Argument: Claims and Support
The term "argument" is one we use in two ways in everyday conversation:
Ways we use the term "argument"
- Argument1: making an argument. Making a claim
and providing support for it. "I formulated an argument in hopes that I could
convince them to abandon the plan."
- Argument2: having an argument. A dispute, often
heated, between two people. "They were arguing about what to do after class."
But any use of argument to decide on a course of action or the truth of a
fact creates an argument2. "The argument about the wisdom of the war
in Iraq is unresolved."
In strategic discourse we encounter speakers formulating arguments to support
their claims (argument1), often seeking to resolve an argument about facts,
values, or action (argument2)..
- Campbell and Huxman define argument as "a claim or conclusion backed by
one or more reasons or justification."
- There are two key elements in argument -- claim and support -- and the relationship of the two
define the character of argument.
- Campbell and Huxman define a claim as an assertion. They stress how it is
an inference beyond the facts.
- In strategic discourse, a claim is a statement we make to an audience
with an anticipation that they should agree with it.
- It is a statement. A claim is discourse.
- It involves a speaker's awareness of an audience. The very idea
of a claim involves a wish about an audience.
- It deals with a search for agreement. The wish is that the audience
will agree with the statement.
- It involves anticipation. To anticipate the audience's agreement
means we look hopefully to it, but we are anxious that they may not give
- A claim thus forwards a statement that we worry the audience will not
agree to, but wish them to agree to.
- If we are certain that an audience will agree, it is not really a claim.
If we are certain they will not, it also is not a claim. A claim works with
contingency -- a question of whether the audience will agree or not.
Don't make it hard. Quite literally, a reason is the reason the arguer
gives for agreeing to the claim.
- After asking you to agree to a claim, the arguer should give you a reason
for doing so.
- When you respond to an arguer by saying, "Why is your reason for saying
that?" you are asking for a reason.
- The reason offered may be in the form of support, or
- Information or explanation given to an audience in anticipation that the
support will earn their agreement to the claim.
- Support is discourse -- either information or explanation
- It relates to a claim
- It is chosen to satisfy the demands of the audience in search of their
agreement to the claim.
- Another way of putting it: Support is information or explanation given
as a reason for your agreement to a claim.
The most important terms in argument begin with very common notions.
- Claim: I claim that . . . I
claim that going into Iraq has been to our advantage.
- Reason: What is the reason you say that? What
is the reason you say that? We got
rid of a dictator.
- Support: Information to satisfy question We
got rid of a dictator.
- Warranted: Oh, I see! Attacking
every dictator with American blood and treasure is unwarranted. [thus
- Issues: I take issue with that I
take issue with your position
Differing Level of Claims
- Theses: What is it the speaker wants the audience to agree
with that motivates his/her giving the speech? The thesis is the central claim
that the message is all about. Theses relate to argument1.
- Proposition: A statement of what is in dispute in argument2.
What the argument is about. A proposition states the claim to be resolved
- Claims: Each section of speech, each paragraph, makes a claim. Any assertion that anticipates
Several clues to use in isolating claims:
- Is the purpose to persuade? If so, then the claim is a
statement of what the speaker is trying to persuade you of. What claim on
your beliefs is the speaker making?
- Look for the relationship of claim to support. Look for
statements that assert a claim paired with other discourse that relates to
that claim in a relationship of support to claim.
- Monitor your anticipation as an audience. Look for your
response to discourse that questions why the speaker claims what they claim.
Why does the speaker claim that?
- Be aware of times when claims are unsupported. Speakers
do not always support the claims they make. This does not make the claim any
less a claim. You will generally discover these by identifying the persuasive
purpose or noting your anticipation of support.
- Chain reasoning (instrumental claims): Rather than
supporing a claim directly, the arguer may offer another argument1
as the reason for a claim. Thus, the arguer has presented another claim for
your belief, and then supported the second claim. This second claim is called
an instrumental claim. If the instrumental claim is supported, then
it serves as a reason for the original claim. For example: "We
should put a lid on the number who can enter a minor.[C] The
minor is too large.[IC] Students are having difficulty
getting into classes.[S]"
- Multiple support: Often the arguer will provide more than one reason
for believing the claim. Thus, multiple reasons: multiple instrumental arguments
or multiple support.
- Implicit claims: Remember that arguers are not always explicit with
what they are asking you to believe. Sometimes the support will be obvious,
but the claim is unstated. Monitor your sense for what you are being asked
Types of Claims
- Fact: A claim asserts some empirical truth.
- Something that can be determined by careful observation of past, present,
- Generally, the truth of the assertion will be determined by events. But
the speaker will offer information or explanation that predicts or characterizes
- Claims of fact are those we think about rightly as being true or false.
Of course, sometimes we cannot prove something true or false, but we have
to say "How likely is it that it is true?" But the reasons we
give are the reasons we believe the statement is true or false.
- Argument usually turns on strength of evidence presented as reason for
arguer's belief in the claim.
- Judgement or Value: A claim asserts a judgement of some sort.
- Look for key words that are a matter of judgement rather than fact: good,
well, kind, useful, desirable, etc.
- Speakers provide the reasoning for their judgement, but ultimately, it
is assent to the reasons rather than comparison to fact that determines
the agreement to the claim.
- Based on things we like or dislike. Thus it deals with goals, with things
we find attractive.
- Your feel for the argument by judgment or value has to be different than
that for fact. Disagreements over values are not "wrong" in the
sense that they are inaccurate. Rather, they turn on what is important to
us and how the things that are important to us come to bear on a situation.
- Argument usually turns on whether the underlying value of the claim is
accepted as a public good.
- Action or Policy: A claim asserts that an action should be taken.
- Be sensitive to calls that some action be taken.
- Look for key words "should" or "ought." These words may not always be
present, but if they are actions are usually called for.
- Decisions about whether we should take an action or not are the most complex
of arguments. They turn on many claims about what happens if we do take
an action or what happens if we fail to act.
- Argument usually turns on whether the reasons for taking the action outweigh
the possible costs of taking the action.
Campbell and Huxman discuss these as types of claims. But the best way to isolate
claims is simply to ask whether the claim asserts fact, judgement, or action.
Study Aid to test your ability to identify types of
Evaluating Arguments: The Critical Attitude
When analyzing arguments, you should adopt a critical attitude:
- Skepticism: Being critical requires:
- a level of doubt in the claims of arguers.
- But you are open to the discourse removing your doubt.
- Active Challenge: Accompany this skepticism with an active mode of
testing the evidence that is presented to support the claim.
- Sense of Probability: After critically working with the claim and
support, assess your degree of faith in the claim. Notice that this is not
a two-valued judgement of true or false, but a sophisticated judgement about
how much faith you should have in the evidence.
We will learn techniques to evaluate argument in the next few days.
Strategic Choices for Presenting Arguments
Effectiveness in argument2 requires some additional choices of strategy as you
present argument. Among those choices are:
- Constructive argument or refutation
- Constructive argument presents the reasons why you believe that you are
- Refutation begins with the arguments those who disagree with you present
for why they are correct, and explains why they are wrong.
- 1-sided or 2-sided argument
- 1-sided argument presents only your arguments for the proposition. 1-sided
messages are most effective when your audience agrees with you.
- 2-sided argument not only presents your side of the issues, but also tries
to recognize the arguments for those who disagree with you. 2-sided arguments
are most useful when your audience will disagree with you and come to the
arguments anyway. The 2-sided argument communicates a fairness and respect
for the other arguments.
- Propositional argument or generalized support
- In a propositionally styled argument you assert your claim clearly and
precisely and associate the support for the argument in a straight-forward
- Generalized support often begins by working through your support and simply
identifying your position after presenting the support. Sometimes your claim
is even left enthymatic.
- Precise argument or enumeration
- Precise argument identifies your best arguments and urges them with maximum
- Enumeration is a blunt piling on of arguments to support your position.