Toulmin Argument

1999; Dennis G. Jerz 

To understand the following examples you should first know that a split infinitive occurs when an infinitive verb (such as "to go") is "split" by an adverb (as in "to boldly go").

Classical Syllogism: "Split infinitives are ungrammatical. Good writing requires proper grammar.  Therefore, writers should avoid split infinitives if they want to write well."

Toulmin logic recognizes these three parts.

  • claim: Writers should avoid split infinitives.
  • reason: Because split infinitives are ungrammatical.
  • assumption: Good writing requires proper grammar.

Leave the claim alone for now.  Add "grounds" to support the reason, and backing to support the assumption.
 
  • claim: Writers should avoid split infinitives.
  • reason: because split infinitives are ungrammatical. (why are they ungrammatical?)
    • grounds: In Latin, the infinitive was formed by a single word; hence, it was impossible to put an adverb inside the infinitive.
  • assumption: Good writing requires proper grammar. (why do you say so?)
    • backing: The most successful, most widely-read writers follow standard rules of grammar.


The next step is to insert the opposing argument -- the rebuttal.  For a longer paper, you can use the claim/reason/assumption model to examine each rebuttal, and your outline would grow much deeper.
  • claim: Writers should avoid split infinitives.
  • reason: because split infinitives are ungrammatical.
    • grounds: In Latin, the infinitive was formed by a single word; hence, it was impossible to put an adverb inside the infinitive.
      • rebuttal: The rules of Latin do not automatically apply to English.
  • assumption: Good writing requires proper grammar.
    • backing: The most successful, most widely-read writers follow standard rules of grammar.
      • rebuttal: The fact that all the popular works follow standard grammar simply means that publishers and editors won't distribute writing that doesn't conform to the grammar rules they've learned.

Next, we handle the rebuttal by qualifying the claim (changing it to handle special cases as raised by the rebuttal). Then, we add defense.
  • claim: Writers should usually avoid split infinitives, unless they are translating Latin (in which case they should always avoid them) or unless they are willing to risk the appearance of error (in order to achieve some effect).
  • reason: because split infinitives are ungrammatical.
    • grounds: In Latin, the infinitive was formed by a single word; hence, it was impossible to put an adverb inside the infinitive.
      • rebuttal: The rules of Latin do not automatically apply to English.
        • defense: Although the historical reasons for adopting the rule may have been illogical, in the real world, many readers do in fact apply this particular rule to English.
  • assumption: Good writing requires proper grammar.
    • backing: The most successful, most widely-read writers follow standard rules of grammar.
      • rebuttal: The fact that all the popular works follow standard grammar simply means that professors and publishers penalize all writing that doesn't conform to the grammar rules they've learned.
        • defense: Philosophical opposition to strict grammar rules won't help you get your writing approved by the professors and publishers (and employers and customers, etc.) who expect you to communicate in standard written English.

Note that each of the "defense" items could easily be turned into another claim/reason/assumption outline; the defense to the assumption above 1) presumes that the goal of a writer is to meet the formal expectations of professors and publishers, and further presumes that 2) standard written English is the way to meet those expectations.  Well, some writing (such as ad campaigns, political slogans, song lyrics, etc.) is supposed to surprise, delight or motivate, rather than simply satisfy expectations. The Toulmin model will help the author modify the original claim in order to handle special cases or issues raised by the analysis.


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