Chapter Four: Identifying Arguments
Identification of arguments serves as the focus for the theoretical work in
this chapter. The discussion of identifying arguments resolved into two
sections, viz., the context of argument and the rhetoric of
argument. In the former, we explored various contexts in which arguments
are typically found. In the latter, we addressed the ways of speaking that
are manifest in argumentative discourse, including those ways that signal the
presence of argument. The bulk of this section is devoted to illustrations of
argument identification, using three texts for the purpose. The teaching
points and instructional tips that precede these illustrations can be used to
prepare students to produce argument identification work of the sort on display
in the Illustrations section.
II. Teaching Points
II. Instructional Ideas
In what follows, I examine three texts: a debate, a column, and a scientific brief. In each my goal is to identify arguments. Each piece considered is drawn from an argument context: a magazine that delivers articles intended to shape public opinion, an opinion page of a major newspaper, and a science magazine. Thus, we should approach these expecting to find arguments. However, in each of these, as we will see, there are several arguments. The first step toward understanding and evaluating the reasoning contained in these pieces is to identify the arguments they contain. Once identified, we can reconstruct the reasoning for the purpose of evaluation, which we will do in subsequent Applications sections, but first things first.
A. An Interview with Mario Benedetti
This is part of an interview located on a website devoted to news and opinion about political events; as such, it surely qualifies as an argument context. Interviews, however, are an interesting thing to study in connection with argument identification, for three reasons. First, they come as close to a conversation as one is likely to find in a text, and can be used as a model for what is to be done with actual speech. Second, they contain much that is non-argumentative, so we must be on our guard as we work our way through it. Third, arguments could be indicated by the interaction of interviewer and subject, such as when the subject answers a question that serves up part of an argument.
In this piece, Ana Anabiarte asks many questions designed to reveal Benedetti's opinions, and this sort of question is likely to yield arguments at some point. Most of the lengthier responses contain arguments, even though not all of them contain argument terms. There are a few, however, that do. In particular, Benedetti uses "because" to mark reasons on four occasions, viz., in his second, third, fourth, and ninth responses. In each of these places, the term marks a reason and not a cause. An unequivocal conclusion marker appears in the sixth response, viz., "therefore". Note also that "if" in the preceding sentence marks a reason.
The nature of the questions and the appearance of the verbal cues reveals much that is argumentative about this exchange. They do not reveal all of the argumentation, howevera fair bit of it must be recovered through close attention paid to the give and take between Benedetti and Anabiarte. In all there are at least eight arguments to be found in the text. These are located in responses 1, 2, 3, 4 (two arguments), 5, 8, 9, and 10. One might also interpret response 6 as containing an argument about Zedillos performance with the EZLN talks. It seems as though it should contain an argument, as Benedetti is passing judgment on Zedillo, but the remarks concerning pressure do not appear to relate in any explicit or implicit way to the judgment; hence, I withhold judgment on whether there is an argument there. I return to this interview in Chapter Five, where I reconstruct the arguments it contains, and in Chapter Six, where I evaluate those arguments.
B. Jonathan Alter on the Death Penalty
Here the piece is found in the Opinion section, an argument context if there ever was one. But it reads less like an argument and more like a collection of anecdotes. Beyond the fact that it is an opinion piece, what clues have we that this piece contains an argument or arguments? There are several.
Consider the second paragraph. It begins with an announcement that Alter has changed his position, typically a sign that the new position will receive a defense in the context of the essay, especially when it is announced early and prominently. On the heels of this, Alter uses the term "first", which in this context announces a reason why he has changed his position; as such, it marks a reason, even though it is not generally used in that role. At the end of the paragraph, we have a question highlighting the quandary that frames much of the rest of the piece. Since an answer to it would supply a reason that explains his change of position, it serves to point the way to reasons in this essay. The question is answered immediately in paragraph three, and rhetorical questions in paragraphs three and seven serve to reinforce this answer. In paragraph eight, we find the phrase, "the bottom line," which marks conclusions; in this case, the conclusion relates to the line of reasoning initiated in the previous paragraph. Another argument term shows up in paragraph nine, where the first "because" serves to mark a reason; the second occurrence of "because", however, does not mark a reason--it indicates a causal relationship. Finally, there is the reason marker, "One reason," in paragraph ten.
While these structural and verbal cues are not sufficient to render the arguments in the piece obvious, they nevertheless establish that there are arguments in it. Further examination of the column reveals two general argumentative strands: one for a moratorium on executions, and another that urges skepticism about George W. Bushs ability to lead. The first of these is located in paragraphs 1 through 9, whereas the latter is located in paragraphs 10 and 11. Additional argumentation in paragraphs 2 and 3 through 9 is intended to support premises in the first of these main arguments. Beyond reassuring the critical thinker that there are arguments in this argument context, they will help guide her as she develops a more detailed account of the reasoning. I return to this piece here and reconstruct the reasoning, before evaluating it here.
C. Geckos and Sticky Feet
Popular science magazines, such as Scientific American, can read as though they are delivering facts that stand in no need of support. This is especially true in the early sections of an issue, where you find science briefs, such as this one on gecko feet. But the appearance that arguments are lacking is typically misleading, as most of these magazines supply the reader with insight into the empirical evidence that guides the research, and the relationship between the evidence and the scientific claim is that of reason to conclusion.
In this short article, the author makes liberal use of argument cues. The focus of the article is delivered with a question in the first paragraph--given the brevity of the article and the prominence of this question, it is safe to assume that the subsequent discussion will be designed to answer it. Later in the first paragraph, we find "according to" used in connection with a report to deliver a reason for a conclusion which is marked by the term "determined". Later, in paragraph four, "by" marks a reason, and "indicated" marks a conclusion. We find our final marker in the last sentence, where "considering" serves up a reason.
Once again, the markers make it plain that arguments abound in this piece. Being a short and focused piece, this article devotes a considerable amount of available space to the primary argument for the conclusion that van der Waals forces are what bind gecko feet to surfaces. Most of paragraphs 1 through 4 are devoted to it, in fact. Only the fifth paragraph moves away from the primary argument, serving up additional speculative wonders about gecko feet. If care is taken, reconstruction of this reasoning should proceed apace.