March 25:  Toulmin Argument Day

Today is the birthday of British philosopher and educator Stephen Toulmin, who was born in London in 1922.

Stephen Toulmin.jpgIn 1958, Toulmin published a book entitled The Uses of Argument in which he explained his model of argumentation.  Toulmin’s objective was to give his readers a practical, real-world method for constructing or analyzing arguments.  Instead of the abstract, academic proofs written by logisticians, Toulmin proposed a method that could be understood and applied by ordinary people to everyday arguments.

The Toulmin’s model of argument is made up of six key parts:

The Claim is what you believe to be true, what the argument proves.

The Data is the facts, evidence and reasons that lead you to believe the claim is true.

The Warrant is an assumption that connects the data with your claim.  The warrant makes the thinking of the argument explicit, explaining both how and why the data support the claim.  

The Backing is any facts or details that support the warrant.

The Qualifier is limits of the claim, stating whether or not it is always true or in what cases it is true.

The Rebuttal is where the person writing the argument anticipates and answers possible objections to the claim by stating counterclaims and responding to them.

Toulmin’s model is an excellent way to analyze arguments made by others or to analyze your own.  It gives you a method for carefully thinking through each part and for troubleshooting the parts that don’t hold up under scrutiny.  In essence the model is a grammar for arguments. Just as grammar allows you to name the parts needed for crafting and revising clear sentences, Toulmin’s model gives you the nomenclature needed to construct and examine sound arguments (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Try Toulmin’s Toolbox

What are examples of five claims that you believe in fully?  Brainstorm some possible claims that you could confidently make.  Then, select one claim, and write a well-developed argument employing each element of the Toulmin model.

Before you begin writing your own argument, analyze the example argument below, identifying the claim, qualifier, data, warrant, backing, and rebuttal:

The best way to become a good writer, in most cases, is to read widely. Most good writers build up their experience and understanding of the different ways that words, sentences, and paragraphs work through reading. Furthermore, most writers don’t just express their own ideas, instead they build and test their own ideas by reading, responding and referring to other writers. One of the common things you will hear when listening to interviews of writers is their references to other writers as well as to what they have read or are reading.  In the words of Stephen King, ““If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” A writer might have great ideas, but without a lot of experience of analyzing the written word through careful reading, the writer is not going to be equipped to package his or her ideas in a way that they can be understood by an audience of readers.  Some may say that the best way to write is to just write; however, that’s a little like saying the best way to build a house is to just build a house. Just as home construction require knowledge of architecture, good writing requires a solid understanding of the architecture of prose. Construction workers read blueprints before they pick up a hammer; likewise, good writers read good books before they pick up a pen.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. -Desmond Tutu

1-http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/education/11toulmin.html