The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What this handout is about

This handout will define what an argument is and explain why you need one in most of your academic essays.

Arguments are everywhere

You may be surprised to hear that the word “argument” does not have to be written anywhere in your assignment for it to be an important part of your task. In fact, making an argument—expressing a point of view on a subject and supporting it with evidence—is often the aim of academic writing. Your instructors may assume that you know this and thus may not explain the importance of arguments in class.

Most material you learn in college is or has been debated by someone, somewhere, at some time. Even when the material you read or hear is presented as a simple fact, it may actually be one person’s interpretation of a set of information. Instructors may call on you to examine that interpretation and defend it, refute it, or offer some new view of your own. In writing assignments, you will almost always need to do more than just summarize information that you have gathered or regurgitate facts that have been discussed in class. You will need to develop a point of view on or interpretation of that material and provide evidence for your position.

Consider an example. For nearly 2000 years, educated people in many Western cultures believed that bloodletting—deliberately causing a sick person to lose blood—was the most effective treatment for a variety of illnesses. The claim that bloodletting is beneficial to human health was not widely questioned until the 1800s, and some physicians continued to recommend bloodletting as late as the 1920s. Medical practices have now changed because some people began to doubt the effectiveness of bloodletting; these people argued against it and provided convincing evidence. Human knowledge grows out of such differences of opinion, and scholars like your instructors spend their lives engaged in debate over what claims may be counted as accurate in their fields. In their courses, they want you to engage in similar kinds of critical thinking and debate.

Argumentation is not just what your instructors do. We all use argumentation on a daily basis, and you probably already have some skill at crafting an argument. The more you improve your skills in this area, the better you will be at thinking critically, reasoning, making choices, and weighing evidence.

Making a claim

What is an argument? In academic writing, an argument is usually a main idea, often called a “claim” or “thesis statement,” backed up with evidence that supports the idea. In the majority of college papers, you will need to make some sort of claim and use evidence to support it, and your ability to do this well will separate your papers from those of students who see assignments as mere accumulations of fact and detail. In other words, gone are the happy days of being given a “topic” about which you can write anything. It is time to stake out a position and prove why it is a good position for a thinking person to hold. See our handout on thesis statements .

Claims can be as simple as “Protons are positively charged and electrons are negatively charged,” with evidence such as, “In this experiment, protons and electrons acted in such and such a way.” Claims can also be as complex as “Genre is the most important element to the contract of expectations between filmmaker and audience,” using reasoning and evidence such as, “defying genre expectations can create a complete apocalypse of story form and content, leaving us stranded in a sort of genre-less abyss.” In either case, the rest of your paper will detail the reasoning and evidence that have led you to believe that your position is best.

When beginning to write a paper, ask yourself, “What is my point?” For example, the point of this handout is to help you become a better writer, and we are arguing that an important step in the process of writing effective arguments is understanding the concept of argumentation. If your papers do not have a main point, they cannot be arguing for anything. Asking yourself what your point is can help you avoid a mere “information dump.” Consider this: your instructors probably know a lot more than you do about your subject matter. Why, then, would you want to provide them with material they already know? Instructors are usually looking for two things:

  • Proof that you understand the material
  • A demonstration of your ability to use or apply the material in ways that go beyond what you have read or heard.

This second part can be done in many ways: you can critique the material, apply it to something else, or even just explain it in a different way. In order to succeed at this second step, though, you must have a particular point to argue.

Arguments in academic writing are usually complex and take time to develop. Your argument will need to be more than a simple or obvious statement such as “Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect.” Such a statement might capture your initial impressions of Wright as you have studied him in class; however, you need to look deeper and express specifically what caused that “greatness.” Your instructor will probably expect something more complicated, such as “Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture combines elements of European modernism, Asian aesthetic form, and locally found materials to create a unique new style,” or “There are many strong similarities between Wright’s building designs and those of his mother, which suggests that he may have borrowed some of her ideas.” To develop your argument, you would then define your terms and prove your claim with evidence from Wright’s drawings and buildings and those of the other architects you mentioned.

Do not stop with having a point. You have to back up your point with evidence. The strength of your evidence, and your use of it, can make or break your argument. See our handout on evidence . You already have the natural inclination for this type of thinking, if not in an academic setting. Think about how you talked your parents into letting you borrow the family car. Did you present them with lots of instances of your past trustworthiness? Did you make them feel guilty because your friends’ parents all let them drive? Did you whine until they just wanted you to shut up? Did you look up statistics on teen driving and use them to show how you didn’t fit the dangerous-driver profile? These are all types of argumentation, and they exist in academia in similar forms.

Every field has slightly different requirements for acceptable evidence, so familiarize yourself with some arguments from within that field instead of just applying whatever evidence you like best. Pay attention to your textbooks and your instructor’s lectures. What types of argument and evidence are they using? The type of evidence that sways an English instructor may not work to convince a sociology instructor. Find out what counts as proof that something is true in that field. Is it statistics, a logical development of points, something from the object being discussed (art work, text, culture, or atom), the way something works, or some combination of more than one of these things?

Be consistent with your evidence. Unlike negotiating for the use of your parents’ car, a college paper is not the place for an all-out blitz of every type of argument. You can often use more than one type of evidence within a paper, but make sure that within each section you are providing the reader with evidence appropriate to each claim. So, if you start a paragraph or section with a statement like “Putting the student seating area closer to the basketball court will raise player performance,” do not follow with your evidence on how much more money the university could raise by letting more students go to games for free. Information about how fan support raises player morale, which then results in better play, would be a better follow-up. Your next section could offer clear reasons why undergraduates have as much or more right to attend an undergraduate event as wealthy alumni—but this information would not go in the same section as the fan support stuff. You cannot convince a confused person, so keep things tidy and ordered.


One way to strengthen your argument and show that you have a deep understanding of the issue you are discussing is to anticipate and address counterarguments or objections. By considering what someone who disagrees with your position might have to say about your argument, you show that you have thought things through, and you dispose of some of the reasons your audience might have for not accepting your argument. Recall our discussion of student seating in the Dean Dome. To make the most effective argument possible, you should consider not only what students would say about seating but also what alumni who have paid a lot to get good seats might say.

You can generate counterarguments by asking yourself how someone who disagrees with you might respond to each of the points you’ve made or your position as a whole. If you can’t immediately imagine another position, here are some strategies to try:

  • Do some research. It may seem to you that no one could possibly disagree with the position you are arguing, but someone probably has. For example, some people argue that a hotdog is a sandwich. If you are making an argument concerning, for example, the characteristics of an exceptional sandwich, you might want to see what some of these people have to say.
  • Talk with a friend or with your teacher. Another person may be able to imagine counterarguments that haven’t occurred to you.
  • Consider your conclusion or claim and the premises of your argument and imagine someone who denies each of them. For example, if you argued, “Cats make the best pets. This is because they are clean and independent,” you might imagine someone saying, “Cats do not make the best pets. They are dirty and needy.”

Once you have thought up some counterarguments, consider how you will respond to them—will you concede that your opponent has a point but explain why your audience should nonetheless accept your argument? Will you reject the counterargument and explain why it is mistaken? Either way, you will want to leave your reader with a sense that your argument is stronger than opposing arguments.

When you are summarizing opposing arguments, be charitable. Present each argument fairly and objectively, rather than trying to make it look foolish. You want to show that you have considered the many sides of the issue. If you simply attack or caricature your opponent (also referred to as presenting a “straw man”), you suggest that your argument is only capable of defeating an extremely weak adversary, which may undermine your argument rather than enhance it.

It is usually better to consider one or two serious counterarguments in some depth, rather than to give a long but superficial list of many different counterarguments and replies.

Be sure that your reply is consistent with your original argument. If considering a counterargument changes your position, you will need to go back and revise your original argument accordingly.

Audience is a very important consideration in argument. Take a look at our handout on audience . A lifetime of dealing with your family members has helped you figure out which arguments work best to persuade each of them. Maybe whining works with one parent, but the other will only accept cold, hard statistics. Your kid brother may listen only to the sound of money in his palm. It’s usually wise to think of your audience in an academic setting as someone who is perfectly smart but who doesn’t necessarily agree with you. You are not just expressing your opinion in an argument (“It’s true because I said so”), and in most cases your audience will know something about the subject at hand—so you will need sturdy proof. At the same time, do not think of your audience as capable of reading your mind. You have to come out and state both your claim and your evidence clearly. Do not assume that because the instructor knows the material, he or she understands what part of it you are using, what you think about it, and why you have taken the position you’ve chosen.

Critical reading

Critical reading is a big part of understanding argument. Although some of the material you read will be very persuasive, do not fall under the spell of the printed word as authority. Very few of your instructors think of the texts they assign as the last word on the subject. Remember that the author of every text has an agenda, something that he or she wants you to believe. This is OK—everything is written from someone’s perspective—but it’s a good thing to be aware of. For more information on objectivity and bias and on reading sources carefully, read our handouts on evaluating print sources and reading to write .

Take notes either in the margins of your source (if you are using a photocopy or your own book) or on a separate sheet as you read. Put away that highlighter! Simply highlighting a text is good for memorizing the main ideas in that text—it does not encourage critical reading. Part of your goal as a reader should be to put the author’s ideas in your own words. Then you can stop thinking of these ideas as facts and start thinking of them as arguments.

When you read, ask yourself questions like “What is the author trying to prove?” and “What is the author assuming I will agree with?” Do you agree with the author? Does the author adequately defend her argument? What kind of proof does she use? Is there something she leaves out that you would put in? Does putting it in hurt her argument? As you get used to reading critically, you will start to see the sometimes hidden agendas of other writers, and you can use this skill to improve your own ability to craft effective arguments.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. 2016. The Craft of Research , 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ede, Lisa. 2004. Work in Progress: A Guide to Academic Writing and Revising , 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Gage, John T. 2005. The Shape of Reason: Argumentative Writing in College , 4th ed. New York: Longman.

Lunsford, Andrea A., and John J. Ruszkiewicz. 2016. Everything’s an Argument , 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Rosen, Leonard J., and Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook , 5th ed. New York: Longman.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.

The thesis statement or main claim must be debatable

An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim. In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade people.

Example of a non-debatable thesis statement:

This thesis statement is not debatable. First, the word pollution implies that something is bad or negative in some way. Furthermore, all studies agree that pollution is a problem; they simply disagree on the impact it will have or the scope of the problem. No one could reasonably argue that pollution is unambiguously good.

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

This is an example of a debatable thesis because reasonable people could disagree with it. Some people might think that this is how we should spend the nation's money. Others might feel that we should be spending more money on education. Still others could argue that corporations, not the government, should be paying to limit pollution.

Another example of a debatable thesis statement:

In this example there is also room for disagreement between rational individuals. Some citizens might think focusing on recycling programs rather than private automobiles is the most effective strategy.

The thesis needs to be narrow

Although the scope of your paper might seem overwhelming at the start, generally the narrower the thesis the more effective your argument will be. Your thesis or claim must be supported by evidence. The broader your claim is, the more evidence you will need to convince readers that your position is right.

Example of a thesis that is too broad:

There are several reasons this statement is too broad to argue. First, what is included in the category "drugs"? Is the author talking about illegal drug use, recreational drug use (which might include alcohol and cigarettes), or all uses of medication in general? Second, in what ways are drugs detrimental? Is drug use causing deaths (and is the author equating deaths from overdoses and deaths from drug related violence)? Is drug use changing the moral climate or causing the economy to decline? Finally, what does the author mean by "society"? Is the author referring only to America or to the global population? Does the author make any distinction between the effects on children and adults? There are just too many questions that the claim leaves open. The author could not cover all of the topics listed above, yet the generality of the claim leaves all of these possibilities open to debate.

Example of a narrow or focused thesis:

In this example the topic of drugs has been narrowed down to illegal drugs and the detriment has been narrowed down to gang violence. This is a much more manageable topic.

We could narrow each debatable thesis from the previous examples in the following way:

Narrowed debatable thesis 1:

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just the amount of money used but also how the money could actually help to control pollution.

Narrowed debatable thesis 2:

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just what the focus of a national anti-pollution campaign should be but also why this is the appropriate focus.

Qualifiers such as " typically ," " generally ," " usually ," or " on average " also help to limit the scope of your claim by allowing for the almost inevitable exception to the rule.

Types of claims

Claims typically fall into one of four categories. Thinking about how you want to approach your topic, or, in other words, what type of claim you want to make, is one way to focus your thesis on one particular aspect of your broader topic.

Claims of fact or definition: These claims argue about what the definition of something is or whether something is a settled fact. Example:

Claims of cause and effect: These claims argue that one person, thing, or event caused another thing or event to occur. Example:

Claims about value: These are claims made of what something is worth, whether we value it or not, how we would rate or categorize something. Example:

Claims about solutions or policies: These are claims that argue for or against a certain solution or policy approach to a problem. Example:

Which type of claim is right for your argument? Which type of thesis or claim you use for your argument will depend on your position and knowledge of the topic, your audience, and the context of your paper. You might want to think about where you imagine your audience to be on this topic and pinpoint where you think the biggest difference in viewpoints might be. Even if you start with one type of claim you probably will be using several within the paper. Regardless of the type of claim you choose to utilize it is key to identify the controversy or debate you are addressing and to define your position early on in the paper.

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  • How to write an argumentative essay | Examples & tips

How to Write an Argumentative Essay | Examples & Tips

Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

An argumentative essay expresses an extended argument for a particular thesis statement . The author takes a clearly defined stance on their subject and builds up an evidence-based case for it.

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Table of contents

When do you write an argumentative essay, approaches to argumentative essays, introducing your argument, the body: developing your argument, concluding your argument, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about argumentative essays.

You might be assigned an argumentative essay as a writing exercise in high school or in a composition class. The prompt will often ask you to argue for one of two positions, and may include terms like “argue” or “argument.” It will frequently take the form of a question.

The prompt may also be more open-ended in terms of the possible arguments you could make.

Argumentative writing at college level

At university, the vast majority of essays or papers you write will involve some form of argumentation. For example, both rhetorical analysis and literary analysis essays involve making arguments about texts.

In this context, you won’t necessarily be told to write an argumentative essay—but making an evidence-based argument is an essential goal of most academic writing, and this should be your default approach unless you’re told otherwise.

Examples of argumentative essay prompts

At a university level, all the prompts below imply an argumentative essay as the appropriate response.

Your research should lead you to develop a specific position on the topic. The essay then argues for that position and aims to convince the reader by presenting your evidence, evaluation and analysis.

  • Don’t just list all the effects you can think of.
  • Do develop a focused argument about the overall effect and why it matters, backed up by evidence from sources.
  • Don’t just provide a selection of data on the measures’ effectiveness.
  • Do build up your own argument about which kinds of measures have been most or least effective, and why.
  • Don’t just analyze a random selection of doppelgänger characters.
  • Do form an argument about specific texts, comparing and contrasting how they express their thematic concerns through doppelgänger characters.

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argument or claim

An argumentative essay should be objective in its approach; your arguments should rely on logic and evidence, not on exaggeration or appeals to emotion.

There are many possible approaches to argumentative essays, but there are two common models that can help you start outlining your arguments: The Toulmin model and the Rogerian model.

Toulmin arguments

The Toulmin model consists of four steps, which may be repeated as many times as necessary for the argument:

  • Make a claim
  • Provide the grounds (evidence) for the claim
  • Explain the warrant (how the grounds support the claim)
  • Discuss possible rebuttals to the claim, identifying the limits of the argument and showing that you have considered alternative perspectives

The Toulmin model is a common approach in academic essays. You don’t have to use these specific terms (grounds, warrants, rebuttals), but establishing a clear connection between your claims and the evidence supporting them is crucial in an argumentative essay.

Say you’re making an argument about the effectiveness of workplace anti-discrimination measures. You might:

  • Claim that unconscious bias training does not have the desired results, and resources would be better spent on other approaches
  • Cite data to support your claim
  • Explain how the data indicates that the method is ineffective
  • Anticipate objections to your claim based on other data, indicating whether these objections are valid, and if not, why not.

Rogerian arguments

The Rogerian model also consists of four steps you might repeat throughout your essay:

  • Discuss what the opposing position gets right and why people might hold this position
  • Highlight the problems with this position
  • Present your own position , showing how it addresses these problems
  • Suggest a possible compromise —what elements of your position would proponents of the opposing position benefit from adopting?

This model builds up a clear picture of both sides of an argument and seeks a compromise. It is particularly useful when people tend to disagree strongly on the issue discussed, allowing you to approach opposing arguments in good faith.

Say you want to argue that the internet has had a positive impact on education. You might:

  • Acknowledge that students rely too much on websites like Wikipedia
  • Argue that teachers view Wikipedia as more unreliable than it really is
  • Suggest that Wikipedia’s system of citations can actually teach students about referencing
  • Suggest critical engagement with Wikipedia as a possible assignment for teachers who are skeptical of its usefulness.

You don’t necessarily have to pick one of these models—you may even use elements of both in different parts of your essay—but it’s worth considering them if you struggle to structure your arguments.

Regardless of which approach you take, your essay should always be structured using an introduction , a body , and a conclusion .

Like other academic essays, an argumentative essay begins with an introduction . The introduction serves to capture the reader’s interest, provide background information, present your thesis statement , and (in longer essays) to summarize the structure of the body.

Hover over different parts of the example below to see how a typical introduction works.

The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts is on the rise, and its role in learning is hotly debated. For many teachers who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its critical benefits for students and educators—as a uniquely comprehensive and accessible information source; a means of exposure to and engagement with different perspectives; and a highly flexible learning environment.

The body of an argumentative essay is where you develop your arguments in detail. Here you’ll present evidence, analysis, and reasoning to convince the reader that your thesis statement is true.

In the standard five-paragraph format for short essays, the body takes up three of your five paragraphs. In longer essays, it will be more paragraphs, and might be divided into sections with headings.

Each paragraph covers its own topic, introduced with a topic sentence . Each of these topics must contribute to your overall argument; don’t include irrelevant information.

This example paragraph takes a Rogerian approach: It first acknowledges the merits of the opposing position and then highlights problems with that position.

Hover over different parts of the example to see how a body paragraph is constructed.

A common frustration for teachers is students’ use of Wikipedia as a source in their writing. Its prevalence among students is not exaggerated; a survey found that the vast majority of the students surveyed used Wikipedia (Head & Eisenberg, 2010). An article in The Guardian stresses a common objection to its use: “a reliance on Wikipedia can discourage students from engaging with genuine academic writing” (Coomer, 2013). Teachers are clearly not mistaken in viewing Wikipedia usage as ubiquitous among their students; but the claim that it discourages engagement with academic sources requires further investigation. This point is treated as self-evident by many teachers, but Wikipedia itself explicitly encourages students to look into other sources. Its articles often provide references to academic publications and include warning notes where citations are missing; the site’s own guidelines for research make clear that it should be used as a starting point, emphasizing that users should always “read the references and check whether they really do support what the article says” (“Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia,” 2020). Indeed, for many students, Wikipedia is their first encounter with the concepts of citation and referencing. The use of Wikipedia therefore has a positive side that merits deeper consideration than it often receives.

An argumentative essay ends with a conclusion that summarizes and reflects on the arguments made in the body.

No new arguments or evidence appear here, but in longer essays you may discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your argument and suggest topics for future research. In all conclusions, you should stress the relevance and importance of your argument.

Hover over the following example to see the typical elements of a conclusion.

The internet has had a major positive impact on the world of education; occasional pitfalls aside, its value is evident in numerous applications. The future of teaching lies in the possibilities the internet opens up for communication, research, and interactivity. As the popularity of distance learning shows, students value the flexibility and accessibility offered by digital education, and educators should fully embrace these advantages. The internet’s dangers, real and imaginary, have been documented exhaustively by skeptics, but the internet is here to stay; it is time to focus seriously on its potential for good.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.

An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

The majority of the essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Unless otherwise specified, you can assume that the goal of any essay you’re asked to write is argumentative: To convince the reader of your position using evidence and reasoning.

In composition classes you might be given assignments that specifically test your ability to write an argumentative essay. Look out for prompts including instructions like “argue,” “assess,” or “discuss” to see if this is the goal.

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Argument and Argumentation

Argument is a central concept for philosophy. Philosophers rely heavily on arguments to justify claims, and these practices have been motivating reflections on what arguments and argumentation are for millennia. Moreover, argumentative practices are also pervasive elsewhere; they permeate scientific inquiry, legal procedures, education, and political institutions. The study of argumentation is an inter-disciplinary field of inquiry, involving philosophers, language theorists, legal scholars, cognitive scientists, computer scientists, and political scientists, among many others. This entry provides an overview of the literature on argumentation drawing primarily on philosophical sources, but also engaging extensively with relevant sources from other disciplines.

1. Terminological Clarifications

2.1 deduction, 2.2 induction, 2.3 abduction, 2.4 analogy, 2.5 fallacies, 3.1 adversarial and cooperative argumentation, 3.2 argumentation as an epistemic practice, 3.3 consensus-oriented argumentation, 3.4 argumentation and conflict management, 3.5 conclusion, 4.1 argumentation theory, 4.2 artificial intelligence and computer science, 4.3 cognitive science and psychology, 4.4 language and communication, 4.5 argumentation in specific social practices, 5.1 argumentative injustice and virtuous argumentation, 5.2 emotions and argumentation, 5.3 cross-cultural perspectives on argumentation, 5.4 argumentation and the internet, 6. conclusion, references for the main text, references for the historical supplement, other internet resources, related entries.

An argument can be defined as a complex symbolic structure where some parts, known as the premises, offer support to another part, the conclusion. Alternatively, an argument can be viewed as a complex speech act consisting of one or more acts of premising (which assert propositions in favor of the conclusion), an act of concluding, and a stated or implicit marker (“hence”, “therefore”) that indicates that the conclusion follows from the premises (Hitchcock 2007). [ 1 ] The relation of support between premises and conclusion can be cashed out in different ways: the premises may guarantee the truth of the conclusion, or make its truth more probable; the premises may imply the conclusion; the premises may make the conclusion more acceptable (or assertible).

For theoretical purposes, arguments may be considered as freestanding entities, abstracted from their contexts of use in actual human activities. But depending on one’s explanatory goals, there is also much to be gained from considering arguments as they in fact occur in human communicative practices. The term generally used for instances of exchange of arguments is argumentation . In what follows, the convention of using “argument” to refer to structures of premises and conclusion, and “argumentation” to refer to human practices and activities where arguments occur as communicative actions will be adopted.

Argumentation can be defined as the communicative activity of producing and exchanging reasons in order to support claims or defend/challenge positions, especially in situations of doubt or disagreement (Lewiński & Mohammed 2016). It is arguably best conceived as a kind of dialogue , even if one can also “argue” with oneself, in long speeches or in writing (in articles or books) for an intended but silent audience, or in groups rather than in dyads (Lewiński & Aakhus 2014). But argumentation is a special kind of dialogue: indeed, most of the dialogues we engage in are not instances of argumentation, for example when asking someone if they know what time it is, or when someone shares details about their vacation. Argumentation only occurs when, upon making a claim, someone receives a request for further support for the claim in the form of reasons, or estimates herself that further justification is required (Jackson & Jacobs 1980; Jackson, 2019). In such cases, dialogues of “giving and asking for reasons” ensue (Brandom, 1994; Bermejo Luque 2011). Since most of what we know we learn from others, argumentation seems to be an important mechanism to filter the information we receive, instead of accepting what others tell us uncritically (Sperber, Clément, et al. 2010).

The study of arguments and argumentation is also closely connected to the study of reasoning , understood as the process of reaching conclusions on the basis of careful, reflective consideration of the available information, i.e., by an examination of reasons . According to a widespread view, reasoning and argumentation are related (as both concern reasons) but fundamentally different phenomena: reasoning would belong to the mental realm of thinking—an individual inferring new information from the available information by means of careful consideration of reasons—whereas argumentation would belong to the public realm of the exchange of reasons, expressed in language or other symbolic media and intended for an audience. However, a number of authors have argued for a different view, namely that reasoning and argumentation are in fact two sides of the same coin, and that what is known as reasoning is by and large the internalization of practices of argumentation (MacKenzie 1989; Mercier & Sperber 2017; Mercier 2018). For the purposes of this entry, we can assume a close connection between reasoning and argumentation so that relevant research on reasoning can be suitably included in the discussions to come.

2. Types of Arguments

Arguments come in many kinds. In some of them, the truth of the premises is supposed to guarantee the truth of the conclusion, and these are known as deductive arguments. In others, the truth of the premises should make the truth of the conclusion more likely while not ensuring complete certainty; two well-known classes of such arguments are inductive and abductive arguments (a distinction introduced by Peirce, see entry on C.S. Peirce ). Unlike deduction, induction and abduction are thought to be ampliative: the conclusion goes beyond what is (logically) contained in the premises. Moreover, a type of argument that features prominently across different philosophical traditions, and yet does not fit neatly into any of the categories so far discussed, are analogical arguments. In this section, these four kinds of arguments are presented. The section closes with a discussion of fallacious arguments, that is, arguments that seem legitimate and “good”, but in fact are not. [ 2 ]

Valid deductive arguments are those where the truth of the premises necessitates the truth of the conclusion: the conclusion cannot but be true if the premises are true. Arguments having this property are said to be deductively valid . A valid argument whose premises are also true is said to be sound . Examples of valid deductive arguments are the familiar syllogisms, such as:

All humans are living beings. All living beings are mortal. Therefore, all humans are mortal.

In a deductively valid argument, the conclusion will be true in all situations where the premises are true, with no exceptions. A slightly more technical gloss of this idea goes as follows: in all possible worlds where the premises hold, the conclusion will also hold. This means that, if I know the premises of a deductively valid argument to be true of a given situation, then I can conclude with absolute certainty that the conclusion is also true of that situation. An important property typically associated with deductive arguments (but with exceptions, such as in relevant logic), and which differentiates them from inductive and abductive arguments, is the property of monotonicity : if premises A and B deductively imply conclusion C , then the addition of any arbitrary premise D will not invalidate the argument. In other words, if the argument “ A and B ; therefore C ” is deductively valid, then the argument “ A , B and D ; therefore C ” is equally deductively valid.

Deductive arguments are the objects of study of familiar logical systems such as (classical) propositional and predicate logic, as well as of subclassical systems such as intuitionistic and relevant logics (although in relevant logic the property of monotonicity does not hold, as it may lead to violations of criteria of relevance between premises and conclusion—see entry on relevance logic ). In each of these systems, the relation of logical consequence in question satisfies the property of necessary truth-preservation (see entry on logical consequence ). This is not surprising, as these systems were originally designed to capture arguments of a very specific kind, namely mathematical arguments (proofs), in the pioneering work of Frege, Russell, Hilbert, Gentzen, and others. Following a paradigm established in ancient Greek mathematics and famously captured in Euclid’s Elements , argumentative steps in mathematical proofs (in this tradition at least) must have the property of necessary truth preservation (Netz 1999). This paradigm remained influential for millennia, and still codifies what can be described as the “classical” conception of mathematical proof (Dutilh Novaes 2020a), even if practices of proof are ultimately also quite diverse. (In fact, there is much more to argumentation in mathematics than just deductive argumentation [Aberdein & Dove 2013].)

However, a number of philosophers have argued that deductive validity and necessary truth preservation in fact come apart. Some have reached this conclusion motivated by the familiar logical paradoxes such as the Liar or Curry’s paradox (Beall 2009; Field 2008; see entries on the Liar paradox and on Curry’s paradox ). Others have defended the idea that there are such things as contingent logical truths (Kaplan 1989; Nelson & Zalta 2012), which thus challenge the idea of necessary truth preservation. It has also been suggested that what is preserved in the transition from premises to conclusions in deductive arguments is in fact warrant or assertibility rather than truth (Restall 2004). Yet others, such as proponents of preservationist approaches to paraconsistent logic, posit that what is preserved by the deductive consequence relation is the coherence, or incoherence, of a set of premises (Schotch, Brown, & Jennings 2009; see entry on paraconsistent logic ). Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the view that deductive validity is to be understood primarily in terms of necessary truth preservation is still the received view.

Relatedly, there are a number of pressing philosophical issues pertaining to the justification of deduction, such as the exact nature of the necessity involved in deduction (metaphysical, logical, linguistic, epistemic; Shapiro 2005), and the possibility of offering a non-circular foundation for deduction (Dummett 1978). Furthermore, it is often remarked that the fact that a deductive argument is not ampliative may entail that it cannot be informative, which in turn would mean that its usefulness is quite limited; this problem has been described as “the scandal of deduction” (Sequoiah-Grayson 2008).

Be that as it may, deductive arguments have occupied a special place in philosophy and the sciences, ever since Aristotle presented the first fully-fledged theory of deductive argumentation and reasoning in the Prior Analytics (and the corresponding theory of scientific demonstration in the Posterior Analytics ; see Historical Supplement ). The fascination for deductive arguments is understandable, given their allure of certainty and indubitability. The more geometrico (a phrase introduced by Spinoza to describe the argumentative structure of his Ethics as following “a geometrical style”—see entry on Spinoza ) has been influential in many fields other than mathematics. However, the focus on deductive arguments at the expense of other types of arguments has arguably skewed investigations on argument and argumentation too much in one specific direction (see (Bermejo-Luque 2020) for a critique of deductivism in the study of argumentation).

In recent decades, the view that everyday reasoning and argumentation by and large do not follow the canons of deductive argumentation has been gaining traction. In psychology of reasoning, Oaksford and Chater were the first to argue already in the 1980s that human reasoning “in the wild” is essentially probabilistic, following the basic canons of Bayesian probabilities (Oaksford & Chater 2018; Elqayam 2018; see section 5.3 below). Computer scientists and artificial intelligence researchers have also developed a strong interest in non-monotonic reasoning and argumentation (Reiter 1980), recognizing that, outside specific scientific contexts, human reasoning tends to be deeply defeasible (Pollock 1987; see entries on non-monotonic logic and defeasible reasoning ). Thus seen, deductive argumentation might be considered as the exception rather than the rule in human argumentative practices taken as a whole (Dutilh Novaes 2020a). But there are others, especially philosophers, who still maintain that the use of deductive reasoning and argumentation is widespread and extends beyond niches of specialists (Shapiro 2014; Williamson 2018).

Inductive arguments are arguments where observations about past instances and regularities lead to conclusions about future instances and general principles. For example, the observation that the sun has risen in the east every single day until now leads to the conclusion that it will rise in the east tomorrow, and to the general principle “the sun always rises in the east”. Generally speaking, inductive arguments are based on statistical frequencies, which then lead to generalizations beyond the sample of cases initially under consideration: from the observed to the unobserved. In a good, i.e., cogent , inductive argument, the truth of the premises provides some degree of support for the truth of the conclusion. In contrast with a deductively valid argument, in an inductive argument the degree of support will never be maximal, as there is always the possibility of the conclusion being false given the truth of the premises. A gloss in terms of possible worlds might be that, while in a deductively valid argument the conclusion will hold in all possible worlds where the premises hold, in a good inductive argument the conclusion will hold in a significant proportion of the possible worlds where the premises hold. The proportion of such worlds may give a measure of the strength of support of the premises for the conclusion (see entry on inductive logic ).

Inductive arguments have been recognized and used in science and elsewhere for millennia. The concept of induction ( epagoge in Greek) was understood by Aristotle as a progression from particulars to a universal, and figured prominently both in his conception of the scientific method and in dialectical practices (see entry on Aristotle’s logic, section 3.1 ). However, a deductivist conception of the scientific method remained overall more influential in Aristotelian traditions, inspired by the theory of scientific demonstration of the Posterior Analytics . It is only with the so-called “scientific revolution” of the early modern period that experiments and observation of individual cases became one of the pillars of scientific methodology, a transition that is strongly associated with the figure of Francis Bacon (1561–1626; see entry on Francis Bacon ).

Inductive inferences/arguments are ubiquitous both in science and in everyday life, and for the most part quite reliable. The functioning of the world around us seems to display a fair amount of statistical regularity, and this is referred to as the “Uniformity Principle” in the literature on the problem of induction (to be discussed shortly). Moreover, it has been argued that generalizing from previously observed frequencies is the most basic principle of human cognition (Clark 2016).

However, it has long been recognized that inductive inferences/arguments are not unproblematic. Hume famously offered the first influential formulation of what became known as “the problem of induction” in his Treatise of Human Nature (see entries on David Hume and on the problem of induction ; Howson 2000). Hume raises the question of what grounds the correctness of inductive inferences/arguments, and posits that there must be an argument establishing the validity of the Uniformity Principle for inductive inferences to be truly justified. He goes on to argue that this argument cannot be deductive, as it is not inconceivable that the course of nature may change. But it cannot be probable either, as probable arguments already presuppose the validity of the Uniformity Principle; circularity would ensue. Since these are the only two options, he concludes that the Uniformity Principle cannot be established by rational argument, and hence that induction cannot be justified.

A more recent influential critique of inductive arguments is the one offered in (Harman 1965). Harman argues that either enumerative induction is not always warranted, or it is always warranted but constitutes an uninteresting special case of the more general category of inference to the best explanation (see next section). The upshot is that, for Harman, induction should not be considered a warranted form of inference in its own right.

Given the centrality of induction for scientific practice, there have been numerous attempts to respond to the critics of induction, with various degrees of success. Among those, an influential recent response to the problem of induction is Norton’s material theory of induction (Norton 2003). But the problem has not prevented scientists and laypeople alike from continuing to use induction widely. More recently, the use of statistical frequencies for social categories to draw conclusions about specific individuals has become a matter of contention, both at the individual level (see entry on implicit bias ) and at the institutional level (e.g., the use of predictive algorithms for law enforcement [Jorgensen Bolinger 2021]). These debates can be seen as reoccurrences of Hume’s problem of induction, now in the domain of social rather than of natural phenomena.

An abductive argument is one where, from the observation of a few relevant facts, a conclusion is drawn as to what could possibly explain the occurrence of these facts (see entry on abduction ). Abduction is widely thought to be ubiquitous both in science and in everyday life, as well as in other specific domains such as the law, medical diagnosis, and explainable artificial intelligence (Josephson & Josephson 1994). Indeed, a good example of abduction is the closing argument by a prosecutor in a court of law who, after summarizing the available evidence, concludes that the most plausible explanation for it is that the defendant must have committed the crime they are accused of.

Like induction, and unlike deduction, abduction is not necessarily truth-preserving: in the example above, it is still possible that the defendant is not guilty after all, and that some other, unexpected phenomena caused the evidence to emerge. But abduction is significantly different from induction in that it does not only concern the generalization of prior observation for prediction (though it may also involve statistical data): rather, abduction is often backward-looking in that it seeks to explain something that has already happened. The key notion is that of bringing together apparently independent phenomena or events as explanatorily and/or causally connected to each other, something that is absent from a purely inductive argument that only appeals to observed frequencies. Cognitively, abduction taps into the well-known human tendency to seek (causal) explanations for phenomena (Keil 2006).

As noted, deduction and induction have been recognized as important classes of arguments for millennia; the concept of abduction is by comparison a latecomer. It is important to notice though that explanatory arguments as such are not latecomers; indeed, Aristotle’s very conception of scientific demonstration is based on the concept of explaining causes (see entry on Aristotle ). What is recent is the conceptualization of abduction as a special class of arguments, and the term itself. The term was introduced by Peirce as a third class of inferences distinct from deduction and induction: for Peirce, abduction is understood as the process of forming explanatory hypotheses, thus leading to new ideas and concepts (whereas for him deduction and induction could not lead to new ideas or theories; see the entry on Peirce ). Thus seen, abduction pertains to contexts of discovery , in which case it is not clear that it corresponds to instances of arguments, properly speaking. In its modern meaning, however, abduction pertains to contexts of justification , and thus to speak of abductive arguments becomes appropriate. An abductive argument is now typically understood as an inference to the best explanation (Lipton 1971 [2003]), although some authors contend that there are good reasons to distinguish the two concepts (Campos 2011).

While the main ideas behind abduction may seem simple enough, cashing out more precisely how exactly abduction works is a complex matter (see entry on abduction ). Moreover, it is not clear that abductive arguments are always or even generally reliable and cogent. Humans seem to have a tendency to overshoot in their quest for causal explanations, and often look for simplicity where there is none to be found (Lombrozo 2007; but see Sober 2015 on the significance of parsimony in scientific reasoning). There are also a number of philosophical worries pertaining to the justification of abduction, especially in scientific contexts; one influential critique of abduction/inference to the best explanation is the one articulated by van Fraassen (Fraassen 1989). A frequent concern pertains to the connection between explanatory superiority and truth: are we entitled to conclude that the conclusion of an abductive argument is true solely on the basis of it being a good (or even the best) explanation for the phenomena in question? It seems that no amount of philosophical a priori theorizing will provide justification for the leap from explanatory superiority to truth. Instead, defenders of abduction tend to offer empirical arguments showing that abduction tends to be a reliable rule of inference. In this sense, abduction and induction are comparable: they are widely used, grounded in very basic human cognitive tendencies, but they give rise to a number of difficult philosophical problems.

Arguments by analogy are based on the idea that, if two things are similar, what is true of one of them is likely to be true of the other as well (see entry on analogy and analogical reasoning ). Analogical arguments are widely used across different domains of human activity, for example in legal contexts (see entry on precedent and analogy in legal reasoning ). As an example, take an argument for the wrongness of farming non-human animals for food consumption: if an alien species farmed humans for food, that would be wrong; so, by analogy, it is wrong for us humans to farm non-human animals for food. The general idea is captured in the following schema (adapted from the entry on analogy and analogical reasoning ; S is the source domain and T the target domain of the analogy):

  • S is similar to T in certain (known) respects.
  • S has some further feature Q .
  • Therefore, T also has the feature Q , or some feature Q * similar to Q .

The first premise establishes the analogy between two situations, objects, phenomena etc. The second premise states that the source domain has a given property. The conclusion is then that the target domain also has this property, or a suitable counterpart thereof. While informative, this schema does not differentiate between good and bad analogical arguments, and so does not offer much by way of explaining what grounds (good) analogical arguments. Indeed, contentious cases usually pertain to premise 1, and in particular to whether S and T are sufficiently similar in a way that is relevant for having or not having feature Q .

Analogical arguments are widely present in all known philosophical traditions, including three major ancient traditions: Greek, Chinese, and Indian (see Historical Supplement ). Analogies abound in ancient Greek philosophical texts, for example in Plato’s dialogues. In the Gorgias , for instance, the knack of rhetoric is compared to pastry-baking—seductive but ultimately unhealthy—whereas philosophy would correspond to medicine—potentially painful and unpleasant but good for the soul/body (Irani 2017). Aristotle discussed analogy extensively in the Prior Analytics and in the Topics (see section 3.2 of the entry on analogy and analogical reasoning ). In ancient Chinese philosophy, analogy occupies a very prominent position; indeed, it is perhaps the main form of argumentation for Chinese thinkers. Mohist thinkers were particularly interested in analogical arguments (see entries on logic and language in early Chinese philosophy , Mohism and the Mohist canons ). In the Latin medieval tradition too analogy received sustained attention, in particular in the domains of logic, theology and metaphysics (see entry on medieval theories of analogy ).

Analogical arguments continue to occupy a central position in philosophical discussions, and a number of the most prominent philosophical arguments of the last decades are analogical arguments, e.g., Jarvis Thomson’s violinist argument purportedly showing the permissibility of abortion (Thomson 1971), and Searle’s Chinese Room argument purportedly showing that computers cannot display real understanding (see entry on the Chinese Room argument ). (Notice that these two arguments are often described as thought experiments [see entry on thought experiments ], but thought experiments are often based on analogical principles when seeking to make a point that transcends the thought experiment as such.) The Achilles’ heel of analogical arguments can be illustrated by these two examples: both arguments have been criticized on the grounds that the purported similarity between the source and the target domains is not sufficient to extrapolate the property of the source domain (the permissibility of disconnecting from the violinist; the absence of understanding in the Chinese room) to the target domain (abortion; digital computers and artificial intelligence).

In sum, while analogical arguments in general perhaps confer a lesser degree of conviction than the other three kinds of arguments discussed, they are widely used both in professional circles and in everyday life. They have rightly attracted a fair amount of attention from scholars in different disciplines, and remain an important object of study (see entry on analogy and analogical reasoning ).

One of the most extensively studied types of arguments throughout the centuries are, perhaps surprisingly, arguments that appear legitimate but are not, known as fallacious arguments . From early on, the investigation of such arguments occupied a prominent position in Aristotelian logical traditions, inspired in particular by his book Sophistical Refutations (see Historical Supplement ). The thought is that, to argue well, it is not sufficient to be able to produce and recognize good arguments; it is equally (or perhaps even more) important to be able to recognize bad arguments by others, and to avoid producing bad arguments oneself. This is particularly true of the tricky cases, namely arguments that appear legitimate but are not, i.e., fallacies.

Some well-know types of fallacies include (see entry on fallacies for a more extensive discussion):

  • The fallacy of equivocation, which occurs when an arguer exploits the ambiguity of a term or phrase which has occurred at least twice in an argument to draw an unwarranted conclusion.
  • The fallacy of begging the question, when one of the premises and the conclusion of an argument are the same proposition, but differently formulated.
  • The fallacy of appeal to authority, when a claim is supported by reference to an authority instead of offering reasons to support it.
  • The ad hominem fallacy, which involves bringing negative aspects of an arguer, or their situation, to argue against the view they are advancing.
  • The fallacy of faulty analogy, when an analogy is used as an argument but there is not sufficient relevant similarity between the source domain and the target domain (as discussed above).

Beyond their (presumed?) usefulness in teaching argumentative skills, the literature on fallacies raises a number of important philosophical discussions, such as: What determines when an argument is fallacious or rather a legitimate argument? (See section 4.3 below on Bayesian accounts of fallacies) What causes certain arguments to be fallacious? Is the focus on fallacies a useful approach to arguments at all? (Massey 1981) Despite the occasional criticism, the concept of fallacies remains central in the study of arguments and argumentation.

3. Types of Argumentation

Just as there are different types of arguments, there are different types of argumentative situations, depending on the communicative goals of the persons involved and background conditions. Argumentation may occur when people are trying to reach consensus in a situation of dissent, but it may also occur when scientists discuss their findings with each other (to name but two examples). Specific rules of argumentative engagement may vary depending on these different types of argumentation.

A related point extensively discussed in the recent literature pertains to the function(s) of argumentation. [ 3 ] What’s the point of arguing? While it is often recognized that argumentation may have multiple functions, different authors tend to emphasize specific functions for argumentation at the expense of others. This section offers an overview of discussions on types of argumentation and its functions, demonstrating that argumentation is a multifaceted phenomenon that has different applications in different circumstances.

A question that has received much attention in the literature of the past decades pertains to whether the activity of argumentation is primarily adversarial or primarily cooperative. This question in fact corresponds to two sub-questions: the descriptive question of whether instances of argumentation are on the whole primarily adversarial or cooperative; and the normative question of whether argumentation should be (primarily) adversarial or cooperative. A number of authors have answered “adversarial” to the descriptive question and “cooperative” to the normative question, thus identifying a discrepancy between practices and normative ideals that must be remedied (or so they claim; Cohen 1995).

A case in point: recently, a number of far-right Internet personalities have advocated the idea that argumentation can be used to overpower one’s opponents, as described in the book The Art of the Argument: Western Civilization’s Last Stand (2017) by the white supremacist S. Molyneux. Such aggressive practices reflect a vision of argumentation as a kind of competition or battle, where the goal is to “score points” and “beat the opponent”. Authors who have criticized (overly) adversarial practices of argumentation include (Moulton 1983; Gilbert 1994; Rooney 2012; Hundleby 2013; Bailin & Battersby 2016). Many (but not all) of these authors formulated their criticism specifically from a feminist perspective (see entry on feminist perspectives on argumentation ).

Feminist critiques of adversarial argumentation challenge ideals of argumentation as a form of competition, where masculine-coded values of aggression and violence prevail (Kidd 2020). For these authors, such ideals encourage argumentative performances where excessive use of forcefulness is on display. Instances of aggressive argumentation in turn have a number of problematic consequences: epistemic consequences—the pursuit of truth is not best served by adversarial argumentation—as well as moral/ethical/political consequences—these practices exclude a number of people from participating in argumentative encounters, namely those for whom displays of aggression do not constitute socially acceptable behavior (women and other socially disadvantaged groups in particular). These authors defend alternative conceptions of argumentation as a cooperative, nurturing activity (Gilbert 1994; Bailin & Battersby 2016), which are traditionally feminine-coded values. Crucially, they view adversarial conceptions of argumentation as optional , maintaining that the alternatives are equally legitimate and that cooperative conceptions should be adopted and cultivated.

By contrast, others have argued that adversariality, when suitably understood, can be seen as an integral and in fact desirable component of argumentation (Govier 1999; Aikin 2011; Casey 2020; but notice that these authors each develop different accounts of adversariality in argumentation). Such authors answer “adversarial” both to the descriptive and to the normative questions stated above. One overall theme is the need to draw a distinction between (excessive) aggressiveness and adversariality as such. Govier, for example, distinguishes between ancillary (negative) adversariality and minimal adversariality (Govier 1999). The thought is that, while the feminist critique of excessive aggression in argumentation is well taken, adversariality conceived and practiced in different ways need not have the detrimental consequences of more extreme versions of belligerent argumentation. Moreover, for these authors, adversariality in argumentation is simply not optional: it is an intrinsic feature of argumentative practices, but these practices also require a background of cooperation and agreement regarding, e.g., the accepted rules of inference.

But ultimately, the presumed opposition between adversarial and cooperative conceptions of argumentation may well be merely apparent. It may be argued for example that actual argumentative encounters ought to be adversarial or cooperative to different degrees, as different types of argumentation are required for different situations (Dutilh Novaes forthcoming). Indeed, perhaps we should not look for a one-fits-all model of how argumentation ought to be conducted across different contexts and situation, given the diversity of uses of argumentation.

We speak of argumentation as an epistemic practice when we take its primary purpose to be that of improving our beliefs and increasing knowledge, or of fostering understanding. To engage in argumentation can be a way to acquire more accurate beliefs: by examining critically reasons for and against a given position, we would be able to weed out weaker, poorly justified beliefs (likely to be false) and end up with stronger, suitably justified beliefs (likely to be true). From this perspective, the goal of engaging in argumentation is to learn , i.e., to improve one’s epistemic position (as opposed to argumentation “to win” (Fisher & Keil 2016)). Indeed, argumentation is often said to be truth-conducive (Betz 2013).

The idea that argumentation can be an epistemically beneficial process is as old as philosophy itself. In every major historical philosophical tradition, argumentation is viewed as an essential component of philosophical reflection precisely because it may be used to aim at the truth (indeed this is the core of Plato’s critique of the Sophists and their excessive focus on persuasion at the expense of truth (Irani 2017; see Historical Supplement ). Recent proponents of an epistemological approach to argumentation include (Goldman 2004; Lumer 2005; Biro & Siegel 2006). Alvin Goldman captures this general idea in the following terms:

Norms of good argumentation are substantially dedicated to the promotion of truthful speech and the exposure of falsehood, whether intentional or unintentional. […] Norms of good argumentation are part of a practice to encourage the exchange of truths through sincere, non-negligent, and mutually corrective speech. (Goldman 1994: 30)

Of course, it is at least in theory possible to engage in argumentation with oneself along these lines, solitarily weighing the pros and cons of a position. But a number of philosophers, most notably John Stuart Mill, maintain that interpersonal argumentative situations, involving people who truly disagree with each other, work best to realize the epistemic potential of argumentation to improve our beliefs (a point he developed in On Liberty (1859; see entry on John Stuart Mill ). When our ideas are challenged by engagement with those who disagree with us, we are forced to consider our own beliefs more thoroughly and critically. The result is that the remaining beliefs, those that have survived critical challenge, will be better grounded than those we held before such encounters. Dissenters thus force us to stay epistemically alert instead of becoming too comfortable with existing, entrenched beliefs. On this conception, arguers cooperate with each other precisely by being adversarial, i.e., by adopting a critical stance towards the positions one disagrees with.

The view that argumentation aims at epistemic improvement is in many senses appealing, but it is doubtful that it reflects the actual outcomes of argumentation in many real-life situations. Indeed, it seems that, more often than not, we are not Millians when arguing: we do not tend to engage with dissenting opinions with an open mind. Indeed, there is quite some evidence suggesting that arguments are in fact not a very efficient means to change minds in most real-life situations (Gordon-Smith 2019). People typically do not like to change their minds about firmly entrenched beliefs, and so when confronted with arguments or evidence that contradict these beliefs, they tend to either look away or to discredit the source of the argument as unreliable (Dutilh Novaes 2020c)—a phenomenon also known as “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998).

In particular, arguments that threaten our core beliefs and our sense of belonging to a group (e.g., political beliefs) typically trigger all kinds of motivated reasoning (Taber & Lodge 2006; Kahan 2017) whereby one outright rejects those arguments without properly engaging with their content. Relatedly, when choosing among a vast supply of options, people tend to gravitate towards content and sources that confirm their existing opinions, thus giving rise to so-called “echo chambers” and “epistemic bubbles” (Nguyen 2020). Furthermore, some arguments can be deceptively convincing in that they look valid but are not (Tindale 2007; see entry on fallacies ). Because most of us are arguably not very good at spotting fallacious arguments, especially if they are arguments that lend support to the beliefs we already hold, engaging in argumentation may in fact decrease the accuracy of our beliefs by persuading us of false conclusions with incorrect arguments (Fantl 2018).

In sum, despite the optimism of Mill and many others, it seems that engaging in argumentation will not automatically improve our beliefs (even if this may occur in some circumstances). [ 4 ] However, it may still be argued that an epistemological approach to argumentation can serve the purpose of providing a normative ideal for argumentative practices, even if it is not always a descriptively accurate account of these practices in the messy real world. Moreover, at least some concrete instances of argumentation, in particular argumentation in science (see section 4.5 below) seem to offer successful examples of epistemic-oriented argumentative practices.

Another important strand in the literature on argumentation are theories that view consensus as the primary goal of argumentative processes: to eliminate or resolve a difference of (expressed) opinion. The tradition of pragma-dialectics is a prominent recent exponent of this strand (Eemeren & Grootendorst 2004). These consensus-oriented approaches are motivated by the social complexity of human life, and the attribution of a role of social coordination to argumentation. Because humans are social animals who must often cooperate with other humans to successfully accomplish certain tasks, they must have mechanisms to align their beliefs and intentions, and subsequently their actions (Tomasello 2014). The thought is that argumentation would be a particularly suitable mechanism for such alignment, as an exchange of reasons would make it more likely that differences of opinion would decrease (Norman 2016). This may happen precisely because argumentation would be a good way to track truths and avoid falsehoods, as discussed in the previous section; by being involved in the same epistemic process of exchanging reasons, the participants in an argumentative situation would all come to converge towards the truth, and thus the upshot would be that they also come to agree with each other. However, consensus-oriented views need not presuppose that argumentation is truth-conducive: the ultimate goal of such instances of argumentation is that of social coordination, and for this tracking truth is not a requirement (Patterson 2011).

In particular, the very notion of deliberative democracy is viewed as resting crucially on argumentative practices that aim for consensus (Fishkin 2016; see entry on democracy ). (For present purposes, “deliberation” and “argumentation” can be treated as roughly synonymous). In a deliberative democracy, for a decision to be legitimate, it must be preceded by authentic public deliberation—a discussion of the pros and cons of the different options—not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting. Moreover, in democratic deliberation, when full consensus does not emerge, the parties involved may opt for a compromise solution, e.g., a coalition-based political system.

A prominent theorist of deliberative democracy thus understood is Jürgen Habermas, whose “discourse theory of law and democracy” relies heavily on practices of political justification and argumentation taking place in what he calls “the public sphere” (Habermas 1992 [1996]; 1981 [1984]; see entry on Habermas ). He starts from the idea that politics allows for the collective organization of people’s lives, including the common rules they will live by. Political argumentation is a form of communicative practice, so general assumptions for communicative practices in general apply. However, additional assumptions apply as well (Olson 2011 [2014]). In particular, deliberating participants must accept that anyone can participate in these discursive practices (democratic deliberation should be inclusive), and that anyone can introduce and challenge claims that are made in the public sphere (democratic deliberation should be free). They must also see one another as having equal status, at least for the purposes of deliberation (democratic deliberation should be equal). In turn, critics of Habermas’s account view it as unrealistic, as it presupposes an ideal situation where all citizens are treated equally and engage in public debates in good faith (Mouffe 1999; Geuss 2019).

More generally, it seems that it is only under quite specific conditions that argumentation reliably leads to consensus (as also suggested by formal modeling of argumentative situations (Betz 2013; Olsson 2013; Mäs & Flache 2013)). Consensus-oriented argumentation seems to work well in cooperative contexts, but not so much in situations of conflict (Dutilh Novaes forthcoming). In particular, the discussing parties must already have a significant amount of background agreement—especially agreement on what counts as a legitimate argument or compelling evidence—for argumentation and deliberation to lead to consensus. Especially in situations of deep disagreement (Fogelin 1985), it seems that the potential of argumentation to lead to consensus is quite limited. Instead, in many real-life situations, argumentation often leads to the opposite result; people disagree with each other even more after engaging in argumentation (Sunstein 2002). This is the well-documented phenomenon of group polarization , which occurs when an initial position or tendency of individual members of a group becomes more extreme after group discussion (Isenberg 1986).

In fact, it may be argued that argumentation will often create or exacerbate conflict and adversariality, rather than leading to the resolution of differences of opinions. Furthermore, a focus on consensus may end up reinforcing and perpetuating existing unequal power relations in a society.

In an unjust society, what purports to be a cooperative exchange of reasons really perpetuates patterns of oppression. (Goodwin 2007: 77)

This general point has been made by a number of political thinkers (e.g., Young 2000), who have highlighted the exclusionary implications of consensus-oriented political deliberation. The upshot is that consensus may not only be an unrealistic goal for argumentation; it may not even be a desirable goal for argumentation in a number of situations (e.g., when there is great power imbalance). Despite these concerns, the view that the primary goal of argumentation is to aim for consensus remains influential in the literature.

Finally, a number of authors have attributed to argumentation the potential to manage (pre-existing) conflict. In a sense, the consensus-oriented view of argumentation just discussed is a special case of conflict management argumentation, based on the assumption that the best way to manage conflict and disagreement is to aim for consensus and thus eliminate conflict. But conflict can be managed in different ways, not all of them leading to consensus; indeed, some authors maintain that argumentation may help mitigate conflict even when the explicit aim is not that of reaching consensus. Importantly, authors who identify conflict management (or variations thereof) as a function for argumentation differ in their overall appreciation of the value of argumentation: some take it to be at best futile and at worst destructive, [ 5 ] while others attribute a more positive role to argumentation in conflict management.

To this category also belong the conceptualizations of argumentation-as-war discussed (and criticized) by a number of authors (Cohen 1995; Bailin & Battersby 2016); in such cases, conflict is not so much managed but rather enacted (and possibly exacerbated) by means of argumentation. Thus seen, the function of argumentation would not be fundamentally different from the function of organized competitive activities such as sports or even war (with suitable rules of engagement; Aikin 2011).

When conflict emerges, people have various options: they may choose not to engage and instead prefer to flee; they may go into full-blown fighting mode, which may include physical aggression; or they may opt for approaches somewhere in between the fight-or-flee extremes of the spectrum. Argumentation can be plausibly classified as an intermediary response:

[A]rgument literally is a form of pacifism—we are using words instead of swords to settle our disputes. With argument, we settle our disputes in ways that are most respectful of those who disagree—we do not buy them off, we do not threaten them, and we do not beat them into submission. Instead, we give them reasons that bear on the truth or falsity of their beliefs. However adversarial argument may be, it isn’t bombing. […] argument is a pacifistic replacement for truly violent solutions to disagreements…. (Aikin 2011: 256)

This is not to say that argumentation will always or even typically be the best approach to handle conflict and disagreement; the point is rather that argumentation at least has the potential to do so, provided that the background conditions are suitable and that provisions to mitigate escalation are in place (Aikin 2011). Versions of this view can be found in the work of proponents of agonistic conceptions of democracy and political deliberation (Wenman 2013; see entry on feminist political philosophy ). For agonist thinkers, conflict and strife are inevitable features of human lives, and so cannot be eliminated; but they can be managed. One of them is Chantal Mouffe (Mouffe 2000), for whom democratic practices, including argumentation/deliberation, can serve to contain hostility and transform it into more constructive forms of contest. However, it is far from obvious that argumentation by itself will suffice to manage conflict; typically, other kinds of intervention must be involved (Young 2000), as the risk of argumentation being used to exercise power rather than as a tool to manage conflict always looms large (van Laar & Krabbe 2019).

From these observations on different types of argumentation, a pluralistic picture emerges: argumentation, understood as the exchange of reasons to justify claims, seems to have different applications in different situations. However, it is not clear that some of the goals often attributed to argumentation such as epistemic improvement and reaching consensus can in fact be reliably achieved in many real life situations. Does this mean that argumentation is useless and futile? Not necessarily, but it may mean that engaging in argumentation will not always be the optimal response in a number of contexts.

4. Argumentation Across Fields of Inquiry and Social Practices

Argumentation is practiced and studied in many fields of inquiry; philosophers interested in argumentation have much to benefit from engaging with these bodies of research as well.

To understand the emergence of argumentation theory as a specific field of research in the twentieth century, a brief discussion of preceding events is necessary. In the nineteenth century, a number of textbooks aiming to improve everyday reasoning via public education emphasized logical and rhetorical concerns, such as those by Richard Whately (see entry on fallacies ). As noted in section 3.2 , John Stuart Mill also had a keen interest in argumentation and its role in public discourse (Mill 1859), as well as an interest in logic and reasoning (see entries on Mill and on fallacies ). But with the advent of mathematical logic in the final decades of the nineteenth century, logic and the study of ordinary, everyday argumentation came apart, as logicians such as Frege, Hilbert, Russell etc. were primarily interested in mathematical reasoning and argumentation. As a result, their logical systems are not particularly suitable to study everyday argumentation, as this is simply not what they were designed to do. [ 6 ]

Nevertheless, in the twentieth century a number of authors took inspiration from developments in formal logic and expanded the use of logical tools to the analysis of ordinary argumentation. A pioneer in this tradition is Susan Stebbing, who wrote what can be seen as the first textbook in analytic philosophy, and then went on to write a number of books aimed at a general audience addressing everyday and public discourse from a philosophical/logical perspective (see entry on Susan Stebbing ). Her 1939 book Thinking to Some Purpose , which can be considered as one of the first textbooks in critical thinking, was widely read at the time, but did not become particularly influential for the development of argumentation theory in the decades to follow.

By contrast, Stephen Toulmin’s 1958 book The Uses of Argument has been tremendously influential in a wide range of fields, including critical thinking education, rhetoric, speech communication, and computer science (perhaps even more so than in Toulmin’s own original field, philosophy). Toulmin’s aim was to criticize the assumption (widely held by Anglo-American philosophers at the time) that any significant argument can be formulated in purely formal, deductive terms, using the formal logical systems that had emerged in the preceding decades (see (Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 4). While this critique was met with much hostility among fellow philosophers, it eventually gave rise to an alternative way of approaching argumentation, which is often described as “informal logic” (see entry on informal logic ). This approach seeks to engage and analyze instances of argumentation in everyday life; it recognizes that, while useful, the tools of deductive logic alone do not suffice to investigate argumentation in all its complexity and pragmatic import. In a similar vein, Charles Hamblin’s 1970 book Fallacies reinvigorated the study of fallacies in the context of argumentation by re-emphasizing (following Aristotle) the importance of a dialectical-dialogical background when reflecting on fallacies in argumentation (see entry on fallacies ).

Around the same time as Toulmin, Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca were developing an approach to argumentation that emphasized its persuasive component. To this end, they turned to classical theories of rhetoric, and adapted them to give rise to what they described as the “New Rhetoric”. Their book Traité de l’argumentation: La nouvelle rhétorique was published in 1958 in French, and translated into English in 1969. Its key idea:

since argumentation aims at securing the adherence of those to whom it is addressed, it is, in its entirety, relative to the audience to be influenced. (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca 1958 [1969: 19])

They introduced the influential distinction between universal and particular audiences: while every argument is directed at a specific individual or group, the concept of a universal audience serves as a normative ideal encapsulating shared standards of agreement on what counts as legitimate argumentation (see Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 5).

The work of these pioneers provided the foundations for subsequent research in argumentation theory. One approach that became influential in the following decades is the pragma-dialectics tradition developed by Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst (Eemeren & Grootendorst 1984, 2004). They also founded the journal Argumentation , one of the flagship journals in argumentation theory. Pragma-dialectics was developed to study argumentation as a discourse activity, a complex speech act that occurs as part of interactional linguistic activities with specific communicative goals (“pragma” refers to the functional perspective of goals, and “dialectic” to the interactive component). For these authors, argumentative discourse is primarily directed at the reasonable resolution of a difference of opinion. Pragma-dialectics has a descriptive as well as a normative component, thus offering tools both for the analysis of concrete instances of argumentation and for the evaluation of argumentation correctness and success (see Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 10).

Another leading author in argumentation theory is Douglas Walton, who pioneered the argument schemes approach to argumentation that borrows tools from formal logic but expands them so as to treat a wider range of arguments than those covered by traditional logical systems (Walton, Reed, & Macagno 2008). Walton also formulated an influential account of argumentation in dialogue in collaboration with Erik Krabbe (Walton & Krabbe 1995). Ralph Johnson and Anthony Blair further helped to consolidate the field of argumentation theory and informal logic by founding the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation, and Rhetoric in Windsor (Ontario, Canada), and by initiating the journal Informal Logic . Their textbook Logical Self-Defense (Johnson & Blair 1977) has also been particularly influential.

The study of argumentation within computer science and artificial intelligence is a thriving field of research, with dedicated journals such as Argument and Computation and regular conference series such as COMMA (International Conference on Computational Models of Argument; see Rahwan & Simari 2009 and Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 11 for overviews).

The historical roots of argumentation research in artificial intelligence can be traced back to work on non-monotonic logics (see entry on non-monotonic logics ) and defeasible reasoning (see entry on defeasible reasoning ). Since then, three main different perspectives have emerged (Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: ch. 11): the theoretical systems perspective, where the focus is on theoretical and formal models of argumentation (following the tradition of philosophical and formal logic); the artificial systems perspective, where the aim is to build computer programs that model or support argumentative tasks, for instance, in online dialogue games or in expert systems; the natural systems perspective, which investigates argumentation in its natural form with the help of computational tools (e.g., argumentation mining [Peldszus & Stede 2013; Habernal & Gurevych 2017], where computational methods are used to identify argumentative structures in large corpora of texts).

An influential approach in this research tradition is that of abstract argumentation frameworks , initiated by the pioneering work of Dung (1995). Before that, argumentation in AI was studied mostly under the inspiration of concepts coming from informal logic such as argumentation schemes, context, stages of dialogues and argument moves. By contrast, the key notion in the framework proposed by Dung is that of argument attack , understood as an abstract formal relation roughly intended to capture the idea that it is possible to challenge an argument by means of another argument (assertions are understood as a special case of arguments with zero premises). Arguments can then be represented in networks of attacks and defenses: an argument A can attack an argument B , and B in turn may attack further arguments C and D (the connection with the notion of defeaters is a natural one, which Dung also addresses).

Besides abstract argumentation, three other important lines of research in AI are: the (internal) structure of arguments; argumentation in multi-agent systems; applications to specific tasks and domains (Rahwan & Siwari 2009). The structural approach investigates formally features such as argument strength/force (e.g., a conclusive argument is stronger than a defeasible argument), argument schemes (Bex, Prakken, Reed, & Walton 2003) etc. Argumentation in multi-agent systems is a thriving subfield with its own dedicated conference series (ArgMAS), based on the recognition that argumentation is a particularly suitable vehicle to facilitate interaction in the artificial environments studied by AI researchers working on multi-agent systems (see a special issue of the journal Argument & Computation [Atkinson, Cerutti, et al. 2016]). Finally, computational approaches in argumentation have also thrived with respect to specific domains and applications, such as legal argumentation (Prakken & Sartor 2015). Recently, as a reaction to the machine-learning paradigm, the idea of explainable AI has gotten traction, and the concept of argumentation is thought to play a fundamental role for explainable AI (Sklar & Azhar 2018).

Argumentation is also an important topic of investigation within cognitive science and psychology. Researchers in these fields are predominantly interested in the descriptive question of how people in fact engage in argumentation, rather than in the normative question of how they ought to do it (although some of them have also drawn normative conclusions, e.g., Hahn & Oaksford 2006; Hahn & Hornikx, 2016). Controlled experiments are one of the ways in which the descriptive question can be investigated.

Systematic research specifically on argumentation within cognitive science and psychology has significantly increased over the last 10 years. Before that, there had been extensive research on reasoning conceived as an individual, internal process, much of which had been conducted using task materials such as syllogistic arguments (Dutilh Novaes 2020b). But due to what may be described as an individualist bias in cognitive science and psychology (Mercier 2018), these researchers did not draw explicit connections between their findings and the public acts of “giving and asking for reasons”. It is only somewhat recently that argumentation began to receive sustained attention from these researchers. The investigations of Hugo Mercier and colleagues (Mercier & Sperber 2017; Mercier 2018) and of Ulrike Hahn and colleagues (Hahn & Oaksford 2007; Hornikx & Hahn 2012; Collins & Hahn 2018) have been particularly influential. (See also Paglieri, Bonelli, & Felletti 2016, an edited volume containing a representative overview of research on the psychology of argumentation.) Another interesting line of research has been the study of the development of reasoning and argumentative skills in young children (Köymen, Mammen, & Tomasello 2016; Köymen & Tomasello 2020).

Mercier and Sperber defend an interactionist account of reasoning, according to which the primary function of reasoning is for social interactions, where reasons are exchanged and receivers of reasons decide whether they find them convincing—in other words, for argumentation (Mercier & Sperber 2017). They review a wealth of evidence suggesting that reasoning is rather flawed when it comes to drawing conclusions from premises in order to expand one’s knowledge. From this they conclude, on the basis of evolutionary arguments, that the function of reasoning must be a different one, indeed one that responds to features of human sociality and the need to exercise epistemic vigilance when receiving information from others. This account has inaugurated a rich research program which they have been pursuing with colleagues for over a decade now, and which has delivered some interesting results—for example, that we seem to be better at evaluating the quality of arguments proposed by others than at formulating high-quality arguments ourselves (Mercier 2018).

In the context of the Bayesian (see entry on Bayes’ theorem ) approach to reasoning that was first developed by Mike Oaksford and Nick Chater in the 1980s (Oaksford & Chater 2018), Hahn and colleagues have extended the Bayesian framework to the investigation of argumentation. They claim that Bayesian probabilities offer an accurate descriptive model of how people evaluate the strength of arguments (Hahn & Oaksford 2007) as well as a solid perspective to address normative questions pertaining to argument strength (Hahn & Oaksford 2006; Hahn & Hornikx 2016). The Bayesian approach allows for the formulation of probabilistic measures of argument strength, showing that many so-called “fallacies” may nevertheless be good arguments in the sense that they considerably raise the probability of the conclusion. For example, deductively invalid argument schemes (such as affirming the consequent (AC) and denying the antecedent (DA)) can also provide considerable support for a conclusion, depending on the contents in question. The extent to which this is the case depends primarily on the specific informational context, captured by the prior probability distribution, not on the structure of the argument. This means that some instances of, say, AC, may offer support to a conclusion while others may fail to do so (Eva & Hartmann 2018). Thus seen, Bayesian argumentation represents a significantly different approach to argumentation from those inspired by logic (e.g., argument schemes), but they are not necessarily incompatible; they may well be complementary perspectives (see also [Zenker 2013]).

Argumentation is primarily (though not exclusively) a linguistic phenomenon. Accordingly, argumentation is extensively studied in fields dedicated to the study of language, such as rhetoric, linguistics, discourse analysis, communication, and pragmatics, among others (see Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: chs 8 and 9). Researchers in these areas develop general theoretical models of argumentation and investigate concrete instances of argumentation in specific domains on the basis of linguistic corpora, discourse analysis, and other methods used in the language sciences (see the edited volume Oswald, Herman, & Jacquin [2018] for a sample of the different lines of research). Overall, research on argumentation within the language sciences tends to focus primarily on concrete occurrences of arguments in a variety of domains, adopting a largely descriptive rather than normative perspective (though some of these researchers also tackle normative considerations).

Some of these analyses approach arguments and argumentation primarily as text or self-contained speeches, while others emphasize the interpersonal, communicative nature of “face-to-face” argumentation (see Eemeren, Garssen, et al. 2014: section 8.9). One prominent approach in this tradition is due to communication scholars Sally Jackson and Scott Jacobs. They have drawn on speech act theory and conversation analysis to investigate argumentation as a disagreement-relevant expansion of speech acts that, through mutually recognized reasons, allows us to manage disagreements despite the challenges they pose for communication and coordination of activities (Jackson & Jacobs 1980; Jackson 2019). Moreover, they perceive institutionalized practices of argumentation and concrete “argumentation designs”—such as for example randomized controlled trials in medicine—as interventions aimed at improving methods of disagreement management through argumentation.

Another communication scholar, Dale Hample, has further argued for the importance of approaching argumentation as an essentially interpersonal communicative activity (Hample 2006, 2018). This perspective allows for the consideration of a broader range of factors, not only the arguments themselves but also (and primarily) the people involved in those processes: their motivations, psychological processes, and emotions. It also allows for the formulation of questions pertaining to individual as well as cultural differences in argumentative styles (see section 5.3 below).

Another illuminating perspective views argumentative practices as inherently tied to broader socio-cultural contexts (Amossy 2009). The Journal of Argumentation in Context was founded in 2012 precisely to promote a contextual approach to argumentation. Once argumentation is no longer only considered in abstraction from concrete instances taking place in real-life situations, it becomes imperative to recognize that argumentation does not take place in a vacuum; typically, argumentative practices are embedded in other kinds of practices and institutions, against the background of specific socio-cultural, political structures. The method of discourse analysis is particularly suitable for a broader perspective on argumentation, as shown by the work of Ruth Amossy (2002) and Marianne Doury (2009), among others.

Argumentation is crucial in a number of specific organized social practices, in particular in politics, science, law, and education. The relevant argumentative practices are studied in each of the corresponding knowledge domains; indeed, while some general principles may govern argumentative practices across the board, some may be specific to particular applications and domains.

As already mentioned, argumentation is typically viewed as an essential component of political democratic practices, and as such it is of great interest to political scientists and political theorists (Habermas 1992 [1996]; Young 2000; Landemore 2013; Fishkin 2016; see entry on democracy ). (The term typically used in this context is “deliberation” instead of “argumentation”, but these can be viewed as roughly synonymous for our purposes.) General theories of argumentation such as pragma-dialectic and the Toulmin model can be applied to political argumentation with illuminating results (Wodak 2016; Mohammed 2016). More generally, political discourse seems to have a strong argumentative component, in particular if argumentation is understood more broadly as not only pertaining to rational discourse ( logos ) but as also including what rhetoricians refer to as pathos and ethos (Zarefsky 2014; Amossy 2018). But critics of argumentation and deliberation in political contexts also point out the limitations of the classical deliberative model (Sanders 1997; Talisse 2019).

Moreover, scientific communities seem to offer good examples of (largely) well-functioning argumentative practices. These are disciplined systems of collective epistemic activity, with tacit but widely endorsed norms for argumentative engagement for each domain (which does not mean that there are not disagreements on these very norms). The case of mathematics has already been mentioned above: practices of mathematical proof are quite naturally understood as argumentative practices (Dutilh Novaes 2020a). Furthermore, when a scientist presents a new scientific claim, it must be backed by arguments and evidence that her peers are likely to find convincing, as they follow from the application of widely agreed-upon scientific methods (Longino 1990; Weinstein 1990; Rehg 2008; see entry on the social dimensions of scientific knowledge ). Other scientists will in turn critically examine the evidence and arguments provided, and will voice objections or concerns if they find aspects of the theory to be insufficiently convincing. Thus seen, science may be viewed as a “game of giving and asking for reasons” (Zamora Bonilla 2006). Certain features of scientific argumentation seem to ensure its success: scientists see other scientists as prima facie peers, and so (typically at least) place a fair amount of trust in other scientists by default; science is based on the principle of “organized skepticism” (a term introduced by the pioneer sociologist of science Robert Merton [Merton, 1942]), which means that asking for further reasons should not be perceived as a personal attack. These are arguably aspects that distinguish argumentation in science from argumentation in other domains in virtue of these institutional factors (Mercier & Heintz 2014). But ultimately, scientists are part of society as a whole, and thus the question of how scientific and political argumentation intersect becomes particularly relevant (Kitcher 2001).

Another area where argumentation is essential is the law, which also corresponds to disciplined systems of collective activity with rules and principles for what counts as acceptable arguments and evidence. legal reasoning ).--> In litigation (in particular in adversarial justice systems), there are typically two sides disagreeing on what is lawful or just, and the basic idea is that each side will present its strongest arguments; it is the comparison between the two sets of arguments that should lead to the best judgment (Walton 2002). Legal reasoning and argumentation have been extensively studied within jurisprudence for decades, in particular since Ronald Dworkin’s (1977) and Neil MacCormick’s (1978) responses to HLA Hart’s highly influential The Concept of Law (1961). A number of other views and approaches have been developed, in particular from the perspectives of natural law theory, legal positivism, common law, and rhetoric (see Feteris 2017 for an overview). Overall, legal argumentation is characterized by extensive uses of analogies (Lamond 2014), abduction (Askeland 2020), and defeasible/non-monotonic reasoning (Bex & Verheij 2013). An interesting question is whether argumentation in law is fundamentally different from argumentation in other domains, or whether it follows the same overall canons and norms but applied to legal topics (Raz 2001).

Finally, the development of argumentative skills is arguably a fundamental aspect of (formal) education (Muller Mirza & Perret-Clermont 2009). Ideally, when presented with arguments, a learner should not simply accept what is being said at face value, but should instead reflect on the reasons offered and come to her own conclusions. Argumentation thus fosters independent, critical thinking, which is viewed as an important goal for education (Siegel 1995; see entry on critical thinking ). A number of education theorists and developmental psychologists have empirically investigated the effects of emphasizing argumentative skills in educational settings, with encouraging results (Kuhn & Crowell 2011). There has been in particular much emphasis on argumentation specifically in science education, based on the assumption that argumentation is a key component of scientific practice (as noted above); the thought is that this feature of scientific practice should be reflected in science education (Driver, Newton, & Osborne 2000; Erduran & Jiménez-Aleixandre 2007).

5. Further Topics

Argumentation is a multi-faceted phenomenon, and the literature on arguments and argumentation is massive and varied. This entry can only scratch the surface of the richness of this material, and many interesting, relevant topics must be left out for reasons of space. In this final section, a selection of topics that are likely to attract considerable interest in future research are discussed.

In recent years, the concept of epistemic injustice has received much attention among philosophers (Fricker 2007; McKinnon 2016). Epistemic injustice occurs when a person is unfairly treated qua knower on the basis of prejudices pertaining to social categories such as gender, race, class, ability etc. (see entry on feminist epistemology and philosophy of science ). One of the main categories of epistemic injustice discussed in the literature pertains to testimony and is known as testimonial injustice : this occurs when a testifier is not given a degree of credibility commensurate to their actual expertise on the relevant topic, as a result of prejudice. (Whether credibility excess is also a form of testimonial injustice is a moot point in the literature [Medina 2011].)

Since argumentation can be viewed as an important mechanism for sharing knowledge and information, i.e., as having significant epistemic import (Goldman 2004), the question arises whether there might be instances of epistemic injustice pertaining specifically to argumentation, which may be described as argumentative injustice , and which would be notably different from other recognized forms of epistemic injustice such as testimonial injustice. Bondy (Bondy 2010) presented a first articulation of the notion of argumentative injustice, modeled after Fricker’s notion of epistemic injustice and relying on a broadly epistemological conception of argumentation. However, Bondy’s analysis does not take into account some of the structural elements that have become central to the analysis of epistemic injustice since Fricker’s influential work, so it seems further discussion of epistemic injustice in argumentation is still needed. For example, in situations of disagreement, epistemic injustice can give rise to further obstacles to rational argumentation, leading to deep disagreement (Lagewaard 2021).

Moreover, as often noted by critics of adversarial approaches, argumentation can also be used as an instrument of domination and oppression used to overpower and denigrate an interlocutor (Nozick 1981), especially an interlocutor of “lower” status in the context in question (Moulton 1983; see entry on feminist approaches to argumentation ). From this perspective, it is clear that argumentation may also be used to reinforce and exacerbate injustice, inequalities and power differentials (Goodwin 2007). Given this possibility, and in response to the perennial risk of excessive aggressiveness in argumentative situations, a normative account of how argumentation ought to be conducted so as to avoid these problematic outcomes seem to be required.

One such approach is virtue argumentation theory . Drawing on virtue ethics and virtue epistemology (see entries on virtue ethics and virtue epistemology ), virtue argumentation theory seeks to theorize how to argue well in terms of the dispositions and character of arguers rather than, for example, in terms of properties of arguments considered in abstraction from arguers (Aberdein & Cohen 2016). Some of the argumentative virtues identified in the literature are: willingness to listen to others (Cohen 2019), willingness to take a novel viewpoint seriously (Kwong 2016), humility (Kidd 2016), and open-mindedness (Tanesini 2020).

By the same token, defective argumentation is conceptualized not (only) in terms of structural properties of arguments (e.g., fallacious argument patterns), but in terms of the vices displayed by arguers such as arrogance and narrow-mindedness, among others (Aberdein 2016). Virtue argumentation theory now constitutes a vibrant research program, as attested by a special issue of Topoi dedicated to the topic (see [Aberdein & Cohen 2016] for its Introduction). It allows for a reconceptualization of classical themes within argumentation theory while also promising to provide concrete recommendations on how to argue better. Whether it can fully counter the risk of epistemic injustice and oppressive uses of argumentation is however debatable, at least as long as broader structural factors related to power dynamics are not sufficiently taken into account (Kukla 2014).

On some idealized construals, argumentation is conceived as a purely rational, emotionless endeavor. But the strong connection between argumentative activities and emotional responses has also long been recognized (in particular in rhetorical analyses of argumentation), and more recently has become the object of extensive research (Walton 1992; Gilbert 2004; Hample 2006: ch. 5). Importantly, the recognition of a role for emotions in argumentation does not entail a complete rejection of the “rationality” of argumentation; rather, it is based on the rejection of a strict dichotomy between reason and emotion (see entry on emotion ), and on a more encompassing conception of argumentation as a multi-layered human activity.

Rather than dispassionate exchanges of reasons, instances of argumentation typically start against the background of existing emotional relations, and give rise to further affective responses—often, though not necessarily, negative responses of aggression and hostility. Indeed, it has been noted that, by itself, argumentation can give rise to conflict and friction where there was none to be found prior to the argumentative engagement (Aikin 2011). This occurs in particular because critical engagement and requests for reasons are at odds with default norms of credulity in most mundane dialogical interactions, thus creating a perception of antagonism. But argumentation may also give rise to positive affective responses if the focus is on coalescence and cooperation rather than on hostility (Gilbert 1997).

The descriptive claim that instances of argumentation are typically emotionally charged is not particularly controversial, though it deserves to be further investigated; the details of affective responses during instances of argumentation and how to deal with them are non-trivial (Krabbe & van Laar 2015). What is potentially more controversial is the normative claim that instances of argumentation may or should be emotionally charged, i.e., that emotions may or ought to be involved in argumentative processes, even if it may be necessary to regulate them in such situations rather than giving them free rein (González, Gómez, & Lemos 2019). The significance of emotions for persuasion has been recognized for millennia (see entry on Aristotle’s rhetoric ), but more recently it has become clear that emotions also have a fundamental role to play for choices of what to focus on and what to care about (Sinhababu 2017). This general point seems to apply to instances of argumentation as well. For example, Howes and Hundleby (Howes & Hundleby 2018) argue that, contrary to what is often thought, anger can in fact make a positive contribution to argumentative encounters. Indeed, anger may have an important epistemological role in such encounters by drawing attention to relevant premises and information that may otherwise go unnoticed. (They recognize that anger may also derail argumentation when the encounter becomes a full-on confrontation.)

In sum, the study of the role of emotions for argumentation, both descriptively and normatively speaking, has attracted the interest of a number of scholars, traditionally in connection with rhetoric and more recently also from the perspective of argumentation as interpersonal communication (Hample 2006). And yet, much work remains to be done on the significance of emotions for argumentation, in particular given that the view that argumentation should be a purely rational, dispassionate endeavor remains widely (even if tacitly) endorsed.

Once we adopt the perspective of argumentation as a communicative practice, the question of the influence of cultural factors on argumentative practices naturally arises. Is there significant variability in how people engage in argumentation depending on their sociocultural backgrounds? Or is argumentation largely the same phenomenon across different cultures? Actually, we may even ask ourselves whether argumentation in fact occurs in all human cultures, or whether it is the product of specific, contingent background conditions, thus not being a human universal. For comparison: it had long been assumed that practices of counting were present in all human cultures, even if with different degrees of complexity. But in recent decades it has been shown that some cultures do not engage systematically in practices of counting and basic arithmetic at all, such as the Pirahã in the Amazon (Gordon 2004; see entry on culture and cognitive science ). By analogy, it seems that the purported universality of argumentative practices should not be taken for granted, but rather be treated as a legitimate empirical question. (Incidentally, there is some anecdotal evidence that the Pirahã themselves engage in argumentative exchanges [Everett 2008], but to date their argumentative skills have not been investigated systematically, as is the case with their numerical skills.)

Of course, how widespread argumentative practices will be also depends on how the concept of “argumentative practices” is defined and operationalized in the first place. If it is narrowly defined as corresponding to regimented practices of reason-giving requiring clear markers and explicit criteria for what counts as premises, conclusions and relations of support between them, then argumentation may well be restricted to cultures and subcultures where such practices have been explicitly codified. By contrast, if argumentation is defined more loosely, then a wider range of communicative practices will be considered as instances of argumentation, and thus presumably more cultures will be found to engage in (what is thus viewed as) argumentation. This means that the spread of argumentative practices across cultures is not only an empirical question; it also requires significant conceptual input to be addressed.

But if (as appears to be the case) argumentation is not a strictly WEIRD phenomenon, restricted to Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies (Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan 2010), then the issue of cross-cultural variability in argumentative practices gives rise to a host of research questions, again both at the descriptive and at the normative level. Indeed, even if at the descriptive level considerable variability in argumentative practices is identified, the normative question of whether there should be universally valid canons for argumentation, or instead specific norms for specific contexts, remains pressing. At the descriptive level, a number of researchers have investigated argumentative practices in different WEIRD as well as non-WEIRD cultures, also addressing questions of cultural variability (Hornikx & Hoeken 2007; Hornikx & de Best 2011).

A foundational work in this context is Edwin Hutchins’ 1980 book Culture and Inference , a study of the Trobriand Islanders’ system of land tenure in Papua New Guinea (Hutchins 1980). While presented as a study of inference and reasoning among the Trobriand Islanders, what Hutchins in fact investigated were instances of legal argumentation in land courts by means of ethnographic observation and interviews with litigants. This led to the formulation of a set of twelve basic propositions codifying knowledge about land tenure, as well as transfer formulas governing how this knowledge can be applied to new disputes. Hutchins’ analysis showed that the Trobriand Islanders had a sophisticated argumentation system to resolve issues pertaining to land tenure, in many senses resembling argumentation and reasoning in so-called WEIRD societies in that it seemed to recognize as valid simple logical structures such as modus ponens and modus tollens .

More recently, Hugo Mercier and colleagues have been conducting studies in countries such as Japan (Mercier, Deguchi, Van der Henst, & Yama 2016) and Guatemala (Castelain, Girotto, Jamet, & Mercier 2016). While recognizing the significance and interest of cultural differences (Mercier 2013), Mercier maintains that argumentation is a human universal, as argumentative capacities and tendencies are a result of natural selection, genetically encoded in human cognition (Mercier 2011; Mercier & Sperber 2017). He takes the results of the cross-cultural studies conducted so far as confirming the universality of argumentation, even considering cultural differences (Mercier 2018).

Another scholar who has been carrying out an extensive research program on cultural differences in argumentation is communication theorist Dale Hample. With different sets of colleagues, he has conducted studies by means of surveys where participants (typically, university undergraduates) self-report on their argumentative practices in countries such as China, Japan, Turkey, Chile, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United States (among others; Hample 2018: ch. 7). His results overall show a number of similarities, which may be partially explained by the specific demographic (university students) from which participants are usually recruited. But interesting differences have also been identified, for example different levels of willingness to engage in argumentative encounters.

In a recent book (Tindale 2021), philosopher Chris Tindale adopts an anthropological perspective to investigate how argumentative practices emerge from the experiences of peoples with diverse backgrounds. He emphasizes the argumentative roles of place, orality, myth, narrative, and audience, also assessing the impacts of colonialism on the study of argumentation. Tindale reviews a wealth of anthropological and ethnographic studies on argumentative practices in different cultures, thus providing what is to date perhaps the most comprehensive study on argumentation from an anthropological perspective.

On the whole, the study of differences and commonalities in argumentative practices across cultures is an established line of research on argumentation, but arguably much work remains to be done to investigate these complex phenomena more thoroughly.

So far we have not yet considered the question of the different media through which argumentation can take place. Naturally, argumentation can unfold orally in face-to-face encounters—discussions in parliament, political debates, in a court of law—as well as in writing—in scientific articles, on the Internet, in newspaper editorials. Moreover, it can happen synchronically, with real-time exchanges of reasons, or asynchronically. While it is reasonable to expect that there will be some commonalities across these different media and environments, it is also plausible that specific features of different environments may significantly influence how argumentation is conducted: different environments present different kinds of affordances for arguers (Halpern & Gibbs 2013; Weger & Aakhus 2003; see entry on embodied cognition for the concept of affordance). Indeed, if the Internet represents a fundamentally novel cognitive ecology (Smart, Heersmink, & Clowes 2017), then it will likely give rise to different forms of argumentative engagement (Lewiński 2010). Whether these new forms will represent progress (according to some suitable metric) is however a moot point.

In the early days of the Internet in the 1990s, there was much hope that online spaces would finally realize the Habermasian ideal of a public sphere for political deliberation (Hindman 2009). The Internet was supposed to act as the great equalizer in the worldwide marketplace of ideas, finally attaining the Millian ideal of free exchange of ideas (Mill 1859). Online, everyone’s voice would have an equal chance of being heard, everyone could contribute to the conversation, and everyone could simultaneously be a journalist, news consumer, engaged citizen, advocate, and activist.

A few decades later, these hopes have not really materialized. It is probably true that most people now argue more —in social media, blogs, chat rooms, discussion boards etc.—but it is much less obvious that they argue better . Indeed, rather than enhancing democratic ideals, some have gone as far as claiming that instead, the Internet is “killing democracy” (Bartlett 2018). There is very little oversight when it comes to the spreading of propaganda and disinformation online (Benkler, Faris, & Roberts 2018), which means that citizens are often being fed faulty information and arguments. Moreover, it seems that online environments may lead to increased polarization when polemic topics are being discussed (Yardi & Boyd 2010), and to “intellectual arrogance” (Lynch 2019). Some have argued that online discussions lead to more overly emotional engagement when compared to other forms of debate (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock 2014). But not everyone is convinced that the Internet has only made things worse when it comes to argumentation, or in any case that it cannot be suitably redesigned so as to foster rather than destroy democratic ideals and deliberation (Sunstein 2017).

Be that as it may, the Internet is here to stay, and online argumentation is a pervasive phenomenon that argumentation theorists have been studying and will continue to study for years to come. In fact, if anything, online argumentation is now more often investigated empirically than other forms of argumentation, among other reasons thanks to the development of argument mining techniques (see section 4.2 above) which greatly facilitate the study of large corpora of textual material such as those produced by online discussions. Beyond the very numerous specific case studies available in the literature, there have been also attempts to reflect on the phenomenon of online argumentation in general, for example in journal special issues dedicated to argumentation in digital media such as in Argumentation and Advocacy (Volume 47(2), 2010) and Philosophy & Technology (Volume 30(2), 2017). However, a systematic analysis of online argumentation and how it differs from other forms of argumentation remains to be produced.

Argument and argumentation are multifaceted phenomena that have attracted the interest of philosophers as well as scholars in other fields for millennia, and continue to be studied extensively in various domains. This entry presents an overview of the main strands in these discussions, while acknowledging the impossibility of fully doing justice to the enormous literature on the topic. But the literature references below should at least provide a useful starting point for the interested reader.

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abduction | analogy: medieval theories of | analogy and analogical reasoning | Aristotle | Aristotle, General Topics: logic | Aristotle, General Topics: rhetoric | Bacon, Francis | Bayes’ Theorem | bias, implicit | Chinese Philosophy: logic and language in Early Chinese Philosophy | Chinese Philosophy: Mohism | Chinese Philosophy: Mohist Canons | Chinese room argument | cognition: embodied | critical thinking | Curry’s paradox | democracy | emotion | epistemology: virtue | ethics: virtue | fallacies | feminist philosophy, interventions: epistemology and philosophy of science | feminist philosophy, interventions: political philosophy | feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on argumentation | Habermas, Jürgen | Hume, David | induction: problem of | legal reasoning: precedent and analogy in | liar paradox | logic: inductive | logic: informal | logic: non-monotonic | logic: paraconsistent | logic: relevance | logical consequence | Peirce, Charles Sanders | reasoning: defeasible | scientific knowledge: social dimensions of | Spinoza, Baruch | Stebbing, Susan | thought experiments


Thanks to Merel Talbi, Elias Anttila, César dos Santos, Hein Duijf, Silvia Ivani, Caglar Dede, Colin Rittberg, Marcin Lewiński, Andrew Aberdein, Malcolm Keating, Maksymillian Del Mar, and an anonymous referee for suggestions and/or comments on earlier drafts. This research was supported by H2020 European Research Council [771074-SEA].

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What Is an Argument?

Understanding Premises, Inferences, and Conclusions

  • Philosophical Theories & Ideas
  • Major Philosophers
  • M.A., Princeton University
  • B.A., University of Pennsylvania

When people create and critique arguments, it's helpful to understand what an argument is and is not. Sometimes an argument is seen as a verbal fight, but that is not what is meant in these discussions. Sometimes a person thinks they are offering an argument when they are only providing assertions.

Perhaps the simplest explanation of what an argument is comes from Monty Python’s "Argument Clinic" sketch:

  • An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition. argument is an intellectual process... contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

This may have been a comedy sketch, but it highlights a common misunderstanding: to offer an argument, you cannot simply make a claim or gainsay what others claim.

An argument is a deliberate attempt to move beyond just making an assertion. When offering an argument, you are offering a series of related statements which represent an attempt to support that assertion — to give others good reasons to believe that what you are asserting is true rather than false.

Here are examples of assertions:

1. Shakespeare wrote the play Hamlet . 2. The Civil War was caused by disagreements over slavery. 3. God exists. 4. Prostitution is immoral.

Sometimes you hear such statements referred to as propositions . Technically speaking, a proposition is the informational content of any statement or assertion. To qualify as a proposition, a statement must be capable of being either true or false.

What Makes a Successful Argument?

The above represent positions people hold, but which others may disagree with. Merely making the above statements do not constitute an argument, no matter how often one repeats the assertions. To create an argument, the person making the claims must offer further statements which, at least in theory, support the claims. If the claim is supported, the argument is successful; if the claim is not supported, the argument fails.

This is the purpose of an argument: to offer reasons and evidence for the purpose of establishing the truth value of a proposition, which can mean either establishing that the proposition is true or establishing that the proposition is false. If a series of statements does not do this, it isn’t an argument.

Three Parts of an Argument

Another aspect of understanding arguments is to examine the parts. An argument can be broken down into three major components: premises , inferences , and a conclusion .

Premises are statements of (assumed) fact which are supposed to set forth the reasons and/or evidence for believing a claim. The claim, in turn, is the conclusion: what you finish with at the end of an argument. When an argument is simple, you may just have a couple of premises and a conclusion:

1. Doctors earn a lot of money. (premise) 2. I want to earn a lot of money. (premise) 3. I should become a doctor. (conclusion)

Inferences are the reasoning parts of an argument. Conclusions are a type of inference, but always the final inference. Usually, an argument will be complicated enough to require inferences linking the premises with the final conclusion:

1. Doctors earn a lot of money. (premise) 2. With a lot of money, a person can travel a lot. (premise) 3. Doctors can travel a lot. (inference, from 1 and 2) 4. I want to travel a lot. (premise) 5. I should become a doctor. (from 3 and 4)

Here we see two different types of claims which can occur in an argument. The first is a factual claim, and this purports to offer evidence. The first two premises above are factual claims and usually, not much time is spent on them — either they are true or they are not.

The second type is an inferential claim — it expresses the idea that some matter of fact is related to the sought-after conclusion. This is the attempt to link the factual claim to the conclusion in such a way as to support the conclusion. The third statement above is an inferential claim because it infers from the previous two statements that doctors can travel a lot.

Without an inferential claim, there would be no clear connection between the premises and the conclusion. It is rare to have an argument where inferential claims play no role. Sometimes you will come across an argument where inferential claims are needed, but missing — you won’t be able to see the connection from factual claims to a conclusion and will have to ask for them.

Assuming such inferential claims really are there, you will be spending most of your time on them when evaluating and critiquing an argument. If the factual claims are true, it is with the inferences that an argument will stand or fall, and it is here where you will find fallacies committed.

Unfortunately, most arguments aren’t presented in such a logical and clear manner as the above examples, making them difficult to decipher sometimes. But every argument which really is an argument should be capable of being reformulated in such a manner. If you cannot do that, then it is reasonable to suspect that something is wrong.

  • How Logical Fallacy Invalidates Any Argument
  • Appeal to Force/Fear or Argumentum ad Baculum
  • Quoting Out of Context Fallacy
  • Oversimplification and Exaggeration Fallacies
  • Fallacies of Relevance: Appeal to Authority
  • What Is the Fallacy of Division?
  • The Slave Boy Experiment in Plato's 'Meno'
  • Logical Fallacies: Begging the Question
  • False Dilemma Fallacy
  • Hard Determinism Explained
  • What Is Ethical Egoism?
  • What Is the Fallacy of Composition?
  • How to Prove an Argument Invalid by a Counterexample
  • Summary and Analysis of Meno by Plato
  • Suppressed Evidence Fallacy
  • 5 Good Reasons to Study Logic

Argumentation and Persuasion

Claims, reasons, and evidence.

Argument in its most basic form consists of three parts:

  • Reasons to support the claim
  • Evidence to support the reasons

In some cases, including only these three components will be sufficient to demonstrate the merits of your ideas and persuade the reader, but in others you will need to go beyond these, incorporating counterarguments and/or warrants. For now, though, let’s focus our attention on what claims, reasons, and evidence are, as well as ways that you can evaluate the quality of each.

Defining and Evaluating Claims

What is a claim? Simply stated, a claim is a position or stance that the person communicating takes on an issue. Claims exist on a spectrum of complexity; for example, the claim that fruit-flavored candy is better than chocolate is rather minor in comparison to a claim that there is not enough affordable housing in the area, with the former’s focus resting (largely) on dietary preference and the latter’s reach instead extending across financial, political, and educational lines. As you can probably tell then, a claim reflects a position or stance that is the product of a range of influential factors (e.g., biological, psychological, economic, etc.), and as a position or stance it should articulate an idea that is debatable. However, the ability to challenge the claim is not the only criterion that must be met, and the questions below can help guide you in what to look for when evaluating another person’s claim as well as when stating your own.

To evaluate the quality of a claim, consider the following:

  • Is the claim clearly and specifically stated? Clarity and specificity are key to ensuring that the claim’s intent and scope will be understood, so beware vague and/or broadly stated claims.
  • Does the claim state an idea that someone not only could debate but also would want to debate? If someone would be uninterested in debating the idea, then it matters little that he/she could do so.
  • Does the claim state an idea that can effectively be supported? If (sufficient) evidence is unavailable to support a claim, then it may be worthwhile to reconsider the claim’s phrasing and/or scope so that it can be revised to state an idea that can be supported more fully.

evaluating a claim in practice

Bias in the media has long been a topic of discussion, both popular and scholarly, and recently has even led to the creation of charts to show where news outlets fall on a spectrum from “conservative” to “liberal” ideology. Some people even claim that no media outlet can be relied on to report the truth.

Based on what you have learned in this module, is the claim, “Media cannot be trusted,” effective? Why or why not?

  • Claims, Reasons, and Evidence. Authored by : Karla Lyles and Jeanine Rauch. Provided by : University of Mississippi. Project : WRIT 250 Committee OER Project. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

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Course: LSAT   >   Unit 1

  • Getting started with Logical Reasoning

Introduction to arguments

  • Catalog of question types
  • Types of conclusions
  • Types of evidence
  • Types of flaws
  • Identify the conclusion | Quick guide
  • Identify the conclusion | Learn more
  • Identify the conclusion | Examples
  • Identify an entailment | Quick guide
  • Identify an entailment | Learn more
  • Strongly supported inferences | Quick guide
  • Strongly supported inferences | Learn more
  • Disputes | Quick guide
  • Disputes | Learn more
  • Identify the technique | Quick guide
  • Identify the technique | Learn more
  • Identify the role | Quick guide
  • Identify the role | learn more
  • Identify the principle | Quick guide
  • Identify the principle | Learn more
  • Match structure | Quick guide
  • Match structure | Learn more
  • Match principles | Quick guide
  • Match principles | Learn more
  • Identify a flaw | Quick guide
  • Identify a flaw | Learn more
  • Match a flaw | Quick guide
  • Match a flaw | Learn more
  • Necessary assumptions | Quick guide
  • Necessary assumptions | Learn more
  • Sufficient assumptions | Quick guide
  • Sufficient assumptions | Learn more
  • Strengthen and weaken | Quick guide
  • Strengthen and weaken | Learn more
  • Helpful to know | Quick guide
  • Helpful to know | learn more
  • Explain or resolve | Quick guide
  • Explain or resolve | Learn more

Logical Reasoning Arguments

What is an argument.

  • A main conclusion: This statement is a claim that expresses what the arguer is trying to persuade us to accept, whether or not it actually is true.
  • Evidence: Also known as premises or support, the arguer provides these statements in order to show us that the conclusion is true. Essentially, the evidence answers the question, “Why do you believe [the conclusion] to be true?” The simplest arguments on the LSAT have just one piece of evidence; more complex arguments will have several.

Conclusion + evidence

  • Sarah will probably receive a job offer, because she has ten years of experience.

Conclusion + evidence + intermediate conclusion

  • Sarah will probably receive a job offer, because she has ten years of experience. That means that she’ll soon pay me back for the money I lent her.

Conclusion + evidence + background information

  • One of this neighborhood’s residents has been complaining about his sister Sarah having been unemployed for so long. She’s applying for programming jobs at many companies, but she only received her first interview invite last week. She’ll probably receive a job offer because she has ten years of experience. In a job market like the current one, anything over eight years of experience gives a candidate a great advantage.

How do we identify the main conclusion?

Signal words for conclusions.

  • It follows that
  • As a result
  • Nevertheless
  • Nonetheless
  • The cat will run away if you open the door . That's because the cat doesn't like being inside.
  • 90% of adults in the area returned a survey and indicated that they think crime is on the rise. We need to act quickly to combat this increase in crime .

How do we identify the relevant evidence?

  • [Insert conclusion here]
  • [Insert the “why” reasoning here].
  • [Insert premises here]. Therefore ,
  • [Insert conclusion here].

Signal words for evidence

  • On the grounds that
  • As shown by

Looking ahead

  • Assumption (sufficient and necessary)
  • Match the flaw
  • Match the structure
  • Identify the role
  • Identify the technique
  • Identify the conclusion

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Online Guide to Writing and Research

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  • Online Guide to Writing

Writing Arguments

Steps to Writing an Argument

Develop your argument.

When you develop your argument, you are confirming your own position, and building your case for the readers. Use empirical evidence—facts and statistics—to support your claims. Appeal to your audience’s rational and logical thinking. Argue your case from the authority of your evidence and research.

Your list of strengths and weaknesses can help you develop your argument. Here is how to do that:

First, prioritize the strengths and weaknesses of each position and then decide on the top three to five strengths and weaknesses. 

Then, using a technique for developing content ideas, begin to expand your understanding of each item on your list (see the section in chapter 2 titled “ Techniques to Get Started ”). 

Evaluate each one in terms of how you can support it—by reasoning, providing details, adding an example, or offering evidence. 

Again, prioritize your list of strengths and weaknesses, this time noting the supporting comments that need more work, call for more evidence, or may be irrelevant to your argument. At this stage, it is better to overlook nothing and keep extensive notes for later reference.

As you develop your ideas, remember that you are presenting them in a fair-minded and rational way, counting on your readers’ intelligence, experience, and insight to evaluate your argument and see your point of view.

Techniques for Appealing to Your Readers

The success of your argument depends on your skill in convincing your readers—through sound reasoning, persuasion, and evidence—of the strength of your point of view. But how can you do that in the most effective way? There are three fundamental types of appeal in presenting an argument: reason, ethics, and emotion. As a writer, use all three of these techniques in your writing. 

But let’s learn more about these types of appeal:

Clear thinking requires that you state your claim and support it with concrete, specific facts. This approach appeals to our common sense and rational thinking. 

Formal reasoning involves following certain established logical methods to arrive at certain pieces of information or conclusions. Generally, these logical methods are known as inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning.

What is inductive reasoning? Inductive thinking is when our logical thinking states specific facts (called premises) and then draws a conclusion, or generalization. Inductive reasoning lets us examine the specific details, considering how well they add up to the generalization. When we think inductively, we are asking whether the evidence clearly supports the conclusions.

Example of Inductive Reasoning

Premise: Swans nest near this pond every summer.

Hypothesis: This summer, swans will probably nest near this pond.

What is deductive reasoning? In deductive reasoning, you take two premises to create a conclusion based on reasoning and evidence. When we think logically, we start with the generalization. As we apply our generalization to a specific situation, we examine the individual premises that make that generalization reasonable or unreasonable. When our logical thinking starts with the generalization, or conclusion, we may then apply the generalization to a particular situation to see if that generalization follows from the premises. Our deductive thinking can be expressed as a  syllogism  or an  enthymeme —a shortened form of the syllogism.

Syllogisms can be written like this:

All A are B.

All C are A.

Therefore, all C are B.

Example of Deductive Reasoning Using a Syllogism:

Major premise: All birds have feathers.

Minor premise: A parrot is a bird.

Conclusion: A parrot has feathers.

Enthymemes can be written like this:

If A=B and B=C, then A=C. 

But with enthymemes, B=C is implied.

Example of Deductive Reasoning Using an Enthymeme:

Conclusion: A parrot is a bird.

(We assume that a parrot has feathers)

Think of ethics as the force of a speaker’s character as it is represented in writing. If you misrepresent the evidence of one of your sources, your readers will question your ethics. 

In any situation in which you must rely on your readers’ goodwill and common sense, you will lose their open-minded stance toward your argument if you support it by using unethical methods. This can happen intentionally, by misrepresenting evidence and experts and by seeking to hurt individuals or groups. It can also happen unintentionally—you may undermine your argument by inadvertently misunderstanding the evidence and the implications of your position. This can occur if you don’t research the evidence responsibly, preferring instead to express your own and others’ unfounded opinions.

Using emotions as a support for argument can be tricky. Attempts to play on your readers’ emotions can seem manipulative and are often mistrusted. To use emotional appeal successfully, you must apply discretion and restraint. Choose examples that represent and illustrate your ideas fairly, and then present your arguments as objectively as possible. The writer must carefully draw the connections between the ideas and illustrations, choosing diction in such a way that readers don’t question motives as manipulative. Strong evidence accumulated by careful research often addresses this potential problem well.

Example of an Appeal to Emotion

Rather than continuing these tax-and-spend policies, we plan to return your hard-earned tax money to you.

Mailing Address: 3501 University Blvd. East, Adelphi, MD 20783 This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License . © 2022 UMGC. All links to external sites were verified at the time of publication. UMGC is not responsible for the validity or integrity of information located at external sites.

Table of Contents: Online Guide to Writing

Chapter 1: College Writing

How Does College Writing Differ from Workplace Writing?

What Is College Writing?

Why So Much Emphasis on Writing?

Chapter 2: The Writing Process

Doing Exploratory Research

Getting from Notes to Your Draft


Prewriting - Techniques to Get Started - Mining Your Intuition

Prewriting: Targeting Your Audience

Prewriting: Techniques to Get Started

Prewriting: Understanding Your Assignment

Rewriting: Being Your Own Critic

Rewriting: Creating a Revision Strategy

Rewriting: Getting Feedback

Rewriting: The Final Draft

Techniques to Get Started - Outlining

Techniques to Get Started - Using Systematic Techniques

Thesis Statement and Controlling Idea

Writing: Getting from Notes to Your Draft - Freewriting

Writing: Getting from Notes to Your Draft - Summarizing Your Ideas

Writing: Outlining What You Will Write

Chapter 3: Thinking Strategies

A Word About Style, Voice, and Tone

A Word About Style, Voice, and Tone: Style Through Vocabulary and Diction

Critical Strategies and Writing

Critical Strategies and Writing: Analysis

Critical Strategies and Writing: Evaluation

Critical Strategies and Writing: Persuasion

Critical Strategies and Writing: Synthesis

Developing a Paper Using Strategies

Kinds of Assignments You Will Write

Patterns for Presenting Information

Patterns for Presenting Information: Critiques

Patterns for Presenting Information: Discussing Raw Data

Patterns for Presenting Information: General-to-Specific Pattern

Patterns for Presenting Information: Problem-Cause-Solution Pattern

Patterns for Presenting Information: Specific-to-General Pattern

Patterns for Presenting Information: Summaries and Abstracts

Supporting with Research and Examples

Writing Essay Examinations

Writing Essay Examinations: Make Your Answer Relevant and Complete

Writing Essay Examinations: Organize Thinking Before Writing

Writing Essay Examinations: Read and Understand the Question

Chapter 4: The Research Process

Planning and Writing a Research Paper

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Ask a Research Question

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Cite Sources

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Collect Evidence

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Decide Your Point of View, or Role, for Your Research

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Draw Conclusions

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Find a Topic and Get an Overview

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Manage Your Resources

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Outline

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Survey the Literature

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Work Your Sources into Your Research Writing

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found? - Human Resources

Research Resources: What Are Research Resources?

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found?

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found? - Electronic Resources

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found? - Print Resources

Structuring the Research Paper: Formal Research Structure

Structuring the Research Paper: Informal Research Structure

The Nature of Research

The Research Assignment: How Should Research Sources Be Evaluated?

The Research Assignment: When Is Research Needed?

The Research Assignment: Why Perform Research?

Chapter 5: Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity

Giving Credit to Sources

Giving Credit to Sources: Copyright Laws

Giving Credit to Sources: Documentation

Giving Credit to Sources: Style Guides

Integrating Sources

Practicing Academic Integrity

Practicing Academic Integrity: Keeping Accurate Records

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material - Paraphrasing Your Source

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material - Quoting Your Source

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material - Summarizing Your Sources

Types of Documentation

Types of Documentation: Bibliographies and Source Lists

Types of Documentation: Citing World Wide Web Sources

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - APA Style

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - CSE/CBE Style

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - Chicago Style

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - MLA Style

Types of Documentation: Note Citations

Chapter 6: Using Library Resources

Finding Library Resources

Chapter 7: Assessing Your Writing

How Is Writing Graded?

How Is Writing Graded?: A General Assessment Tool

The Draft Stage

The Draft Stage: The First Draft

The Draft Stage: The Revision Process and the Final Draft

The Draft Stage: Using Feedback

The Research Stage

Using Assessment to Improve Your Writing

Chapter 8: Other Frequently Assigned Papers

Reviews and Reaction Papers: Article and Book Reviews

Reviews and Reaction Papers: Reaction Papers

Writing Arguments: Adapting the Argument Structure

Writing Arguments: Purposes of Argument

Writing Arguments: References to Consult for Writing Arguments

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Anticipate Active Opposition

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Determine Your Organization

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Develop Your Argument

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Introduce Your Argument

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - State Your Thesis or Proposition

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Write Your Conclusion

Writing Arguments: Types of Argument

Appendix A: Books to Help Improve Your Writing


General Style Manuals

Researching on the Internet

Special Style Manuals

Writing Handbooks

Appendix B: Collaborative Writing and Peer Reviewing

Collaborative Writing: Assignments to Accompany the Group Project

Collaborative Writing: Informal Progress Report

Collaborative Writing: Issues to Resolve

Collaborative Writing: Methodology

Collaborative Writing: Peer Evaluation

Collaborative Writing: Tasks of Collaborative Writing Group Members

Collaborative Writing: Writing Plan

General Introduction

Peer Reviewing

Appendix C: Developing an Improvement Plan

Working with Your Instructor’s Comments and Grades

Appendix D: Writing Plan and Project Schedule

Devising a Writing Project Plan and Schedule

Reviewing Your Plan with Others

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What is an Argumentative Essay? How to Write It (With Examples)

Argumentative Essay

We define an argumentative essay as a type of essay that presents arguments about both sides of an issue. The purpose is to convince the reader to accept a particular viewpoint or action. In an argumentative essay, the writer takes a stance on a controversial or debatable topic and supports their position with evidence, reasoning, and examples. The essay should also address counterarguments, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the topic.

Table of Contents

  • What is an argumentative essay?  
  • Argumentative essay structure 
  • Argumentative essay outline 
  • Types of argument claims 

How to write an argumentative essay?

  • Argumentative essay writing tips 
  • Good argumentative essay example 

How to write a good thesis

Frequently asked questions, what is an argumentative essay.

An argumentative essay is a type of writing that presents a coherent and logical analysis of a specific topic. 1 The goal is to convince the reader to accept the writer’s point of view or opinion on a particular issue. Here are the key elements of an argumentative essay: 

  • Thesis Statement : The central claim or argument that the essay aims to prove. 
  • Introduction : Provides background information and introduces the thesis statement. 
  • Body Paragraphs : Each paragraph addresses a specific aspect of the argument, presents evidence, and may include counterarguments. 
  • Evidence : Supports the main argument with relevant facts, examples, statistics, or expert opinions. 
  • Counterarguments : Anticipates and addresses opposing viewpoints to strengthen the overall argument. 
  • Conclusion : Summarizes the main points, reinforces the thesis, and may suggest implications or actions. 

argument or claim

Argumentative essay structure

Aristotelian, Rogerian, and Toulmin are three distinct approaches to argumentative essay structures, each with its principles and methods. 2 The choice depends on the purpose and nature of the topic. Here’s an overview of each type of argumentative essay format.

Argumentative essay outline

An argumentative essay presents a specific claim or argument and supports it with evidence and reasoning. Here’s an outline for an argumentative essay, along with examples for each section: 3  

1.  Introduction : 

  • Hook : Start with a compelling statement, question, or anecdote to grab the reader’s attention. 

Example: “Did you know that plastic pollution is threatening marine life at an alarming rate?” 

  • Background information : Provide brief context about the issue. 

Example: “Plastic pollution has become a global environmental concern, with millions of tons of plastic waste entering our oceans yearly.” 

  • Thesis statement : Clearly state your main argument or position. 

Example: “We must take immediate action to reduce plastic usage and implement more sustainable alternatives to protect our marine ecosystem.” 

2.  Body Paragraphs : 

  • Topic sentence : Introduce the main idea of each paragraph. 

Example: “The first step towards addressing the plastic pollution crisis is reducing single-use plastic consumption.” 

  • Evidence/Support : Provide evidence, facts, statistics, or examples that support your argument. 

Example: “Research shows that plastic straws alone contribute to millions of tons of plastic waste annually, and many marine animals suffer from ingestion or entanglement.” 

  • Counterargument/Refutation : Acknowledge and refute opposing viewpoints. 

Example: “Some argue that banning plastic straws is inconvenient for consumers, but the long-term environmental benefits far outweigh the temporary inconvenience.” 

  • Transition : Connect each paragraph to the next. 

Example: “Having addressed the issue of single-use plastics, the focus must now shift to promoting sustainable alternatives.” 

3.  Counterargument Paragraph : 

  • Acknowledgement of opposing views : Recognize alternative perspectives on the issue. 

Example: “While some may argue that individual actions cannot significantly impact global plastic pollution, the cumulative effect of collective efforts must be considered.” 

  • Counterargument and rebuttal : Present and refute the main counterargument. 

Example: “However, individual actions, when multiplied across millions of people, can substantially reduce plastic waste. Small changes in behavior, such as using reusable bags and containers, can have a significant positive impact.” 

4.  Conclusion : 

  • Restatement of thesis : Summarize your main argument. 

Example: “In conclusion, adopting sustainable practices and reducing single-use plastic is crucial for preserving our oceans and marine life.” 

  • Call to action : Encourage the reader to take specific steps or consider the argument’s implications. 

Example: “It is our responsibility to make environmentally conscious choices and advocate for policies that prioritize the health of our planet. By collectively embracing sustainable alternatives, we can contribute to a cleaner and healthier future.” 

argument or claim

Types of argument claims

A claim is a statement or proposition a writer puts forward with evidence to persuade the reader. 4 Here are some common types of argument claims, along with examples: 

  • Fact Claims : These claims assert that something is true or false and can often be verified through evidence.  Example: “Water boils at 100°C at sea level.”
  • Value Claims : Value claims express judgments about the worth or morality of something, often based on personal beliefs or societal values. Example: “Organic farming is more ethical than conventional farming.” 
  • Policy Claims : Policy claims propose a course of action or argue for a specific policy, law, or regulation change.  Example: “Schools should adopt a year-round education system to improve student learning outcomes.” 
  • Cause and Effect Claims : These claims argue that one event or condition leads to another, establishing a cause-and-effect relationship.  Example: “Excessive use of social media is a leading cause of increased feelings of loneliness among young adults.” 
  • Definition Claims : Definition claims assert the meaning or classification of a concept or term.  Example: “Artificial intelligence can be defined as machines exhibiting human-like cognitive functions.” 
  • Comparative Claims : Comparative claims assert that one thing is better or worse than another in certain respects.  Example: “Online education is more cost-effective than traditional classroom learning.” 
  • Evaluation Claims : Evaluation claims assess the quality, significance, or effectiveness of something based on specific criteria.  Example: “The new healthcare policy is more effective in providing affordable healthcare to all citizens.” 

Understanding these argument claims can help writers construct more persuasive and well-supported arguments tailored to the specific nature of the claim.  

If you’re wondering how to start an argumentative essay, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you with the argumentative essay format and writing process.

  • Choose a Topic: Select a topic that you are passionate about or interested in. Ensure that the topic is debatable and has two or more sides.
  • Define Your Position: Clearly state your stance on the issue. Consider opposing viewpoints and be ready to counter them.
  • Conduct Research: Gather relevant information from credible sources, such as books, articles, and academic journals. Take notes on key points and supporting evidence.
  • Create a Thesis Statement: Develop a concise and clear thesis statement that outlines your main argument. Convey your position on the issue and provide a roadmap for the essay.
  • Outline Your Argumentative Essay: Organize your ideas logically by creating an outline. Include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each body paragraph should focus on a single point that supports your thesis.
  • Write the Introduction: Start with a hook to grab the reader’s attention (a quote, a question, a surprising fact). Provide background information on the topic. Present your thesis statement at the end of the introduction.
  • Develop Body Paragraphs: Begin each paragraph with a clear topic sentence that relates to the thesis. Support your points with evidence and examples. Address counterarguments and refute them to strengthen your position. Ensure smooth transitions between paragraphs.
  • Address Counterarguments: Acknowledge and respond to opposing viewpoints. Anticipate objections and provide evidence to counter them.
  • Write the Conclusion: Summarize the main points of your argumentative essay. Reinforce the significance of your argument. End with a call to action, a prediction, or a thought-provoking statement.
  • Revise, Edit, and Share: Review your essay for clarity, coherence, and consistency. Check for grammatical and spelling errors. Share your essay with peers, friends, or instructors for constructive feedback.
  • Finalize Your Argumentative Essay: Make final edits based on feedback received. Ensure that your essay follows the required formatting and citation style.

Argumentative essay writing tips

Here are eight strategies to craft a compelling argumentative essay: 

  • Choose a Clear and Controversial Topic : Select a topic that sparks debate and has opposing viewpoints. A clear and controversial issue provides a solid foundation for a strong argument. 
  • Conduct Thorough Research : Gather relevant information from reputable sources to support your argument. Use a variety of sources, such as academic journals, books, reputable websites, and expert opinions, to strengthen your position. 
  • Create a Strong Thesis Statement : Clearly articulate your main argument in a concise thesis statement. Your thesis should convey your stance on the issue and provide a roadmap for the reader to follow your argument. 
  • Develop a Logical Structure : Organize your essay with a clear introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Each paragraph should focus on a specific point of evidence that contributes to your overall argument. Ensure a logical flow from one point to the next. 
  • Provide Strong Evidence : Support your claims with solid evidence. Use facts, statistics, examples, and expert opinions to support your arguments. Be sure to cite your sources appropriately to maintain credibility. 
  • Address Counterarguments : Acknowledge opposing viewpoints and counterarguments. Addressing and refuting alternative perspectives strengthens your essay and demonstrates a thorough understanding of the issue. Be mindful of maintaining a respectful tone even when discussing opposing views. 
  • Use Persuasive Language : Employ persuasive language to make your points effectively. Avoid emotional appeals without supporting evidence and strive for a respectful and professional tone. 
  • Craft a Compelling Conclusion : Summarize your main points, restate your thesis, and leave a lasting impression in your conclusion. Encourage readers to consider the implications of your argument and potentially take action. 

argument or claim

Good argumentative essay example

Let’s consider a sample of argumentative essay on how social media enhances connectivity:

In the digital age, social media has emerged as a powerful tool that transcends geographical boundaries, connecting individuals from diverse backgrounds and providing a platform for an array of voices to be heard. While critics argue that social media fosters division and amplifies negativity, it is essential to recognize the positive aspects of this digital revolution and how it enhances connectivity by providing a platform for diverse voices to flourish. One of the primary benefits of social media is its ability to facilitate instant communication and connection across the globe. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram break down geographical barriers, enabling people to establish and maintain relationships regardless of physical location and fostering a sense of global community. Furthermore, social media has transformed how people stay connected with friends and family. Whether separated by miles or time zones, social media ensures that relationships remain dynamic and relevant, contributing to a more interconnected world. Moreover, social media has played a pivotal role in giving voice to social justice movements and marginalized communities. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #ClimateStrike have gained momentum through social media, allowing individuals to share their stories and advocate for change on a global scale. This digital activism can shape public opinion and hold institutions accountable. Social media platforms provide a dynamic space for open dialogue and discourse. Users can engage in discussions, share information, and challenge each other’s perspectives, fostering a culture of critical thinking. This open exchange of ideas contributes to a more informed and enlightened society where individuals can broaden their horizons and develop a nuanced understanding of complex issues. While criticisms of social media abound, it is crucial to recognize its positive impact on connectivity and the amplification of diverse voices. Social media transcends physical and cultural barriers, connecting people across the globe and providing a platform for marginalized voices to be heard. By fostering open dialogue and facilitating the exchange of ideas, social media contributes to a more interconnected and empowered society. Embracing the positive aspects of social media allows us to harness its potential for positive change and collective growth.
  • Clearly Define Your Thesis Statement:   Your thesis statement is the core of your argumentative essay. Clearly articulate your main argument or position on the issue. Avoid vague or general statements.  
  • Provide Strong Supporting Evidence:   Back up your thesis with solid evidence from reliable sources and examples. This can include facts, statistics, expert opinions, anecdotes, or real-life examples. Make sure your evidence is relevant to your argument, as it impacts the overall persuasiveness of your thesis.  
  • Anticipate Counterarguments and Address Them:   Acknowledge and address opposing viewpoints to strengthen credibility. This also shows that you engage critically with the topic rather than presenting a one-sided argument. 

The length of an argumentative essay can vary, but it typically falls within the range of 1,000 to 2,500 words. However, the specific requirements may depend on the guidelines provided.

You might write an argumentative essay when:  1. You want to convince others of the validity of your position.  2. There is a controversial or debatable issue that requires discussion.  3. You need to present evidence and logical reasoning to support your claims.  4. You want to explore and critically analyze different perspectives on a topic. 

Argumentative Essay:  Purpose : An argumentative essay aims to persuade the reader to accept or agree with a specific point of view or argument.  Structure : It follows a clear structure with an introduction, thesis statement, body paragraphs presenting arguments and evidence, counterarguments and refutations, and a conclusion.  Tone : The tone is formal and relies on logical reasoning, evidence, and critical analysis.    Narrative/Descriptive Essay:  Purpose : These aim to tell a story or describe an experience, while a descriptive essay focuses on creating a vivid picture of a person, place, or thing.  Structure : They may have a more flexible structure. They often include an engaging introduction, a well-developed body that builds the story or description, and a conclusion.  Tone : The tone is more personal and expressive to evoke emotions or provide sensory details. 

  • Gladd, J. (2020). Tips for Writing Academic Persuasive Essays.  Write What Matters . 
  • Nimehchisalem, V. (2018). Pyramid of argumentation: Towards an integrated model for teaching and assessing ESL writing.  Language & Communication ,  5 (2), 185-200. 
  • Press, B. (2022).  Argumentative Essays: A Step-by-Step Guide . Broadview Press. 
  • Rieke, R. D., Sillars, M. O., & Peterson, T. R. (2005).  Argumentation and critical decision making . Pearson/Allyn & Bacon. 

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5.5: Evidence and Support in an Argument

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Much of academic reading requires readers to understand, analyze, and evaluate an author's claim and support for that claim. The point and claim can also be thought of as thesis , main idea , or topic sentence , as discussed in previous sections. An author's claim may be one of the following: a claim of value, a claim of policy, or a claim of fact. A claim of value attempts to persuade readers to approve or disapprove of something. Key words that signal this type of claim are better , worse , more...than , right , wrong , and beautiful . A  claim of policy is one that attempts to persuade readers to take action. Key words that signal this type of claim are should , ought to , and  must . Lastly, a claim of fact is one that presents facts to persuade readers that something existed, currently exists, or will exist. Some key words that indicate this type of claim are leads to , causes , improves , and destroys .

Once you can identify the claim that the author is trying to make, you can start to closely look at the types of support the author uses for their claim.

Types of support might include:

  • Personal anecdotes.
  • Statistics.
  • Quotations from experts.
  • Narratives.
  • Case studies.
  • Testimonies.
  • Analogies and Logical Reasoning.
  • Experiments.

Evaluating Support

After identifying the supporting details and the types of support an author uses, it is crucial to make sure that those supporting details are solid and convincing. Below is the STAR Method for evaluating an author's support for their claim.

An author may also refute , or disprove, opposing viewpoints in their argument by providing evidence that negates opposing arguments. This may be accomplished in various ways:

  • Refutation through Logic : an author may provide evidence that convincingly negates an opposing argument, or by providing more current and credible evidence.
  • Refutation through Evidence : an author may refute an opposing argument by deconstructing it in such a way that shows the inconsistencies within that opposing argument.
  • Refutation through Exposing Discrepancies : an author may refute an opposing argument by showcasing how that argument is missing core essential elements related to the issue at hand.


Directions: Take some time to read the article about food deserts and answer the following:

Preview the Article

  • What is suggested by the title of the article?
  • Who is the author of the article?
  • When was the article written/published?
  • What do you already know about the issue?

Actively Read the Article

  • What is the issue presented in the article?
  • What is the author's claim (i.e. argument, point)?
  • What type of claim does the author make?
  • What support does the author provide for their claim?
  • What type(s) of support does the author include?
  • Using the STAR Method above, answer each question in the Question column of the table (refer to the Examples and Notes column for assistance).
  • Does the author provide opposing viewpoints? If so, which one(s) do they include?
  • Of the opposing viewpoints provided, does the author refute any? If so, which one(s) are refuted, and how does the author refute them?

License and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Previously shared:

The Word on College Reading and Writing. Authored by: Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear. Located at: License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted, some content removed to fit a broader audience. 

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Trump has no immunity from Jan. 6 prosecution, appeals court rules

argument or claim

A federal appeals court has unanimously ruled that Donald Trump can be put on trial for trying to stay in power after losing the 2020 election, rejecting Trump’s sweeping claim of presidential immunity as dangerous and unsupported by the Constitution.

At public arguments in January, the three judges expressed concern over the most extreme implications of Trump’s view, with one suggesting it would allow a future president to order the assassination of a political rival. But in their opinion Tuesday, they said it is Trump’s own alleged crimes — “an unprecedented assault on the structure of our government” — that threaten democracy if left beyond the reach of criminal prosecution.

“We cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a President has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power — the recognition and implementation of election results,” the judges wrote . “Nor can we sanction his apparent contention that the Executive has carte blanche to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and to have their votes count.”

Read the appeals court ruling on Trump’s immunity claim in Jan. 6 trial

The ruling is one of several expected this spring that could determine whether Trump will campaign for president this fall from behind bars — and whether he is able to compete for reelection at all. It comes days before the Supreme Court considers another untested question raised by Trump’s candidacy: whether the former president is an insurrectionist prohibited by the Constitution from returning to the White House because of his actions around Jan. 6 , 2021.

Trump was appealing a decision by Tanya S. Chutkan , the judge overseeing his trial in D.C., and has made clear that he plans to keep pressing his case in higher courts. The D.C. Circuit panel set tight deadlines for that review, saying it would give Trump only until Feb. 12 to ask the Supreme Court to intervene. That would make it hard for Trump to ask the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the ruling first. While his legal arguments keep failing in court, even rulings against him increase his chances of delaying any federal trial in D.C. until after the presidential election, in which he is the Republican front-runner.

Trump’s trial had been scheduled for March 4 — one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces while simultaneously campaigning to regain the White House. But it was postponed indefinitely last week for the appeals process on the immunity issue to continue.

The panel wrote “per curiam,” meaning the judges are “speaking with one voice,” in a 57-page opinion addressing all of the arguments Trump’s attorneys made before the appellate court in January.

“This opinion is as strong an argument against Supreme Court intervention as there could have been,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “Whether it’s strong enough is up to the justices.”

Five justices would have to agree to keep the trial on hold for Trump’s appeal. Vladeck predicted that the court would either take the case quickly and decide it before the term ends in late June or early July, or not take it at all. “They don’t want to be seen as running out the clock,” he said. “If they want to step in, I think they would want to step in this term.”

The Justice Department has long held that a current president cannot be prosecuted. But Trump raised the novel claim that former presidents cannot either, at least for actions related to their official duties, unless impeached and convicted by Congress first. Having been acquitted by the Senate of inciting the deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, Trump said that to try him in federal court would be a double-jeopardy violation.

Live chat Wednesday: Will Supreme Court bar Trump from office? Send us questions.

The lone Republican appointee on the panel, Karen L. Henderson, has historically been sympathetic to broad presidential power. But during the oral argument she called it “paradoxical” that a president’s duty to faithfully execute the laws would allow him to violate them. That characterization is reflected in the final opinion, which calls Trump’s position “a striking paradox.” It also suggests that some fear of future prosecution serves an important purpose: “to deter possible abuses of power and criminal behavior.”

The court quoted Chutkan’s earlier ruling: “Every President will face difficult decisions; whether to intentionally commit a federal crime should not be one of them.”

Having already promised if reelected to use the Justice Department to “go after” President Biden , Trump said after arguments in the D.C. Circuit that a ruling against him would mean “ bedlam in the country .” In a statement Tuesday on Truth Social, Trump posted that without “Full immunity … A President will be afraid to act for fear of the opposite Party’s Vicious Retribution after leaving Office.”

The D.C. Circuit dismissed that warning as “unsupported by history,” as “this is the first time since the Founding that a former President has been federally indicted.” The judges also pointed out that other ex-presidents believed themselves vulnerable to prosecution. Richard M. Nixon accepted a pardon “for all offenses” he “committed or may have committed” in office. Bill Clinton agreed to the suspension of his law license and a fine to avoid a possible indictment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Prosecutorial ethics and the grand jury process would “prevent baseless indictments,” the judges said.

The ruling also echoes an assessment made by Judge Florence Y. Pan during the arguments — that Trump’s claim he could be prosecuted as long as he was first impeached and convicted by Congress undermines rather than strengthens his argument. He “implicitly concedes that there is no absolute” immunity, the court wrote, and complains only about the process.

Trump’s impeachment claim relies on a single line in the Constitution saying that while Congress can only remove a person from office, “the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment.” Trump, who was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate, argued that that must mean the opposite is also true, as he put it in his filings: “A president who is not convicted may not be subject to criminal prosecution.”

At oral argument, when asked whether Trump’s view would allow a president to order the assassination of a political rival, defense attorney D. John Sauer did not disagree. But he suggested that such an action would “speedily” result in impeachment.

The court called that “irrational” and “implausibl[e].” The argument that prosecution after an impeachment acquittal would violate the principle of double jeopardy was not serious, the court said — “impeachment is a political process,” and most of the senators who voted against Trump’s impeachment said they did so for reasons “unrelated to factual innocence.” Moreover, the court said, the single impeachment count of inciting an insurrection did not overlap completely with the charges against Trump in D.C. of conspiring to subvert the election results.

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Even if presidents should be protected from prosecution for some acts, the court said, it is “doubtful” that Trump’s efforts to remain in office would qualify: “He allegedly injected himself into a process in which the President has no role.”

The Supreme Court in 1982 declared that presidents cannot be sued in civil court over official decisions. A different panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled late last year that lawsuits against Trump could go forward because campaigning for reelection is not an “official act.” Trump has indicated he plans to appeal that ruling as well.

The D.C. Circuit ruling is not binding in any other jurisdiction where Trump is accused of a crime. He is making similar arguments in Georgia , where he is accused of interfering specifically in that state’s 2020 election. But in that case, Trump is also arguing that the Constitution’s “ supremacy clause ” bars state prosecutors from indicting a former president. The special counsel has declined to address that issue , saying in court filings that “prosecution by a state or local entity would raise separate questions.” In New York state court and Florida federal court, Trump faces trial for actions he took before or after his presidency.

“We do not address policy considerations implicated in the prosecution of a sitting President or in a state prosecution of a President, sitting or former,” the D.C. Circuit said in a footnote to its ruling.

Spencer S. Hsu, Ann E. Marimow and Perry Stein contributed to this report.

More on the Trump Jan. 6 indictment

The charges: Former president Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to charges that he plotted to overturn the 2020 election in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Here’s a breakdown of the charges against Trump and what they mean, and things that stand out from the Trump indictment . Read the full text of the 45-page indictment .

The trial: The March 4 trial date has been taken off the calendar and jury selection has been postponed indefinitely while Trump’s claim of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution remains on appeal .

The case: The special counsel’s office has been investigating whether Trump or those close to him violated the law by interfering with the lawful transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election or with Congress’s confirmation of the results on Jan. 6, 2021. It is one of several ongoing investigations involving Trump .

Can Trump still run for president? While it has never been attempted by a candidate from a major party before, Trump is allowed to run for president while under indictment in four separate cases — or even if he is convicted of a crime. Here’s how Trump’s indictment could affect the 2024 election .

argument or claim

Trump opts against Supreme Court appeal on civil immunity claim over Jan. 6 lawsuits

Then-President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON — Lawsuits seeking to hold Donald Trump personally accountable for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol can move forward after the former president chose not to take his broad immunity claim to the Supreme Court.

Trump had a Thursday deadline to file a petition at the Supreme Court contesting an appeals court decision from December that rejected his immunity arguments, but he did not do so.

The appeals court made it clear that Trump could still claim immunity later in the proceedings in three cases brought by Capitol Police officers and members of Congress.

"President Trump will continue to fight for presidential immunity all across the spectrum," said Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman.

The civil lawsuits against Trump are separate from the criminal case against him that also arose from Jan. 6. On Monday, Trump asked the justices to put that case on hold on immunity grounds.

Trump's lawyers argued that any actions he took on Jan. 6 fall under the scope of his responsibilities as president, thereby granting him immunity from civil liability. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected that argument, ruling that Trump was acting in his role as a political candidate running for office, not as president.

But the court added that when the cases move forward in district court, Trump "must be afforded the opportunity to develop his own facts on the immunity question" in order to show he was acting in his official capacity. He then could again seek to have the lawsuits dismissed, the court said.

“We look forward to moving on with proving our claims and getting justice for our Capitol Police officer clients who were injured defending our democracy from Defendant Trump,” said Kristy Parker, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the cases.

The lead plaintiff in the civil immunity case is James Blassingame, a Capitol Police officer who was injured in the Jan. 6 riot. Fellow plaintiffs in several lawsuits that were consolidated on appeal include lawmakers who were at the Capitol that day.

The legal arguments being made by Trump are similar to those he is making in his criminal case as he seeks to prevent a trial from taking place before the November election.

In rejecting Trump's immunity claim in the criminal case, a different panel of judges in the same appeals court did not directly address whether Trump's actions were official acts. The court instead assumed that they likely were official acts and found that, even then, Trump could not claim immunity.

argument or claim

Lawrence Hurley covers the Supreme Court for NBC News.

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Trump appeals immunity ruling to the Supreme Court

Carrie Johnson 2016 square

Carrie Johnson

argument or claim

Former President Trump appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling that he did not enjoy immunity from prosecution. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

Former President Trump appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling that he did not enjoy immunity from prosecution.

Former President Donald Trump is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hit pause on his federal criminal prosecution for allegedly conspiring to obstruct the electoral certification three years ago.

Lawyers for Trump made the request Monday, writing the justices that they are preparing a petition for certiorari, or a full application for the high court to take the case. They said they want the court to indefinitely delay the trial at a federal courthouse in Washington D.C. At issue is a dispute over whether Trump should enjoy absolute immunity from criminal charges over acts he allegedly committed while in the White House.

Last week, three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit flatly rejected Trump's bid for blanket immunity .

"Former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant," the ideologically diverse judges wrote in an unsigned, unanimous opinion.

"We cannot accept that the office of the Presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter," the D.C. Circuit judges wrote. Doing so, they said, "would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three branches."

The three-judge panel gave Trump until Monday to take his case to the Supreme Court. What the justices do, and how quickly, could determine whether Trump faces trial before the November election in a case that accuses him of breaking federal conspiracy laws to cling to power after he lost the 2020 race to Joe Biden.

Lawyers working for Special Counsel Jack Smith said in court papers that those conspiracies culminated in violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that injured more than 140 law enforcement officers and shook the foundations of American democracy.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and has argued in and outside of court that the case amounts to "election interference" against the Republican frontrunner to return to the White House. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who named a special counsel to lead the inquiry, has denied under oath any meddling by Biden and others currently in the White House.

The question of presidential immunity in criminal cases has never before arisen, because Trump is the first former president to face such charges.

He's fighting 91 felony counts, across four different jurisdictions, for allegations related to the 2020 election, his refusal to return highly classified documents to the FBI, and for paperwork violations over hush-money payments to an adult film star.

At the Supreme Court, meanwhile, the justices seemed skeptical of Colorado's bid to disqualify Trump from a state primary ballot for allegedly engaging in an insurrection. A decision in that case could come within weeks.

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In fiery testimony, Fani Willis hits back at misconduct claims that threaten future of Trump case

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis took the witness stand Thursday and forcefully pushed back against what she described as “lies” about her romantic relationship with a special prosecutor during an extraordinary hearing over misconduct allegations that threaten to upend one of four criminal cases against Donald Trump. (Feb 15) (AP production by Javier Arciga)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

A former friend and co-worker of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has testified that Willis’ romantic relationship with a special prosecutor began before she hired him to lead the election interference case against Donald Trump. (Feb. 15)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

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Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is is handed the book “Find Me the Votes”, to read over a quote from herself as she testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Ashleigh Merchant, left, attorney for Michael Roman, questions Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Ashleigh Merchant, attorney for Michael Roman, questions Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis gestures while testifying as Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Fulton County Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Natahn Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Attorney Steve Sadow, former President Donald Trump’s lead attorney in the case, speaks during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade is questioned by attorney Ashleigh Merchant during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether District Attorney Fani Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Wade, special prosecutor, she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis sits in the stand as Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee steps away for a break during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Ashleigh Merchant, left, attorney for Michael Roman, looks on next to attorney Anna Cross, who is representing the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. The hearing is to determine whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be removed from the case because of a relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor she hired in the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis took the witness stand Thursday and forcefully pushed back against what she described as “lies” about her romantic relationship with a special prosecutor during an extraordinary hearing over misconduct allegations that threaten to upend one of four criminal cases against Donald Trump.

A visibly upset Willis, who originally fought to stay off the witness stand, agreed to testify after a previous witness said her relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade began earlier than they had claimed. The district attorney’s testimony grew heated under questioning from a defense attorney who’s trying to remove Willis from Trump’s 2020 election interference case , with the prosecutor at one point raising papers in front of her and shouting: “It’s a lie!”

“Do you think I’m on trial? These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I’m not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial,” Willis told defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant. At another point, Willis said, “Merchant’s interests are contrary to democracy.”

Willis is expected to return to the witness stand on Friday to continue answer questions.

FILE - Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears during a hearing regarding defendant Harrison Floyd, a leader in the organization Black Voices for Trump, as part of the Georgia election indictments, Nov. 21, 2023, in Atlanta. A Georgia judge who is deciding whether to toss Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis off of her election interference case against former President Donald Trump has set a hearing for Thursday that is expected to focus on details of Willis' personal relationship with a special prosecutor she hired. (Dennis Byron/Hip Hop Enquirer via AP, File)

The probing questions for Willis and for Wade, who testified before her, underscored the extent to which the prosecutors who pledged to hold Trump accountable are themselves now under a public microscope, with revelations about their personal lives diverting attention away from Trump’s own conduct and raising questions about the future of the case as Trump vies to reclaim the White House.

The revelation of Willis and Wade’s romantic relationship has provided an opening for Trump and his Republican allies to try to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Willis’ case, which the former president has characterized as politically motivated. Other Republicans have cited them in calling for investigations into Willis, a Democrat who’s up for re-election this year.

Trump and his co-defendants have argued that the relationship presents a conflict of interest that should force Willis off the case. Wade sought to downplay the matter, casting himself and Willis as “private people.”

“There is nothing secret or salacious about having a private life,” Wade said. “Nothing.”

Robin Yeartie, a former friend and co-worker of Willis, testified earlier Thursday that she saw Willis and Wade hugging and kissing before he was hired as special prosecutor in November 2021. Wade and Willis both testified that they didn’t start dating until 2022, and that their relationship ended months ago.

During personal and uncomfortable testimony that spanned hours, Wade also admitted to having sex with Willis during his separation from his estranged wife, even though he had claimed in a divorce filing that wasn’t the case.

That admission and Yeartie’s testimony together threaten to undermine the prosecutors’ credibility as they prepare for trial in the case accusing Trump and others of conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.

If Willis were disqualified, a council that supports prosecuting attorneys in Georgia would find a new attorney to take over who could either proceed with the charges against Trump and 14 others or drop the case altogether.

Willis and Wade’s relationship was first revealed by Merchant, an attorney for Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, a former campaign staffer and onetime White House aide. Merchant has alleged that Willis personally profited from the case, paying Wade more than $650,000 for his work and then benefiting when Wade used his earnings to pay for vacations the pair took together.

Wade, who took the stand after the judge refused to quash a subpoena for his testimony, testified that he and Willis traveled together to Belize, Aruba and California and took cruises together, but said Willis paid him back in cash for some travel expenses that he had charged to his credit card.

“She was very emphatic and adamant about this independent, strong woman thing so she demanded that she paid her own way,” Wade said.

Wade was pressed by defense attorneys to answer uncomfortable questions about his relationship with Willis, prompting objections from the district attorney’s office. The hearing began with lengthy sparring between lawyers over who must answer questions.

Willis’ removal would be a stunning development. Even if a new lawyer went forward with the case, it would very likely not go to trial before November, when Trump is expected to be the Republican nominee for president. At a separate hearing in New York on Thursday, a judge ruled that Trump’s hush-money criminal case will go ahead as scheduled with jury selection starting on March 25.

In a court filing earlier this month, Willis’ office insisted that she has no financial or personal conflict of interest and that there are no grounds to dismiss the case or to remove her from the prosecution. Her filing called the allegations “salacious” and said they were designed to generate headlines.

Judge Scott McAfee said during a hearing Monday that Willis could be disqualified “if evidence is produced demonstrating an actual conflict or the appearance of one.”

He said the issues he wants to explore at the hearing are “whether a relationship existed, whether that relationship was romantic or nonromantic in nature, when it formed and whether it continues.” Those questions are only relevant, he said, “in combination with the question of the existence and extent of any personal benefit conveyed as a result of the relationship.”

____ Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.



  1. Claim vs Argument: When To Use Each One In Writing?

    In summary, while a claim is a simple statement or assertion, an argument is a structured collection of premises and reasoning that supports a claim. Understanding the distinction between these two terms is essential for engaging in effective communication and critical thinking. How To Properly Use The Words In A Sentence

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  4. Argument

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  6. Strong Thesis Statements

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  7. What Is a Claim in Writing? Examples of Argumentative Statements

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  8. Claim vs Argument

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  9. Claim vs. Argument

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  10. How to Write an Argumentative Essay

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  12. What Is an Argument?

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  13. Claims, Reasons, and Evidence

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  14. Parts of an Argumentative Essay

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  15. Introduction to arguments (article)

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  18. 3.2: Introducing the Argument and the Main Claim

    This page titled 3.2: Introducing the Argument and the Main Claim is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anna Mills ( ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) . We can introduce an argument and describe its main claim with common phrases chosen to reflect the writer's purpose.

  19. Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument

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  21. What is an Argumentative Essay? How to Write It (With Examples)

    An argumentative essay presents a specific claim or argument and supports it with evidence and reasoning. Here's an outline for an argumentative essay, along with examples for each section: 3. 1. Introduction: Hook: Start with a compelling statement, question, or anecdote to grab the reader's attention.

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  23. 5.5: Evidence and Support in an Argument

    5.5: Evidence and Support in an Argument. Much of academic reading requires readers to understand, analyze, and evaluate an author's claim and support for that claim. The point and claim can also be thought of as thesis, main idea, or topic sentence, as discussed in previous sections. An author's claim may be one of the following: a claim of ...

  24. How to Write a Claim Claim Statement in Essay Writing

    A claim is a debatable argument that generally states a fact which is not just a personal opinion. It is specifically focused on an argument which defines your goal and the scope of the thesis. Its main purpose is to support and prove your main argument. It's like a person arguing to prove his position which means he is making a claim.

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