need to be reworded, divided or combined, and maybe even made explicit rather than assumed.
When you advance an assertion in conversation with another person, that person might accept it immediately. Or the person might reject it out of hand, refusing even to listen to any more about it. Most reactions, however, fall somewhere between these two extremes. The other person is not yet satisfied that you are correct in what you assert but is willing to give the matter some more thought. Such a person might respond by asking, “What do you have to go on?” or “What makes you say so?” Questions of this sort are requests for evidence that will back up the assertion you have advanced. This chapter is concerned with evidence and its role in argumentation.
Except for the realms of symbolic logic and mathematics, where content-free symbols are often employed, argumentation usually is expressed in language. In fact, arguments typically cannot be separated from the language in which they are cast. This means that language is not just “added on” to an argument for ornamentation, but is an intrinsic part of the argument’s substance, shaping what the argument “means” to people and how they will respond to it. But language is inexact. Its meanings and uses cannot be fixed with precision, and it does not completely match the thinking of either arguer or audience. Understanding how language works is a critical aspect of knowing how an argument will proceed.
We saw in Chapter 5 that valid arguments are those in which the inference from evidence to claim is properly warranted. Now we will continue our analysis of inferences by examining the nature of fallacies and considering some common types.1
Not only is everyday argumentation cast in language, and therefore inexact, but it takes place in specific contexts. At various points throughout the book, it has been necessary to remark that the application of a principle or guideline depends on context. There are few if any rules that are universally applicable.
In Chapters 4–6, we have considered factors that strengthen or weaken individual arguments, focusing especially on the evidence on which an argument is based and on the patterns of inference that are expressed in various argument schemes. Usually, though, these individual arguments are combined into larger units to advance or defeat a resolution, the main claim in a controversy. The structure of subsidiary claims and evidence to support or oppose a resolution is called a case. If the case supports the resolution, it is called an affirmative case (because it affirms) and if it opposes the resolution, it is referred to as a negative case (because it negates).
In Chapter 2, we examined the structure of simple and complex arguments. But whether the arguments were simple or complex, we treated them in isolation, as if we wanted to show what an argument of one kind or another might look like – as an end in itself. Put another way, we wanted to show how we could express beliefs as different series of related statements.
In this chapter, we will be concerned with the relationship between the evidence and the claim. Together with the truth and quality of the evidence, discussed in Chapter 4, this is the major consideration affecting the strength of an argument. The question is what enables the evidence to count as evidence for the particular claim.
The case represents what its advocate believes are the strongest arguments for the claim (usually an explicit or implicit resolution) that the advocate has undertaken to defend. If the selection and arrangement choices described in Chapter 7 have been made with care, there will be a prima facie case – one that seems persuasive at first glance, before anything is said against it. But a prima facie case will not lead an opponent simply to concede on hearing its first presentation. Rather, the burden of rejoinder discussed in Chapter 3 will come into play. The opponent will try to marshal claims and evidence that will either deny the resolution outright or at least raise sufficient doubt about it that the original advocate will need to strengthen the case beyond its first presentation. The burden of rejoinder will continue to move back and forth between the advocates until one is convinced by the other or, more often, until a neutral third party renders a decision in the dispute.
This book uses different perspectives on argumentation to show how we create arguments, test them, attack and defend them, and deploy them effectively to justify beliefs and influence others. David Zarefsky uses a range of contemporary examples to show how arguments work and how they can be put together, beginning with simple individual arguments, and proceeding to the construction and analysis of complex cases incorporating different structures. Special attention is given to evaluating evidence and reasoning, the building blocks of argumentation. Zarefsky provides clear guidelines and tests for different kinds of arguments, as well as exercises that show student readers how to apply theories to arguments in everyday and public life. His comprehensive and integrated approach toward argumentation theory and practice will help readers to become more adept at critically examining everyday arguments as well as constructing arguments that will convince others.