Analysing arguments (Toulmin’s model)

What is an argument?

Stephen Toulmin

Stephen Toulmin, a British philosopher, became frustrated with the inability of formal logic to explain everyday arguments. This prompted him to develop his own model of practical reasoning and publish it in his book The Uses of Argument in 1958.

The model can be used both when constructing and when analysing arguments. For analyses it can be used both on individual statements in short texts such as a commercial or an email, and for analysing the overall arguments in longer texts such as an editorial, a documentary or a speech.

toulmin - the uses of argument

Toulmin’s basic model

Claim (aka assertion, proposition)

  • what the sender wants the receiver to think/do/believe
  • the answer to the question “What are you trying to prove?” or “What’s your point?”
  • can often be found by looking for: “so…” or “therefore…”
  • There are three main types of claims
    • Facts e.g.: “I am an adult.”
    • Values e.g.: “The Matrix is a good movie.”
    • Policies e.g.: “Drinking alcohol should be prohibited.”

Grounds (aka support, evidence, data)

  • an answer to the question, “How so?” “Why do you think so?” or “Prove it!”
  • can often be found by looking for: “because…” or “since…”
Simple toulmin model

grounds: belæg
warrant: hjemmel
claim: påstand


Warrant (aka assumption)

  • the assumption the claim and grounds depend on. The warrant explains why the grounds supports the claim.
  • can apply to many claims and grounds. Is not specific to this situation.
  • if someone disagrees with an argument, it is usually because they disagree with the warrant
  • will often be implicit (unspoken), because the speaker assumes you agree with his values or assumptions. If so, you will need to infer it.

Together, the three basic elements of an argument determine whether an argument is logically valid.

←the weakest link of any argument, if invalid the whole argument collapses.

Example of basic analysis

The picture to the right claims that we should “complain now”. If we ask why whe should complain, we find the grounds for the claim; that we should complain because “Subway removes ham and bacon, to appease muslims”. There is no explicitly stated warrant to connect these two statements, so we have to infer the implicit warrant on our own. We do this by asking what assumption can explain why the grounds would support the claim: “We should not change to appease muslims”. If we do not agree with this warrant, the whole argument will not be logically valid for us. This illustrates how warrants are often unstated (implicit) and are only effective if they are based on warrants that are accepted by the receiver.
subway

Toulmin’s full model

Backing

  • evidence (support, reasons) for the warrant.
  • especially important if the receiver has not already accepted the warrant.
Full Toulmin's model

Qualifier

  • Marks the reliability or probability of a claim’s truth
  • E.g: “beyond reasonable doubt”, “possibly”, “definitely”, “maybe”, “probably”, “certainly”, etc.

Rebuttal (aka reservation)

  • the noted circumstances when the claim does not apply.
  • The exception to the claim

Together, the three secondary elements of an argument determine how strong the argument is.

backing: rygdækning
qualifier: styrkemarkør
rebuttal: gendrivning

Further explanations:
Watch a video or a prezi