Toulmin Argument Essay
Stephen Toulmin, a British philosopher and educator, developed a method of argumentation which emphasized the justification of ideas.
His method is based on a legal model of argumentation in which a writer imagines an audience that needs proof to believe an assertion similar to the needs of a jury in a trial. In addition, the writer imagines an adversary who questions the argument's reasoning, similar to an opposing attorney who will argue against him or her.
If the writer only considers the "jury," he or she would not anticipate weaknesses in the argument or any counter-arguments. If the writer only considers the "opposing counsel," he or she may become lost in nitpicking fine points and may fail to provide enough support for a convincing argument.
According to Toulmin's method, an argument is comprised of six elements:
- Claim: the inference that can be drawn and must be justified.
- Qualifier: a limitation of a claim which is indicated by using certain words such as "likely," "probably," or "maybe."
- Grounds: the facts and information available to the writer or speaker that support the claim.
- Warrant: general statement that "licenses" the writer to draw an inference from the grounds (similar to a search warrant that provides authorization to search a house).
- Backing: information that substantiates a warrant since warrants may be open to question.
- Conditions of rebuttal: points out instances that are not covered by the warrant.
Here is a brief example of the Toulmin method:
- Claim: The San Francisco Giants will win the World Series.
- Qualifier: probably
- Grounds: The Giants have the best pitching staff in baseball based on records of starters and relievers.
- Warrant: Pitching is the key to winning baseball games. (The audience must agree with this assertion. If it is open to question, the writer needs to provide backing to make it believable. See below.)
- Backing: Statistical evidence shows a correlation between strong pitching and winning.
- Condition of Rebuttal: If their defense collapses, they may not win.