on 17 July 2007
This is a fantastic book. I am a philosophy graduate and ph.d. student - to my knowledge this is the best book on arguing and reasoning ever written. The book is thus worth reading for several purposes; if you just want to be better at understanding and providing arguments in life in general, or if you are a student and want to write better essays and papers. It provides practical examples, and a model for understanding arguments. The model is simple and straightforward, simply because it accurately describes what a good argument is in the western world.
Toulmin critizes the analytical tradition. As Toulmin says, there are very few genuinely pure analytical arguments in real life; it is much more messy. The analytical standard (pure logic) is thus often meaningless. An analytical based doubt does not necessarily make sense. As Aristotle once wrote (could have been Toulmins words):
...it is a mark of the trained mind never to expect more precision in the treatment of any subject than the nature of that subject permits; for demanding logical demonstrations from a teacher of rhetoric is clearly about as reasonable as accepting mere plausibility from a mathematician...
The basic relevant terms (when it comes to arguments and reasoning), according to Toulmin are: Claims, qualifiers, warrants, backing and rebuttal. You make CLAIMS based on DATA that involve some kind of QUALIFER (always, sometimes, hardly etc.), but in order to be credible you have to be able to provide WARRANTS for your claim. And you might have to provide BACKING for your warrant. For instance: Peter is born on the Faroe Islands (data). Since a person born there is usually is a danish citizen given the danish laws (warrant), then, presumably (qualifier), unless his parents are foreigners or Peter has changed citizenship (rebuttals), Peter will be a danish citizen (claim / conclusion). Thus, the claim can be questioned both by questioning the data or the warrant.
Another interesting example relates to the term "can not". Toulmin shows that it can mean so many different things: a) You can not lift this object, it is too heavy. b) You can not talk about a fox's tail, it is a linguistic error. c) You can not refer to a male sister, it does not make sense. d) You can not smoke in here, it is forbidden. e) You can not just turn your back on your son, it is morally wrong. f) You can not calculate the exact square root of 2, it is mathematically impossible. g) You can not ask for the weight of fire, it is a conceptual contradiction. The "can nots" refer to many different things. For instance, you actually could smoke where it is forbidden, while you never could provide the square root of two. The criteria are thus very different, from context to context.
I could provie quite a few further interesting analysis and examples fromt he book. My claim would be that a regular student could improve him/herself one grade by reading and understanding this book.
PS: Toulmin thus explains the following problem, that is stated in Lewis Caroll's "What the Tortoise said to Achilles":
The Tortoise says:
(A) Things that are equal to the same are equal to each other.
(B) The two sides of this triangle are things that are equal to the same.
(C) If A and B are true, Z must be true.
(Z) The two sides of this Triangle are equal to each other.
"You should call it D, not Z," said Achilles. "It comes next to the other three. If you accept A and B and C, you must accept Z."
"And why must I?"
"Because it follows logically from them. If A and B and C are true, Z must be true. You don't dispute that, I imagine?"
"If A and B and C are true, Z must be true," the Tortoise thoughtfully repeated. "That's another hypothetical, isn't it? And, if I failed to see its truth, I might accept A and B and C, and still not accept Z, mightn't I?
"You might," the candid hero admitted...(1895)