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English 900, Fall 1999

THEORY & PRACTICE OF WRITTEN ARGUMENT

University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • INSTRUCTOR: David Fleming, PhD
  • CLASS MEETINGS: TTh, 1:00 - 2:15 p.m., 7105 Helen C. White
  • CLASS EMAIL: argue-theory@lists.students.wisc.edu
  • OFFICE: 6187D Helen C. White
  • OFFICE Hours: W 1:00 - 2:30; R 10:00 - 11:00; and gladly by appointment
  • PHONE: 263-3367 (o); 236-9703 (h)
  • EMAIL: jdfleming@facstaff.wisc.edu


  • Objectives | Assignments | Texts | Grades | Calendar | Supplementary Readings | WWW Resources


    1.  Objectives.

    The word "argument" can denote either an utterance consisting of a claim and one or more reasons offered in its support or a social interaction characterized by disagreement.  Daniel J. O'Keefe calls the first "argument1" and the second "argument2."   The two meanings are related, of course: reasoned discourse (argument1) is often, if not always, situated in some kind of social conflict (argument2); and social conflict is often, though not always, mediated by reasoned discourse.  In our everyday lives, argument2 seems to be the more prominent of the two perhaps because difference is such a pronounced (and so often troubling) part of our lives together.  In education, however, it is argument1 that has traditionally been privileged, the processes, procedures, and products  of discursive reason seen as the best, even only, way to manage our differences productively.  Without this kind of argument, in other words, it is hard to imagine how we could resolve social conflicts non-violently, criticize convention for the sake of reform, and make progress on the way to truth.  To publicly support our beliefs, actions, and preferences by bringing forth considerations which are independent of them and yet capable of increasing others’ assent to them, is to admit that our beliefs, actions, and preferences are fallible but that our doubts and disputes concerning them are, ideally at least, resolvable.  Unfortunately, although it is easy to define and celebrate this kind of argument, it turns out to be immensely difficult to do, to learn, and to teach.

    In rhetoric and composition, argument was long seen as one of the four "modes" of composition (the other three were exposition, description, and narration - hence, "EDNA") around which the freshman course was organized.  As the teaching and study of composition became more sophisticated in the latter half of this century, argument began to be seen as significantly different from the other three; it was thought more difficult and more important.  In many schools, freshman composition grew to a two-semester course with the second semester devoted to argumentative writing (i.e., the research paper).  More recently still, with the decline of EDNA as an organizing device, the revitalization of classical rhetoric in English Departments, and the rise of more overtly sociological and cognitive approaches to composition, argument has become, for many teachers and scholars, not simply a "mode" but the core of rhetoric itself and the heart of intellectual, professional, and political life.

    But once argument becomes a bona fide academic subject, several problems emerge.  For one, the compositionist loses any exclusive purview over it.  As a discipline or field of study, argumentation is a transdisciplinary object of interest to scholars in many areas: philosophy (informal logic), psychology (critical thinking), speech communication (debate), political science, linguistics, etc.  The other thing that happens, once argument is construed as a cognitive and social activity with fundamental intellectual and political implications, is that our original definition of argument1 begins to leak.  Outside of the classroom, the claim + reason(s) complex is always inextricably embedded in particular "real world" situations, and it is the situation, rather than the actual reasoning involved, that often appears to determine the value and effectiveness of an argument.  So questions abound in contemporary argumentation studies: Who argues, and why?  How do they argue?  Can we still talk about good and bad arguments in a "post-rational" world?  How do arguments change across social, cultural, historical, institutional, and practical contexts?  How do people learn to argue?  How should we teach it?

    This course is a graduate-level introduction to the history, theory, practice, and pedagogy of argument, as seen from a rhetorical perspective, and with special attention given to the problem of writing.  The course will be divided into three units: historical foundations, the 1958 "turn," and recent research.  There will be a heavy emphasis on history and theory (and thus, a lot of reading, thinking, and discussing).  But we'll be doing other things as well: learning a technical language, practicing different types of argument analysis, improving our own argumentative skills and habits, thinking about pedagogical applications, and developing individual research questions.

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    2.  Assignments.

    We'll proceed in the following way.  As far as the readings are concerned, you are expected to read all assigned texts thoughtfully, by the date due, and with an eye towards intellectual engagement in class.  You are expected to contribute actively to discussions; I see this course as an opportunity not only to learn about argumentation but to practice it with each other.  In addition to reading and discussion, there will be numerous short written analyses and exercises and two medium-length projects, one concerning the teaching of argument, the other a traditional research paper.

    1) Written Analyses: these are short exercises, done rather quickly, in which you will use the various theoretical "tools" encountered in the course.  We'll do the majority of these in the first half of the course; each one will be approximately 1-2 pp, typed DS (app. 250-500 words).  A good argument analysis typically has three parts: a brief summary of the argument itself (1¶); the actual analysis, including a brief introduction to the "tool" being used and an application of it to the argument in question (1-2¶); and an evaluation of either or both the argument and/or the tool (does this argument work? what "purchase" does the tool provide?) (1¶).

    2) Teaching Project: this is a medium-sized paper consisting of three parts: a) your statement of goals for a self-contained 2-3 week unit on argument in an undergraduate writing course, b) your analysis and evaluation of potential sources (textbooks, sample arguments, etc.) for use in the course, and c) a timeline of teaching activities for the unit (5-7 pp total).

    3) Research Project: this is a medium-sized paper to be completed in three stages, each lasting roughly one month: a) a written proposal (1 p) in which you articulate an intellectual problem re: argument, b) an annotated bibliography (4-6 pp) in which you identify and summarize 6-12 sources dealing with that problem, and c) a final paper in which you synthesize relevant research on the problem and record the progress of your own exploration of it (10-12 pp).

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    3.  Texts.

    Readings in the class will come from the following texts:
  • Aristotle.  (1991). On rhetoric: A theory of civic discourse.  Trans., George A. Kennedy. New York: Oxford UP.
  • Billig, Michael. (1996). Arguing and thinking: A rhetorical approach to social psychology, 2nd Edition.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  • Crosswhite, James. (1996). The rhetoric of reason: Writing and the attractions of argument. Madison: U of Wisconsin P.
  • Hamblin, C. L. (1970). Fallacies. Newport News, VA: Vale P.
  • Kuhn, Deanna. (1991). The skills of argument. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  • Perelman, Chaïm, & Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca. (1969). The new rhetoric: A treatise on argumentation. Trans. John Wilkinson & Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P.
  • Toulmin, Stephen. (1958). The uses of argument. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  • These texts are required.  In addition, there will be supplementary articles and chapters that I will either collect in a course-pack or put on reserve.  The following book is on order at UBS as a recommended (but not required) text:
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    4.  Grades.

    Final grades will be computed using the following formula:
    Written Analyses 30%
    Teaching Project 30%
    Research Project 40%
    Final Grade = 100%
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    5.  Calendar

    Week 01 Th Sep 02 Introduction to class
    Unit I: Historical Foundations, Aristotle to Popper
    Week 02  Tu Sep 07   o Aristotle on Reason, # 1: analytic 
       o scientific demonstration 
       o reading: Prior & Posterior Analytics 
       o analysis 1 assigned 
    Th Sep 09  o Aristotle on Reason, #2: dialectic 
        o philosophical argumentation 
        o reading: Topica 
        o analysis 2 assigned 
    Week 03  Tu Sep 14  o Aristotle on Reason, #3: rhetoric 
       o rhetorical argument. (enthymeme & ex.) 
       o reading: Rhetoric, Book 1 
       o analysis 3 assigned 
    Th Setp 16  o rhetorical argument., cont'd (the topics) 
       o reading: Rhetoric, Books 1-2 
       o analysis 4 assigned 
    Week 04  Tu Sep 21  o Aristotle on Reason, #4: sophistic 
       o the fallacies 
       o reading: Hamblin, Fallacies, chs. 1-4 
    Th Sep 23  o the fallacies, cont'd 
       o reading: Hamblin, Fallacies, chs. 5-9 
       o analysis 5 assigned 
    Week 05  Tu Sep 28  o Hellenistic & Roman argumentation 
       o stasis theory 
       o reading: Dieter 
       o analysis 6 assigned
    Th Sep  30  o Hellenistic & Roman argumentation, cont'd 
       o Cicero and the epicheireme 
       o reading: TBA 
    Week 06  Tu Oct 05   o Medieval argumentation 
       o Aquinas and the quaestio 
       o reading: TBA 
       o analysis 7 assigned 
    Th Oct 07   o Modern argumentation 
       o Peirce & Popper 
       o reading: TBA 
    Unit II: 1958 and the (Re)Turn to Practical Reason
    Week 07  Tu Oct 12  o Stephen Toulmin 
       o reading: Uses of Argument, ch. 1 
       o due: Research project proposal 
    Th Oct 14  o Toulmin, cont'd 
       o reading: Uses of Argument, ch. 3 
    Week 08  Tu Oct 19  o Toulmin, cont'd 
       o reading: Uses of Argument, ch. 3, cont'd 
       o analysis 8 assigned 
    Th Oct 21  o Toulmin, cont'd 
       o reading: Uses of Argument, ch. 5 
    Week 09  Tu Oct 26 o Chaïm Perelman & Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca 
       o reading: The New Rhetoric, Part One 
       o due: Teaching Project rough draft 
    Th Oct 28  o Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, cont'd 
       o reading: The New Rhetoric, Part Two 
    Week 10  Tu Nov 02  o Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, cont'd 
       o reading: The New Rhetoric, Three, I-III 
       o analysis 9 assigned 
    Th Nov 04  o Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, cont'd 
       o reading: The New Rhetoric, Three, IV-V 
    Unit III: Recent Challenges and
    Responses
    Week 11 Tu Nov 09  o Michael Billig 
       o reading: Arguing and Thinking, chs. 1-4 
       o due: Research project annotated bib. 
    Th Nov 11  o Billig, cont'd 
       o reading: Arguing and Thinking, chs. 5-9 
    Week 12  Tu Nov 16  o Deanna Kuhn 
       o reading: The Skills of Argument, chs. 1-4 
    Th Nov 18  o Kuhn, cont'd 
       o reading: The Skills of Argument, chs. 5-7 
       o analysis 10 assigned 
    Week 13  Tu Nov 23  o Kuhn, cont'd 
       o reading: The Skills of Argument, chs. 8-10 
    Th Nov 25  Thanksgiving
    Week 14  Tu Nov 30  o challenges from feminism, multiculturalism 
       o reading: TBA 
       o due: Teaching Project (final paper) 
    Th Dec 02  o Rogerian and narrative approaches 
       o reading: TBA 
    Week 15  Tu Dec 07 o James Crosswhite 
       o reading: The Rhetoric of Reason, chs. 1-4 
    Th Dec 09  o Crosswhite, cont'd
       o reading: The Rhetoric of Reason, chs. 5-7 
    Week 16 Tu Dec 14  o Crosswhite, cont'd 
       o reading: The Rhetoric of Reason, chs. 8-9 
    Week 17  Th Dec 23  Research Project final paper due
    Week 18 M Dec 27  Final grades in

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