W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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Argumentation 395

This formula of objections to established regime contem-
plates a point of some interest in- argumentative analysis, the
so-called burden of proof. The burden of proof is against
the objector in the formula mentioned. That is to say, he
has got to do more than to show equality in benefit; the ad-
vantages of his scheme must outweigh the advantages of the
status quo; the disadvantages must be less than the disadvan-
tages of the established order. For,^ if this is not the case,
there is evidently no need of making a change. Burden of
proof is the extra weight that a disputant has to carry by
reason of his being of the attacking rather than the defending

Analysis, then, applied to the knowledge gained by reading
and inquiry into the question, enables us to get piecemeal
propositions, to masticate our question instead of swallowing
it whole. It also should tell us what kind of evidence and
arguments to look for in support of propositions of different
character. Evidence for the proposition that athletic success
has nothing to do with the size of college classes would be
different from that required to demonstrate the proposition
that women in Massachusetts desire the vot#, and tiiat in turn
would not call for the same reasoning as the comparison be-
tween idealism and pragmatism. This subject has already
been treated (p. 372), and need not be further elaborated at
this point.

Reading, Without study of the facts analysis is, of course,
impossible. You have to possess facts in order to analyze
them. These facts come by reading, as well as from other
sources of material already spoken of (p. 30). In order to
give point and direction to reading an argument, it may be con-
venient to say that reading should be directed (i) to the his-
tory of the proposition under debate and (2) to the finding of
evidence in support of the proposition. Some confusion is
likely to arise on the first of these questions, by mistaking terms
for propositions. In consequence, we often find, in actual ex-
perience, that students have done a good deal of reading about


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396 English Composition and Style

each of the terms, and in writing have often explained the terms
at great length and irrelevancy, forgetting that the only ger-
mane information has to do with the terms as they stand in
relation to one another. What one wants is a history of the
proposition to be discussed, not an account of each separate
term if isolated from its fellows. The point is noteworthy,
because the confusion of propositions with terms leads to much
irrelevancy. Looking up the history of a controversy or a
proposition is likely also to put one on the track of a good
deal of the evidence.

Arrangement Granted, then, that knowledge of the facts
and analysis of them has given one issues to discuss and evi-
dence for the discussion, the question of arrangement becomes
important. The value of analysis is great in this rhetorical
matter. The simplest general plan would undoubtedly be to
present two or more lucid and fair expositions of the opposing
sides and then to add an exposition of the reasons for believing
one of the expositions rather than the other. Argumentative
structure thus becomes an exposition of the reasons for belief,
— the things to be believed or to be rejected being an object of
previous exposition, of varying elaborateness according to com-
mon familiarity with the subject As a matter of fact, we do
constantly adopt this method: "You might do this, or you
might do that, but on the whole I guess you had better do that,"
is a very common formula for our arguments. Such in
essence also is the structure of debating: two groups of people
expound the pros and cons of a question ; another set of peo-
ple, the judges, consider the presentation of the arguments
and decide that one party has the better of it. All trials
consist in the presentation of opposing points of view or of
diverse facts and a decision by a judge or a jury on the two
bodies of fact as permitted to be presented. Probably the
majority of arguments follow this formula under various dis-

The elaborate structure. The account of analysis given
above suggests another arrangement which has considerable


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Argumentation 397

vogue and is in common use in the general college argumenta-
tion of to-day. In the kind of structure just mentioned, analy-
sis and argument would be introduced ail along the line, both
in the presentation of the case for one side and the case for the
other, as well as in the statement of the reasons affecting the
conclusion. In the latter kind of structure, the attempt is,
ideally, to find, by analysis, first, what are the issues or special
propositions on which the question really turns, and, secondly,
to find and apply the evidence to these issues. Therefore,
ideally, up to the time that the discussion begins, no sides what-
ever are taken; the issues are drawn without bias. The evi-
dence is next applied scientifically and lastly a conclusion is
drawn. Ideally, be it said; for in the majority of cases the
issues will actually be drawn to suit the conclusion that is con-
templated. In practice this method of structure cannot, at all
details, be distinguished from the commoner and less formal
method, but it may be explained at greater length as an illus-
tration of the bearing of rhetoric on argumentation.

We have seen (p. 69), that all writing has to have some
beginning, or introduction, some middle or development, and
some ending or conclusion. In the kind of argumentative
structure now under discussion, the introduction embraces all
that matter down to the establishment of the issues on which
the main proposition turns; the middle is the application of
the evidence to these issues ; the ending, the statement of the
results that are obtained. The introduction, therefore, may
be very long and elaborate, particularly in those questions
where some immediately preceding or a general common dis-
cussion at the time has not put the reader or the audience
in possession of the points at issue. An argumentative
introduction may, therefore, have to do all the following

I. It may have to show why the question is of interest
and importance, what its bearing is on immediate or ideal
concerns. This is not, so to speak, of intrinsic necessity in
argumentation, but is simply a common precaution, appearing


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398 English Composition and Style

under various forms in all writing that is directly addressed
to people.

2. It surely should present an exposition or a narration
of the history of the question, that is to say, of the terms as
combined into a proposition. What has the proposition meant
in previous discussions?

3. It should, as a result of the analysis of the narration
or exposition, make clear what the terms of the proposition
actually mean in the present discussion of them.

4. Furthermore, as a result of the analysis of the history
of the question, the introduction should frame issues on which
the discussion turns. This division of the introduction may
be made in the form of a systematic partition of the issues,
with a view to showing in what order they may be taken up,
and why it is proper that they should be taken up in one order
rather than another.

Ideally, these four uses of analysis utter nothing that may
not be commonly agreed upon ; they comprise recorded facts,
and a dispassionate analysis of the facts. Practically, they
are affected by a knowledge of where one is coming out

The body of the work consists, on the contrary, of argu-
mcntSj that is, of evidence or facts applied to the issues, as-
sumed to have been dispassionately stated. Manifestly, these
facts, whatever the issues, may be handled in a spirit of truth
or a spirit of controversy. In any event it is usual to classify
the arguments as direct proof and refutation. Direct proof
goes to the direct establishing of the propositions ; refutation
tries to prove the propositions by showing the arguments or
evidence against them to be unsound. That is to say, a propo-
sition is true because (i) certain things are true and also (2)
because certain other things, alleged of the proposition, are
not true. It is evident that refutation, as it is called, may
be general, or special ; that is, one may devote a separate part
of the body of his argument to the consideration of objections;
but one may also, in handling any special argument, dispose
of local objections to it as he goes.


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Argumentation 399

A question of order arises at this point. In what order
shall the arguments be introduced? This may be answered
by reference to the analysis; if that has given issues in suc-
cessive order, and, as it should, has split the question so as to
prove it seriatim, the course of the body of the argument
should follow this partition. When, however, any special
pleading is in hand, then rhetorical devices of climax and the
like may be most useful.

In the ending of an argument, it is often convenient, just
before the conclusion, to introduce a summary of the course
of the argtunent. The formula is " we have now seen i, and
2, and 3. From these facts we conclude — " Such a sum-
mary is important in testing the arrangement of the argu-
ment; if it can be clearly made, the course of the argument
is at least clear. Of the conclusion, it may be said that it
should not predicate more than the proposition. As a matter
of fact, in most argument, it would be entirely safe to make
the conclusion somewhat less positive than the opening propo-

This remark is based on what is manifestly a vicious tend-
ency in the kind of structure just described, excellent as it
is in clearness and for the purposes of training. It is this.
The fact that arguments, like men, have beginnings, develop-
ments, and conclusions often leads us to infer that argumenta-
tive conclusions, like death, are inevitable. As a matter of
fact, in probably the majority of cases, all that may be safely
postulated is a balance in favor of one side rather than an-
other. Hence scientific caution, disagreements of juries, sus-
pended sentences, recommendations for mercy. There are a
great many facts from which no conclusions can be drawn;
the evidence is not sufficient to warrant a conclusion. In
life, we almost always have to act on incomplete evidence and
imperfect arguments; we take risks, in short. Now to say
that an argument must have a conclusion, which in all reason
may be merely a termination, is often to compel it to have
a logical conclusion, willy-nilly. The most convenient way


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4CXJ English Composition and Style

to acquire this conclusion is obviously to suppress inconven-
ient facts, to make the world over again in a jiffy, and this
manner of writing may frequently be observed in arguments of
apparently fine order.

Unless, indeed, one is very careful, the following of this
form of structure may readily result in a prolonged instance
of reasoning in a circle. All of us are likely to approach any
question with some bias; the mere mention of it is likely to
suggest the conclusion with which one is immediately sympa-
thetic. Hence a side is not unlikely to be taken at the start,
and, of course, if interests are really concerned, this is almost
sure to happen. One then proceeds to look up the question,
inevitably under the influence of his sympathies or with a
determination to show his interest to be worthy of regard.
It is almost impossible not to find some fundamental or
slight begging of the question, at some point. This bias evi-
dently colors the reading, the analysis, the statement of
issues. Unconsciously it may be, we draw up our argument
in accordance with what we have previously concluded. We
are advocates rather than reasoners. The instances of people
changing their views after further study, though not uncom-
mon, are not numerous.

The simple structure. The simpler method of structure is
probably open to this same objection, but hardly to the same
degree, for the simple reason that it may be checked up better.
The exposition of the two sides may be examined separately,
until they are stated fairly ; and the exposition of reasons for
believing one side rather than the other could also be tested
more easily in pieces. The essential proposition in structure of
this sort is, " I think that the affirmative (or the negative), in
the foregoing discussion has the best of it for the following
reasons." Whether the reasons are complete and convincing,
or empty and incomplete, can be more easily determined in this
than in the more elaborate structure. The same opportunities
for exposition of the interest of the question and the chance for
direct proof and refutation are offered as in the involved form


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Argumentation 401

of argument, but the simpler structure has the advantage of
enabling the writer to add argument to argument as necessity
may demand, and does not compel him to have a plan in mind
from the start, or to force a conclusion to be in accord with
a proposition previously announced. It permits much more of
the tentativeness and inconclusiveness that is really in all dis-
cussion. It has every advantage of flexibility.

A suitable formula for the simple structure would be (i)
the importance of the question, (2) a statement of the differ-
ent sides, (3) a decision regarding the better side, and (4)
an exposition of as many reasons as possible, or as the cir-
cumstances required, for the decision. This is, as matter of
fact, the formula of most argument. The processes may be
greatly clipped, but they are more or less closely followed.
Huxley, for example, does elaborately and thoroughly in his
examination of the three hypotheses for the origin of things ®
what we are continually doing in trifling daily concerns. In-
deed, except where a side has been previously taken and where
a plea is necessary, it is hard to see that the complicated struc-
ture has any advantage over the simple.

Briefs. The nature, the method, the arguments, and even
the style of the argumentative form of writing are best seen
in what is known as the brief. A brief is the shortest possible
complete statement of the evidence for the question, but it
may also include matters of introduction. The form of brief
we have already seen (p. 81) ; it consists, so far as the argu-
ments go, of a series of inverted syllogisms and inductions,
inverted because the conclusions are stated first, the evidence
afterwards. The object of making briefs is, in law, to enable
the deciding officer to get at the facts more quickly; in the
study of rhetoric, to enable the writer to note the structure
of ideas, unaffected by style and persuasive methods.

In illustration of the principles that have been expounded,

*T. H. Huxley: American Addresses. Lecture i of three lectures
on evolution. The selection is reprinted in Professor G. P. Baker's
Specimens of Argumentation,


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402 English Composition and Style

it will be convenient to present an actual argument in the
"brief" form. The things to be noted are (i) the kinds oi
arguments successively used to demonstrate facts, or to over-
throw assertions, (2) the kinds of evidence in use, as testi-
mony and record, (3) the tests of evidence and testimony,
(4) the structure of the argument as a whole and the rela*
tion of part to part The following is a brief of the argu-
ment of Lord Erskine, in defense of Gordon, chosen because
it illustrates in a masterly way a good many different things
about the subject with which we are dealing.*

In order properly to understand the brief, one must bear
in mind that Erskine's speech was in defense of Gordon; it
was the final argument for the defendant in a case where the
evidence had already been presented. What the speech does
argumentatively is, therefore, to examine the evidence against
Gordon, the burden of proof being on his accusers. Since
the proposition was embodied in the charge against Gordon
and since the circumstances had previously been aired in the
trial, Erskine did not go into these matters, but began al-
most immediately with tiie analysis of the question. His pur-
pose was to prove that Gordon was not guilty of treason ; this
he accomplishes by a careful definition of what must be proved
to show treason on Gordon's part and by examining the evi-
dence in the light of this analysis.

The circumstances were that Gordon, a young Scotch lord
and a member of Parliament, had been elected president of
the Protestant Association, designed to oppose a particular
measure of time (1781), for giving more rights to the Cath-
olics. Out of the movement a riot grew which resulted in
much damage and considerable bloodshed. Gordon was ar-
rested, in consequence, on the charge of treason and put on
trial for his life. Owing to Erskine's able defense, the jury
returned a verdict of not guilty. One must take the whole
trial as the argument; Erskine's part is the particular part

• The speech is reprinted in Baker's Specimens of Argumentation.


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Argumentation 403

directed to the establishing of the negative of the charge that
Gordon was guilty of treason.


This is merely two paragraphs of a persuasive nature, begging for

The Crown has established no case of treason against Gordon.


A. Treason is the highest and most atrocious of all crimes, for

I. It is an attempt utterly to dissolve and destroy society.

B. Treason must therefore be defined, and actually is so defined
by our laws, with the greatest possible care, for

1. If left ambiguous all other laws for personal security
would be useless, for

a. It could be construed by rules of political ex-
pediency and made an object of tyranny.

2. If left undefined there could be no public freedom.

C. The only law of treason which we have, — imder which, in-
deed, the present indictment is framed, — is that of Edward
III, which defines the crime as

1. An attempt to compass or imagine the death of the

2. To levy war upon him in his realm by premeditated
open acts of violence, hostility, and force.

D. This law has always been interpreted exactly and has never
permitted anything to be charged by inference and construc-
tion, and it must now be so interpreted.

E. The assembling of the multitude, — the only overt act charged
in the indictment, — cannot in itself, under the statute, be
called treason, for

1. The purposes of the multitude as assembled are the
only points to be taken into consideration.

2. What the multitude did has no legal connection with
the purposes for which it was assembled, for

a. Under the statute it must be shown to have as-
sembled with predetermination to overpower the
laws and government by hostile, rebellious force.


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404 English Composition and Style

3. The purpose of assembling the mob was not violence,

a. It was not, as has been charged, armed, for

(i) Everybody says it was not

b. Though it is said that, as in the case of Damaree,
fury supplies arms, the maxim is not applicable
here, for

(i) Damaree's mob was supplied with suitable

(2) Its purpose was open and avowed.

(3) Damaree was taken in the act widi this
avowed purpose.

4. Manifestly it is the intention of the act which consti-
tutes treason, for

a. This view is held by all learned English juris-
F. Furthermore, to show any such intention, the indictment must
charge an open act against the person of the King or the
constitution of the State, for

1. The purpose can be shown only by actions.

2. Such is the opinion of Foster.

3. The indictment charges the prisoner with such intention
in his acts.

4. There must be an unequivocal connection between the
act and the intention, as in cases of homicide.

(Issue; special proposition)
There is no act of Gordon's which shows an intention on his part
to compass or imagine the death of the King or to levy war upon
him in his realm.


A. The formation of the Protestant Association has shown no
such act or intention, for

1. There was good reason for remonstrance, for

a. The regulations to the abrogation of which the
Protestant Association objected were wise.

b. The repeal of the regulations was sudden.

2. The Protestant Association was wholly orderly and legal
in its formation, open, public, regular, and dignified.


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Argumentation 405

B. Gordon's connection with the Association was free from
treasonous intent, for

1. He had no connection with the Association at first.

2. He was called to be president of it in a regular way and
by unanimous voice.

C. The evidence of the Crown to show Gordon's treasonous in-
tent is of no value, for

1. Hay's evidence is of no value, for

a. He is a spy.

b. He contradicts himself and his assertions come to

c. What he says happened at Coachmakers' Hall is
not incriminating, for

(i) Gordon advised acting like the Scottish

(2) They have not been proved guilty of vio-

d. What he says happened further on May 29th is
not incriminating, for

(i) Gordon advised peaceful means.

2. Mr. Metcalf's testimony is not incriminating, for

a. He does not testify that Gordon purposed violence,

3. Mr. Anstruther's testimony is not incriminating, for

a. It goes no further than the preceding.

4. Mr. Bowen's testimony of Gordon's reference to acts of
violence in Scotland is not incriminating, for

a. It is unsupported.

b. It is inconsistent with the proved context

c. At the worst it is ambiguous.

D. The evidence in Gordon's favor is very strong, for

1. Mr. Middleton, who was a close observer of all the facts,
testifies that Gordon did not take the initiative in as-
sembling the body, and

2. He further testifies that Gordon at no time used in-
flammatory language.

3. Many other persons could testify to the same eflFect.

E. The charge that Gordon should have foreseen the disastrous
results of a meeting is baseless, for

I. The Government did not foresee them.


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4o6 English Composition and Style

F. The charge that the Association's peaceful attitude was de-
ceitful was baseless, for

I. No one of iht signers of the petition was a suspicious

G. The charge that Gordon was responsible because the mob
wore blue cockades is baseless, for

1. The mob had no authority for wearing thenu

2. If members of the Association were in the mob they
must have used violence without previous intent

H. The charge that Gordon's attitude was deceitful and that he
really intended violence is baseless, for

1. The multitude was unarmed.

2. When he was informed that violent men had tried to
associate themselves with it, he tried to disband it

3. He offered his services to the Government in allaying

4. He worked with the Government in preventing disorder.
I. The charge that he granted protection is not incriminating,


1. It does not imply guilt.

2. Mr. Fisher did this also, and was dismissed from the
charge against him as having merely done his duty.

This very earnestly reiterates the matter of the analysis, in dif-
ferent terms, showing what must be proved, in order to prove the
guilt of Gordon. The evidence is then summarized, and the speech
closes with persuasive remarks. This closing work is more spe-
cifically indicated by the following headings:

A. The Crown, to prove Gordon 'guilty of treason, would have to
show that the Protestant Association under his leadership
tried not only to persuade Parliament but actually to coerce
it by hostile rebellious force ; and also that he tried to inflame
the mob to acts of violence.

B. To support this charge the most incontrovertible proof is nec-

C. The proof offered by the Crown in support of this charge is
totally inadequate.

D. On the other hand, the evidence in favor of Gordon is so
strong that the Solicitor-General cannot overthrow it


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Argumentation 407

A, Gordon is, therefore, free from the charge brought against

In the foregoing brief, the evidence can be tabulated much
more minutely, but enough has been given to show the rela-
tion of the main ideas to one another and the place o*f the
subordinate evidence.

It is manifest, also, that in those cases where the simpler

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 35 of 43)