Understanding Toulmin

Because our rhetoric text, ENG 101, and ENG 102 all use the system of argument developed by philosopher Stephen Toulmin, it is important for us to learn the vocabulary and understand the logical organization of Toulmin's schema. Before reading this web page further, carefully study WA: 99-106.

From our study of classical Aristotelian argument, we've already become familiar with claims, reasons, and enthymemes:

To this Aristotelian vocabulary, Toulmin adds the concepts of warrant, grounds, backing, conditions of rebuttal, and qualifier.

Warrant: the warrant is the underlying assumption that makes the enthymeme true. In other words, the warrant is the belief or value held by the audience that makes the argument sound.

Notice how the warrant in a definition argument links the criteria  (Procedures which cause suffering) with the category (are cruel.)
Backing:  Sometimes an audience may have difficulty accepting our warrant. In the warrant above, most people will grant us that needless suffering is cruel. But what if they needed proof to accept our warrant? In such a case, we'd have to present backing. Backing is the evidence that our warrant is reasonable. Consider the same argument about docking and clipping using an additional reason. In this case, some members of our audience might object to our underlying warrant. Just because aesthetic procedures are painful, they may say, is no reason to say that they're cruel. In fact, millions of people undergo painful face lifts, stomach stapling, hair transplants, breast enlargements/reductions, liposuction, etc., for aesthetic reasons and we don't call these painful procedures cruel.  Since we know that some audiences might object to our warrant, we provide backing to support the warrant:

Grounds:  grounds are easy -- they are the evidence you provide to support your reasons. If our reason is "The procedures cause needless suffering," the grounds would include all the statistics, examples, facts, anecdotes, expert opinions, etc. that we can think of or find through research.

Conditions of Rebuttal:  Conditions of rebuttal require us to examine our argument from the perspective of an opponent, someone who disagrees with our position. Sometimes this process is called "considering the opposition." In general, opponents can attack two areas of our argument: 1) Reasons and Grounds and 2) Warrants and Backing.  Imagining the Conditions of Rebuttal for our own argument is useful since it alerts us to our argument's weaknesses, identifies areas for further research, and suggests better ways of phrasing our argument to eliminate problems. Unless we are dealing with facts and, thus, not arguing, however,  we won't be able to eliminate every single condition of rebuttal. By examining the conditions of rebuttal, we've identified areas of weakness in our argument that need further defense. For instance, our opponent's claim that the puppies are anesthetized and the the pain is temporary weakens our claim that the animals suffer. We'll have to work hard, when presenting our grounds, to provide evidence that significant pain really does occur, despite the anesthesia, or that the stumps remain painful for some significant period of time, or, even better, argue that suffering isn't an issue of degree -- that ANY needless suffering is cruel.

Qualifier:   The use of a qualifier allows you to adjust the scope of your statements and avoid overgeneralizing. Many statements, from our thesis to statements of evidence, will benefit from qualifiers. By limiting the applicability of our statements, qualifiers make us appear reasonable and open-minded, ready to admit exceptions to our arguments.

(We're thinking of a condition of rebuttal which suggests that docking the tails is practical measure, rather than a strictly aesthetic measure, designed to prevent the ensnarling and entanglement of dogs' tails in the brush while hunting.) Notice how the qualifier indicates that the VAST MAJORITY of docking is performed for aesthetic reasons instead of claiming that ALL dockings are performed for aesthetic reasons. Consider how the following qualifiers manipulate the degree of scope:

Click here to Return to Unit 3.
Click here to return to the Home Page.