Thursday, March 26, 2009

Argument Mapping (Efebia)

Argument mapping is a logical sequencing method that employs box-and-line diagrams to "map" a course of possible decisions for a given "argument" and the ramifications of each option. The purpose of the map is to provide a visual depiction of the relationships between the overall contention and the logical (evidential) claims supporting or opposing it. Upon examination of the supporting and opposing claims, an argument map should serve as a useful tool for use in the decision making process, by reducing the complexity of a dilemma, conflict, or argument. Since argument mapping distinguishes itself from other box-and-line methods by utilizing different shapes, colors, and positioning, it appeals to the strong visual comprehension abilities of humans, allowing for improved processing and understanding, ultimately simplifying the complexity of an argument.

Basic Construction of an Argument Map
The components of an argument map are listed below with a brief explanation. Those pieces of the map are identified in the example below (click on the map to link to the source and to access a higher resolution map).
  • The main claim: referred to in this article as the "position" or "contention" -is the hypothesis to be logically examined. The argument map's purpose is to help the decision maker accept or reject this hypothesis.
  • Reason: a positive claim, or one that directly supports the main claim. Reasons not only support the main position, they may also support another reason.
  • Objection: a negative claim, or one that opposes the overall main claim.
  • Rebuttal: opposes an objection directly above it; or, "objection against an objection".
Strengths of Argument Mapping
According to the article, by using colors, shapes, etc. in argument mapping, the mind can better process the complexity and abstract nature of a difficult argument. Additionally, the logical structure of argument mapping is easier to present than traditional prose, which requires the reader to deconstruct the argument for himself, demanding a large investment in time and cognition.

The article also cites "extensive research" conducted by the University of Melbourne to gauge the effectiveness of argument mapping in the context of critical thinking. The study compared the achieved critical thinking abilities of students who utilized the Reason!able (Rationale) argument mapping tool versus those who used traditional prose. The study determined that, in a 12-week course, students who used argument mapping gained 12 IQ points.

Author's Comment:
Since this article may have commercial implications (as it names a particular brand of software), it is obviously a strong advocate for argument mapping, and does not approach the method with much objectivity. While there may be some obvious disadvantages to using argument mapping in certain situations, none are provided here. Moreover, the only other method this article discussed was traditional prose, which is not an analytic method by itself, but a medium of production or dissemination. Despite a mere mention of conceptual modeling and flow charts, there was no substantive, formal comparative discussion on them.

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