The form of an argument
Who is Toulmin?
• Stephen Toulmin, a British philosopher,
developed a concrete system for
argumentation based on sound reasoning
and consideration of the opposing point of
The Courtroom
Imagine you are a lawyer. You are defending Ms.
Cheap against her landlord, Mr. Megabucks,
who is suing her because she has been
delinquent on her rent for 5 months.
What arguments can you construct for Ms. Cheap?
After you construct your arguments, what
arguments do you think Mr. Megabucks’ lawyer
will have?
The Toulmin Model insists that we consider the
argument of our opposition in constructing our
own argument.
What are Toulmin’s Assumptions?
• All arguments are contestable (as in court)
• Verdicts will come from a neutral (3rd)
party (the judge, the jury, or – in your case
– your reader)
• Assume that your audience (reader)
disagrees with you!
Term 1:Enthymeme
An enthymeme is an incomplete logical
structure. It depends on “unstated
assumptions (values, beliefs, principles)
that serve as the starting point of the
argument” (Ramage 97).
Example: We need laws to control the sale
of guns because so many innocent people
are getting killed.
What is the unstated assumption?
Breaking down the structure
Claim: We need laws to control the sale of
Stated Reason: because so many innocent
people are getting killed.
Unstated Assumption: Killing is bad.
The enthymeme We need laws to control the
sale of guns relies on our moral judgment
that killing innocent people is bad.
Let’s try another
Identify the claim, the stated reason, and the
unstated assumption in the enthymemes below:
Abortion must be legalized because a woman has
the right to control her body.
Elderly drivers must be retested each year
because of the high number of accidents they
Bilingual education fails because it makes students
rely on their native language.
Term 2: Warrant
What is a warranty? If you buy a new washing
machine, you may get a 5-year warranty that
ensures the machine will not fail in that time
A warrant, according to Toulmin, is like a
guarantee that your argument will stand up to
critics; that is, it relies on the assumption that the
underlying values, beliefs, or principles are so
strong that your audience will agree with you. In
other words, your claim is warranted.
Term 3: Grounds
What grounds do you have to support your
claim? Grounds are the evidence you will
use to prove your argument: data,
statistics, the research of credible
authorities in the field, etc.
Your grounds should answer the question,
“How do you know that . . .?”
Think about “the grounds for divorce,” to
help you.
Term 4: Backing
Usually, the arguments we make have
generally supported warrants. That is,
most people agree that there has
historically been gender bias, or that killing
is evil, or that physiological changes as we
age can affect the ability to drive.
Nevertheless, sometimes we need to back
up our warrant by proving it to the
audience (reader).
Backing Up your Warrant
If your warrant is not shared with your audience,
then you will have to prove it (back it up).
Example: Affirmative Action is a necessary
initiative to help minorities achieve equality in
education and employment.
What argument is warranted?
If you believe that minorities have achieved
equality in education and employment, how can
we convince you otherwise?
The question a backing answers is, “Why do you
believe that . . .?”
Term 5: Rebuttal
So now you have backed up your warrant,
provided grounds for your claim, and you have a
person who totally disagrees with you (imagine a
debate between political candidates). How can
your argument stand up to this very articulate
and informed opponent?
Your opponent can rebut your argument on two
fronts: on its reasons and grounds and/or on its
warrant and backing. So you need to be
prepared by . . .
In your argument, acknowledge that there
are limitations on your claim, that you are
aware of the opposing point of view, and
that despite that point of view, yours is still
the better position.
Term 6: Qualify
Most rational people acknowledge that all
arguments are not black or white; we often must
settle for a gray area. Although many people feel
that abortion is wrong in most cases, there are
rare cases where they accept its value.
When you are stating claims that cannot be proven
100%, it is necessary to qualify them by terms
such as:
In most cases, very likely, with few exceptions, etc.
Remember the terms!
Learn the terms that Toulmin developed for
argumentation: enthymeme, claim, reason,
warrant, grounds, backing, rebuttal, and
Here is a helpful website for you to review
Toulmin’s Schema:
Works Cited
Ramage, John D. and John C. Bean. Writing
Arguments A Rhetoric with Readings.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998.