Chapter III. Taxonomy of Arguments
As we’ve seen so far, arguments are all around us everyday. Arguments can be written (like in the form of an op-ed, a movie review, or even a college essay); they can be oral (like in the form of a lawyer’s argument in trial); and they can be multimodal (like in the form of an advertisement). Equally, arguments can work toward many different kinds of goals. For example, an argument can claim that a term, condition, or idea ought to be understood in a certain way–for instance, saying that kneeling during the National Anthem is patriotic, or the opposite: that it’s unpatriotic. In either case, the arguer would be making the claim that a term (i.e. “patriotism”) should be understood–should be defined–in a certain way. Equally, an argument can also claim that certain actions should be taken–that something should, ought to, or must happen. For example, an argument can claim that the NFL should allow individual players to express themselves by permitting them to kneel during the National Anthem without fear of penalty; or an argument can, again, make a similar type of claim from an opposing stance–for instance, claiming that clothing companies, like Nike, should not sponsor athletes that kneel during the National Anthem. Indeed, arguments can be used to accomplish many goals and for all kinds of rhetorical purposes.
In this section, we will discuss a taxonomy–a system of classification–of types of arguments you might encounter. More specifically, we’ll discuss the following:
- Definition Arguments: argue that a term or concept ought to be understood or defined in a certain way
- Evaluative Arguments: argue that something is good/bad, effective/ineffective, inferior/superior, etc.
- Causal Arguments: argue that there are cause and effect relationships between things
- Proposal Arguments: argue that something should, ought to, or must happen
- Rebuttal Arguments: seek to pick apart, dismantle, or critique an existing argument
One thing that’s important to remember, however, is that often we can see these arguments types working in conjunction with each other. For instance, in order to make a proposal claim (i.e. saying that something should happen in a given situation) it would probably be necessary to first make an evaluation claim (i.e. saying that one condition is good/bad or more/less desirable). Equally, after making a definition argument (saying that a term or condition ought to be understood in a certain way), an arguer might want to then make a causal argument (saying that the existence of one condition will lead to another condition).