What Does a Successful Toulmin Warrant Look Like?
Toulmin Model of Argumentation: Warrant and Backing
The third and fourth stages in Toulmin’s Model of Argumentation concern a warrant that links the evidence to the specific claim you want to make, and backing that explains why the warrant is legitimate and rational.
For obvious reasons, this is often the hardest part of making a logically coherent argument. After all, anyone can make a claim in a debate, and finding evidence that’s relevant to the topic isn’t all that hard either. But the ability to link your evidence to your claim, and backing that up with rational reasoning for why the warrant is legitimate – well, that’s a bit trickier. In this article we look at some ways that you can improve your Toulmin warrants, and back up your claims.
The first strategy is to use deductive reasoning. With deductive reasoning, you reach a conclusion about a specific case based on a general rule that is relevant in the specific circumstances. A simple example of deductive reasoning is: “All humans are mortal. I’m a human. Therefore, I’m mortal.” General rule; specific case.
So, when you’re building your arguments, ask yourself what usually causes something. The answer will be your general rule. Then, explain how you know your rule is indeed a general rule. And then, explain why the specific thing you’re talking about in your arguments matches this general rule you found. In other words, you should first explain what usually happens in the circumstances you’re taking about, why that's usually the case, and then explain why it’s likely (and a key word here for debate – likely!) to happen in your specific case as well.
When using this technique to link your evidence to the specific claim that you made, you can follow the same model. Explain why the example or data that you cited matches the general rule that you set out, and why it’s a representative example rather than an extreme one.
So, for example, if the claim is that junk food is very unhealthy for kids, you might start with a general rule that a lot of fast food is packed full of salt, sugar and fats, which help to make the food tasty and enticing to young customers, but also extremely unhealthy. Then you could cite the example of a Big Mac Meal and its quantities of said substances, but be sure to remind the judge that this is a very representative sort of fast food meal – and indeed, that there are many meals or menu options that are even worse than this one. Thus, it’ll be tricky for opponents to claim that the Big Mac Meal is somehow an extreme example of junk food that kids typically consume.
Generating Multiple Reasons
Since most things in life have more than one explanation, you should find multiple reasons for why your claim is true and include them as part of your argument. This is often referred to as a multi-layered analysis. This is so important because it makes your argument sound a lot more inevitable or assured, and even if the judge isn't entirely convinced by one of the reasons, it’s much more likely they’ll accept at least one of the reasons. Additionally, your opposing teams will need to think harder and spend more time tackling the different reasons. There’s also a good chance they’ll forget to answer one of the reasons or provide an insufficient response.
The first step for generating multiple reasons why a claim is true is to search for multiple reasons from the first moment you start working on your analysis. This means instead of asking, "why is this true?" ask yourself, "what are three reasons why this is true?"
Another method is to think, “why is this likely to happen?” Let's walk through an example. On the motion, "This House Would legalize all drugs," an opposition team might claim the "legalization of drugs will result in more people taking drugs." This claim can be broken down into four different questions:
- The first question is, “Why is this generally likely to be true?” The answer can be, “This is generally likely to be true as it signals to the public that drugs are safe, which encourages usage.”
- The second question is, “Who is this especially likely to be true for?” meaning you need to do a fundamental stakeholder analysis. The answer could be, “Addicts can generally steer clear of the black market sellers under the status quo, but when drug shops are on every street, it makes it much more likely that they‘ll relapse.”
- The third question is, “What mechanisms make this true?” meaning what processes or procedures will take place that will lead to more people using drugs. The answer might be “When drugs are legalized, their price will drop significantly as they are mass-produced, making people more likely to use them as they are not priced out.”
- The fourth question is, “Who has an incentive in this situation?” This again requires a stakeholder analysis, but with a different focus compared to the question of, "Who is this especially likely to be true for?" The answer about incentives can be "Drug stores will have a profit incentive to sell more drugs so they’ll use targeted advertising to attract even more customers.”
So there you have it – four different reasons for why the claim "legalization of drugs will result in more people taking drugs" is true. Suppose you include all of them as part of your backing for your Toulmin warrant. In that case, you’ll end up with a very persuasive argument that will leave a strong impression on the judge and places a heavy rebuttal burden on your opponents.
Impacting Your Toulmin Warrant & Argument
The final part of any persuasive and properly analyzed argument is to have the impact. After you have proven that your claim is true, you must explain to the judge why they should care about it. This is the part where you want to make it clear to the judge why is it such a good or a bad thing if the claim is true? Why are people's lives better or worse if the claim is true, and to what extent? Toulmin arguments don’t specifically deal with the question of impact, but in any debate format it’s absolutely crucial – so don’t forget it!
To conclude, you can use deductive reasoning to back up the evidence or data you presented earlier, by showing how it links to your original claim. Your backing should include multiple, detailed reasons to prove the claim is true. And your impact should explicitly show why your claim and supporting analysis should matter to the judge. Do this, and you’ll see yourself win more arguments than you lose.