Friday, March 27, 2009

Argument Mapping - The Basics

Argument Mapping - The Basics
based on the heuristics and Rationale software developed by Austhink

*Author's Note: Although this guideline does not delve into the pros and cons of argument mapping, it does give a good idea of how to construct an argument map - whether you are using this particular software, or if you are making an argument map with pencil and paper.


The "Argument Mapping - The Basics" sheets provide the reader with a outline of understanding for what argument mapping is, the terms used in argument mapping and logic, as well as some important rules of logic that you must keep in mind when structuring an argument map. Argument maps start with a conclusion, which is at the tip of the pyramidal hierarchy, with reasons and objections listed below the conclusion. Reasons can have co-premises, and co-premises can have other reasons to support the claim listed above. Co-premises can also work together to support particular reasoning. Objections are listed to oppose the conclusion or reason and can have rebuttals listed underneath the objections.

Similar to games of strategy (chess, risk, etc.), there appears to be a learning curve with argument mapping. It takes some time to get the 'feel' of the game and to fully understand the rules, but with time, the process become quick and effortless.

Important information within the document:

Definition of Argument Mapping: "Argument mapping is a way to visually show the logical structure of arguments. You break up an argument into its constituent claims, and use lines, boxes, colors and location to indicate the relationships between the various parts. The resulting map allows us to see exactly how each part of an argument is related to every other part."

Other important definitions to know when creating argument maps:
  • Argument: a claim and reason(s) to believe that that claim is true.
  • Simple argument: the building block of all arguments, consisting of one claim and one reason (with two or more co-premises).
  • Complex argument: has several simple arguments linked together (the diagram below illustrates a complex argument)
  • Conclusion: the main point an argument is trying to prove, usually a belief. Also called the position, the main claim, the issue at hand.
  • Reason: evidence given to support the conclusion.
  • Co-premise: the subset of a reason. Every reason has at least two co-premises, and each of these co-premises must be true for the reason to support the claim.
  • Objection: a ‘reason’ that a claim is false; evidence against a claim
  • Rebuttal: an objection to an objection.
Syntax of an Argument Map:

Of note:
  • Arguments can have many claims, many reasons, many objections and rebuttals, but only one conclusion.
  • Distinguish a claim with a single reason (made up of two co-premises) from a claim with two independent reasons.
  • The exact structure of an argument is very important. For example, if side A has two good reasons to conclude something, and their opponent (side B) thinks one of those reasons is bad, then A’s conclusion may still be true/warranted if the remaining, unobjected-to reason is convincing.
  • An argument map can represent a debate by showing exactly where two sides disagree on the issue.
  • Argument maps show the structure of the argument/debate – every box is not necessarily true, but the first step is to understand the structure of the argument.
Rules within each box:
  • Declarative Sentence: Each box should have a full sentence (not a phrase) and should be declaring something, taking a position (whether it is true or false).
  • No Reasoning: No box should have reasoning going on inside it, only single claims. The reasoning is represented by the arrows and locations in the map. Look for words that indicate reasoning (e.g. because) and translate the reasoning into the map.
  • Two Terms: Each box can only have two main terms, so that each box is either true or false, not both. If you have more than two terms in a single box, separate them into multiple boxes.
Rules within each simple argument:
  • Assertibility Question: All reasons for claims must answer the question: “How do we know that [insert specific claim here] is true/warranted?” You are asking what evidence allows one to assert that the claim is true. Every claim box should have a reason box below it that answers this question.
  • Holding Hands: Applied horizontally within each simple argument. Within each reason, a term stated in one co-premise must be mentioned in one of the other co-premises in that same reason (if it is not in the claim above it – see the Rabbit Rule below). The terms must ‘hold hands’ within a single reason if they are not already accounted for by the Rabbit Rule.
  • Rabbit Rule: Applied vertically, between a claim and each of its reasons, and is combined with the Holding Hands rule. “You can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat.” Using these two rules for each simple argument, you make sure that every term mentioned in each box is found in one of the others.

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