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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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 3.9 out of 5 by 121.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Wisdom of History We completed this course and loved it.Are now sharing it with our grandson who loves history and graduates from high school next year.
Date published: 2020-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Practical Course I enjoyed this course so much I bought Professor Zarefsky's book "The Practice of Argumentation". For someone who has never taken a class on Argumentation, I thought this course was an effective introduction. I also thought David Zarefsky is an engaging instructor. My only complaint about the course is that I wish he would have spent a bit more time on some of the more difficult ideas, for example categorical syllogisms and inductive/deductive reasoning. Overall, I wish I had taken this course much earlier in my life.
Date published: 2020-02-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Resolution: A basic effective reasoning course will be a high school requirement with more in-depth exploration in a required undergraduate college course. This will serve as a counter to the level of antagonism and talking past one-another that is widely observed within the current zeitgeist of the country.
Date published: 2020-01-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from presenter is not interesting i could not finish watching this because the presenter did not measure up to my expectation.
Date published: 2019-05-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An excellent course with one major flaw This is in almost all respects a truly great course. Professor Zarefsky thoroughly explains the components of arguments, and how to identify them and assemble them into arguments. He also explains the various kinds of support for claims, such as comparisons and cause and effect. One glaring flaw in this otherwise superb course is, in the next-to-last lecture, on argumentation in the public arena, the professor’s creation of what he calls “liberal and conservative presumptions.” He doesn’t define them, but it’s fairly clear that he’s talking about liberals and conservatives. And he comes down clearly on one side, saying that it “regards human nature as basically good, venerates reason,” etc., whereas the other “believes that human nature is not necessarily good or selfless, and regards reform as often shortsighted” (Course Guidebook, p. 97). He might as well have just come out and said that liberals are good, smart people, and conservatives are not, but instead he cloaked that message in verbal gobbledegook. But that’s just one lecture that I had major problems with, and aside from that, it is a very worthwhile course.
Date published: 2019-05-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from extremely pedantic It almost seems like the lecturer uses difficult terminologies on purpose to sound smart when during the teaching of a course. As if he prepared the speech and beforehand and used thesaurus to sound more complex. In result such an interesting to me subject became boring and uninteresting. The 30 minute lectures feel like 3 hours, tiresome, and I tend to stop the lectures half way because I become bored and can't stay focused any longer when unnecessarily have to interpret difficult words to distinguish what was said. I took a free course on Arguments from duke university, and it was much much more interesting and I was able to attend for hours at a time because it was simple and fun. This course doesn't deliver that quality. it's unnecessarily over-pedantic.
Date published: 2019-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An informative short course on Argumentation I have both the 1st ed., and the 2nd ed. I’ve used this course to refine how I interact with others on various topics. I am now in a better position to assess when an argument is underway and how to respond, including when to agree to disagree. What I like about this 2nd ed., is the lecturer’s inclusion of the Stephen Toulmin approach to argumentation. I’ve read and re-read Toulmin’s “The Uses of Argument” and “An Introduction to Reasoning, 2nd ed.” This course has helped me better understand the Toulmin model as well as a few other books on Rhetoric. Overall, I highly recommend this course for those who want to know when and how to participate effectively in discussions of various types, especially discussions that sometimes turn into arguments.
Date published: 2019-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Notes are highlighted on screen. I completed the course. The course was great. I appreciated the professor’s expertise. The course improved my reasoning. I was reflective of my past decisions and I was able to become more aware of my good and bad decisions based on honest assessment regarding the discovery of good reasoning that course highlighted. A five stars course in my book.
Date published: 2019-03-16
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