Toulmin Argument Method

 

 

Stephen Toulmin was a contemporary philosopher who contributed a great deal to understanding and critiquing arguments using a technique based on his work.

 

It is important to know how to read an argument critically.

 

·        Breaking down the different points of an argument.

·        How the points are constructed together.

·        Noting in the margins undefined terms.

·        Raising questions about the writer’s claims.

·        Raising questions about the writer’s evidence.

 

The Toulmin method will allow you to analyze the logic of any argument, whether it is written or spoken, ( Crusius and Channell, 2000).

 

A step-by-step demonstration of the Toulmin Method

 

The Toulmin method requires

1.    the analysis of the claim

2.    The reasons offered to support the claim

3.    The evidence to support the claim

4.    The analysis of any refutations offered

 

 

1. Analyzing the claim:

 

Logical analysis begins with identifying the claim, the thesis or central idea, along with any specific qualifications or exceptions.

 

Identify the claim:

 

To identify the claim, first ask yourself, what statement is the author defending?

 

 

Look for qualifiers:

 

Next ask yourself, how is the claim qualified?

 

Is it absolute or does it include words or phrases to indicate that it may not hold true in every situation or set of circumstances.

 

Qualifiers include words and phrases such as “on the whole”, “typically”, “usually”, and “most of the time”.

 

Careful arguers are generally wary of making absolute claims.

 

Qualifying words or phrases are often used to restrict a claim and improve its defensibility.

 

Find the exceptions:

 

Finally ask, in what cases or circumstances would the writer not press his or her claim?

 

Critical readers respond to unqualified claims sceptically – by hunting for exceptions. With qualified claims, they look to see what specific exceptions the writer will admit and what considerations make restrictions necessary or desirable.

 

Summarize the claim: 

 

Qualifier “On the whole”

Claim,      “our social policy should allow terminal patients to die 

                but it should not regularize killing for mercy”

Exception “when the patient is utterly beyond human care,

                 terminal and in excruciating pain”.

 

To summarize the claim is to build on an analysis that can be used to critique the argument in more detail.

 

2. Analyzing the reasons:

 

Once you have analyzed the claim, you should next identify and evaluate the reasons offered for the claim.

List the reasons:

 

Begin by asking yourself why is the writer advancing this claim?

 

Look for any statement or statements that are used to justify the thesis.

 

When you list the reasons, you need not preserve the exact words of the arguer, often doing so is impossible, because reasons are not always explicit but may be inferred.

 

Examine the reasons:

 

First ask are they really good reasons?

 

A reason is only as good as the values it invokes or implies. A value is something we think is good – that is worth pursuing for its own sake because it leads to attaining other goods.

 

Second ask is the reason relevant to the thesis? In other words, does the relationship between the claim and the reason hold up to examination?

 

Be careful and deliberate as you examine whether reasons are good and whether they are relevant. No other step is important in assessing the logic of an argument, and no other can be quite as tricky.

 

3. Analyzing the Evidence:

 

List the evidence:

 

Ask what kinds of evidence, data, anecdotes, case studies, citations etc. are offered as support for each reason.

 

Examine the evidence:

 

Two questions apply. First ask is the evidence good? That is, is it sufficient, accurate and credible?

 

Second ask is it relevant to the reason it supports?

 

4. Noting Refutations:

 

A final- and optional- step is to assess an arguer’s refutations. In a refutation a writer anticipates potential objections to his or her position and tries to show why they do not undermine the basic argument.

 

Refutations do not relate directly to claims, reasons or evidence.

 

First ask what refutations does the writer offer?

 

Summarize all the refutations and list them on your tree diagram of claims, reasons and evidence.

 

Then ask how does the writer approach each objection?

 

Summarizing your analysis.

 

Once you have completed your analysis, it is a good idea to summarize the results in a paragraph or two.

 

Be sure to set aside your own position on the issue, confining your summary to the argument the writer makes.

 

Often the linkage between the reasons and the claim fall short!

 

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Sources:

 

Crusius, Timothy. A. and Channell, Carolyn. E. (2000). The Aims of Argument: A Rhetoric and Reader. Mayfield Publishing Company. Mountain View, California.