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Toulmin Argument Model

Toulmin Argument Model

Author: Gavin McCall
Description:

This lesson teaches the basics of argumentation using the Toulmin model.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? We're going to talk about one of the many models of argumentation, the Toulmin Model. We'll look at what it is, and when it can be the best choice for a writer contemplating the format of an upcoming essay, and then we'll look at an example.

Compositionists recognize several different models or methods of constructing arguments. Today, we'll focusing on the Toulmin Model. But before we begin, I should say that there's no such thing as the right or best model of argumentation, just models that seem to work better in certain situations than others, and models that some writers prefer over others for more personal reasons. Writers new to this or any other model of argumentation should consider its qualities and priorities but always within the context of their own writing needs.

The point of learning these models is to give beginning writers options that they can consider during many stages of the writing process, including brainstorming, pre-writing, especially while outlining, and during the drafting or revision processes. And writers who are familiar with multiple argumentation models will be able to pick and choose from them in order to build the best argument for their subject and purpose.

The model of argumentation we'll be looking at today, the Toulmin Model, was created and named after the rhetorician and philosopher Stephen Toulmin. It's a methodology for organizing and structuring arguments, designed to support complicated, abstract, or consistently debatable claims. It's particularly relevant academic argument because of its effective method for supporting the thesis.

The Toulmin Model emphasizes sorting ideas in order to find the best ones and then providing them strong support. This model can be applied to an entire essay or each paragraph. One of the apparent downsides of this model is that it comes with a specific vocabulary or jargon, but it's best not to let that distract you from learning the useful ideas that they represent.

This model includes the following components-- the claim, which is a statement the writer wants the reader to believe or accept. At the essay level, the claim may be the thesis or part of the thesis, while at the level of the paragraph, it'll usually be the topic sentence. Then there are grounds, the evidence, either data, facts, or logic that backs up or supports the claim.

The model also uses warrants, which are the information or reasoning that connects the claims to the grounds. These could be either stated outright, or they can be assumed and left unstated if the connection between the claim and the grounds is obvious enough. Backing is further support provided when the audience is unlikely to accept the warrant without further evidence.

And we also need to have the rebuttal, or counterargument, which accounts for likely objections to the claim. And finally, the model requires qualifiers, which are words or phrases that indicate the writer's level of certainty regarding the claim or that add nuance to the claim. The elements often, but not always, appear in this order in an essay. It all depends on the writer's judgment.

There are several reasons a writer might choose the Toulmin Model for a particular writing project. The first and probably the most common is that the Toulmin Model allows the writer to fully develop the reasoning behind any argument. It could also be effective when an argument is complex, detailed, or nuanced, and the claims, as stated, need to be thoroughly defended.

So, since it provides a clear structure for presenting a well-supported argument, many writers prefer to work and think with the Toulmin Model and its vocabulary. It's an effective model for arguments focusing on explaining a position thoroughly without necessarily trying to win, but still trying to communicate a valid argument with good support. It's also a common approach in modern academic discourse. So, often enough, this model is expected within certain academic discourse communities.

All this being said, sometimes the Toulmin Model isn't right for the job. If, say, the writer has a fairly straightforward argument to make, this relatively complicated structure may not be the most efficient way to go about making it. And now we're going to look at an outline of an essay written through the Toulmin Model.

The claim of its introduction would be that Columbus Day should be changed to Indigenous People's Day, as it recently was in the city of Seattle, because this would better honor American history. The grounds to support this claim would be, first, that Columbus did not, in fact, discover America, and honor that goes to Norse explorer Leif Ericson. And second, that Columbus landed where he dud on accident, miscalculating his intended route to the East Indies.

Third, that Columbus was truly horrible to the native populations he came into contact with, including torture and enslaved men. Thus, making the switch to Indigenous People's Day particularly relevant. And fourth, Columbus's history is literally whitewashed in public schools in order to justify the holiday, which is a failure of education.

And the warrants or backing for these grounds are as follows. We should not celebrate or honor those who committed horrific acts. Even though history is rife with troubling figures, we can study them without honoring them. And second, we shouldn't lie about history in order to justify holidays or other behaviors. Yes, we agree to shelter children from disturbing information, but sheltering them should not include deliberately misleading them. And three, indigenous peoples deserve to be recognized and honored as important figures in American history. Even though white Europeans created the United States of America, they're not the only contributors to its development.

And the rebuttal or counterargument could be that Columbus Day should not be changed, but rather that we should use it as an opportunity to tell the truth about his colonization and understand more about our history. And in order to refute that claim, the essay would argue that even if we were to take this approach, just giving him a holiday at all emphasizes Columbus as a historical contributor rather than historical menace. The qualifier for this essay's claim would be that although Columbus is a problematic figure, he is historically important as a navigator and for helping to permanently alter the relationship between Europe and, what was then referred to as, the New World.

And the thing is, the Toulmin Model can also be applied to the paragraph level of an essay. Take this paragraph, for example. First, I'll read through it, and then we'll match the components of the Toulmin Model into this paragraph. "A "flipped classroom" model improved student engagement during class time. Because students learn the material at their own pace at home, they can then drawn the teacher and peers during class to enhance their assignments and cement learning. Clearly, we should embrace anything that improves student outcomes. A test case at San Jose University showed that in a key engineering course, "even though the mid-term questions were more difficult for the flipped students, their median score was still 10 to 11 points higher." However, some counter that in our rush to embrace new technology, we're throwing the baby out with the bath water, jettisoning effective teaching methods in favor of anything new. While we should not drop methods that have proven effective, we should also not keep methods simply because they're old, particularly given the exciting potential of digital technologies."

Now, as we can see, the first sentence here is the claim, and it's being supported by the grounds in the second. And the third sentence here is the warrant connecting the grounds to the claim. And for more support as a backing, we have the fourth sentence. The fifth functions as a counterargument with a rebuttal and a qualifier at the end, adding a little nuance to the paragraph.

And now for one more paragraph. It reads, "we should abolish juries and instead allow computers to determine the likelihood that a person will reoffend as our method for sentencing criminals. Because humans are incapable of being unbiased, they bring those biases-- even unconscious ones-- to their service on juries, making this human judgment inherently unfair. Just should be meted out without bias, but humans are incapable of actually achieving this ideal. Furthermore, a 2010 study by the Equal Justice Initiative showed problematic and illegal discrimination against racial minorities being on juries, just another example of all too human bias across the legal spectrum. The idea of surrendering human judgment to a computer is disturbing because we prefer to believe that heart and rationality can mete out justice in a manner better than the cold calculations of a computer. However, those cold calculations remove, or at least mitigate, leading to a system that is actually more just overall."

And for this paragraph, as well, each sentence functions as part of the Toulmin Model. The first sentence is the claim, followed by grounds, and a warrant to connect them. And then, for further support, a sentence backing and a counterargument with rebuttal. And finally, we end with a qualifier.

What have we learned today? We learned about the Toulmin Model, one of the many models for argumentation. We learned about its component parts and looked at situations it is and is not well suited for. Then we looked at some examples. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Toulmin Model of Argumentation

    A methodology for organizing and structuring arguments, created by rhetorician Stephen Toulmin, and designed to support complicated, abstract, or consistently debateable claims.

  • Claim

    In the Toulmin argumentation model, a statement a writer wants the reader to believe or accept.

  • Grounds

    In the Toulmin argumentation model, evidence (data, facts, logic) that backs up or supports the claim.

  • Warrant

    In the Toulmin argumentation model, the information or reasoning that connects the claim to the grounds.

  • Backing

    In the Toulmin argumentation model, further support provided when the audience is unlikely to accept the warrant without further evidence.

  • Rebuttal or Counterargument

    In the Toulmin argumentation accounting for likely objections to the claim.

  • Qualifier

    In the Toulmin argumentation model, words or phrases that indicate the writer's level of certainty regarding the claim or add nuance to the claim.