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Legal skills and debates in Scotland
Legal skills and debates in Scotland

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1.1  What is an argument?

The first step is to understand what an argument is in the formal sense of the word. The art of argument and rhetoric has a long history. In western legal cultures it is linked and developed from the works of the ancient Greek and Roman writers. Before going any further Activity 1 asks you to think about what the word ‘argument’ means to you.

Activity 1 What is an argument?

Timing: (Allow 5 minutes)

Take a look at the images relating to arguments in Figure 1. Reflect on how they portray ‘argument’ and make some notes on what the word ‘argument’ means to you in the box below.

Collage of images relating to arguments
Figure 1Collage of images relating to arguments
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All the images portrayed some aspects of an argument and there are different explanations of what an argument is. At its simplest an argument is an expression of a point of view on a subject. Here are a number of definitions from a dictionary:

1 an exchange of views, especially a contentious or prolonged one

2 (often followed by for, against) a reason advanced; a reasoning process (an argument for abolition)

3 a summary of the subject-matter or line of reasoning of a book.

Concise Oxford Dictionary, Eighth edition 1990

Formal arguments such as academic argument and the sort of argument utilised by lawyers in the courtroom have a more formal construction than everyday, colloquial forms of argument.

A formal argument is made of several elements, as outlined in Box 1.

Box 1 The anatomy of an argument

An argument can be divided into:

  • the premise or claim – a statement, proposition, foundation or reason for a conclusion
  • the factual evidence to support that premise or claim
  • the conclusion – this follows logically from the premise(s), and it is what you are arguing for in regard to the factual evidence.

So, a formal argument is more than a statement of a point of view – it is also an attempt to support that view with evidence. An argument should be distinguished from a disagreement, where each of the two sides believes something different. An argument provides the reason for the beliefs of the two sides.