Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning, 2nd Edition

Course No. 4294
Professor David Zarefsky, Ph.D.
Northwestern University
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Course No. 4294
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  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is well illustrated and features more than 350 charts, diagrams, and illustrations. There are charts and diagrams that demonstrate critical concepts related to formal logic and reasoning, including simple and complex argument structures. There are also photographs and illustrations that capture important historical cases of successful argumentation in action, such as the Lincoln-Douglass debates and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

What is effective argumentation? How does it work? Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and other great figures were masters of the craft. So how can you reason through your position and make the best possible case for it with the same skill and ease as the experts? Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning, 2nd Edition is a rigorous introduction to the formal study of argumentation—communication that seeks to persuade others through reasoned judgment.

In 24 lectures you learn the building blocks of an argument, the different categories of argument and the issues that are at stake in each, the kinds of evidence that serve as proof in an argument, and many other aspects of argumentation and reasoning, illustrated with examples from some of the most famous speeches, debates, and controversies in American history.

What You Learn

Award-winning Professor David Zarefsky of Northwestern University has five goals for this course:

  • You will learn how to recognize arguments; how to find them in conversations, newspaper editorials, speeches, in controversies of any kind; and how to know them when you encounter them.
  • You will become aware of how arguing reflects choice, broadening your understanding of the choices that arguers can make and that you can make when you build and construct an argument.
  • You will learn how to evaluate various types of arguments. In the process, you'll learn the standards that should govern your assessment of these qualities.
  • In attempting all of these tasks you will examine examples of a variety of historical and contemporary arguments, shedding light on some significant controversies by looking at them from the perspective of argument.
  • Having become familiar with argumentation theories, you should be able to improve your ability both as an analyst and as a maker of arguments.

Argumentation starts with four lectures that review the intellectual and historical backgrounds of argumentation. Then in Lectures 5 through 11 you explore the strategies and tactics of argument construction, attack, and defense. Lectures 12 through 18 consider the components of argument in greater detail and examine how they work. Next, Lectures 19 and 20 focus on the appraisal of arguments. Finally, in Lectures 21 through 24, you investigate how argumentation functions in society, covering such topics as argumentation in specialized fields and the different ways that arguments can end.

Argumentation in Action

Professor Zarefsky infuses Argumentation with rich historical examples to illustrate the principles of argumentation in action. For example, in 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a dramatic speech before the U.N. Security Council, seeking approval for the use of military force against Iraq. Dr. Zarefsky uses this speech to explore how arguments employ complex structures. Secretary Powell's address used a combination of parallel and convergent structures. Through careful analysis, you'll learn how these structures work logically and why supporters of President Bush's Iraq policy treated the arguments as purely parallel, while opponents treated them as convergent.

Why should you practice this kind of argument analysis? "It enables you to understand what's going on in the argument," says Professor Zarefsky. "Few of us are ever going to have the opportunity to address the U.N. Security Council, but if you do this with a letter to the editor, or an editorial in the local newspaper, or in a conversation that you have in your family, the same process works just as well, and you can get some real insight into the nature of the arguments."

Principles behind Historic Speeches

More examples of important principles at work in historic speeches include

  • The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858: The dueling speeches of U.S. Senate candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas illustrate the principle that argumentation takes place with a particular audience in mind—in this case, the swing voters of central Illinois. You also learn that all argument involves risk, and that Lincoln and Douglas each sacrificed strategic advantages in meeting to debate.
  • Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Voting Rights Message: President Johnson's historic address to a joint session of Congress was a policy-oriented speech that focused masterfully on the relevant topoi—the traditional categories of issues that arise in dealing with a controversy. You learn why it was named one of the top 10 American speeches of the 20th century by a national survey of communications scholars.
  • The Kennedy-Nixon Debates of 1960: John F. Kennedy's reply to a journalist's question during the third presidential debate with Richard Nixon illustrates the application of the "mini-max" principle—the minimum effort and risk yielding the maximum gain. You see why Nixon's rebuttal does not reflect the best strategic choices in meeting Kennedy's arguments.
  • Abraham Lincoln's House-Divided Speech: Lincoln's speech accepting nomination to run for the U.S. Senate against Stephen Douglas demonstrates a classic use of figures of speech. Lincoln employs the analogy of workmen building a frame house to connect prominent politicians of the day with a plot to legalize slavery throughout the United States. He can't prove it directly, but by using a clever figurative analogy he makes a convincing case that the plot is inexorably unfolding.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt's December 8, 1941, War Message: Roosevelt's speech to Congress on the day after the Pearl Harbor attack is a vivid model of a type of argument called the warrant from example. A warrant is an authorization to make an inference from evidence to claim, and Roosevelt cites a litany of examples of Japanese aggression to establish their intent for general war.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" Speech: You learn how this celebrated speech illustrates a sign argument, in which Dr. King juxtaposes intolerable conditions for African Americans with a Scriptural allusion to the onrushing "mighty stream" of justice. He infers that one phenomenon predicts, or is a sign for, the other.

A Teacher with Passion, Insight, and Humor

These are just some of the creative ways that Professor Zarefsky explains a subject that is inherently fascinating, though often technical and demanding. Rarely has it been taught with the passion, insight, and humor that Professor Zarefsky displays.

For instance, in discussing the concept of "stasis," he shows how a simple accusation of theft offers a variety of responses that will determine exactly what is at issue and therefore what needs to be settled. That point of dispute is called the stasis. The claim, "You stole my car," could be countered with, "No, I never had your car," asserting that the act never took place. This is called "stasis of conjecture". By contrast, the reply, "I only borrowed your car," signals an argument over how to characterize the act and is called "stasis of definition." "I needed your car for an emergency" cites urgent circumstances and is called "stasis of quality." And a refusal to discuss the matter at this particular time and place with the response, "If you've got a case, then take me to court," indicates that another forum is more appropriate and is called "stasis of place." Determining stasis is crucial to understanding the issues at play in any argument.

Additional technical aspects of argumentation that you study include the basic structure of arguments (claim, evidence, inference, and warrant); the patterns of complex arguments (multiple, coordinative, and subordinative); the six types of inductive inference (example, analogy, sign, cause, commonplaces, and form); and such strategic issues as patterns of attack and defense, choices of language and style, and fallacies to avoid, including the surprising insight that the exact same pattern of inference can sometimes be fallacious and sometimes valid, depending on circumstances.

Sound Argumentation: Antidote to Destructive Behaviors

Throughout Argumentation, Professor Zarefsky never loses sight of the purpose of sound argumentation. "Argumentation legitimizes freedom of speech and makes it work to a constructive purpose," thereby preventing a debasing trend in which bad arguments drive out good.

Professor Zarefsky notes that a June 2005 op-ed piece in The New York Times suggested that argumentation may be a lost art. The article pointed out that people increasingly interact only with those who already agree with them; that differences of opinion are treated as unbridgeable; and that attempts to persuade are cloaked in deception. The result is fewer opportunities for compromise, deliberation, and mutual understanding. "Understanding and practicing argumentation is the antidote to these destructive behaviors," says Professor Zarefsky. The crucial difference that makes arguments productive, instead of futile, is an appreciation for the principles that underlie this common, vital human activity.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Introducing Argumentation and Rhetoric
    We will examine argumentation in its classical sense—as the study of effective reasoning. This introductory lecture will relate argumentation to the field of rhetoric and consider how argumentation is ethical. With a clear understanding of basic terms, we will preview the directions we will take in the course. x
  • 2
    Underlying Assumptions of Argumentation
    Argumentation is a means of decision-making, and there are several assumptions that we make when we use it. This lecture will focus on five key assumptions. x
  • 3
    Formal and Informal Argumentation
    This lecture will review the defining features of deduction and induction and will summarize three major forms of deductive reasoning: categorical, conditional, and disjunctive. The lecture will conclude by emphasizing why informal reasoning is involved in contemporary study of argumentation. x
  • 4
    History of Argumentation Studies
    The study of informal argumentation can be traced to the beginnings of rhetoric in ancient Greece. During the Renaissance, the subject matter of rhetoric was divided, with argumentation assigned to philosophy. Formal logic was held to be the highest form of reasoning, and argumentation tried to imitate it. Since the mid-20th century, theorists have identified weaknesses in the formal-logic model and have revitalized the study of argumentation. x
  • 5
    Argument Analysis and Diagramming
    This lecture examines how controversies begin and how the process of arguing produces individual arguments. It will consider the claim as the most basic part of the argument and identify types of claims. Then it will present the structure of an argument: a claim, evidence for it, an inference linking the evidence to the claim, and a warrant justifying that inference. x
  • 6
    Complex Structures of Argument
    The diagram presented in Lecture 5 will help us understand a simple argument structure, but most arguments are embedded in complex structures. A claim in one part of the argument may be evidence in another, and subsidiary claims are joined to support a main claim or resolution. Mapping and analyzing these structures offers considerable advantages, and these will be reviewed. x
  • 7
    Case Construction—Requirements and Options
    The complex structure of argument discussed in Lecture 6 can be termed a case: the pattern of arguments used to support a claim. In assembling a case, arguers must be sure to address all the issues raised by the claim in the particular situation. Addressing the issues will satisfy an initial burden of proof. In meeting these requirements, arguers have choices about what arguments to use and how to arrange them. x
  • 8
    Stasis—The Heart of the Controversy
    Stasis refers to the focal point of dispute, the point at which contending positions meet. It is determined by the choices that advocates make about what to stipulate and what to contest. The first decision to be made in responding to a case is what the point of stasis will be. This lecture will illustrate the concept, which is drawn from ancient theories of rhetoric. Finally, using the concept of stasis will be shown as useful for both the arguer and the analyst of argument. x
  • 9
    Attack and Defense I
    This lecture and the next will consider the processes of refuting and rebuilding cases. Attacks on a case achieve the best possible resolution of a controversy. Decisions to be made in planning an attack include which arguments to attack, at which parts of the argument to focus the attack, and what type of attack to develop. These choices can be understood best if they are examined systematically. x
  • 10
    Attack and Defense II
    This lecture continues the discussion of attacking arguments by focusing on a second set of choices: those related to the arrangement and presentation of the attacks, then the focus shifts to defending and rebuilding arguments. The lecture will consider the basic strategic options of the defense, and highlight the most significant choices. The lecture also will consider methods of refutation and how the pattern of attacks helps to move the dispute forward. x
  • 11
    Language and Style in Argument
    This lecture completes a series that addresses the development of arguments into cases and the dynamics of controversy created by the presentation of a case. Here, the specific concern is with choices related to language and presentational style, how language is a factor, and how the presentation of an argument is part of its content. x
  • 12
    Evaluating Evidence
    With this lecture we turn to argument appraisal and focus on individual arguments. We begin with the evidence supporting an argument. It must be agreed to by the arguers for a meaningful discussion to proceed. Evidence can be categorized in many ways, but we will focus on examples, statistics, tangible objects, testimony, and social consensus. x
  • 13
    Reasoning from Parts to Whole
    The next six lectures focus on inferences, the most complex parts of an argument, and how they determine the argument scheme to be used. Six common inference patterns will be reviewed. This lecture considers inferences from example, which are used to relate specific cases to general claims and to apply general statements to specific cases. The lecture will also identify common errors. x
  • 14
    Reasoning with Comparisons
    A common form of inference is that like things should be treated alike. This is reasoning from analogy. This lecture describes types of analogies and tests for this reasoning with comparisons. It will consider why logicians often consider analogy the weakest type of inference, while rhetoricians often consider it the strongest. We will address two uses of the argument from analogy: the judicial analogy and the argument a fortiori, sometimes called a "super-analogy." x
  • 15
    Establishing Correlations
    The focus of this lecture is on inferences from sign. Sign inferences establish the relationship between two factors so one can be predicted from knowledge of the other. Sign arguments are used to infer the unknown from the known, to predict outcomes, and to rely on the judgment of expert authorities. The lecture concludes with pitfalls to avoid in making sign inferences. x
  • 16
    Moving from Cause to Effect
    Causal inferences assert that one factor has influence over another. Influence must be inferred because it cannot be observed. The lecture will consider meanings of the concept of causation, purposes for which causal arguments are used, and methods that have been used to infer the existence of causal influence. The lecture will conclude by discussing factors that can undermine a causal inference. x
  • 17
    Commonplaces and Arguments from Form
    This lecture considers inferences based on social knowledge and inferences that resemble deductions but are not. Commonplaces are beliefs or judgments that an audience generally accepts as being true. Often these come in pairs of seemingly opposed terms with each term sometimes being preferred. Dilemmas, arguments from hypothesis, and arguments from probabilities are examples of inferences that are not deductive but gain their power from a form that resembles deduction. x
  • 18
    Hybrid Patterns of Inference
    This lecture will examine three hybrid patterns: reasoning with rules, reasoning about values, and dissociation. x
  • 19
    Validity and Fallacies I
    The central question of this and the next lecture is: What makes a good argument? The answer is validity. In formal reasoning, validity is a matter of structure unrelated to content. In informal reasoning, it means following patterns that have led to good results and avoided fallacies. This lecture examines errors specific to each pattern of inference, and then considers errors of vacuity ("empty" arguments). x
  • 20
    Validity and Fallacies II
    This lecture continues the discussion of general errors in reasoning that was begun in Lecture 19 with the treatment of vacuity. We examine deficiencies in relevance and discuss fallacies. The lecture concludes by reviewing two challenges to understanding fallacies. One suggests that arguments are valid or fallacious depending on their context; the other suggests that fallacies should be understood as errors of procedure rather than form. x
  • 21
    Arguments between Friends
    The final group of lectures moves into examining the practice of argumentation in society. The organizing principle is the concept of spheres of argument, sets of expectations that provide contexts for arguing. This lecture concerns the personal sphere. Dialogue is the mode of discourse, and participants seek to resolve their own disagreements. The ideal of a critical discussion is proposed. Practices that diverge from the ideal are noted and possibilities for repair are considered. x
  • 22
    Arguments among Experts
    Argumentation takes place where there are field-specific patterns of inference or appraisal. Argument fields can be defined by subject matter, orientation, or worldview. Drawing on examples from law, science, management, ethics, and religion, this lecture considers how the nature of argumentation is affected by the field in which it takes place. The lecture also considers interfield disputes and how they can proceed toward resolution. x
  • 23
    Public Argument and Democratic Life
    The public sphere is the place for arguments about matters of interest to people as citizens, for example, deliberations about public policy. There are several ways to devise arguments that can appeal simultaneously to different political presumptions. A robust public sphere to negotiate tensions inherent in democratic argument is crucially important, and this lecture speculates on the current state of the public sphere. x
  • 24
    The Ends of Argumentation
    This lecture considers two meanings of the term "end." It re-examines, from Lecture 5, how controversies begin by studying the conditions under which they end, but most of the lecture concerns "end" in the sense of the larger purposes that are served by the process of argumentation. Argumentation helps achieve the goals of a democratic society by cultivating the skills of critical thinking, reflective judgment, and active participation that are vital to the maintenance of a robust public sphere. x

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Your professor

David Zarefsky

About Your Professor

David Zarefsky, Ph.D.
Northwestern University
Dr. David Zarefsky is the Owen L. Coon Professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University, where he has taught for over 30 years. He earned his B.S., master's degree, and Ph.D. from Northwestern University. From 1988 through 2000, he served as the Dean of the School of Speech. A nationally recognized authority on rhetoric and forensics, he is a past president of the National Communication Association (NCA) and...
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Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning, 2nd Edition is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 113.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not my favorite Great Course This Professor reads from his notes most of the time. Disappointing compared to the other courses I've purchased, and hard to watch.
Date published: 2018-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Course As a budding academic, I listened to this in the hopes that it would help me strengthen my arguments. Ultimately, I found that its value was mostly descriptive--the professor largely put into words things that many people already do intuitively. While I did learn some new techniques and will be much more mindful about how I'm formulating my arguments now, I would recommend this course mostly to people who either want to be able to deconstruct how arguments work or to people who feel they have a poor grasp on how to present an argument and want to improve.
Date published: 2018-04-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Boring and of little value I bought this course hoping to learn something more about creating and staging an argument for a position. The material was boring, very basic and of little use. I do not recommend this course.
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just OK The material was somewhat interesting, but I have done dozens for courses from the Teaching Company, and this one doesn't quite measure up to my expectations. BTW, the Great Courses App is terrible; quirky and unreliable, and constantly losing my place.
Date published: 2017-10-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Argumentation I bought this course - as the result of getting to watch (for free) several courses - and plan to give It to my son for his birthday. That is how much I enjoyed it - - - which I would not have done - had I not been able to watch it - before buying it. Rod Newman
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A snooze or a treasure? Who needs it? Many have said this course is enjoyable IF you have an interest. Hopefully, a line from L4 might awaken interest for most of us: "Argumentation (is) ... the basis for attempts to influence others." Whether you are a speaker, an activist, a wolf, or a sheep, it might be good to know something of the strategy and tactics of today's influence peddlers. Zarefsky makes his case for ideal argumentation BRIEFLY in L5: "People argue - that is, they engage in reason giving" and BEAUTIFULLY in L2: "Argumentation takes place with an audience in mind, and the audience is the ultimate judge of success or failure. Despite its seemingly adversarial character, argumentation is fundamentally a cooperative enterprise. The claims being advanced are not universal truths. Argumentation involves justification for claims. Justification is different from proof; it is subjective and dependent upon a particular audience." Oh, if it were only so today. His warning [L1] that cooperative argumentation is imperiled seems ripped out of today's headlines: "1. People increasingly interact only with those who agree with them; 2.Differences of opinion are treated as unbridgeable; 3.The result is to weaken opportunities for compromise, deliberation, and mutual understanding." Zarefsky does not whine about this observation. He merely provides tools to help the peddler or the peddled. PROS: 1.) The Scope of Course clearly guides you through the course. Read it before attempting the audio and refer back to it if you get lost; 2.) "Topoi", [L7], are shortcuts identifying recurrent patterns that can help the uninitiated understand the direction an argument will take about the important subjects of fact, definition, value, or policy. It is a good chapter to crib sheet; 3.) The concept of Stasis [L8], its progressive attributes, and its nonlegal adaptations are extremely important for anyone; 4.) The flow of discourse "burden of rejoinder" and "attack" [L9] sounds a bit much but is actually quite useful in identifying who is helping and who is being destructive. 5.) "Persuasive definition", [L11], is so commonly (mis)used today that being able to identify it is alone worth the price of the course. CONS: 1.) A person interested in influence might justifiably point out that this course has magnificent content. For others, the terms wandering, "puffed up", overly dissecting, and repetitive might come to mind. EX: even the definition of "Argumentation" at the start of L2 wanders from that given in the "Course Scope". 2.) The course seems to awkwardly straddle two distinct college-level audiences: legalistic analysis vs general logic. Perhaps the course could have been divided? 3.) The 2 overwrought lectures on "argument models" were distracting, its opposition noting: "Models suggest that a linearity of movement runs from the evidence to the claim, which is not characteristic of actual arguments" [L6]. MISC: L4, on the history of argumentation, made me wonder greatly at the absurd corruptions Zarefsky's concept of ideal argumentation has suffered - including our own. SUMMARY: I gave the course a "4" because separating its magnificent content from peripheral issues was tedious. Given current societal abuse of the principals of argumentation, this course is vital despite its imperfections.
Date published: 2017-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Effective reasoning Excellent course. The professor knows the subject and presents it in a well-organized and enthusiastic manner. Although I majored in philosophy in college and took several logic courses, I learned a lot here that is new to me. The "argumentation" discussed in this course is not rhetorical manipulation but rather the effective use of reason under conditions where truth is uncertain. Formal logic, the type I studied in college, deals with certainties. If the premises are true and the form of the argument is valid, the conclusion follows with certainty. As valuable as formal logic can be, it actually applies to little of the reasoning we do, since most issues are filled with uncertainty. Scientific method, as vital as it is, requires experimental validation. Many important issues, such as matters of value and policy, cannot be dealt with this way. Argumentation is a method of pursuing the truth in which the strength of arguments are tested in debate. This testing can often be the most effective way of establishing which conclusions are best. This type of argumentation -- free and honest debate -- is critical to a democratic society because otherwise citizens are reduced to believing whatever they are told or simply following their own prejudices.
Date published: 2016-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course, but you need a reason to take it Audio CD review. I believe I can find the Middle Path between the positive and negative reviews of this course. This course is excellent, but I believe your appreciation of this course will be directly proportional to your technical reasons for taking it. I simply describe this course as an exposition on informal logic. For me, the course was extremely professionally useful in my role as an advocate. I was able to apply many of the tenets Dr. Zarefsky teaches in my day job. Dr. Zarefsky’s treatment of the patterns of inference are the core of the course and are particularly illuminating. If the Teaching Company were to release a 3rd edition, then I recommend re-designing the course to spend more time on those inference patterns. Some of the front-end and back-end broad contextual materiel, while very well done and interesting, was not overly germane to my technical inclinations. Dr. Zarefsky could sacrifice that contextual materiel to dilate deeper on inferences, or he could just shorten the course. Regarding the claim that Dr. Zarefsky is boring: he is not. He does a great job of taking a subject as inherently “dry” as informal logic and makes it as fun as can be expected. If you do not have a practical reason to advance your knowledge of informal logic, then this this course probably isn’t for you. My hunch is that the negative reviews are from those expecting something different or those without a practical need or desire to delve into the nuances of informal logic.
Date published: 2016-05-25
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