Evaluating an Argument

There are many synonyms that can be used for “evaluation.”  Some synonyms often used are assessment, judgment, and critique.  In this essay, students will evaluate the argument in one of the articles on “buying/spending”( there are 6 articles on this subject) in the sustainability packet.  Ultimately, you are determining the effectiveness of the argument after analyzing all parts of an argument carefully (i.e. claim, evidence, warrants).  In order to develop this evaluation essay students will need to consider the following:

I. The kind of argument being made

1. Argument based on Generalization

A very common form of reasoning. It assumes that what is true of a well chosen sample is likely to hold for a larger group or population, or that certain things consistent with the sample can be inferred of the group/population.


To evaluate this we need to determine the scope of the generalization (some, many, the majority, most, all, etc.).
The scope of the argument will determine the degree to which a sufficient amount of typical, accurate,
support is required (although the extent to which a generalization is accepted by your audience is also crucial here). We also need to consider the nature, uniformity and stability of the group, category
or population being generalized about. For example a key question in the O.J. Simpson trial concerned
which population ought to be used when generalizing about the likelihood of a wife-beater going on to murder his spouse.


2. Argument based on Analogy

Extrapolating from one situation or event based on the nature and outcome of a similar situation or event. Has links to ‘case-based’ and precedent-based reasoning used in legal discourse. What is important here is the extent to which relevant similarities can be established between 2 contexts. Are there sufficient, typical, accurate, relevant similarities? Example: gun ownership went up in Florida and crime went down at the same time. Therefore other states ought to make guns more available.


3. Argument via Sign/Clue

Taking evidence of something visible as symptomatic of something not visible. Smoke as a sign for fire. For example some people think high SAT scores are a sign a person is smart and will do well in college. We evaluate it via the STAR criteria. That is, for a sign to be reliable, we need a sufficient number of typical, accurate and relevant instances.

4. Causal Argument

Arguing that a given occurrence or event is the result of, or is effected by, factor X. Causal reasoning is the most complex of the different forms. The big dangers with it are:

A) Mixing up correlation with causation

B) falling into the post hoc, ergo propter hoc trap. Closely related to confusing correlation and causation,
this involves inferring ‘after the fact, therefore because of the fact’).

C) We can evaluate it via the STAR criteria. That is, for an argument about cause to be reliable, we need a sufficient number of typical, accurate and relevant instances. Also important are questions concerning degree of correlation; the question of controls; elimination of other factors; the extent to which causes are partial,

necessary or sufficient.

D) Confusing necessary, sufficient, and contributing causes


5. Argument from Authority

Does person X or text X constitute an authoritative source on the issue in question? What political, ideological or economic interests does the authority have? Is this the sort of issue in which a significant number of authorities are likely to agree on? Using STAR: can we find a sufficient number of authoritative sources, accurately cited with relevant knowledge
which agree, and whose arguments are persuasive? To what degree does an authority exhibit logos, pathos and ethos (or good sense, good character and good will)?


6. Argument from Principle

Locating a principle that is widely regarded as valid and showing that a situation exists in which this principle applies. Evaluation: Is the principle widely accepted? Does is accurately apply to the situation in question? Are there commonly agreed on exceptions? Are there ‘rival’ principles that lead to a different claim? Are the practical consequences of following the principle sufficiently desirable?



II.  Criteria used to evaluate the argument


1. STAR: sufficiency, typicality, accuracy, and relevance.

2. The nature of the basic categories and definitions constructed or applied in the argument.


3. The degree of consistency and coherence within the chain of reasoning.


4. The extent to which non-contradiction and ‘fallacious’ reasoning is avoided.


5. The extent to which counter-examples and counter-arguments are dealt with.


6. How credible are the assumptions on which an argument is founded? What kind of

implications follow from an argument?


7. “Nuance”: how qualifications and objections are managed.


8. How well does the argument understand the audience and context of debate?


9. Are there significant gaps, silences or absences in an argument?


10. The Avoidance of forms of reasoning that approximate fallacies.

Discussion of ‘fallacies’ is not useful as a laundry list of forms to avoid, or as an algorithm for finding weaknesses in authors’ arguments, but as a way of reflecting on the nature of chains of reasoning, for talking about the strengths and weaknesses of argumentative claims and the evidence, support, backing, assumptions etc. associated with them.
Fallacies Related to GASCAP warrants:

  1. 1. Hasty Generalization
  2. 2. False Analogy
  3. 3. Fallible Sign
  4. 4. Post Hoc ergo Propter Hoc (after the fact, therefore because of the fact)
  5. 5. False authority
  6. 6. Fallacy of Accident – general principle misapplied, rebuttal conditions not noticed.

Other Fallacies

  1. 1. Straw Man
  2. 2. Slippery Slope
  3. 3. Begging the Question
  4. 4. False Dilemma/Dichotomy
  5. 5. Genetic Fallacy
  6. 6. Shifting the burden of proof
  7. 7. Argument ad Ignoratium (argument from ignorance)
  8. 8. Red Herring
  9. 9. Argument Ad Misericordium
  10. 10. Ad Hominem

Abusive – directed at speaker

Circumstantial – directed at some group. Similar to ‘Poisoning the Well’

Tu quoquo (‘thou too’)


*You likely will not be able to discuss all of the points of criteria listed here, so for the purpose of this assignment, choose at least three points as a basis for your evaluation.

All evaluation essays must be 3 pages in length and should include specific examples from the article to support your claim in the form of properly formatted quotations using MLA style formatting. A rough draft of your essay is due Monday March 18th for MWF class and Tuesday March 19 for T/Th class.  We will meet in D-136 for the Writing Workshop.  The final draft is due at the end of Week nine.


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