Digging Deep with Arguments

Before getting into argument components and all their wonder, here is a quick note about analysis:

Whenever we look to study anything, need to have very specific data to analyze.  Consider the following things: “ Hollywood horror film,” “office memo for a large company,” “store sign.”  Though these are more specific than their larger counterparts—movies, office documents, signs—they are still fairly abstract.  These are what we can refer to as “types” of things, rather than specific “tokens.”  We can make “store sign” more specific by looking at particular film—say, the Apple Store sign.  This gets us closer to a token of the type “store sign.”  Though, it could get even more precise.  A token could be the Apple Store sign at Short Pump Mall.  When using primary texts for our purposes with the CAP, we want something closer to a token than a type.

Consider this range of specificity:

Very Abstract: Social Media
Abstract: Facebook
Concrete: My Facebook Profile Page
Very Concrete: A full screenshot of my Facebook page from today, or, my status updates from the past week.

We need very concrete texts because they afford us actual hard data we can use pull out for analysis: looking at everything on the page and picking out salient parts for evidence given your angle/perspective.

OKAY.  Now we’re ready for the argument talk.

Simply put, an argument is a set of reasons (we can also call them premises) working together to show why a thesis is true.   People discuss ‘argument’ differently given particular disciplines. Philosophers, for instance, typically break arguments down formally into premises and conclusions. Consider the following example:

Premise 1: If the building is burning down, then we should run like hell.
Premise 2: The building is burning down!
Therefore, we should run like hell!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is an example of a formal argument where the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises—meaning, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. Though we can break arguments down this way, we typically don’t make formal arguments in common conversation and writing. Rather, we typically use informal ways of discussing arguments like enthymemes (or brief arguments). Here is the same argument as an enthymeme:

We should run like hell (claim) because the building is burning down! (reason)

From here we get to the elements of argument we have discussed so far in class:
Claim: The point you’re trying to prove true
Evidence: The data you interpret to support your reasoning
Reasoning: Your explanation of how/why the evidence supports the claim

We can think of these as the logical elements (logos) of argument. Though, as we began discussing today, it’s not always enough for an argument to be persuasive merely based on the strength of the writer’s claim, evidence, and reasoning.  Arguments are rhetorical endeavors; you must think about the specific audience you are addressing and how an argument is appropriately tailored given this audience.  Thus, it’s important to understand the moments in your argument where you need to spend time explaining your assumptions and beliefs/principles you’re invoking to frame and support your work.  Otherwise, your argument will have limited success.

From here, we get the importance of these:
Warrants: The belief/principles) connecting one’s reasoning to his/her claim.

Warrants are imperative when making arguments and are usually where issues arise with readers: why they would disagree and potentially oppose what you’re selling.  They are also, at times, tricky to understand.  Warrants involve the relevance of a reason, and the relevance is not something where everyone will necessarily agree.  They are principles that are often based in our societal commitments–and we know we all don’t share the same commitments.  Similarly, we won’t all agree on the truth of all warrants.

In certain instances, we don’t have to explain our warrants when making arguments.  Consider the brief building burning argument above. The warrant connecting the reason to the claim would be something like, we don’t want to die. You probably wouldn’t even need to go far past “The burning is building!” to convince someone to run.  However, there isn’t much work being done here.  More complex arguments–even slightly more complex arguments–need explicit warrants.  Consider my example in class today with drinking coffee. The conversation could go like this:

You: Ryan, you shouldn’t be drinking coffee right now (claim) because you’re sick (reason).
Me: Why does being sick matter with drinking coffee?
You: Coffee dehydrates you (evidence) and will deplete your body causing you to stay sick longer. Since you want to get better as quickly as possible (warrant), you should cut the coffee for now.
Me: Ah, fair enough. But I need coffee to get through the day. Have you seen me without it? No, because it’s the worst! I become this terrible monster, like a Gorg. Since no one wants to be around a terrible Gorg Ryan (warrant), I’m going to take the hit, enjoy my drink, and just suck down more Emergen-C.

(Note: It’s really not that bad. I’ve cut consumption quite a bit)

Though you may make a valuable case why I shouldn’t drink coffee while I’m sick and want to get better—and I do—it doesn’t trump my commitment to wanting to drink and be merry. This is why the logical elements of argument are not enough on their own: audience matters. The point: many warrants can be at play and compete at any given time. Because of this, you need to make sure that they are relevant, specific, and superior to other warrants.

Core concepts from readings act as warrants for your own work.  You will not use them as mere evidence for your argument (like you would reports of data, for instance).  Rather, you will take the claims/assertions of the authors we have discussed and apply them to your primary text: resting on what they have said for support.  When looking to core readings (and any source you may use ever in life) for warrants to utilize for your own work, look for argumentative moments where the authors are positing a view rather than just providing a description of something.

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