Stephen Toulmin, a Philosopher and Educator, Dies at 87

STEPHEN EDELSTEIN TOULMIN 1922-1909 a philosophical giant

obit from stephen grimes of the ny times

From http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/education/11toulmin.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

reprinted in global debate blog at

http://globaldebateblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/stephen-toulmin-pases-away.html

Toulmin was a great yet unknown and unheralded philosopher and writer of great academic and widespread influence in many circles.

He was an epistemologist and also influenced the modern revival of practical argumentation theory, also known as the new rhetoric, with a small book he published in 1958 known as “the uses of argument”, which is still a classic today.

Toulmin’s argumentation theories, which were refined over the course of many  more articles and books, resulted in what was known as a Toulmin argument, to quot from the wikipedia article on Toulmin;

Toulmin believed that a good argument can succeed in providing good justification for a claim that will stand up to criticism and earn a favourable verdict. In The Uses of Argument (1958), Toulmin proposed a layout containing six interrelated components for analyzing arguments:

Claim
A conclusion whose merit must be established. For example, if a person tries to convince a listener that he is a British citizen, the claim would be “I am a British citizen.” (1)
Evidence (Data)
A fact one appeals to as a foundation for the claim. For example, the person introduced in 1 can support his claim with the supporting data “I was born in Bermuda.” (2)
Warrant
A statement authorizing movement from the data to the claim. In order to move from the data established in 2, “I was born in Bermuda,” to the claim in 1, “I am a British citizen,” the person must supply a warrant to bridge the gap between 1 and 2 with the statement “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British citizen.” (3)
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. For example, if the listener does not deem the warrant in 3 as credible, the speaker will supply the legal provisions as backing statement to show that it is true that “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British citizen.”
Rebuttal
Statements recognizing the restrictions which may legitimately be applied to the claim. The rebuttal is exemplified as follows: “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British citizen, unless he has betrayed Britain and has become a spy of another country.”
Qualifier
Words or phrases expressing the speaker’s degree of force or certainty concerning the claim. Such words or phrases include “probably,” “possible,” “impossible,” “certainly,” “presumably,” “as far as the evidence goes,” and “necessarily.” The claim “I am definitely a British citizen” has a greater degree of force than the claim “I am a British citizen, presumably.”

The first three elements, “claim,” “data,” and “warrant,” are considered as the essential components of practical arguments, while the second triad, “qualifier,” “backing,” and “rebuttal,” may not be needed in some arguments.

When Toulmin first proposed it, this layout of argumentation was based on legal arguments and intended to be used to analyze the rationality of arguments typically found in the courtroom. Toulmin did not realize that this layout could be applicable to the field of rhetoric and communication until his works were introduced to rhetoricians by Wayne Brockriede and Douglas Ehninger. Only after Toulmin published Introduction to Reasoning (1979) were the rhetorical applications of this layout mentioned in his works.

Toulmin’s argument model has inspired research on, for example, argument maps and associated software.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Toulmin

Toulmin arguments are therefore routinely used in modern legal argumentation, in law schools, in oratory and rhetoric, and have formed the foundation of modern college and high school debating, especially lincoln-douglas debating which has become the preferred form of debate in recent years.

Toulmin arguments are used in many other ways and in many other contexts.  His work will be studied and debated for many years to come.  His work is illuminating and inspires one to further considerations of the subject matter.  Finally, Toulmin had a fond regard for the ancient greeks and their original traditions of epistemology, rhetoric and oratory, and their practical uses of same vs. their scientific uses of same.  He was always careful to draw the distinction between empirical use of language and persuasive use of language, and in this, he succeeded admirably.  By doing so, he revived the modern notion of argument and managed to win a small victory over the british analytic school which denied even the possibility of metaphysics in a modern world.

–art kyriazis, december 22, 2009

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