The 12+12 Books of Christmas #11

WP_20151201_22_49_53_Pro 1If you are philosophically inclined and are interested in winning arguments, Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument might just be your ticket to world domination. Toulmin was a student of Wittgenstein and John Wisdom. He worked for half a century. He even came over to my university once to give a talk. He got around and he started his amazing career with this book.

There is an amazingly insightful analysis of various kinds of arguments in the book that are finally condensed to the Toulmin model. The model is usually the only thing people know about the book, which is a bit of a shame but understandable, because it is a really powerful tool:

toulmin model

The claim is what the author of the argument wants to relate to the audience and convince them to accept as a true statement. The evidence for the claim is presented to the audience as the grounds to or the reason for making the claim. The warrant supports the inference–the “therefore” or the reason for making the specific claim based on the evidence–and explains why the leap from the evidence to the claim can be made. The backing explains why the inference is warranted, i.e. why it is reasonable to infer the claim from the evidence and why the warrant is valid. The rebuttal anticipates objections to the claim. The qualifier acknowledges valid objections and adjusts the argument to accommodate for them by introducing contingency or making concessions.

If that is all you know about academic discourse and argumentation, you will go far. It is astonishing we had to wait until the year 2015 to get a Finnish translation of the work, but now we have one: Argumentit. As a big fan of the original, I’m thrilled to see it translated into my native language. Ḿaybe it will signal the dawn of a new era in my home country where people make sense and argue their cases from sound principles. Or, if you are a cynic, we can at least wish for nonsense of a much higher caliber from the one we’ve seen until now.

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