Argumentation & Debate

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 Argumentation & Debate


Logic aims to equip the student to engage in practical argumentation by examining and discussing patterns of reasoning, fields of argument, standards of evidence, classical rhetorical concepts and contemporary controversies. The course begins with a good bit of instruction in fundamentals of logic, because thought is fundamental to argument. The course is then divided into three units, all designed to feature one aspect of arguing cases (a rhetorical approach to argumentation is a case-centered, practical approach): arguing a case in court of law, defending one’s judgment in a moral dilemma and arguing one’s case in a policy controversy.

Key units in the course are:

  • “Bootcamp of the Mind” (basic training in formal and informal logic) Philosophical Speech (a speech that provides students a chance to apply what they’ve learned in “bootcamp.”)
  • Court Opinion Analysis (Students select a Supreme Court opinion in a First Amendment case, identify the most exemplary piece of argumentation in the opinion, then write a 5-6 page analysis, explaining what makes it excellent.)
  • Major Case Analysis (This is an exercise in moral argumentation. Students are taught a method of case reasoning that is useful for resolving moral dilemmas. They are then given a case brief of a medical ethics dilemma and, after much in-class discussion and a mock ethics committee meeting, invited to compose a 5-7 page opinion, from the perspective of an ethics consultant to Regional Medical Center, that identifies the crux of the matter, renders a judgment, then defends that judgment–hence, “moral argumentation.”)
  • Policy Speech (Students must make the case for a policy solution to a controversial problem.)

The course also entails a number of exercises designed to sharpen critical/analytical faculties. These sessions involve discussions (both verbal and written) of a number of arguments, from video taped congressional debates to newspaper op ed pieces, to Monty Python sketches. Lively discussion and reasoned argument are standard elements of this course. These non-graded exercises give students opportunities to examine and develop theories of argument, practice argument and critique arguments.

This course dovetails with Fundamentals of Speech. The first four weeks constitute a “refresher” for those who took Fundamentals; the rest of the semester builds on that foundation.

Selected Readings (listed in the order they are read and discussed in class)


Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” from Education in a Free Society. Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1973.

Aristotle, Prior Analytics, 24a10-25a10. (all excerpts from Great Books of the Western World)

_________.Topics, 100a 18-104a 38.

_________. Metaphysics, 1004a 1-1012b 30.

_________. Rhetorica, Bk I.

Stephen Toulmin, Uses of Argument (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), Chapter Three.

Richard M. Weaver, A Rhetoric and Handbook (New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1967), excerpts from Chapter Five.

Cicero, De inventione and Topica (from the Harvard Classics).

Boethius, De topicis diferentiis (Eleonore Stump, trans.).

Albert R. Jonsen, “Case Analysis in Clinical Ethics,” The Journal of Clinical Ethics 1 (Spring 1990): 63-5.

_________. “Casuistry as Methodology in Clinical Ethics,” Theoretical Medicine 12 (1991): 295-307.

James M. Tallmon, “How Jonsen Really Views Casuistry,” Journal of Medicine & Philosophy 19 (1994): 103-13.

_________. “Casuistry” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. [click here]