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Brockriede's Six Argument Characteristics


Disciplines Argument > Making the argument > Brockriede's Six Argument Characteristics

Inferential leap | Perceived rationale | Competing claims | Uncertainty regulation | Confrontation risk | Shared frame of reference | See also


Wayne Brockriede, an early 20th century pioneer of argument theory, described six commonly-found aspects of arguments. 

Inferential leap

This is a change in beliefs, either leaping to a new one or deepening an existing one.

What makes an inferential leap notable is that it goes outside the realms of strict logic. It goes beyond syllogisms. It is making an inference rather than developing an argument. As a belief, it is leaping, moving to a position without taking carefully understood steps along the way.

Logical argument effectively acts as a closed system, with boundaries outside of which the argument cannot go without breaking the rules. However, there are still possibilities and perceptions outside this area. To reach outside the logical box, then, needs belief.

Many arguments are framed as invitations to leap. The person on the other side of the divide is clearly convinced and says 'It's great over here. Just jump. Trust me!' Although persuader conviction can be effective, it may not be enough for the rational listener.

Perceived rationale

Many arguments are framed as being rational, with logical progression from facts and accepted truths to new truths. Yet the logic we often use is flawed and may even include inferential leaps, disguised as obvious conclusions.

The critical factor that persuades is whether what is being said is perceived as being rational. When the speaker acts as if their argument is rational and maybe also believes it so, then the listener may be persuaded by the sound of what is said rather than the underlying logic.

Fallacies often appear and may be accepted as truth. This is in the nature of fallacies -- if they were obvious to all and easily rejected, then they would not be identified and named as fallacies. Almost by definition, fallacies are often perceived as being rational.

Competing claims

The claim is a critical part of Toulmin's argument model, and is the statement that the persuader wants the other person to accept. When people are arguing, they may make claims that conflict, such that only one may be accepted as each assumes the other's claim is false. When each assumes their claim to be legitimate, then conflict becomes highly likely as each frames the other as making an illegitimate claim.

Sometimes the problem with competing claims is that they really do conflict. However the problem may also lie in the assumption by arguers that no other claims are legitimate (while, in fact, many claims may be simultaneously legitimate). In particular, when claims are bounded by belief, then two arguments may have clear space between them.

Uncertainty regulation

The previously noted problems often appear and consequently lead to conflict with degeneration of arguments into further lack of logic and increasing emotional statements.

This leads to a question of what behavior is allowed, what rules of argument are allowed and, most of all, who will stand as referee, interpreting the rules with intelligence and applying just discipline to ensure fair play all round.

However, when the argument and the methods used are firmly regulated then there is less likelihood of coming to a conclusion, agreed or otherwise, unless one person gives up and concedes, which effectively means nobody has persuaded anybody of anything.

The paradox is that argument should reduce uncertainty but may only serve to increase it as more information and perceptions appear and are left unresolved. A result of this is that people may be unwilling to argue as they feel their views will not be treated fairly.

Confrontation risk

As a result of the uncertainty, confrontation is often perceived as a risk. When we are open with our views there is a possibility of our being proved wrong, that other may attack or penalize us and that we could lose social status or worse. In short, the possible costs and losses from argument leads us to avoid it unless we feel confident that we will be treated fairly.

This is one reason why arguments with peers are more common than with superiors. With people at the same level, you can have an argument and no matter who wins, there are few personal implications. There is a sharing of the risk as options are openly explored. When arguing with a superior, many feel they must accept claims without challenge, lest they are punished for insubordination.

Shared frame of reference

A person's frame of reference is the lens through which they perceive the world, creating meaning and assuming truth. This is a complex process where everything from beliefs to studies lead to a system of filters that shape how we see the world.

It is not unsurprising that two people will have quite different frames of reference. The argument problem occurs when one person uses their personal frame of reference to describe or assess something. The extent to which the other person agrees (or not) will be based largely on the extent to which their frames of reference overlap.

See also

Toulmin's argument model, Frame of Reference


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