PERIODIC TABLE OF ARGUMENTS

THE ATOMIC BUILDING BLOCKS OF PERSUASIVE DISCOURSE

Basic terminology

Natural argumentative discourse

The argument categorization framework of the Periodic Table of Arguments (PTA) is designed to analyze natural argumentative discourse. As the name indicates, such discourse contains natural argumentation. By argumentation, we mean a collection of statements including a particular claim and the reason(s) put forward to establish or increase the acceptability of that claim. By natural, we mean that the argumentation is expressed in natural language and occurs in the wild.

Conclusion and premise

Natural argumentative discourse typically consists of a complex fabric of interconnected statements. The PTA operates on the atomic level of the discourse, describing the characteristics of each of the individual arguments contained in it. On this level, an argument is a combination of two statements. One of them is called the conclusion. This is a statement that is questioned and thus in need of support. The other is called the premise, and this is the statement providing that support. In the example below, the statement functioning as the conclusion precedes the statement functioning as the premise.

The government should not introduce a basic income. It will lead to a drop in income for most people.

The same argument can also be presented in a different order, putting the premise first and the conclusion last.

Introducing a basic income will lead to a drop in income for most people. The government should not introduce it.

Coherence markers

In practice, it may not always be immediately clear which of the two statements counts as the conclusion and which one as the premise. The arguer can diminish the chance of misinterpretation by explicitly indicating the argumentative function of the statements. This can be done by making use of argumentative coherence markers such as because, so, since, and therefore. The examples below contain the same argument as above.

The government should not introduce a basic income because it will lead to a drop in income for most people.

Since introducing a basic income will lead to a drop in income for most people, the government should not introduce it.

Introducing a basic income will lead to a drop in income for most people. The government should, therefore, not introduce it.

In the discourse, statements can play a double role. For instance, if a statement is supported by another statement and that statement itself is supported by yet another statement, the one in the middle functions as a premise for the first and as a conclusion for the last. An example is ‘According to The Economist, introducing a basic income will lead to a drop in income for most people. Therefore, the government should not introduce it.’ In this case, the argumentation contains two individual arguments: the first argument (indicated by 1 below) has the conclusion ‘The government should not introduce a basic income’ supported by the premise ‘It will lead to a drop in income for most people’. The latter statement also functions as the conclusion of the second argument (indicated by 2 below), where it is supported by the premise ‘The Economist says so’.

Subject and predicate

To identify the type of argument, the PTA analyzes the statements on the level of their constituents. On this sub-atomic level, each statement consists of a subject and a predicate. The subject is the entity about which something is said in the statement, and the predicate is what is said about that entity. The statement ‘The minister of education is doing a great job’, for example, has ‘the minister of education’ as its subject and ‘is doing a great job’ as its predicate.

The minister of education is doing a great job.

Argument type

The Periodic Table of Arguments (PTA) distinguishes between the types of argument based on a determination of the value of three different parameters: the form, the substance, and the lever of the argument. An argument type is simply defined as the sum of the values of these parameters. In other words, two concrete arguments belong to the same type if they match each other on all three parameters and they belong to different types if they differ on at least one of them.

Form, substance, and lever

Various heuristics are available to determine the values of the three parameters form, substance, and lever – for an elaborate description, see How to identify an argument type? On the hermeneutics of persuasive discourse (Wagemans, 2023).

Determining the argument form involves comparing the subjects and predicates of the two statements. For example, in some arguments, the conclusion and the premise have the same subject and different predicates, while in other arguments it is exactly the other way around. For more info, please see the page on argument form.

The second parameter, argument substance, concerns the types of statements combined in the argumentation. Here we distinguish between statements of fact (F), statements of value (V), and statements of policy (P). For more info, please see the page on argument substance.

Finally, the argument lever is a description of how the premise and conclusion of an argument are connected. The determination of this parameter depends in part on the form and substance: once these are established, the options regarding the formulation of the lever are limited. For more info, please see the page on argument lever.

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