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Chapter XXIII. Influencing By Argument

Common sense is the common sense of mankind. It is the product of common observation and experience. It is modest, plain, and unsophisticated. It sees with everybody's eyes, and hears with everybody's ears. It has no capricious distinctions, no perplexities, and no mysteries. It never equivocates, and never trifles. Its language is always intelligible. It is known by clearness of speech and singleness of purpose.

- George Jacob Holyoake, Public Speaking and Debate.

The very name of logic is awesome to most young speakers, but so soon as they come to realize that its processes, even when most intricate, are merely technical statements of the truths enforced by common sense, it will lose its terrors. In fact, logic1 is a fascinating subject, well worth the public speaker's study, for it explains the principles that govern the use of argument and proof.

Argumentation is the process of producing conviction by means of reasoning. Other ways of producing conviction there are, notably suggestion, as we have just shown, but no means is so high, so worthy of respect, as the adducing of sound reasons in support of a contention.

Since more than one side of a subject must be considered before we can claim to have deliberated upon it fairly, we ought to think of argumentation under two aspects:

1 MoCosh's Logic fa a helpful volume, and not too technical for the beginner. A brief digest of logical principles as applied to public speaking is contained in How to Attract and Hold an Audience, by J. Berg Esenwein.

building up an argument, and tearing down an argument; that is, you must not only examine into the stability of your structure of argument so that it may both support the proposition you intend to probe and yet be so sound that it cannot be overthrown by opponents, but you must also be so keen to detect defects in argument that you will be able to demolish the weaker arguments of those who argue against you.

We can consider argumentation only generally, leaving minute and technical discussions to such excellent works as George P. Baker's "The Principles of Argumentation," and George Jacob Holyoake's "Public Speaking and Debate." Any good college rhetoric also will give help on the subject, especially the works of John Franklin Genung and Adams Sherman Hill. The student is urged to familiarize himself with at least one of these texts.

The following series of questions will, it is hoped, serve a triple purpose: that of suggesting the forms of proof together with the ways in which they may be used; that of helping the speaker to test the strength of his arguments; and that of enabling the speaker to attack his opponent's arguments with both keenness and justice.

Testing An Argument

I. The Question Under Discussion 1. Is it clearly stated?

(a) Do the terms of statement mean the same to each disputant? (For example, the meaning of the term "gentleman" may not be mutually agreed upon.)

(b) Is confusion likely to arise as to its purpose?

2. Is it fairly stated?

(a) Does it include enough?

(b) Does it include too much?

(c) Is it stated so as to contain a trap?

3. Is it a debatable question?

4. What is the pivotal point in the whole question?

5. What are the subordinate points? II. The Evidence. 1. The witnesses as to facts

(a) Is each witness impartial? What is his relation to the subject at issue? (b) Is he mentally competent?

(c) Is he morally credible?

(d) Is he in a position to know the facts? Is he an eye-witness?

(e) Is he a willing witness?

(f) Is his testimony contradicted?

(g) Is his testimony corroborated?

(h) Is his testimony contrary to well-known facts or general principles? (i) Is it probable?

2. The authorities cited as evidence

(a) Is the authority well-recognized as such?

(b) What constitutes him an authority?

(c) Is his interest in the case an impartial one?

(d) Does he state his opinion positively and clearly?

(e) Are the non-personal authorities cited

(books, etc.) reliable and unprejudiced?

3. The facts adduced as evidence

(a) Are they sufficient in number to constitute proof?

(b) Are they weighty enough in character?

(c) Are they in harmony with reason?

(d) Are they mutually harmonious or contradictory?

(e) Are they admitted, doubted, or disputed?

4. The principles adduced as evidence

(a) Are they axiomatic?

(b) Are they truths of general experience?

(c) Are they truths of special experience?

(d) Are they truths arrived at by experiment?

Were such experiments special or general?

Were the experiments authoritative and conclusive? III. The Reasoning i. Inductions

(a) Are the facts numerous enough to warrant accepting the generalization as being conclusive?

(b) Do the facts agree only when considered in the light of this explanation as a conclusion?

(c) Have you overlooked any contradictory facts?

(d) Are the contradictory facts sufficiently explained when this inference is accepted as true?

(e) Are all contrary positions shown to be relatively untenable?

(f) Have you accepted mere opinions as facts?

2. Deductions

(a) Is the law or general principle a well-established one?

(b) Does the law or principle clearly include the fact you wish to deduce from it, or have you strained the inference?

(c) Does the importance of the law or principle warrant so important an inference?

(d) Can the deduction be shown to prove too much?

3. Parallel cases

(a) Are the cases parallel at enough points to warrant an inference of similar cause or effect?

(b) Are the cases parallel at the vital point at issue?

(c) Has the parallelism been strained?

(d) Are there no other parallels that would point to a stronger contrary conclusion?

4. Inferences


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