The Art of Persuasion - How to Win an Argument Using Toulmin’s Model (Part 2)
New to the Art of Persuasion? Check out Part One here!
There’s an old Spanish proverb that says, “among the safe courses, the safest of all is to doubt.” In the language of Original Oratory, this translates to the following observation: regardless of how confident you feel about the strength of your arguments, it’s always a good idea to leave a little room for doubt. Why? Because there’s no such thing as a perfect argument! Thus, you want to recognize legitimate doubts your audience might have about your arguments and address them in your speech. Doing this will lend you additional credibility, giving judges the sense that you’re presenting the complete picture as opposed to just a one-sided account of the issue. In Toulmin’s model of argumentation, steps five and six will help you do just that.
In this article, you’ll learn how to apply the remainder of Toulmin’s model of argumentation by qualifying your arguments and making pre-emptive rebuttals. Through this, you’ll gain a better understanding of why Toulmin’s model is more effective for speech formats like Original Oratory.
But first, let’s do a quick review! Toulmin’s model starts with a claim, the statement you are trying to prove. The claim is then supported by the grounds and warrant, in which the speaker presents relevant evidence and reasons why the claim is true. As an added layer of support, the backing provides further justification for why the warrant makes sense. Altogether, the purpose of these elements is to prove to the audience that they should be convinced by what you say.
Qualifiers and pre-emptive rebuttals, on the other hand, guard your argument against potential objections and eliminate any doubts your audience may have. Unlike in debate, your audience won’t have the opportunity to voice their concerns about your arguments. Instead, you’ll need to anticipate their responses yourself. How exactly does this work?
We start off by qualifying our claims. A qualification is an admission of the limits of your argument. Good qualifiers add nuance to your speech and are realistic about what your argument does and does not prove. Broad statements that something is “always” or “never” the case can be really difficult to support because you can almost always find an exception to the rule. Qualifiers like “some” or “many” place limits on your claims, making them more believable in the process.
For example, let’s say you’re giving a speech with the thesis, “our fear of the unknown has led us to fall victim to prejudice.” A qualifier for this claim could sound something like this: “Of course, not everyone views outsiders with fear. Some people might even enjoy being introduced to people they don’t know.” Notice how this qualifier limits the scope of the problem. It acknowledges that not everyone experiences fear of the unknown. But many of us do. This newly qualified statement, while still debatable, becomes much easier to defend.
If, however, you were to impose too large a limitation like, “over 90% of people don’t actually view outsiders with fear,” you’ll have limited the scope of your claim to the point where it becomes trivial and unimportant. If only a few people experience a fear of the unknown, why are we talking about this problem in the first place? Thus, be sure to select a reasonable qualifier that strengthens rather than weakens your argument.
After a qualification, you can follow up with a pre-emptive rebuttal. Rebuttals play an essential role, even when you aren’t debating! Even the most persuasive speakers are unlikely to convince 100% of the audience their first time around – there will always be people who disagree with your ideas, who will be poking holes in your arguments as they listen to your speech. It’s your job to acknowledge these concerns by qualifying your argument and responding with a rebuttal.
There are two effective ways to rebut against your own qualifier:
· One: present a counterargument through the use of a warrant. You can provide a reason for why the qualifier may not be completely true.
· And two: mitigate the impact. You can decrease the importance of the qualification.
Let’s go back to the qualifier that “not everyone views outsiders with fear. Some people might even enjoy being introduced to people they don’t know.”
You can rebut these concerns first by mitigating the impact – explaining why it doesn’t matter that some people don’t fear outsiders. The fact that people of color are often subject to discrimination in the US shows that cultural biases against people we don’t know are prevalent in our societies and can cause real harm, even if not everyone contributes to this harm. You could even double down on this rebuttal by providing a counterargument. For instance, you could claim,
Even those who enjoy meeting strangers inevitably make assumptions about the people they come in contact with. We instinctively fill in the blanks with assumptions and generalizations when we have limited information to draw from and these assumptions can harm others, whether or not we meant for it to happen.
So, there you have it! The final two components of Toulmin’s model: qualifications and rebuttals. As you’ve seen, there is no such thing as a perfect argument, so it’s imperative to address and ideally overcome objections your audience might have before they even crop up. In the second part of this article, you’ll learn why Toulmin’s model of argumentation is the best structure for Original Oratory.
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