I. What is an Argument?
An argument is a work of persuasion. You use it to convince others to agree with your claim or viewpoint when they have doubts or disagree. While we sometimes think of arguments as hostile and bitter, they don’t need to be that way – in fact, a good argument is quite calm, reasonable, and fair-minded.
II . Examples of Argument
When you apply for a job, you usually submit a cover letter introducing yourself to the employer. A good cover letter is like a very subtle argument, persuading the reader that you’re the right person for the job. Successful applicants use all kinds of rhetorical techniques in their cover letters, all designed to convince the reader of one simple claim: I’m the best candidate for the job.
No, you can’t go to a concert on a school night.
But all my friends are going!
And if all your friends jumped off a bridge would you do that too?
This is a very common argument young people hear from their parents all the time. It’s using a rhetorical technique called reductio ad absurdum, where you show that the other person’s reasoning is invalid when taken to its logical conclusion. In this case, the kid is arguing: My friends are going, THEREFORE I need to go. The parent is showing how that argument fails.
III. The Importance of Argument
Argument is one of the most important skills you’ll ever learn. If you can master the art of persuasion, you can get people on your side more easily and be far more successful in your career and at school. Just think of all you could accomplish if you were able to persuade your boss, teacher, parent, or congressman of your views – you would be invincible! That’s the power of a good argument.
In addition, learning what separates a good argument from a bad one will improve your critical thinking abilities and help you to resist bad arguments you may find in the media, at school, or in daily life. Argument is a basic task of critical thinking, and if you don’t have this skill you’ll be easily misled by politicians or advertisers who are trying to persuade you to vote for them or buy their product even when that isn’t a good decision.
IV. Examples of Argument in Literature
John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, like all classics of philosophy, is an extended argument on a specific philosophical topic. In this case, Rawls is arguing for a view of justice that combines individual rights with the good of the community. So he’s actually working against two counterarguments: one, the argument that individual rights are more important than the common good; and two, the reverse argument that the greater good outweighs the rights of the individual.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him! (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)
This is one of literature’s most famous speeches – Marc Antony’s funeral oration for Caesar. Marc Antony has a very difficult rhetorical task: he’s trying to give a eulogy for his friend Caesar, who has just been killed, but the crowd is very hostile, having viewed Caesar as a dictator. Over the course of the speech, Marc Antony skillfully responds to their doubts, finally persuading the crowd that Caesar, while he wasn’t a perfect leader, didn’t deserve what happened to him.
V. Examples of Argument in Pop Culture
Political debates are supposed to be all about argument. The moderator asks a question, and the candidates are supposed to answer the question with arguments that will support their own views. Unfortunately, real debates seldom work this way – there’s a lot of name-calling and “zingers,” but not much real argument. Still, the debates are worth watching so that you can practice analyzing an argument. When you watch a candidate, see if he or she goes through all the steps outlined in section 4: make a controversial claim, predict doubts, and respond to them using logic.
Another place to look for arguments in pop culture is in sports commentary. Like a political debate, this format is supposed to give the guests a chance to have their views heard, and try to persuade each other. They usually start with a controversial question, such as “Should the 49ers Trade Colin Kaepernick?” and then the speakers make their arguments. Again watch for three parts: a claim, doubts, and a logical response.
VI. Related Terms
A counterargument is the argument that goes against what you’re trying to argue. If you’re claiming that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest American president, the counterargument is that he wasn’t. In order to make a good argument, you have to be clearly aware of the counterarguments that may be used. Responding to that counterargument is the main task of your argument.
Rhetoric is the art of making good arguments. More broadly, it refers to effective communication in both speaking and writing. Rhetoric is mainly about persuasion, but it also covers techniques for making your work more beautiful.