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IM: 9781891136351
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New edition!

Understanding and Shaping Arguments

fifth edition

James A. Herrick
Hope College


My goal in this new edition of Argumentation: Understanding and Shaping Arguments, as in previous editions, is to provide an accessible, thorough, ethically grounded, and audience-centered guide to arguments as they occur in public and private settings: in personal conversation and professional meetings, in civic and political discourse, in the mass media and on the Internet. This practical treatment of marketplace argumentation is grounded in classical and contemporary rhetorical theory. Conversation with colleagues suggests that faculty seek a clear and yet intellectually rigorous book that helps students participate confidently in public discourse, while at the same time nurturing the ethical values essential to a flourishing democratic society. Students indicate that they appreciate a serious and yet practical guide to evaluating the vast amount of persuasive writing and speaking they encounter. I have sought to balance these concerns in revising Argumentation: Understanding and Shaping Arguments for the twenty-first century classroom.

Writing in response to my own teaching needs, feedback to earlier editions, and actual contemporary practices of public discourse, I have tried to maintain the essential approach and pedagogical features that colleagues have told me they have found useful in their own classrooms. Throughout the text, I have also updated examples and developed new sections to reflect current issues and theoretical insights. I hope you will find this fifth edition to be a thorough and intellectually challenging aid to teaching courses such as argumentation, critical thinking, advanced public speaking, or expositional writing.

I have always believed that the best approach to teaching argumentation was to keep the practice of everyday argumentation in view, focusing particularly on the various ways in which we actually reason in public and private settings. The guidelines students encounter here for evaluating arguments are thus flexible suggestions rather than rigid prescriptions. Students are encouraged to see them as principles of critical assessment that should always be employed with a corresponding concern for audience and context. As this approach acknowledges how we actually reason with one another, it also encourages students to become rational judges of arguments rather than fallacy detectives. Although fallacies are considered, these reasoning mistakes do not occupy a central place in my pedagogical concerns. Similarly, the principles and language of debate are addressed in an appendix, but I did not write with a guiding concern for the technicalities of formal debate. At the heart of Argumentation is a focused concern for how people reason with one another every day, and how such public discourse can be improved through a solid introduction to the principles of argument.

Emphasizing the everyday practice of argumentation also means that advocacy ethics plays an important role in Argumentation: Understanding and Shaping Arguments. Arguments emerge in contexts that include audiences and advocates, both of whom possess personal values and moral responsibilities. Students are encouraged to consider the ethical obligations they incur any time they enter the public arena as advocates. These obligations include respect for the audience as well as regard for the settings in which arguments develop. This ethical orientation is introduced in an early chapter and maintained throughout the text.

As any classroom instructor knows - whether veteran or relative newcomer - relevant and timely examples are crucial to successful teaching. In keeping with my focus on marketplace argument, this new edition continues to reflect a determined effort to provide examples that are contemporary, pertinent to student concerns, and derived from the actual practice of public discourse. Examples are drawn from business, sports, medicine, technology, politics, interpersonal relationships, religion, environmental debates, and personal decision-making; from oral conversation, printed sources, the mass media, the Internet, and other digital discourse.

In addition to the traditional concerns of argument studies - linguistic clarity, validity, evidence, ethics, fallacies—Argumentation also addresses narrative and visual elements that are important to much contemporary discourse. Moreover, the Internet is situated here as an arena for radically expanded public discourse, one that raises its own set of concerns about reliable support and credible sources. This new edition also recognizes the need for contemporary students to develop skills of digital literacy. Toward this end it sets truncated digital forms of argument—for example, texts and tweets—in the context of broader concerns of public discourse. Such communication innovations shape how we interact about ideas and policies, and are here integrated into the discussion of public advocacy.


This new edition of Argumentation: Understanding and Shaping Arguments retains the central features that characterized earlier editions, and that instructors have told me worked well in their classrooms. These include:

  • An emphasis on the importance of sound and open public discourse in rational, democratic decision-making.

  • An accessible, foundational theory of argument rooted in classical and contemporary concepts.

  • Clear explanations of how various types of arguments—from formal syllogisms to simple comparisons—develop in diverse public and private settings.

  • A practical and adaptable approach to developing and evaluating arguments, based on the three criteria of evidence, validity, and linguistic clarity.

  • A focus on argument ethics, with an early chapter on ethics and attention throughout the book to the ethical responsibilities of advocates themselves.

  • Emphasis throughout on preparing students to be skilled practitioners of written and spoken public discourse, as well as fully equipped critics of the arguments they encounter.

  • A discussion of narrative and visual argument that explores how stories and images are often incorporated into persuasive cases, and that provides guidance for evaluating such approaches to argument.

  • An approach to the Internet both as a source of evidence and as an important location for public discourse.

  • A detailed discussion of the Toulmin Model and its value to advocates and critics, with examples showing how this model can be used to discover unstated reasons and evaluate public argument.


This fifth edition adds several new features that are intended to enhance its content and clarity. Most of these revisions are in response to my own experiences with the book and to suggestions from colleagues.

  • Extensively updated examples and exercises, reflecting current issues, recent events, and new media forms.

  • Expanded discussion throughout of the Internet, both as a resource and as a location for public discourse; including considerations of digital literacy, social media, blogs, and Twitter.

  • An expanded discussion of visual evidence and visual argument, with illustrations of contemporary uses.

  • Conversion of the debate and audience analysis chapters to appendices, for greater flexibility in course organization.

  • An expanded discussion of the principles and key terms of debate.


Several pedagogical features are designed to engage student interest, enhance understanding, and emphasize salient points:

  • A practical vocabulary of more than 200 terms that provides students with categories and concepts useful for composing and evaluating arguments, with key terms at the beginning of each chapter and a glossary at the end of the book.

  • Numerous application exercises at the end of each chapter that allow students to practice new skills.

  • Epigrams to engage student interest at the beginning of each chapter.

  • Pull quotes and boxed figures to underscore key points and help engage students visually.

  • Photographs introducing each part section division, adding visual interest and underscoring the pervasiveness of argument in everyday life.

  • Recommended web sites listed at the end of each chapter, providing resources for extending the discussion of crucial topics covered in the text.

  • An Instructor’s Manual with sample syllabus, additional exercises, suggested written assignments, and other teaching resources is available to instructors who adopt the book.


This fifth edition of Argumentation: Understanding and Shaping Arguments consists of eighteen chapters, organized in six parts that reflect the book’s central concerns, as well as two appendices that may be employed at any point in a semester.

Part I, “Goals, Skills, and Functions of Argumentation,” consists of three chapters that introduce the basic vocabulary and theory of argument, as well as analytic tools that help students grasp the structure of arguments.

Chapter 1, “An Introduction to Argumentation,” explores the ways in which argumentation functions in the deliberation and decision-making of individuals and groups. This chapter also considers the crucial role of values and agreements in argumentation, as well as how the Internet functions as a forum for public discourse.

Chapter 2, “The Elements of Arguments,” sets out a foundational theory of argument, including how various types of claims are supported. The chapter also discusses how interpretations of evidence vary according to the values that individuals bring to the argumentative situation.

Chapter 3, “Tools for Analyzing Arguments,” presents students with practical analytic tools for grasping the structure and content of any argument. The discussion of the Toulmin Model, an important tool of argument analysis that can help us to recognize the place of values and assumptions in any argument, has been expanded to show its pertinence to assessing truncated arguments such as those found in digital media.

Part II, “The Conditions of Constructive Argumentation,” consists of two chapters that examine the qualities of sound arguments and the characteristics of ethical advocates.

Chapter 4, “Ethical Advocacy,” introduces students to the ethical obligations of advocates and provides an ethical foundation for subsequent topics taken up in the text. The chapter’s centerpiece is a virtues approach to ethics that focuses on the moral commitments that advocates bring to the argumentative situation.

Chapter 5, “Reasonable Arguments, Reasonable People,” sets out three considerations relevant to assessing any argument: evidence, structure, and use of language. The chapter also examines characteristics of reasonable people, such as an attitude of openness to the views of others.

Part III, “Support: The Content of Arguments,” addresses the crucial topic of evidence in argument. In the new edition, I have made a particular effort to address the issues of online research, while also offering detailed information about using traditional sources such as books and periodicals.

Chapter 6, “Evaluating Evidence,” provides a guide to assessing the quality of evidence, including tests such as accessibility and recency. The discussion of visual evidence, expanded in this edition, reflects current research on its use in argumentative cases.

Chapter 7, “Locating and Evaluating Sources of Evidence,” explores methods of evaluating a range of sources, from books and magazines to interviews and web sites, and includes a section on assessing a source’s political perspective.

Chapter 8, “Using Statistics as Evidence,” considers the issues and mechanics of generalizing from a sample. It also discusses how statistical evidence may be used well—or employed carelessly to mislead an audience.

Chapter 9, “Using Testimony as Evidence,” sets out basic types and accessible tests to assist students in evaluating and employing testimonial evidence.

Part IV, “Validity: The Structure of Arguments,” considers the important and often overlooked issue of argument structure.

Chapter 10, “Validity in Conditional and Enumeration Arguments,” examines the structure of arguments that develop around necessary and sufficient conditions, as well as arguments that follow an enumeration or partition pattern.

Chapter 11, “Validity in Categorical Arguments,” examines the structure of arguments that manage categories or definitions, and introduces a set of validity tests to help students navigate a sometimes complex process.

Part V, “Linguistic Consistency: Language in Argument,” is made up of two chapters that explore issues ranging from definition and ambiguity to common problems such as redundancy and mixed metaphor.

Chapter 12, “Definition in Argument,” takes up the fascinating role played by different types of definition in argumentative settings. Sources of definitions as well as their various uses in argumentation are considered.

Chapter 13, “Ambiguity, Equivocation, and Other Language Considerations,” helps students recognize and avoid common mistakes that cloud the clarity of thinking, writing, and speaking.

Part VI, “Types and Tests of Arguments,” covers major types of arguments encountered in public and private settings, and presents methods of evaluating these arguments.

Chapter 14, “Analogies, Examples, Metonymy, and Narratives,” examines reasoning from one or a limited set of cases, reasoning by comparison of cases, and the role of narrative in argument.

Chapter 15, “Reasoning about Causes,” develops an accessible guide to the difficult issue of proving cause of individual occurrences or classes of events, as well as assessing arguments from sign.

Chapter 16, “Moral and Practical Arguments,” covers four arguments that are often found in advertising and political discourse, and that engage our moral commitments or pragmatic concerns.

Chapter 17, “Essential Nature Arguments,” addresses arguments built around claims about the essence and interpretation of institutions, individuals, and documents. The discussion of images and other visual media, which are often used to sum up the essential nature of an institution, situation, or movement, has been expanded and updated in this edition.

Chapter 18, “Fallacies and Appeals,” is devoted to erroneous reasoning. The chapter also includes a careful discussion of the difficult issue of appeals to the emotions and to authority, as well as reductio ad absurdum.

The Appendices, “Developing and Adapting Your Case,” discuss the issues of and provides students with guidelines for developing a case and presenting it to an audience.

Appendix A, “Policy Case Construction,” discusses the elements of an effective case in support of a proposal and covers the basic vocabulary of policy debate. The discussion of basic debate terms and concepts, such as stock issues, presumption, and burden of proof, has been expanded in this edition.

Appendix B, “Adapting Arguments to an Audience,” provides students with a highly practical guide to audience adaptation, including demographic concerns as well as the audience’s moral commitments and its relationship to the topic and the advocate. A new case for analysis has been incorporated into this appendix, along with commentary on how the case was developed using principles discussed in the appendix.

Argumentation: Understanding and Shaping Arguments is designed to encourage students to assume the role of capable, responsible, and informed advocates who participate effectively and ethically in the public arena. The text’s tested approach is intended to help students become better, more self-assured producers and consumers of public and private discourse. It is my hope that, as a result of our helping a new generation of students to understand and practice argumentation, the crucial reasoning processes that keep democracy vibrant will be enhanced. I offer this new edition in the belief that we all stand to gain when the citizens of our democracy are well equipped to read, think, write, listen, and speak with skill and confidence.


Many individuals have had a hand in forming this new edition of Argumentation: Understanding and Shaping Arguments and the editions that preceded it. As the present book would not have been possible without their assistance, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge their help and to thank them.

Teaching at least one section of argumentation every semester provides me with continuous opportunity to test material and solicit the reactions of students to the text. I would like to thank the many students in my Analytic Skills course here at Hope College whose suggestions and comments have improved both topic presentation and the quality of exercises in each chapter.

A number of colleagues at colleges and universities across the country have also provided helpful feedback that contributed in important ways to enhancing every aspect of the fifth edition of Argumentation. My thanks to Stephen Andon, Nova Southeastern University; R. V. Barello, Lewis University; Robert Boller, University of Hawai’i Manoa; Diana I. Bowen, University of Houston Downtown; Michael L. Butterworth, Ohio University; Douglas Fraleigh, California State University, Fresno; Adam Gaffey, Texas A&M University; Cory Hillman, Central Michigan University; Treva Hodges, Indiana University Southeast; Brandon Inabinet, Furman University; Carl Isaacson, Bethany College; Bryan P. Jacobs, Dixie State University; Ryan Louis, Ottawa University; Samuel Mayer Nelson, Cornell University; Clark Olson, Arizona State University; and Abbie Syrek, University of Nebraska at Omaha.

I would also like to acknowledge the contributions of reviewers of previous editions. These include Diane M. Blair, California State University, Fresno; Beth Brunk-Chavez, University of Texas at El Paso; Martha S. Cheng, Rollins College; George N. Dionisopoulos, San Diego State University; Larry Eby, Goldey-Beacom College; James M. Farrell, University of New Hampshire; Michael Fleming, Mount San Jacinto College; Douglas Fraleigh, California State University, Fresno; Morgan Ginther, University of Memphis; Robert Greenstreet, East Central University; Lisa M. Gring-Pemble, George Mason University; Treva Hodges, Indiana University Southeast; Erica Hollander, Metropolitan State College of Denver; Deborah L. Hoover, Tiffin University; Randall Iden, Northwestern University; Carl Isaacson, Bethany College; Lenore Langsdorf, Southern Illinois University; Ilon Lauer, Western Illinois University; Karen King Lee, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Thomas M. Lessl, University of Georgia; Charles Lester, Palm Beach Atlantic University; Beth Innocenti Manolescu, University of Kansas; Cynthia Martin, James Madison University; Nancy Nichol Meyer, Metropolitan State College of Denver; Margaret M. Michels, Pennsylvania State University; David Moss, Crafton Hills and Mt. San Jacinto Colleges; Carroll Ferguson Nardone, Sam Houston State University; Samuel Nelson, Cornell University; Frank O'Mara, State University of New York, College at Oneonta; Jennifer Reem, Nova Southeastern University; Kevin Stein, Southern Utah University; Fred Sternhagen, Concordia College; Phillip Voight, Gustavus Adolphus College; Dennis L. Wignall, Dixie State College; Joel Worden, Goldey-Beacom College; David Worthington, DePauw University; and David Zarefsky, Northwestern University.

Thanks are also due to the Hope College Communication Departmental office manager Linda Koetje for her careful attention to various aspects of manuscript preparation and correspondence with the publisher. I also want to thank Kathleen Domenig of Strata Publishing for the extraordinary care and high level of professionalism she brought to every detail of production, and for a number of important recommendations regarding the text's structure, tone, and appearance. Finally, my deepest gratitude to my wife who, with typical good nature and patience, allowed me the time to complete what must have seemed at times an all-consuming task.



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