The Toulmin method, developed by philosopher Stephen Toulmin(pictured on the right), is essentially a structure for analyzing arguments. But the elements for analysis are so clear and structured that many professors now have students write argumentative essays with the elements of the Toulmin method in mind.
This type of argument works well when there are no clear truths or absolute solutions to a problem. Toulmin arguments take into account the complex nature of most situations.
There are six elements for analyzing, and, in this case, presenting arguments that are important to the Toulmin method.
These elements of a Toulmin analysis can help you as both a reader and a writer. When you’re analyzing arguments as a reader, you can look for these elements to help you understand the argument and evaluate its validity. When you’re writing an argument, you can include these same elements in to ensure your audience will see the validity in your claims.
Claims — The claim is a statement of opinion that the author is asking her or his audience to accept as true.
Grounds —The grounds are the facts, data, or reasoning upon which the claim is based. Essentially, the grounds are the facts making the case for the claim.
Warrant —The warrant is what links the grounds to the claim. This is what makes the audience understand how the grounds are connected to supporting the claim. Sometimes, the warrant is implicit (not directly stated), but the warrant can be stated directly as well. As a writer, you are making assumptions about what your audience already believes, so you have to think about how clear your warrant is and if you need to state it directly for your audience. You must also think about whether or not a warrant is actually an unproven claim.
Backing —The backing gives additional support for the claim by addressing different questions related to your claim.
Qualifier —The qualifier is essentially the limits to the claim or an understanding that the claim is not true in all situations. Qualifiers add strength to claims because they help the audience understand the author does not expect her or his opinion to be true all of the time or for her or his ideas to work all of the time. If writers use qualifiers that are too broad, such as “always” or “never,” their claims can be really difficult to support. Qualifiers like “some” or “many” help limit the claim, which can add strength to the claim.
Rebuttal —The rebuttal is when the author addresses the opposing views. The author can use a rebuttal to pre-empt counter arguments, making the original argument stronger.
There should be more laws to regulate texting while driving in order to cut down on dangerous car accidents.
The National Safety Council estimates that 1.6 million car accidents per year are caused by cell phone use and texting.
Being distracted by texting on a cell phone while driving a car is dangerous and causes accidents.
With greater fines and more education about the consequences, people might think twice about texting and driving.
There should be more laws to regulate texting while driving in order to cut down on some of the dangerous car accidents that happen each year.
Although police officers are busy already, making anti-texting laws a priority saves time, money, and lives. Local departments could add extra staff to address this important priority.
We can also identify three other important parts of an argument
Assumptions Counter-examples Implications
The Toulmin Model
- Claim: the position or claim being argued for; the conclusion of the argument.
- Grounds: reasons or supporting evidence that bolster the claim.
- Warrant: the principle, provision or chain of reasoning that connects the grounds/reason to the claim.
- Backing: support, justification, reasons to back up the warrant.
- Rebuttal/Reservation: exceptions to the claim; description and rebuttal of counter-examples and counter-arguments.
- Qualification: specification of limits to claim, warrant and backing. The degree of conditionality asserted.
Warrants/General Strategies of Argument
Warrants are chains of reasoning that connect the claim and evidence/reason. A warrant is the principle, provision or chain of reasoning that connects the grounds/reason to the claim. Warrants operate at a higher level of generality than a claim or reason, and they are not normally explicit.
Example: “Needle exchange programs should be abolished [claim] because they only cause more people to use drugs.” [reason]
The unstated warrant is: “when you make risky behavior safer you encourage more people to engage in it.”
There are six main argumentative strategies via which the relationship between evidence and claim are often established. They have the acronym “GASCAP.”
These strategies are used at various different levels of generality within an argument, and rarely come in neat packages - typically they are interconnected and work in combination.
1. Argument based on Generalization
A very common form of reasoning. It assumes that what is true of a well chosen sample is likely to hold for a larger group or population, or that certain things consistent with the sample can be inferred of the group/population.
2. Argument based on Analogy
Extrapolating from one situation or event based on the nature and outcome of a similar situation or event. Has links to "case-based" and precedent-based reasoning used in legal discourse. What is important here is the extent to which relevant similarities can be established between two contexts. Are there sufficient, typical, accurate, relevant similarities?
3. Argument via Sign/Clue
The notion that certain types of evidence are symptomatic of some wider principle or outcome. For example, smoke is often considered a sign for fire. Some people think high SAT scores are a sign a person is smart and will do well in college.
4. Causal Argument
Arguing that a given occurrence or event is the result of, or is effected by, factor X. Causal reasoning is the most complex of the different forms of warrant. The big dangers with it are:
- Mixing up correlation with causation
- Falling into the post hoc, ergo propter hoc trap. Closely related to confusing correlation and causation, this involves inferring 'after the fact, therefore because of the fact').
5. Argument from Authority
Does person X or text X constitute an authoritative source on the issue in question? What political, ideological or economic interests does the authority have? Is this the sort of issue in which a significant number of authorities are likely to agree on?
6. Argument from Principle
Locating a principle that is widely regarded as valid and showing that a situation exists in which this principle applies. Evaluation: Is the principle widely accepted? Does it accurately apply to the situation in question? Are there commonly agreed on exceptions? Are there "rival" principles that lead to a different claim? Are the practical consequences of following the principle sufficiently desirable?
Rebuttals and Main/Faulty/Return Paths
Unlike many forms of writing, academic arguments will often include discussions of possible objections and counterarguments to the position being advanced. Academic arguments typically take place in disciplinary communities in which a variety of competing or divergent positions exist. When preparing to "speak" to the community by writing an argument, writers are aware of the arguments against which they must build their claims, and of the counterarguments which are likely to emerge. Dealing with counterarguments and objections is thus a key part of the process of building arguments, refining them, interpreting and analyzing them. There are several main reasons for introducing counterarguments and objections.
1. It demonstrates that the author is aware of opposing views, and is not trying to "sweep them under the table." It thus is more likely to make the writer's argument seem "balanced" or "fair" to readers, and as a consequence be persuasive.
2. It shows that the writer is thinking carefully about the responses of readers, anticipating the objections that many readers may have. Introducing the reader to some of the positions opposed to your own, and showing how you can deal with possible objections can thus work to "inoculate" the reader against counterarguments.
3. By contrasting one's position with the arguments or alternative hypotheses one is against, one clarifies the position that is being argued for.
When dealing with objections or counterarguments, authors tend to take one of three approaches.
- Strategic concession: acknowledgment of some of the merits of a different view. In some cases, this may mean accepting or incorporating some components of an authors' argument, while rejecting other parts of it.
- Refutation: this involves being able to show important weaknesses and shortcomings in an opponent's position that demonstrate that his/her argument ought to be rejected.
- Demonstration of irrelevance: showing that the issue in question is to be understood such that opposing views, while perhaps valid in certain respects, do not in fact meet the criteria of relevance that you believe define the issue.
How well authors produce rebuttals and deal with counter-arguments is an important part of how we evaluate the success of an argument.
This handout is adapted from the following: http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/rgass/toulmin2.htm.