3 Types of Arguments: Rogerian, Toulmin, and Classical


No matter the argument type, how well authors produce rebuttals and deal with counter-arguments is an important part of how we evaluate the success of an argument.

Rogerian Argumentation

One of the greatest challenges for a writer of arguments is to keep the audience from becoming so defensive and annoyed that it will not listen to anything the writer has to say.

Sometimes audiences can feel threatened by viewpoints different from their own, and in such cases persuasion can rarely take place.

Thus, psychologist Carl Rogers developed a negotiating strategy to help people avoid such situations; he called it "empathic listening".

In an empathic position, the writer refrains from passing judgment on the audience’s ideas until he or she has listened attentively to the audience’s position, tried to follow the audience’s reasoning, and acknowledged the validity of the audience’s viewpoint (if only from a limited perspective).

By trying to understand where the audience is coming from and avoiding loaded or attacking language that might put the audience on the defensive, the writer shows empathy for the audience’s viewpoint and opens the door for mutual understanding and respect.

Because it focuses on building bridges between writer and audience, and places considerable weight on the values, beliefs, and opinions the two share, a Rogerian argument doesn’t emphasize an "I win–you lose" outcome as much as classical or Toulmin arguments do.

Rather it emphasizes a "You win and I win too" solution, one where negotiation and mutual respect are valued.

Thus, it is particularly useful in psychological and emotional arguments, where pathos and ethos rather than logos and strict logic predominate.

How a Rogerian Argument is Created

A Rogerian argument usually begins with the writer exploring the common ground she or he shares with the audience.

For instance, in an argument in favor of handgun registration, the writer might begin by stating his or her respect for individual rights, especially the right to self-defense and protection of one’s property.

The writer might also show appreciation for sportsmen and collectors, who regard handguns as equipment for an activity or collectibles to be valued.

In exploring this common ground, the writer tries to state the audience’s side of the issue fairly and objectively, so that the audience realizes the writer is treating it with respect.

In the body of a Rogerian argument, the writer gives an objective statement of her or his position, again trying to avoid loaded and attacking language and trying not to imply that this position is somehow morally superior to the audience’s position.

The writer explains the contexts in which his or her position is valid and explores how they differ from the audience’s.

For instance, the gun registration writer might note that gun collections are frequent targets for thieves, and point out that registration might help the owners retrieve such stolen property before it is used to commit a crime.

To conclude, the writer finally presents the thesis, usually phrased in such a way that shows the audience that the writer has made some concessions toward the audience’s positions.

For instance, the gun registration writer might concede that this law should only apply to new sales of handguns, not to guns the audience already owns. By giving some ground, the writer invites the audience to concede as well, and hopefully to reach an agreement about the issue. If the conclusion can show the audience how it will benefit from adopting (at least to some degree) the writer’s position, an even better chance for persuasion takes place.

Key points:

  1. Rogerian argument is a negotiation strategy (everyone wins);
  2. Useful in psychological and emotional arguments, where pathos and ethos rather than logos and strict logic predominate.
  3. Find common ground with audience, where you both might agree. Accept that the audience is right in some ways.
  4. Don't disagree with the audience's view, but explain how your viewpoint is valid in certain contexts.
  5. Give ground--concede in order to reach an agreement. Facts (claims) and truth can often be negotiated.

Toulmin Argument

Toulmin arguments are PRACTICAL rather than theoretical or philosophical arguments, and thus work well with common, everyday situations.

Theoretical arguments make inferences based on a set of principles to arrive at a claim. (Aristotle, Plato, etc.)

Practical arguments reverse the order--first find a claim of interest, and then provide justification for it.

Toulmin believed that reasoning is less an activity of inference, involving the discovering of new ideas, and more a process of testing and sifting already existing ideas by trying to justify them.

How to Build a Toulmin Argument:

The first three elements, “claim,” “data,” and “warrant,” are considered as the essential components of practical arguments,

The next three, “qualifier,” “backing,” and “rebuttal,” may not be needed in some arguments.

Start with a Claim, a conclusion whose merit must be established.

Claim A: No unhealthy drinks should be sold on campus.
Claim B: I am an American citizen.

Next, provide Evidence or Data, a fact one appeals to as a foundation for the claim. (Often multiple evidence is required.)

Soda pop or coffee drinks are unhealthy.
I was born in California.

Then formulate the Warrant, or a statement authorizing movement from the data to the claim. The warrant is the assumption on which the claim and the evidence depend. Warrants can be implied (unstated) or explicit (directly stated). Which is stronger, and has more ethical appeal?

Warrant 1) People on this campus drink soda pop or coffee, which damages their health. Warrant 2) The school should not sell things which damages a persons health.

In order to move from the data, “I was born in California,” to the claim, “I am an American,” the person must supply a warrant to bridge the gap between data and claim with the statement “A man born in California will legally be an American.”

Backing = Credentials designed to certify the statement expressed in the warrant.

Backing must be introduced when the warrant itself is not convincing enough to the readers or the listeners. Backing defends the warrant, or the assumption.

Do you need some kind of backing to show that a man born in California will legally be an American, or is the warrant enough?
Do you need backing to show people on this campus drink soda or coffee? Do you need backing to demonstrate that a school should not sell things which damage a person's health?

Rebuttal = statements recognizing the restrictions which may legitimately be applied to the claim.

A man born in CA will legally be an American citizen, unless he has betrayed the USA and has become a spy of another country; or if he is born on the foreign soil of an embassy, or if he renounces US citizenship.

Qualifier = Words or phrases expressing the speaker’s degree of force or certainty concerning the claim. They express how strong you judge your claim to be.

Such words or phrases include probably, possible, certainly, some, always, never, usually, as far as the evidence goes, etc.

Do we need a qualifer for "I am an American citizen" (such as most likely, or almost certainly?)

Do we need qualifiers for "no unhealthy drinks should be sold on campus."

* * * * *

Claim: You should buy our tooth-whitening product.
Data: Studies show that teeth are 50% whiter after using the product for a specified time.
Warrant: <People want whiter teeth.>

When you research both sides of a question, you may find yourself being convinced first by one side, and then by the other

Each argument sounds good--at least while you are reading it. When you read an argument which takes an opposite position--that sounds good too, and soon you may feel completely confused.

By identifying the parts of an argument so each can be evaluated separately, Toulmin created a very useful model for analyzing the validity of an argument. Submit each source you study to rigorous Toulmin analysis:

Identify each argument's claims, data, and warrants.
Look for qualifiers, rebuttals, and backing for the warrants.
Compare one claim with another. Compare data between the two arguments.
Compare warrants and their backing, qualifiers, and rebuttals.

By analyzing the separate parts of an argument, you'll be much better equipped to evaluate each argument's validity. Then, as you begin to write, use Toulmin's methods to submit your own argument to the same rigorous analysis.

Test yourself on the Toulmin argument

Another nice little test

Key points:

  1. Practical arguments--how real people argue, not the syllogisms of philosophers.
  2. Begin with a claim, then justify the claim (i.e. defend the reasoning by which one arrives at the claim)
  3. Toulmin is good for testing ideas and argument analysis (since they require the justification of every step of thought).
  4. Data, Claim and Warrant are always needed, and should always be stated clearly (in writing an argument or analyzing another)
  5. Qualifiers, Backing and Rebuttals may not be needed, but should be considered.
  6. Toulmin arguments are a very useful tool for argument analysis.
  7. Toulmin arguments are good for real arguments, about real things argued about by real people.
  8. Not so much bridging the gap, but probing, carefully testing how you think of a claim, until you are satisfied by the truth and strength of the claim.

The Classical Argument

One of the oldest organizing devices in rhetoric is the classical argument, which incorporates the five parts of a discourse that ancient teachers of rhetoric believed were necessary for persuasion, especially when the audience included a mixture of reactions from favorable to hostile. They often prescribed this order to students, not because it was absolutely ideal, but because using the scheme encouraged the writer to take account of some of the most important elements of composing:

beginning in an interesting way

providing background or context that was relevant to their specific audience

stating their claims and evidence clearly and emphatically

taking account of opposing viewpoints and anticipating objections

and concluding in a satisfying and effective way.

The classical argument isn’t a cookie-cutter template: simply filling in the parts does not by itself make you successful.

But if you use the structure as a way to make sure you cover all the needs of all parts of your audience, you will find it a very useful heuristic for developing effective arguments.

The classical argument traditionally consists of five parts:


1) attract the interest of a specific audience and focus it on the subject of the argument.
2) provide enough background information to make sure that the audience is aware of both the general problem as well as the specific issue or issues the writer is addressing
3) It must clearly signal the writer’s specific position on the issue and/or the direction of her/his argument. Usually a classical argument has a written thesis statement early in the paper—usually in the first paragraph or two.
4) It must establish the writer’s role or any special relationship the writer may have to the subject or the audience (i.e. why do you care?) It should also establish the image of the writer (the ethos) that he/she wants to project in the argument: caring, aggressive, passionate, etc.

Confirmation What are the arguments that support my thesis that my audience is most likely to respond to?
What arguments that support my thesis is my audience least likely to respond to?
How can I demonstrate that these are valid arguments?
What kind of inartistic proofs does my audience respect and respond well to?
Where can I find the facts and testimony that will support my arguments?
What kinds of artistic proofs will help reinforce my position?

You want to concede any points that you would agree on or that will make your audience more willing to listen to you (as long as they don’t fatally weaken your own side).

Here is a place to use both pathos and ethos: by conceding those matters of feeling and values that you can agree on, while stressing the character issues, you can create the opportunity for listening and understanding.

Refutation you will also have to refute (that is, counter or out-argue) the points your opposition will make. You can do this in four ways:

1) Show by the use of facts, reasons, and testimony that the opposing point is totally wrong. You must show that the opposing argument is based on incorrect evidence, questionable assumptions, bad reasoning, prejudice, superstition, or ill will.
2) Show that the opposition has some merit but is flawed in some way. For instance, the opposing viewpoint may be true only in some circumstances or within a limited sphere of application, or it may only apply to certain people, groups, or conditions. When you point out the exceptions to the opposition rule, you show that its position is not as valid as its proponents claim it is.
3) Show that the opposition has merits but is outweighed by other considerations. You are claiming, in essence, that truth is relative: when a difficult choice has to be made, we must put first things first. For instance, you may say that it’s undesirable for young girls to have abortions, but when girls as young as ten become pregnant, they’re too young to take on the burdens of motherhood and must not be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. Or you may say that yes, it’s true that my proposal to halt global warming, but consider the costs if we do not undertake it, or how much the price will go up if we wait to undertake it.
4) Show that the reasoning used by the opposition is flawed: in other words, that it contains logical fallacies.

What are the most important opposing arguments? What concessions can I make and still support my thesis adequately?
How can I refute opposing arguments or minimize their significance?
What are the possible objections to my own position?
What are the possible ways someone can misunderstand my own position?
How can I best deal with these objections and misunderstandings?

Conclusion Too many times classical arguments don’t close—they just stop, as if the last page is missing. And this sense of incompleteness leaves readers dissatisfied and sometimes less likely to accept your argument. So spending a little extra time to round the conclusion out is almost always worthwhile in making the argument more successful.

How can I best leave a strong impression of the rightness and importance of my view?
How can I best summarize or exemplify the most important elements of my argument?
What is the larger significance of the argument? What long-range implications will have the most resonance with my readers?
How can I bring the argument “full circle” and leave my readers satisfied with the ending of my argument?

Key Points:

  1. A common, accepted order of parts, which help you to structure your argument.
  2. Require concession, yet affirmation.
  3. Places the argument in a rhetorical mode, which has a beginning and an end (intro/conclusion) which the other types do not.
  4. A way of thinking to help you cover the needs of your audience.

Exit question:

Which kind of argument type is best?

It depends on your topic, purpose and audience.

When you realize you will need to be conciliatory to your audience in order to get them to listen, which types will you use?

Which types help you to pay attention to how you think?