1 What is an argument?
What does it mean for a text to have argumentation or a reasoned conclusion? In the following activity, you will explore this question and encounter two distinct senses of the word ‘argument’. Next you will learn how to represent a basic argument with an argument map.
Two perspectives on argumentation
Activity 1 Monty Python’s Argument Clinic
Watch the comedy sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (01.27 – 03.06). It vividly illustrates two different perspectives on the question ‘What is an argument?’
Listen carefully and note down some of the key statements that the two main characters make about arguments.
Then describe in your own words each of the two perspectives.
You might have noted down some of the following statements.
- ‘If I argue with you I must take up a contrary position.’
- ‘An argument is not the same as contradiction.’
- ‘Contradiction is just automatic gainsaying (i.e. denying or contradicting) of everything the other person says.’
- ‘Arguing is an intellectual process.’
- ‘An argument can be the same as contradiction.’
- ‘An argument is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition’.
One of the characters views an argument as two people having a verbal fight, contradicting each other, as in:
A: I’ve told you once.
B: No, you haven’t
A: Yes, I have.
A: Just now.
B: No, you didn’t.
In stark contrast with that, the other character thinks about an argument as an intellectual process. More specifically, he thinks of it as a series of statements leading to a claim (‘a definite proposition’).