By Emily K. Tudorache
Every university student has been told at one time or another that college is about developing new opinions. One way that we as students develop these new opinions is through argumentative writing. Professors are constantly asking us to make a claim and defend our honor for the sake of higher education. Organizing our thoughts into a coherent argument can be pretty daunting, but fortunately there is a way to potentially make it easier: the Toulmin Method of Logic.
Stephen Edleston Toulmin was a British philosopher who dedicated his life to the study of ethics and moral language. He developed the Toulmin Method as a way of organizing the individual aspects of persuasion into a web that would address the parts necessary to constructing a convincing argument (“Stephen Edleston Toulmin,” 2009). Although his method was designed to be a tool for analyzing and understanding the arguments of others, we can use it to develop an outline for a persuasive paper.
The Toulmin Method goes like this (featuring an example from Harry Potter, complete with spoilers):
Here you identify the main claim of your argument, whether it is your thesis that encompasses the whole paper or a subclaim for a supporting paragraph. A clear and concise claim will make the rest of this process go smoothly and make generating the thesis and topic sentences easier.
For example, if my main point was to argue the negative effects of the horcrux inside Harry, one subclaim I could make would be that the Dursleys were awful to Harry as a result of being exposed to the horcrux for so many years.
This is where you elaborate on the reasoning behind your claim. It should be an explanation of the logic you developed to reach the claim you’re making, not cited evidence from an outside source. Your own thoughts are important here.
A reason behind the subclaim about the Dursleys could be this: “Horcrux exposure can alter people’s moods, making them more irritable and cruel.”
Provide a piece of evidence that supports your reasoning. Now, this is where you bring in sufficient and reputable facts from an outside source. These can be statistics, quotes from experts, testimonies, and other forms of concrete evidence. In more personal narratives, it’s possible that these pieces may be an anecdote or memory.
My evidence for this example would be: “When Ron had to wear Slytherin’s locket in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he became resentful of Harry and lashed out at his friends, eventually causing him to leave the group.”
In this step, identify some possible arguments against your claim. The strongest arguments include acknowledging the “other side” and their views. By being able to recognize how others may see the issue and effectively argue against it, your own stance becomes harder to refute.
One counterclaim against our little fan theory points out that Professor McGonagall stated at the beginning of the first book that the Dursleys were already bad people, so there’s no way to determine that their behavior was a result of being exposed to the horcrux in Harry.
Address your opponent’s counterclaim by respectfully providing the evidence and reasoning you have against it. Pointing out a counterclaim and not providing a rebuttal makes your own argument weaker, so this part is critical to fortifying your stance against the opposition.
A respectful rebuttal to the counterclaim may sound like this: “It’s true Professor McGonagall did find the Dursleys distasteful, but this does not totally explain their behavior. Although Petunia is shown to have disliked her sister’s magical qualities, evidence is given throughout the books to support the notion that Petunia did care for her sister, so it’s unlikely she would severely abuse her nephew—who was only a young child—simply out of spite.”
There you have it—the five basic steps of building an argument using the Toulmin Method of Logic. You may repeat this process as many times as is necessary to construct an argumentative essay of the proper length or complexity. Now go forth, student, and show the world—or maybe just your philosophy professor—your freshly honed argumentative skills.
Stephen Edleston Toulmin. (2009). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Stephen-Edelston-Toulmin.