The classic argument—meaning the persuasive framework of statements and evidence as opposed to the kind where you argue with some jerk in the street over a parking spot that was clearly yours—often comes across as a tangle of premises and conclusions, syllogisms and fallacies. These rhetorical constructs often obscure the fundamentals of just getting a point across. Fortunately, British philosopher and educator Stephen Edelston Toulmin offered a simple way to describe the elements of arguments.
Touliman’s model distills a practical argument down to three essentials: claims, evidence, and warrants. Every argument must start with a claim. Call it a proposition, position, or hypothesis, but the claim is a definitive statement that underlies the thesis of the argument and demands support.
“Summer is the best season of the year.”
This claim, free of qualifiers or exceptions, stakes a strong but surely disputable position. This is important, because any claim worth arguing must be debatable or opinionated. Thus, asserting simply that summer is a season doesn’t count as a claim, since the statement is indisputably true.
Claims generally fall into three broad categories:
Claims of Fact
A claim of fact asserts something as empirically true. Whether such a claim defines a specific phenomenon or a cause and effect relationship, the argument that follows will have to provide strong factual evidence in support.
Example: “Smart study over the summer leads to academic success during the school year.”
Claims of Value
A claim of value asserts a comparative judgement. Any claim that marks one option as better or worse than other options is a claim of value. Often, factual evidence alone isn’t enough to substantiate such claims, so their arguments also rest on social proof and personal experience.
Example: “Nothing is better than a day at the beach on a hot summer day.”
Claims of Policy
A claim of policy asserts that certain actions should be either taken or avoided. The claims can be challenging to support because they often assume claims of fact or value. Examine and address assumptions carefully.
Example: “The best way to combat summer brain drain is to read a book a week.”
Of course, a claim on its own is not an argument. If you want to persuade someone, you need to provide sufficient evidence and warrants to support your claim…