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Traditional Means of Establishing Context
And Discovering Your Argument
Chapter Two provides students with some notions about how writers and
speakers establish the context of an argument, what some theorists call the
argument’s “occasion.” Students should learn that by understanding how
and why an argument might best proceed, they can begin to analyze the
arguments of others better, and to compose their own more effectively.
Chapter Two. . .
• Illustrates the three traditional Aristotelian persuasive appeals: to
personal credibility, to the emotions, and to reason
• Asks students to “step back’ from an issue for a moment to
examine their own pre-set values and conclusions about it
• Discusses induction and deduction as processes by which thinkers
form and evaluate conclusions
• Introduces the Toulmin System of reasoning to show how people
are often persuaded not so much by hard and fast rules of
reasoning, but by what seems generally true according to their own
experiences and knowledge
Types of Student Projects in this Chapter
In Discovering Your Own Arguments, #1 and #3, students are
asked to decide about which Aristotelian appeal or appeals would
work best when directed at a specific reader.
In Discovering Your Own Arguments, #2 and #4, students may
have to conduct some research, but they may find they can rely on
personal knowledge as well. Project #2 concentrates primarily on
how ethos is established. You may wish to emphasize, too, that a
“thinly” evidenced list of reasons and examples in this project will
reflect upon the student’s credibility as well.
In #3, students must select three different items to advertise and
compose three different ads for them, each time addressing a
different, but specifically targeted, reader. The point is to have
students decide which Aristotelian appeal might serve as the ad’s
primary appeal—and why.
Getting the Chapter Started
One way to introduce the appeal to personal credibility is to begin this
chapter in a manner similar to this: You say to the students, “People
rarely find it easy to believe what a speaker says or thinks when those
people do not trust the speaker for some reason. Okay then, may I assume
that most, if not all, of you had never laid eyes on me before entering this
classroom a few days ago? If so, do you trust that what I teach you about
argument and writing will be honest and true? Why?”
Students may respond by pointing out that you introduced yourself the
first day, that you seemed friendly and willing, that you mentioned your
education and teaching experience, and maybe even talked about your
family. Students often see such items as things they know and generally
trust about others. Some students may also comment that you have been
hired by the school to teach the course and would not have been without
proper credentials. In other words, students often trust the school as well
to provide competent instructors. What other actions or language might
you have used to establish your personal credibility?
Now, turn the tables. Ask students how they will demonstrate their own
personal credibility in the course. How will they establish a sense of trust
in you that they are honest, conscientious, and hard working?
Enhancements to the Chapter
You may wish to read Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument (1963) to
explore a more detailed explanation of his model of argument. Also,
simply typing “Toulmin” into Google, for example, will reveal numerous
sites explaining and exemplifying the Toulmin model.
Try bringing a number of print advertisements into the classroom and
asking students to identify what Aristotelian appeals are at work. Tobacco
company ads that encourage stop-smoking campaigns or those from
alcohol companies that encourage people to “drink responsibly” are
interesting for credibility discussions.
Responses to Exercises
Exercise One: Responses will vary, but. . .
1) Appeals to emotion may not work here since college administrators are
generally number- and information-based decision makers.
Appeals to credibility may work in that the students conscientiously
set up a meeting with the administrators perhaps, showed up on time,
and conducted themselves calmly and rationally. Doing so, the
students demonstrate their sincere concern for their academic
Appeals to reason might work best, especially if students have some
evidence concerning the number and quality of existing tutoring
centers, how other similarly sized colleges allocate money to tutoring
centers, and statistics showing increased student performance when
students found educational support in tutoring centers.
2) Some appeal to emotion may work here in that students could,
enthusiastically, emphasize to the Chamber of Commerce that college
graduates who feel needed and supported by the local community (and
who have the possibility of employment) tend to supply a local
workforce with educated employees. Isn’t that something the
Chamber would subscribe to?
By demonstrating that they support and are willing to work locally,
students could argue that their college education has made them
knowledgeable and willing (trustworthy) employees. And even just
wanting to meet with local employers (perhaps wearing “professionallooking” clothing) helps establish for employers that the college’s
graduates are trustworthy, professional, and ready to work. And
wouldn’t the willingness to offer help with a job fair show employers
that students are credible and ready for change?
Appeals to reason might include statistics showing the numbers of the
college’s graduates who have left the local employment area because
they did not realize how many jobs were available to them; what
employers look for in new hires; how local communities benefit when
a younger, educated workforce is in place; and so forth. An
employment fair would illustrate to employers that they need not
conduct national searches for employees (which are expensive) when a
talented group of employees exists in town.
3) Since most parents have strong emotional concerns for the well-being
of their children, some use of emotional appeal may work here. The
arguer could cite instances of overcrowding in classrooms and how it
contributes to more infrequent attention from teachers, possibly raises
disciplinary concerns, and in general harms the educational
atmosphere. Surely, parents would want fewer students in their own
child’s room if the situation would address the above problems.
Establishing credibility in this situation would depend upon who is
making the argument. If a group of teachers or the school’s principal
were the arguer, parents would likely grant them credibility. If another
parent were making the argument, he or she would have to let the
parent group know just how he or she came to be involved; argue that
his or her concerns were for all children; and speak in a reasonable,
Appeals to reason might include references to reports indicating that
lower class sizes contribute to greater learning and greater social
interaction. However, the arguer would have to concede issues of
classroom and teacher availability, and offer possible solutions. With
well-considered solutions, the arguer would strengthen his or her
credibility as well.
4) Students should probably ask just what emotional appeals they might
offer to doctors and nurses about condom availability. Even though
the risk of pregnancy and disease carries emotional weight, would
such an appeal work with this group? Would doctors and nurses be
surprised if the students had statistics showing just what percentage of
the school’s students engaged in sexual activity?
Appeals to credibility might be the strongest possibility here. The
students would have to convince the doctors and nurses that their
concerns are legitimate about decreasing unwanted pregnancies and
disease—for the good of all students who engage in sexual activity,
not simply supporting condom distribution so that sexually active
students would feel more “free” to have sex.
Appeals to reason, of course, could be well supported by numerous
studies that indicate how condom use stems unwanted pregnancies and
disease, but the doctors and nurses in a school clinic would likely be
aware of such information already.
5) It is unlikely that emotional appeals to drop a course requirement
would carry much weight since doing so might sound more like
whining than legitimate argument.
The students might find that their credibility appeals had merit if they
approached the professor in a reasonable manner and if their previous
performances on course materials indicated that they had a solid grasp
of the information. The students would certainly wish to avoid any
sense that they simply dreaded the oral presentation.
Appeals to reason might work, again, if the students could convince
the professor that they have demonstrated their understanding of the
course’s tenets and if they could offer any proof that oral presentations
rarely lead to increased understanding.
Exercise Two: Responses will greatly vary, but. . .
Emotional appeals will carry some weight since marriage is an emotional
event, and couples about to marry surely hope their marriage lasts in a
satisfying and productive manner. Surely, then, having an understanding
of each person’s values about raising children and handling money before
the marriage would contribute to the chances of life-long happiness.
Here, again, the credibility of the arguer would depend on his or her
identity. If the students making this argument were already married and
had some experience with child and/or money issues, their trustworthiness
would be, at least in part, worthy of consideration. However, unmarried
students making this argument might only establish their credibility if they
could show that they had conducted significant (and objective) research
(perhaps with a number of interviews with marriage experts, the clergy,
psychologists, etc.) so that their readers or listeners would not think they
were offering only anecdotal opinions.
Appeals to reason might include the above mentioned research findings.
Numerous studies have been conducted to determine what factors support
a couple’s lasting marriage, many of which concern child-rearing and
financial issues. It makes a certain amount of “sense” that a couple
discusses issues of such importance to their marriage before they wed and
find that their opinions vary so greatly that the relationship might be
threatened (also an emotional appeal).
Exercise Three: Responses will vary, but you should encourage students
to stick to the issue at hand and to offer evidence that could truly be
substantiated. This is a good exercise to discuss what makes trustworthy
evidence and how, on occasion, people form conclusions that “overstate”
what the evidence will support.
1) Conclusion: Josh displays a lack of concentration on his schoolwork.
2) Major premise: Professors who have training in writing theory and
years of teaching experience bring professionalism to the writing
3) Minor premise: Tax law HB-141 favors the wealthy.
1) Claim: Professional athletes earn too much money.
Evidence: Professional athletes earn $800,000 to $7.1 million per
year. Such pay continues even if the athlete is injured.
Warrant: People who play “games” that even children can play (and
are not thus socially valuable) should not earn excessive amounts of
2) Claim: The college should lower its proposed tuition hike.
Evidence: The proposed 12% increase is 9.7% above the national rate
of inflation. Many students have loan debts, work requirements, and
parents who cannot offer financial support as it is.
Warrant: Price hikes that greatly exceed the inflation rate are
3) Claim: Politicians desires to censor rap music are unjustified.
Evidence: (No evidence is provided)
Warrant: Any type of free speech should not be censored.