Periodic Table of Arguments

The atomic building blocks of persuasive discourse

Argument Identification Procedure

This page contains a description of the Argument Identification Procedure (AIP) – Version 3 for the types of argument distinguished in the Periodic Table of Arguments. For a PDF of this page, please go to “DOWNLOADS” on the right.

Step 1 – Reconstruct the statements

The first step is to reconstruct the statements that together make up the argument. Within the PTA approach, an argument is taken to consist of two statements: a conclusion, which is a statement of which the truth or acceptability is questioned; and a premise, which is a statement that is aimed at supporting a conclusion, i.e., aimed at establishing or increasing its truth or acceptability.

Step 2 – Identify the subjects and predicates

The second step is to identify the subjects and predicates of the statements reconstructed in Step 1. Statements are taken to consist of at least two elements: a subject, i.e., an entity about which something is said; a predicate, i.e., that what is said about the entity.

Step 3 – Determine the argument form

The argument form is an abstract representation of the constellation of the subjects (a, b, etc.) and predicates (X, Y, etc.) of the statements that function as the conclusion and the premise of the argument. Within the theoretical framework of the PTA, four basic argument forms are distinguished, which reflects the division of the table in four ‘quadrants’. Figure 1 contains an overview of the four argument forms, their names, and the associated quadrant of the table:

Argument form Name Quadrant
a is X, because a is Y first-order predicate argument alpha
a is X, because b is X first-order subject argument beta
q is T, because r is T second-order subject argument gamma
q is T, because q is Z second-order predicate argument delta

Figure 1        Argument forms distinguished in the PTA

In order to find the argument form of the argument under scrutiny, the analyst can use the decision tree pictured in Figure 2, which contains three heuristic questions and some instructions and observations depending on the answers to these questions.

Decision tree for determining the argument formFigure 2           Decision tree for determining the argument form

Step 4 – Analyse the argument substance

In order to differentiate the types of arguments within each of the four quadrants, it is determined which combination of types of statements they instantiate. The labelling of the type of statement is done in accordance with a tripartite typology of statements consisting of: statements of fact (F), such as “He left a long trace of rubber on the road”; statements of value (V), such as “This painting is beautiful”; and statements of policy (P), such as “Children should not sleep with artificial lightning”.

Step 5 – Provide the systematic name of the argument

The systematic name of an argument is a combination of the results of Step 3 and 4 and consists of: the prefix “1” or “2”, indicating a first-order or a second-order argument; the infix “pre” or “sub”, indicating a predicate or subject argument; the suffix “FF”, “VF”, etc., indicating the types of statements instantiated by the argument.