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THE MAKING OF ARGUMENTS
FORMERLY ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY
TO MY FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES ON THE STAFF OF ENGLISH A
The object of this book is to lay out a course in the writing of
arguments which shall be simple enough for classes which give only a
part of the year to the work, and yet comprehensive enough for special
classes in the subject. It is especially aimed at the interests and
needs of the student body as a whole, however, rather than at those of
students who are doing advanced work in argumentation. Though few men
have either the capacity or the need to become highly trained
specialists in the making of arguments, all men need some knowledge of
the art. Experience at Harvard has shown that pretty much the entire
freshman class will work with enthusiasm on a single argument; and they
get from this work a training in exact thought and a discipline that
they get from no other kind of writing.
Accordingly I have laid out this book in order to start students as soon
as possible on the same kind of arguments that they are likely to make
in practical life. I have striven throughout to keep in mind the
interests and needs of these average individuals, who in the aggregate
will tread such a variety of paths in their passage through the world.
Not many of them will get to Congress, there to make great orations on
the settlement of the tariff, and the large majority of them will not go
into the law; and even of the lawyers many will have little concern with
the elaborate piecing together of circumstantial evidence into the basis
for a verdict. But all of them will sooner or later need the power of
coming to close quarters with more or less complicated questions, in
which they must bring over to their views men of varying prepossessions
and practical interests; and all of them all their lives will need the
power of seeing through to the heart of such questions, and of grasping
what is essential, though it be separated by a hair's breadth from the
inessential that must be cast to one side. It is for this training of
the powers of thought that a course in the making of arguments is
profitable, even when pursued for so short a time as can be given to it
in most schools and colleges.
In laying out the book I have had these three purposes in mind: first,
that the student shall without waste of time be set to exploring his
subject and running down the exact issues on which his question will
tarn; second, that as he collects his material he shall be led on to
consider what part of it is good evidence for his purpose, and how to
test his reasoning from the facts; third, that with his material
gathered and culled and his plan settled he shall turn his attention to
presenting it in the most effective way possible for the particular
Throughout I have tried to lay stress on the making of arguments, not as
an end in themselves, and to fit certain more or loss arbitrary
formulas, but as the practical kind of appeal that every young man is
already making to his fellows on matters that interest him, and that he
will make more and more in earnest as he gets out into the world. The
tendency of some of the books to treat argumentation, especially in the
form of debating, as a new variety of sport, with rules as elaborate and
technical as those of football, turns away from the subject a good many
young men to whom the training in itself would be highly valuable. The
future of the subject will be closely dependent on the success of
teachers in keeping it flexible and in intimate touch with real affairs.
I have made some suggestions looking towards this end in Appendix II.
My obligations to earlier workers in the field will be obvious to all
who know the subject. In especial, I, like all other writers on the
subject, have built on foundations laid by Professor George Pierce
Baker, of Harvard University.
For permission to use the articles from _The Outlook_ I am indebted to
the courtesy of the editors of that journal; for the article on "The
Transmission of Yellow Fever by Mosquitoes," to the kindness of General
Sternberg, and of the editor of _The Popular Science Monthly_.
THE MAKING OF ARGUMENTS
WHAT WE ARGUE ABOUT, AND WHY
1. What Argument is. When we argue we write or speak with an active
purpose of making other people take our view of a case; that is the only
essential difference between argument and other modes of writing.
Between exposition and argument there is no certain line. In Professor
Lamont's excellent little book, "Specimens of Exposition," there are two
examples which might be used in this book as examples of argument; in
one of them, Huxley's essay on "The Physical Basis of Life," Huxley
himself toward the end uses the words, "as I have endeavored to prove to
you"; and Matthew Arnold's essay on "Wordsworth" is an elaborate effort
to prove that Wordsworth is the greatest English poet after Shakespeare
and Milton. Or, to take quite different examples, in any question of law
where judges of the court disagree, as in the Income Tax Case, or in the
Insular cases which decided the status of Porto Rico and the
Philippines, both the majority opinion and the dissenting opinions of
the judges are argumentative in form; though the majority opinion, at
any rate, is in theory an exposition of the law. The real difference
between argument and exposition lies in the difference of attitude
toward the subject in hand: when we are explaining we tacitly assume
that there is only one view to be taken of the subject; when we argue we
recognize that other people look on it differently. And the differences
in form are only those which are necessary to throw the critical points
of an argument into high relief and to warm the feelings of the readers.
2. Conviction and Persuasion. This active purpose of making other
people take your view of the case in hand, then, is the distinguishing
essence of argument. To accomplish this purpose you have two tools or
weapons, or perhaps one should say two sides to the same weapon,
_conviction_ and _persuasion_. In an argument you aim in the first place
to make clear to your audience that your view of the case is the truer
or sounder, or your proposal the more expedient; and in most arguments
you aim also so to touch the practical or moral feelings of your readers
as to make them more or less warm partisans of your view. If you are
trying to make some one see that the shape of the hills in New England
is due to glacial action, you never think of his feelings; here any
attempt at persuading him, as distinguished from convincing him, would
be an impertinence. On the other hand, it would be a waste of breath to
convince a man that the rascals ought to be turned out, if he will not
on election day take the trouble to go out and vote; unless you have
effectively stirred his feelings as well as convinced his reason you
have gained nothing. In the latter case your argument would be almost
wholly persuasive, in the former almost wholly a matter of convincing.
These two sides of argument correspond to two great faculties of the
human mind, thought and feeling, and to the two ways in which, under
the guidance of thought and feeling, mankind reacts to experience. As we
pass through life our actions and our interest in the people and things
we meet are fixed in the first place by the spontaneous movements of
feeling, and in the second place, and constantly more so as we grow
older, by our reasoning powers. Even the most intentionally dry of
philosophers has his prejudices, perhaps against competitive sports or
against efficiency as a chief test of good citizenship; and after
childhood the most wayward of artists has some general principles to
guide him along his primrose path. The actions of all men are the
resultant of these two forces of feeling and reason. Since in most cases
where we are arguing we have an eye to influencing action, we must keep
both the forces in mind as possible means to our end.
3. Argument neither Contentiousness nor Dispute. Argument is not
contentiousness, nor is it the good-natured and sociable disputation in
which we occupy a good deal of time with our friends. The difference is
that in neither contentiousness nor in kindly dispute do we expect, or
intend, to get anywhere. There are many political speeches whose only
object is to make things uncomfortable for the other side, and some
speeches in college or school debates intended merely to trip up the
other side; and neither type helps to clear up the subjects it deals
with. On the other hand, we spend many a pleasant evening arguing
whether science is more important in education than literature, or
whether it is better to spend the summer at the seashore or in the
mountains, or similar subjects, where we know that everybody will stand
at the end just where he stood at the beginning. Here our real purpose
is not to change any one's views so much as it is to exchange thoughts
and likings with some one we know and care for. The purpose of
argument, as we shall understand the word here, is to convince or
persuade some one.
4. Arguments and the Audience. In argument, therefore, far more than in
other kinds of writing, one must keep the audience definitely in mind.
"Persuade" and "convince" for our purposes are active verbs, and in most
cases their objects have an important effect on their significance. An
argument on a given subject that will have a cogent force with one set
of people, will not touch, and may even repel, another. To take a simple
example: an argument in defense of the present game of football would
change considerably in proportions and in tone according as it was
addressed to undergraduates, to a faculty, or to a ministers'
conference. Huxley's argument on evolution (p. 233), which was delivered
to a popular audience, has more illustrations and is less compressed in
reasoning than if it had been delivered to the American Academy of Arts
and Sciences. Not only theoretically, but in practice, arguments must
vary in both form and substance with the audiences to which they are
addressed. An argument shot into the void is not likely to bring down
5. Profitable Subjects for Arguments. To get the best results from
practice in writing arguments, you must choose your subjects with care
and sagacity. Some classes of subjects are of small value. Questions
which rest on differences of taste or temperament from their very nature
can never be brought to a decision. The question whether one game is
better than another--football better than baseball, for example--is not
arguable, for in the end one side settles down to saying, "But I like
baseball best," and you stick there. Closely akin is such a question as,
Was Alexander Pope a poet; for in the word "poet" one includes many
purely emotional factors which touch one person and not another. Matthew
Arnold made a brave attempt to prove that Wordsworth stood third in
excellence in the long line of English poets, and his essay is a notable
piece of argument; but the very statement of his thesis, that Wordsworth
"left a body of poetical work superior in power, in interest, in the
qualities which give enduring freshness, to that which any of the others
has left," shows the vanity of the attempt. To take a single
word--"interest"--from his proposition: what is the use of arguing with
me, if Wordsworth happened to bore me, as he does not, that I ought to
find him interesting. All I could do would be humbly to admit my
deficiency, and go as cheerfully as might be to Burns or Coleridge or
Byron. Almost all questions of criticism labor under this difficulty,
that in the end they are questions of taste. You or I were so made in
the beginning that the so-called romantic school or the so-called
classical school seems to us to have reached the pinnacle of art; and
all the argument in the world cannot make us over again in this respect.
Every question which in the end involves questions of aesthetic taste is
as futile to argue as questions of the palate.
Other questions are impracticable because of vagueness. Such questions
as, Should a practical man read poetry, Are lawyers a useful class in
the community, Are the American people deteriorating, furnish excellent
material for lively and witty talk, but no one expects them to lead to
any conclusion, and they are therefore valueless as a basis for the
rigorous and muscular training which an argument ought to give. There
are many questions of this sort which serve admirably for the friendly
dispute which makes up so much of our daily life with our friends, but
which dissolve when we try to pin them down.
Some questions which cannot be profitably argued when phrased in general
terms become more practicable when they are applied to a definite class
or to a single person. Such questions as, Is it better to go to a small
college or a large one, Is it better to live in the country or in the
city, Is it wise to go into farming, all lead nowhere if they are argued
in this general form. But if they are applied to a single person, they
change character: in this specific form they not only are arguable, but
they constantly are argued out with direct and practical results, and
even for a small and strictly defined class of persons they may provide
good material for a formal argument. For example, the question, "Is it
better for a boy of good intellectual ability and capacity for making
friends, who lives in a small country town, to go to a small college or
a large," provides moderately good material for an argument on either
side; though even here the limiting phrases are none too definite. In a
debate on such a subject it would be easy for the two sides to pass each
other by without ever coming to a direct issue, because of differing
understanding of the terms. On the whole it seems wiser not to take
risks with such questions, but to choose from those which will
unquestionably give you the training for which you are seeking.
Roughly speaking, subjects for an argument which are sure to be
profitable may be divided into three classes: (1) those for which the
material is drawn from personal experience; (2) those for which the
material is provided by reading; and (3) those which combine the first
two. Of these there can be no question that the last are the most
profitable. Of the first class we may take for an example such a
question as, Should interscholastic athletics be maintained in----
school? Here is a question on which some parents and teachers at any
rate will disagree with most boys, and a question which must be settled
one way or the other. The material for the discussion must come from the
personal knowledge of those who make the arguments, reenforced by what
information and opinion they can collect from teachers and townspeople.
In Chapter II we shall come to a consideration of possible sources for
material for these and other arguments. There is much to be said for the
practice gained by hunting up pertinent material for arguments of this
sort; but they tend to run over into irreconcilable differences of
opinion, in which an argument is of no practical value.
The second class of subjects, those for which the material is drawn
wholly from reading, is the most common in intercollegiate and
interscholastic debates. Should the United States army canteen be
restored, Should the Chinese be excluded from the Philippines, Should
the United States establish a parcels post, are all subjects with which
the ordinary student in high school or college can have little personal
acquaintance. The sources for arguments on such subjects are to be found
in books, magazines, and official reports. The good you will get from
arguments on such subjects lies largely in finding out how to look up
material. The difficulty with them lies in their size and their
complexity. When it is remembered that a column of an ordinary newspaper
has somewhere about fifteen hundred words, and that an editorial article
such as on page 268, which is thirty-eight hundred words long, is in
these days of hurry apt to be repellent, because of its length, and on
the other hand that a theme of fifteen hundred words seems to the
ordinary undergraduate a weighty undertaking, the nature of this
difficulty becomes clear. To put it another way, speeches on public
subjects of great importance are apt to be at least an hour long, and
not infrequently more, and in an hour one easily speaks six or seven
thousand words, so that fifteen hundred words would not fill a
fifteen-minute speech. This difficulty is met in debates by the longer
time allowed, for each side ordinarily has an hour; but even then there
can be no pretense of a thorough treatment. The ordinary written
argument of a student in school or college can therefore do very little
with large public questions. The danger is that a short argument on a
large question may breed in one an easy content with a superficial and
parrotlike discussion of the subject. Discussions of large and abstract
principles are necessary, but they are best left to the time of life
when one has a comprehensive and intimate knowledge of the whole mass of
By far the best kind of subject, as has been said, is that which will
combine some personal acquaintance with the facts and the possibility of
some research for material. Many such subjects may be found in the
larger educational questions when applied to your own school or college.
Should the elective system be maintained at Harvard College, Should the
University of Illinois require Latin for the A.B. degree, Should
fraternities be abolished in----High School, Should manual training be
introduced in----High School, are all questions of this sort. A short
list of similar questions is printed at the end of this section, which
it is hoped will prove suggestive. For discussing these questions you
will find considerable printed material in educational and other
magazines, in reports of presidents of colleges and school committees,
and other such places, which will give you practice in hunting up facts
and opinions and in weighing their value. At the same time training of
your judgment will follow when you apply the theories and opinions you
find in these sources to local conditions. Moreover, such questions will
give you practice in getting material in the raw, as it were, by making
up tables of statistics from catalogues, by getting facts by personal
interview, and in other ways, which will be considered in Chapter II.
Finally, such subjects are much more likely to be of a size that you can
bring to a head in the space and the time allowed to the average
student, and they may have some immediate and practical effect in
determining a question in which your own school or college has an
interest. Arguments on such subjects are therefore less likely to be
"academic" discussions, in the sense of having no bearing on any real
conditions. When every college and school has plenty of such subjects
continually under debate, there seems to be no reason for going farther
and faring worse.
The main thing is to get a subject which will carry you back to facts,
and one in which you will be able to test your own reasoning.
6. Suggestions of Subjects for Practice. Many of the subjects in
the list below will need some adaptation to fit them to local
conditions; and these will undoubtedly suggest many others of a similar
nature. Other subjects of immediate and local interest may be drawn from
the current newspapers; and the larger, perennial ones like prohibition,
woman suffrage, immigration laws, are always at the disposal of those
who have the time and the courage for the amount of reading they
involve. The distinction between a subject and the proposition to be
argued will be made in Chapter II.
SUGGESTIONS FOR SUBJECTS OF ARGUMENTS
TO BE ADAPTED TO LOCAL AND PRESENT CONDITIONS
1. Admission to this college should be by examination only.
2. The entrance requirements of this college set a good standard for a
public high-school course.
3. Admission to this college should be by certificate from the
candidate's school, such as is now accepted at----College.
4. The standards for admission to this college or to the State
University should be raised.
5. The standard for graduating from this college should be raised.
6. Attendance at chapel exercises should be made voluntary.
7. The numbers of students in this college should be limited by raising
the standard for admission.
8. A reading knowledge of French or of German, to be tested by an oral
examination, should be substituted for the present requirements for
entrance in those languages.
9. No list of books should be prescribed for the entrance examination in
10. Freshmen should be required to be within bounds by eleven o'clock at
11. Freshmen should not be elected to college societies.
12. Students who have attained distinction in their studies should be
treated as graduate students are, in respect to attendance and leave of
13. Arrangements should be made by which the work done on college papers
should count toward the degree.
14. The honor system in examinations should be introduced into this
15. The course of study in this college should be made wholly elective.
16. Coeducation should be maintained in this college.
17. Secret societies should be prohibited in----High School.
18. The business course in----High School should be given up.
19. Compulsory military drill should be introduced into----School (or,
into this college).
20. Greek should be given up in----School.
21. All students in----School, whether in the business course or not,
should be required to study Latin.
22. Athletics have had a detrimental effect on the studies of those who
have taken part in them.
23.----School should engage in athletic contests with two other schools
24. The school committee in----should be reduced to five members.
25. The school committee in----is at present too large for efficient
direction of the schools.
26. The principal of the high school in----should report directly to
the school committee and not to the superintendent of schools.
27. This city should assign a sum equal to----mills of the whole tax
rate to the support of the public schools.
28. The high school of this city should have a single session each day,
instead of two.
29. This city should substitute a commission government on the general
model of that in Des Moines, Iowa, for the present system.
30. The commission form of government has proved its superiority to
government by a mayor and two legislative boards.
31. This city should elect its municipal officers by preferential
32. This city should establish playgrounds in the crowded parts of the
city, notably in Wards----and----.
33. Boys should be allowed to play ball in unfrequented streets.
34. This city should set apart----mills on the tax rate each year for
building permanent roads.
35. The laws and regulations governing the inspection and the sale of
milk should be made more stringent.
36. This city should buy and run the waterworks.
37. This city should build future extensions of the street railway
system and lease them to the highest bidder.
38. This city should buy and operate the street railway system.
38. The street railway company in this city should be required to pave
and care for all the streets through which it runs.
40. A committee of business men should be appointed by the mayor to
conduct negotiations for bringing new industries to the city.
41. This city should establish municipal gymnasiums.
42. This city would be benefited by the consolidation of the two street
43. This state should adopt a ballot law similar to that of
44. This state should adopt the "short ballot."
45. This state should tax forest lands according to the product rather
than the assessed value of the land.
46. The present rules of football are satisfactory.
47. This college should make "soccer" football one of its major
48. Unnecessary talking by the players should be forbidden in games of
49. Coaching from the side lines should be forbidden in baseball.
50. "Summer baseball" should be regarded as a breach of amateur
51. An intercollegiate committee of graduates should be formed with
power to absolve college athletes from technical and minor breaches of
the amateur rules.
52. This college should make an effort to return to amateur coaching by
proposing agreements to that effect with its principal rivals.
53. This university should not allow students with degrees from other
institutions to play on its athletic teams.
54. The managers of the principal athletic teams in this college should
be elected by the students at large.
55. The expenses of athletic teams at this college should be
7. The Two Kinds of Arguments. With the subject you are going to
argue on chosen, it will be wise to come to closer quarters with the
process of arguing. A large part of the good results you will get from
practice in writing arguments will be the strengthening of your powers
of exact and keen thought; I shall therefore in the following sections
try to go somewhat below the surface of the process, and see just what
any given kind of argument aims to do, and how it accomplishes its aim
by its appeal to special faculties and interests of the mind. I shall
also consider briefly the larger bearings of a few of the commoner and
more important types of argument, as the ordinary citizen meets them in
We may divide arguments roughly into two classes, according as the
proposition they maintain takes the form, "This is true," or the form,
"This ought to be done." The former we will call, for the sake of
brevity, arguments of fact, the latter arguments of policy. Of the two
classes the former is addressed principally to the reason, the faculty
by which we arrange the facts of the universe (whether small or great)
as they come to us, and so make them intelligible. You believe that the
man who brought back your dog for a reward stole the dog, because that
view fits best with the facts you know about him and the disappearance
of the dog; we accept the theory of evolution because, as Huxley points
out at the beginning of his essay (see pp. 233, 235), it provides a
place for all the facts that have been collected about the world of
plants and animals and makes of them all a consistent and harmonious
system. In Chapter III we shall come to a further consideration of the
workings of this faculty so far as it affects the making of arguments.
Arguments of policy, on the other hand, which argue what ought to be
done, make their appeal in the main to the moral, practical, Or
aesthetic interests of the audience. These interests have their ultimate
roots in the deep-seated mass of inherited temperamental motives and
forces which may be summed up here in the conveniently vague term
"feeling." These motives and forces, it will be noticed, lie outside the
field of reason, and are in the main recalcitrant to it. When you argue
that it is "right" that rich men should endow the schools and colleges
of this country, you would find it impossible to explain in detail just
what you mean by "right"; your belief rises from feelings, partly
inherited, partly drawn in with the air of the country, which make you
positive of your assertion even when you can least give reasons for it.
So our practical interests turn in the end on what we want and do not
want, and are therefore molded by our temperament and tastes, which are
obviously matters of feeling. Our aesthetic interests, which include our
preferences in all the fields of art and literature and things beautiful
or ugly in daily life, even more obviously go back to feeling. Now in
practical life our will to do anything is latent until some part of this
great body of feeling is stirred; therefore arguments of policy, which
aim to show that something ought to be done, cannot neglect feeling. You
may convince me never so thoroughly that I ought to vote the Republican
or the Democratic ticket, yet I shall sit still on election day if you
do not touch my feelings of moral right or practical expediency. The
moving cause of action is feeling, though the feeling is often modified,
or even transformed, by reasoning. We shall come back to the nature of
feeling in Chapter V, when we get to the subject of persuasion.
An important practical difference between arguments of fact and
arguments of policy lies in the different form and degree of certitude
to which they lead. At the end of arguments of fact it is possible to
say, if enough evidence can be had, "This is undeniably true." In these
arguments we can use the word "proof" in its strict sense. In arguments
of policy on the other hand, where the question is worth arguing, we
know in many cases that in the end there will be men who are as wise and
as upright as ourselves who will continue to disagree. In such cases it
is obvious that we can use the word "proof" only loosely; and we speak
of right or of expediency rather than of truth. This distinction is
worth bearing in mind, for it leads to soberness and a seemly modesty in
controversy. It is only in barber-shop politics and sophomore debating
clubs that a decision of a question of policy takes its place among the
With these distinctions made, let us now consider a few of the chief
varieties of these two classes of arguments, dealing only with those
which every one of us comes to know in the practical affairs of life. It
will be obvious that the divisions between these are not fixed, and that
they are far from exhausting the full number of varieties.
8. Arguments of Fact. Among the commonest and most important varieties
of arguments of fact are those made before juries in courts of law. It
is a fundamental principle of the common law under which we live that
questions of fact shall be decided by twelve men chosen by lot from the
community, and that questions of the law that shall be applied to these
facts shall be decided by the judges. Accordingly in criminal trials the
facts concerning the crime and the actions and whereabouts of the
accused are subjects of argument by the counsel. If the prisoner is
attempting to establish an alibi, and the evidence is meager or
conflicting, his counsel and the prosecuting officer must each make
arguments before the jury on the real meaning of the evidence. In civil
cases likewise, all disputed questions of fact go ordinarily to a jury,
and are the subject of arguments by the opposing lawyers. Did the
defendant guarantee the goods he sold the plaintiff? Was undue influence
exerted on the testator? Did the accident happen through the negligence
of the railroad officials? In such cases and the countless others that
congest the lists of the lower courts arguments of fact must be made.
Other common arguments of fact are those in historical questions,
whether in recent or in ancient history. Macaulay's admirable skeleton
argument (p. 155) that Philip Francis wrote the _Junius Letters_, which
so grievously incensed the English government about the time of the
American Revolution, is an example of an argument of this sort; the part
of Lincoln's Cooper Institute Address which deals with the views of the
founders of the nation on the subject of the control of slavery in the
territories is another. Another question concerning facts is that which
a few years ago stirred classical archaeologists, whether the Greek
theater had a raised stage or not. In all such cases the question is as
to facts which at one time, at any rate, could have been settled
absolutely. The reason why an argument about them becomes necessary is
that the evidence which could finally settle the questions has
disappeared with the persons who possessed it, or has been dissipated by
time. Students of history and literature have to deal with many such
questions of fact.
A somewhat different kind of question of fact, and one often extremely
difficult to settle, is that which concerns not a single, uncomplicated
fact, but a broad condition of affairs. Examples of such questions are
whether woman suffrage has improved political conditions in Colorado and
other states, whether the introduction of manual training in a certain
high school has improved the intelligence and serviceableness of its
graduates, whether political corruption is decreasing in American
cities. The difficulty that faces an argument in such cases as these is
not the loss of the evidence, but rather that it consists of a multitude
of little facts, and that the selection of these details is singularly
subject to bias and partisan feeling. These questions of a broad state
of affairs are like questions of policy in that in the end their
settlement depends thus largely on temperamental and practical
Still another and very important variety of arguments of fact, which are
often conveniently described as arguments of theory, includes large
scientific questions, such, for example, as the origin of our present
species of plants and animals, or the ultimate constitution of matter,
or the cause of yellow fever. In such arguments we start out with many
facts, already gained through observation and experiment, which need the
assumption of some other fact or facts attained through reasoning from
the others, to make them fit together into a coherent and intelligible
system. Every important new discovery in science makes necessary
arguments of this sort. When the minute forms of life that the layman
lumps together under the name "germs" were discovered there was a host
of arguments to explain their manner of life and the way some of them
cause disease and others carry on functions beneficent to mankind. A
notable example of the arguments concerning this kind of fact is that at
page 251 concerning the cause of yellow fever; and another is Huxley's
argument on evolution (p. 233), where he points out that "the question
is a question of historical fact." The element of uncertainty in the
settlement of such questions is due to the facts being too large or too
minute for human observation, or to their ranging through great ages of
time so that we must be contented with overwhelming probability rather
than with absolute proof. Furthermore the facts that are established in
arguments of this sort may have to be modified by new discoveries: for
many generations it was held to be a fact that malaria was caused by a
miasma; now we know that it is caused by a germ, which is carried by
mosquitoes. Arguments of this type tend to go through a curious cycle:
they begin their life as arguments, recognized as such; then becoming
the accepted explanation of the facts which are known, for a longer or
shorter time they flourish as statements of the truth; and then with the
uncovering of new facts they crumble away or are transformed into new
and larger theories. Darwin's great theory of the origin of species has
passed through two of these stages. He spoke of it as an argument, and
for a few years it was assailed with fierce counterarguments; we now
hold it to be a masterful explanation of an enormous body of facts. When
it will pass on to the next stage we cannot foresee; but chemists and
physicists darkly hint at the possibility of the evolution of inorganic
as well as organic substances.
In arguments of fact, it will be noticed, there is little or no element
of persuasion, for we deal with such matters almost wholly through our
understanding and reason. Huxley, in his argument on evolution, which
was addressed to a popular audience, was careful to choose examples that
would be familiar; but his treatment of the subject was strictly
expository in tone. In some arguments of this sort, which touch on the
great forces of the universe and on the nature of the world of life of
which we are an infinitesimal part, the tone of the discourse will take
on warmth and eloquence; just as Webster in the White Murder Case,
dealing with an issue of life and death, let the natural eloquence which
always smoldered in his speech, burn up into a clear glow. But both
Huxley and Webster would have held any studied appeal to emotion to be
In ordinary life most of us make fewer arguments of fact than of policy.
It is only a small minority of our young men who become lawyers, and of
them many do not practice before juries. Nor do any large number of men
become scholars or men of science or public men, who have to deal with
questions of historical fact or to make arguments of fact on large
states of affairs. On the other hand, all of us have to weigh and
estimate arguments of fact pretty constantly. Sooner or later most men
serve on juries; and all students have to read historical and economical
arguments. We shall therefore give some space in Chapter III to
considering the principles of reasoning by which we arrive at and test
conclusions as to the existence of facts, and the truth of assertions
9. Arguments of Policy. When we turn from arguments of fact to
arguments of policy it will be noticed that there is a change in the
phraseology that we use: we no longer say that the assertions we
maintain or meet are true or not true, but that the proposals are right
or expedient or wrong or inexpedient; for now we are talking about what
should or should not be done. We say, naturally and correctly, that it
is or is not true that woman suffrage has improved political conditions
in Colorado but it would be a misuse of words to say that it is true or
not true that woman suffrage should be adopted in Ohio; and still more
so to use the word "false," which has an inseparable tinge of moral
obliquity. In questions of policy that turn on expediency, and in some,
as we shall see directly, that turn on moral issues, we know beforehand
that in the end some men who know the subject as well as we do and whose
judgment is as good and whose standards are as high, will still
disagree. There are certain large temperamental lines which have always
divided mankind: some men are born conservative minded, some radical
minded: the former must needs find things as they are on the whole good,
the latter must needs see vividly how they can be improved. To the
scientific temperament the artistic temperament is unstable and
irrational, as the former is dry and ungenerous to the latter. Such
broad and recognized types, with a few others like them, ramify into a
multitude of ephemeral parties and classes,--racial, political, social,
literary, scholarly,--and most of the arguments in the world can be
followed back to these essential and irremovable differences of
character. Individual practical questions, however, cross and recross
these lines, and in such cases arguments have much practical effect in
crystallizing opinion and judgment; for in a complicated case it is
often extremely hard to see the real bearing of a proposed policy, and a
good argument comes as a guide from the gods to the puzzled and
wavering. But though to be effective in practical affairs one has to be
positive, yet that is not saying that one must believe that the other
side are fools or knaves. Some such confusion of thought in the minds of
some reformers, both eminent and obscure, accounts for the wake of
bitterness which often follows the progress of reform. Modesty and
toleration are as important as positiveness to the man who is to make a
mark in the world.
Arguments of policy are of endless variety, for we are all of us making
them all the time, from the morning hour in which we argue with
ourselves, so often ineffectually, that we really ought to get up when
the clock strikes, to the arguments about choosing a profession or
helping to start a movement for universal peace. It would be a weariness
to the flesh to attempt a classification of them that should pretend to
be exhaustive; but there are certain major groups of human motive which
will be a good basis for a rough, but convenient, sorting out of the
commoner kinds of arguments of policy. In practical affairs we ask first
if there is any principle of right or wrong involved, then what is best
for the practical interests of ourselves and other people, and in a few
cases, when these other considerations are irrelevant, what course is
dictated by our ideas of fitness and beauty. I will briefly discuss a
few of the main types of the argument of policy, grouping them according
as they appeal chiefly to the sense of right and wrong, to practical
interests, or to aesthetic interests.
There are many arguments outside of sermons which turn on questions of
right and wrong. Questions of individual personal conduct we had better
not get into; but every community, whether large or small, has often to
face questions in which moral right and wrong are essentially involved.
In this country the whole question of dealing with the sale of alcoholic
drinks is recognized as such. The supporters of state prohibition
declare that it is morally wrong to sanction a trade out of which
springs so much misery; the supporters of local option and high license,
admitting and fighting against all this misery and crime, declare that
it is morally wrong to shut one's eyes to the uncontrolled sales and the
political corruption under state-wide prohibition. The strongest
arguments for limiting by law the hours of labor for women and children
have always been based on moral principles; and all arguments for
political reform hark back to the Ten Commandments. One has the
strongest of all arguments if he can establish a moral right and wrong
in the question.
The difficulty comes in establishing the right and wrong, for there are
many cases where equally good people are fighting dead against each
other. The question of prohibition, as we have just seen, is one of
those cases; the slavery question was a still more striking one. From
before the Revolution the feeling that slavery was morally wrong slowly
but steadily gained ground in the North, until from 1850 it became more
and more a dominant and passionate conviction. Yet in the South,
which, as we must now admit, bred as many men and women of high devotion
to the right, this view had only scattered followers. On both sides
tradition and environment molded the moral principle. In arguing,
therefore, one must not be too swift in calling on heaven to witness to
the right; we must recognize that mortal vision is weak, and that some
of the people whom we are fighting are borne on by principles as
sincerely held to be righteous as our own.
Nevertheless, a man must always hold to that which to him seems right,
and fight hard against the wrong, tolerantly and with charity, but with
unclouded purpose. In politics there are still in this country many
occasions when the only argument possible is based on moral right. The
debauching of public servants by favors or bribes, whether open or
indirect, injustice of all sorts, putting men who are mentally or
morally unfit into public office, oppression of the poor or unjust
bleeding of the rich, stirring up class or race hatred, are all evils
from which good citizens must help to save the republic; and wherever
such evils are found the moral argument is the only argument worthy of a
By far the most numerous of arguments of policy, however, are those
which do not rise above the level of practical interests. The line
between these and arguments of moral right is not always easy to draw,
for in the tangle of life and character right and advantage often run
together. The tariff question is a case in point. Primarily it turns on
the practical material advantage of a nation; but inevitably in the
settling of individual schedules the way opens for one industry or
branch of business to fatten at the expense of another, and so we run
into the question of the square deal and the golden rule.
In general, however, the great questions on which political parties
divide are questions of practical expediency. Shall we, as a nation, be
more comfortable and more prosperous if the powers of the federal
government are strengthened and extended? Shall we have better local
government under the old-fashioned form of city government, or under
some form of commission government? Should we have more business and
more profitable business if we had free trade with the Dominion of
Canada? Shall we be better off under the Republican or the Democratic
party? All these are questions in which there is little concern with
right and wrong: they turn on the very practical matter of direct
material advantage. In some of these cases most men vote on one side or
the other largely through long habit; but there constantly arise,
especially in local matters, questions which cross the usual lines of
political division, so that one, willingly or unwillingly, must take the
trouble of thinking out a decision for himself. Not infrequently one is
a good deal puzzled to decide on which side to range himself, for the
issues may be complex; then one reads the arguments or goes to meetings
until one side or the other seems to present the most and the most
important advantages. When one is thus puzzled, an argument which is
clear and easy to understand, and which makes its points in such a way
that they can be readily carried in mind and passed on to the next
person one meets, has a wonderful power of winning one to its side.
The arguments of policy which, after political arguments, are the most
common, are those on questions of law. As we have seen a few pages
back, such arguments are settled by the judges, while questions of fact
are left to the jury. In the White Murder Case, in which Daniel Webster
made a famous argument, it was a question of fact for the jury whether
the defendant Knapp was in Brown Street at the time of the murder, and
whether he was there for the purpose of aiding and abetting
Crowninshield, the actual murderer; the question whether his presence
outside the house would make him liable as a principal in the crime was
a question of law. This distinction between questions of fact and
questions of law is one of the foundation principles of the common law.
From the very beginning of the jury system, when the jury consisted of
neighbors who found their verdict from their own knowledge of the case,
to the present day when they are required carefully to purge their minds
of any personal knowledge of the case, the common law has always held
that in the long run questions of fact can best be settled by average
men, drawn by lot from the community. Questions of law, on the other
hand, need learning and special training in legal reasoning, for the
common law depends on continuity and consistency of decision; and a new
case must be decided by the principles which have governed like cases in
Nevertheless, these principles, which are now embodied in an enormous
mass of decisions by courts all over the English-speaking world, are in
essence a working out into minute discriminations of certain large
principles, which in turn are merely the embodiment of the practical
rules under which the Anglo-Saxon race has found it safest and most
convenient to live together. They settle in each case what, in view of
the interests of the community as a whole and in the long run, and not
merely for the parties now at issue, is the most convenient and the
justest thing to do. Mr. Justice Holmes, of the Supreme Court of the
United States, wrote before his appointment to that bench:
"In substance the growth of the law is legislative. And this in a deeper
sense than that what the courts declare to have always been the law is
in fact new. It is legislative in its grounds. The very considerations
which judges most rarely mention, and always with an apology, are the
secret roots from which tine law draws all the juices of life. I mean of
course considerations of what is expedient for the community concerned.
Every important principle which is developed by litigation is in fact
and at bottom the result of move or less definitely understood views of
public policy; most generally, to be sure, under our practices and
traditions, the unconscious result of instinctive preferences and
inarticulate convictions, but none the less traceable to views of public
policy in the last analysis."
In some cases it is obvious that the question of law is a question of
policy, as in the so-called "political decisions" of the United States
Supreme Court. Such were the decisions formulated by Chief Justice
Marshall on constitutional questions, which made our government what it
is. The difference between "the strict construction" of the Constitution
and the "free construction" was due to a difference of temperament which
has always tended to mark the two great political parties of the
country. So with the Insular cases, which determined the status of the
distant possessions of the United Stales, and which split the Supreme
Court into so many pieces: the question whether the Constitution applied
in all its fullness to Porto Rico and the Philippines was essentially a
political question, though of the largest sort, and therefore a question
Finally, there are the arguments of policy which deal with matters of
taste and aesthetic preference. The difficulty with these arguments is
that they do deal with questions of taste, and so fall under the ancient
and incontrovertible maxim, _de gustibus non est disputandum_. Artists
of all varieties and some critics are given to talking as if preferences
in color, in shape, in styles of music, were absolutely right and wrong,
and as if they partook in some way of the nature of moral questions; but
any one who has observed for even twenty years knows that what the
architects of twenty years ago declared the only true style of art is
now scoffed at by them and their successors as hopelessly false. The
cavelike forms of the Byzantine or Romanesque which superseded the
wooden Gothic have in turn given way to Renaissance classic in its
various forms, which now in turn seem on the point of slipping into the
rococo classical of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. In painting, the violent
and spotty impressionism of twenty years ago is paling into the study of
the cool and quiet lights of the Dutchmen of the great period. And at
each stage there are strenuous arguments that the ideas of that
particular live years are the only hope for the preservation of the art
The essential difficulty with all such arguments is that the aesthetic
interests to which they appeal are personal, and depend on personal
preferences. Most of us in such matters, having no special knowledge,
and liking some variety of differing styles, modestly give way to the
authority of any one who makes a profession of the art. In the laying
out of a park a landscape architect may prefer single trees and open
spaces, where the neighbors and abutters prefer a grove. In the long run
his taste is no better than theirs, though he may argue as if they were
ignorant and uncultivated because they disagree with him. In all such
cases, unless there is some consideration of practical expediency, such
as letting the southwest wind blow through in summer, arguments can do
little except to make and keep everybody angry. Their chief value is to
make us see things which perhaps we had not thought of.
In practice these three kinds of arguments, which turn on moral,
practical, and aesthetic considerations, tend to be much mingled. The
human mind is very complex, and our various interests and preferences
are inseparably tangled. The treacheries of self-analysis are
proverbial, and are only less dangerous than trying to make out the
motives of other people. Accordingly we must expect to find that it is
sometimes hard to distinguish between moral and aesthetic motives and
practical, for the morality and the taste of a given people always in
part grow out of the slow crystallizing of practical expediencies, and
notions of morality change with the advance of civilization.
Furthermore, one must never forget that an argument of policy which
does not involve and rest on subsidiary questions of fact is rare; and
the questions of fact must be settled before we can go on with the
argument of policy. Before this country can intelligently make up its
mind about the protective tariff, and whether a certain rate of duty
should be imposed on a given article, a very complex body of facts
dealing with the cost of production both here and abroad must be
settled, and this can be done only by men highly trained in the
principles of business and political economy. Before one could vote
intelligently on the introduction of a commission form of government
into the town he lives in he must know the facts about the places in
which it has already been tried. It is not too much to say that there is
no disputed question of policy into which there does not enter the
necessity of looking up and settling pertinent facts.
On the other hand, there are some cases of questions of fact in which
our practical interests deeply affect the view which we take of the
facts. In all the discussions of the last few years about federal
supervision and control of the railroads it has been hard to get at the
facts because of the conflicting statements about them by equally honest
and well-informed men. Where there is an honest difference of interest,
as in every case of a bargain, the opposite sides cannot see the facts
in the same way: what is critically significant to the railroad manager
seems of no great consequence to the shipper; and the railroad manager
does not see the fixed laws of trade which make it impossible for the
shipper to pay higher freight rates and add them to the price of his
goods. It is not in human nature to see the whole cogency of facts that
make for the other side. In all arguments, therefore, it must be
remembered that we are; constantly swinging backward and forward from
matters of fact to matters of policy. In practice no hard-and-fast line
separates the various classes and types; in the arguments of real life
we mingle them naturally and unconsciously.
Yet the distinction between the two main classes is a real one, and if
one has never thought it out, one may go at an argument with a blurred
notion of what he is attempting to do. Since argument after school and
college is an eminently practical matter, vagueness of aim is risky. It
is the man who sees exactly what he is trying to do, and knows exactly
what he can accomplish, who is likely to make his point. The chief value
of writing arguments for practice is in cultivating a keen eye for the
essential. To write a good argument means, as we shall see, that the
student shall first conscientiously take the question, apart so as to
know exactly the issues involved and the unavoidable points of
difference, and then after searching the sources for information, he
shall scrutinize the facts and the reasoning both on his own side and on
the other. If he does this work without shirking the hard thinking he
will get an illuminating perception of the obscurities and ambiguities
which lurk in words, and will come to see that clear reasoning is almost
wholly a matter of sharper discrimination for unobserved distinctions.
1. Find an example which might be thought of either as an argument or an
exposition, and explain why you think it one or the other.
2. Find examples in current magazines or newspapers of an argument in
which conviction is the chief element, and one in which persuasion
3. Give three examples from your talk within the last week of a
discussion which was not argument as we use the term here.
4. Show how, in the case of some current subject of discussion, the
arguments would differ in substance and tone for three possible
5. Find three examples each of questions of fact and questions of policy
from current newspapers or magazines.
6. Find three examples of questions of fact in law cases, not more than
one of them from a criminal case.
7. Find three examples of questions of fact in history or literature.
8. Find three questions of a large state of affairs from current
political discussions. 9. Find three examples of questions of fact in
10. Find from the history of the last fifty years three examples of
questions which turned on moral right.
11. Give three examples of questions of expediency which you have heard
argued within the last week.
12. Give an example from recent decisions of the courts which seems to
you to have turned on a question of policy.
13. Give two examples of questions of aesthetic taste which you have
recently heard argued.
14. In an actual case which has been or which might be argued, show how
both classes of argument and more than one of the types within them
enter naturally into the discussion.
15. Name three subjects which you have lately discussed which would not
be profitable subjects for a formal argument.
16. Name five good subjects for an argument in which you would draw
chiefly from your personal experience.
17. Name five subjects in which you would get the material from reading.
18. Name five subjects which would combine your own experience with
19. Find how many words to the page you write on the paper you would use
for a written argument. Count the number of words in a page of this
book; in the column of the editorial page of a newspaper.
PLANNING THE ARGUMENT
10. Preparations for the Argument. When you have chosen the subject
for your argument there is still much to do before you are ready to
write it out. In the first place, you must find out by search and
reading what is to be said both for and against the view you are
supporting; in the second place, with the facts in mind you must analyze
both them and the question to see just what is the point that you are
arguing; then, in the third place, you must arrange the material you are
going to use so that it will be most effective for your purpose. Each of
these steps I shall consider in turn in this chapter.
As a practical convenience, each student should start a notebook, in
which he can keep together all the notes he makes in the course of his
preparations for writing the argument. Number the pages of the notebook,
and leave the first two pages blank for a table of contents. A box of
cards, such as will be described on page 31, will serve as well as a
notebook, and in some ways is more convenient. From time to time, in the
course of the chapter I shall mention points that should be entered.
For the sake of convenience in exposition I shall use as an example the
preparations for an argument in favor of introducing the commission form
of government into an imaginary city, Wytown; and each of the directions
for the use of the notebook I shall illustrate by entries appropriate
to this argument. The argument, let us suppose, is addressed to the
citizens of the place, who know the general facts relating to the city
and its government. In creating this imaginary city, let us give it
about eight thousand inhabitants, and suppose that it is of small area,
and that the inhabitants are chiefly operatives in a number of large
shoe factories, of American descent, though foreign-born citizens and
their offspring are beginning to gain on the others. And further, let us
suppose that this imaginary city of Wytown now has a city government
with a mayor of limited powers, a small board of aldermen, and a larger
city council. The other necessary facts will appear in the introduction
to the brief.
11. Reading for the Argument. The first step in preparing for an
argument is to find out what has been already written on the general
subject, and what facts are available for your purpose. For this purpose
you must go to the best library that is within convenient reach. Just
how to look for material there I shall discuss a few pages further on;
here I shall make some more general suggestions about reading and taking
Almost always it pays to give two or three hours to some preliminary
reading that will make you see the general scope of the subject, and the
points on which there is disagreement. An article in a good encyclopedia
or one in a magazine may serve the purpose; or in some cases you can go
to the opening chapter or two of a book. If you have already discussed
the subject with other people this preliminary reading may not be
necessary; but if you start in to read on a new subject without some
general idea of its scope you may waste time through not knowing your
way and so following false leads.
In your reading do not rest satisfied with consulting authorities on
your own side only. We shall presently see how important it is to be
prepared to meet arguments on the other side; and unless you have read
something on that side, you will not know what points you ought to deal
with in your refutation. In that event you may leave undisturbed in the
minds of your readers points which have all the more significance from
your having ignored them. One of the first reasons for wide reading in
preparation for an argument is to assure yourself that you have a
competent knowledge of the other side as well as of your own.
In using your sources keep clearly and constantly in mind the difference
between fact and opinion. The opinions of a great scholar and of a
farseeing statesman may be based on fact; but not being fact they
contain some element of inference, which is never as certain. When we
come to the next chapter we shall consider this difference more closely.
In the meantime it is worth while to urge the importance of cultivating
scruples on the subject and a keen eye for the intrusion of human, and
therefore fallible, opinion into statements of fact. A trustworthy
author states the facts as facts, with the authorities for them
specifically cited; and where he builds his own opinions on the facts he
leaves no doubt as to where fact ends and opinion begins.
The power to estimate a book or an article on a cursory inspection is of
great practical value. The table of contents in a book, and sometimes
the index, will give a good idea of its scope; and samples of a few
pages at a time, especially on critical points, which can be chosen by
means of the index, will show its general attitude and tone. The index,
if properly made, will furnish a sure guide to its relevance for the
purpose in hand. Half an hour spent in this way, with attention
concentrated, will in most cases settle whether the book is worth
reading through. An article can be "sized up" in much the same way:
if it is at all well written the first paragraphs will give a pretty
definite idea of the subject and the scope of the article; and the
beginnings, and often the ends, of the paragraphs will show the course
which the thought follows. Though such skimming cannot be relied on for
a real knowledge of the subject, it is invaluable as a guide for this
12. Taking Notes. In reading for your argument, as for all
scholarly reading, form early your habits of taking thorough and
serviceable notes. Nothing is more tantalizing than to remember that you
once ran across a highly important fact and then not be able to recall
the place in which it is to be found.
One of the most convenient ways to take notes for an argument is to
write each fact or quotation on a separate card. Cards convenient for
the purpose can be had at any college stationer or library-supply
bureau. If you use them, have an ample supply of them, so that you will
not have to put more than one fact on each. Leave space for a heading at
the top which will refer to a specific subheading of your brief, when
that is ready. Always add an exact reference to the source--title, name
of author, and, in case of a book, place and date of publication, so
that if you want more material you can find it without loss of time,
and, what is more important, so that you can fortify your use of it by a
reference in a footnote. When you find a passage that you think will be
worth quoting in the original words, quote with scrupulous and literal
accuracy: apart from the authority you gain by so doing, you have no
right to make any one else say words he did not say. If you leave out
part of the passage, show the omission by dots; and in such a case, if
you have to supply words of your own, as for example a noun in place of
a pronoun, use square brackets, thus . On the following page are
examples of a convenient form of such notes.
* * * * *
RESULTS IN DES MOINES
The streets have been kept cleaner than ever before for $35,000.
The rates for electric lights have been reduced from $90 to $65.
Gas rates have dropped again from $22 to $17.
Water rates have dropped from 30c to 20c per 1000 gal.
The disreputable district has been cleaned up and bond sharks
driven out of business.
The Des Moines Plan of City Government, _World's Work_, Vol. XVIII,
PRESIDENT ELIOT'S VIEWS
"Now city business is almost wholly administrative and executive
and very little concerned with large plans and far-reaching legislation.
There is no occasion for two legislative bodies, or even one, in the
government of a city.... Now and then a question arises which the
will of the whole people properly expressed may best settle; but
for the prompt and conclusive expression of that will the initiative
and referendum are now well-recognized means."
C. W. Eliot, City Government by Fewer Men, _World's Work_, Vol. XIV
* * * * *
In making notes, whether for an argument or for general college work, it
is convenient, unless you know shorthand, to have a system of signs and
abbreviations and of contractions for common words. The simpler
shorthand symbols can be pressed into service; and one can follow the
practice of stenography, which was also that of the ancient Hebrew
writing, of leaving out vowels, for there are few words that cannot be
recognized at a glance from their consonants. If you use this system at
lectures you can soon come surprisingly near to a verbatim report which
will preserve something more than bare facts.
In your reading for material do not cultivate habits of economy or
parsimony. You should always have a considerable amount of good fact
left over, for unless you know a good deal of the region on the
outskirts of your argument you will feel cramped and uncertain within
it. The effect of having something in reserve is a powerful, though an
intangible, asset in an argument; and, on the other hand, the man who
has emptied his magazine is in a risky situation.
13. Sources for Facts. In the main, there are two kinds of sources
for facts, sources in which the facts have already been collected and
digested, and sources where they are still scattered and must be brought
together and grouped by the investigator. Obviously there is no sharp or
permanent distinction between these two classes. Let us first run
through some of the books which are commonly available as sources of
either kind, and then come back to the use of them.
To find material in books and magazines there are certain well-known
guides. To look up books go first to the catalogue of the nearest
library. Here in most cases you will find some sort of subject
catalogue, in which the subjects are arranged alphabetically; and if you
can use the alphabet readily, as by no means all college students can,
you can soon get a list of the books that are there available on the
subject. On many subjects there are bibliographies, or lists of books,
such as those published by the Library of Congress; these will be found
in every large library. For articles in magazines and weekly journals,
which on most current questions have fresh information, besides a great
deal of valuable material on older questions, go to Poole's "Index to
Periodical Literature," which is an index both by title and subject to
the articles in important English and American magazines from 1802 to
1906, and to "The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature," which began
in 1901 and includes more magazines, and which is brought up to date
For other material the works listed below will be serviceable; they are
the best known of the reference books, and some of them will be found in
all libraries and all of them in large libraries. The books on this list
by no means exhaust the number of good books of their own kind; they are
good examples, and others will ordinarily be found on the same shelves
THE NEW ENGLISH DICTIONARY (MURRAY'S) Unfinished: to have ten volumes,
of which nine have now been published. This gives the history of each
word for the last seven hundred years, with copious quotations, dated,
to show the changes in its use.
THE CENTURY DICTIONARY, CYCLOPEDIA OF NAMES, AND ATLAS New edition,
1911, in twelve volumes. This has fuller information about the meanings
of the words than is usually found in a dictionary.
THE NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY (WEBSTER'S) New edition, 1910,
enlarged, with copious and exact etymologies.
ROGET'S THESAURUS OF ENGLISH WORDS AND PHRASES A standard book of
FERNALD, ENGLISH SYNONYMS, ANTONYMS, AND PREPOSITIONS With illustrations
and expositions of the differences in meaning.
ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA Very full; highly authoritative; 11th edition,
NEW INTERNATIONAL ENCYCLOPEDIA Briefer; reedited in 1904.
LA GRANDE ENCYCLOPIDIE; BROCKHAUS, KONVERSATIONS-LEXIKON Both copious
ALLUSIONS AND QUOTATIONS
CRUDEN'S CONCORDANCE An index to every word in the Bible.
BARTLETT'S CONCORDANCE TO SHAKESPEARE An index to every word in
BARTLETT'S FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS An index to a very large number of the
quotations most frequently met with.
BREWER'S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE This explains a great quantity
of common allusions in words and phrases.
DICTIONARIES OF PROPER NAMES
CENTURY CYCLOPEDIA OF NAMES This includes not only names of real
persons, but also those of many famous characters in fiction.
LIPPINCOTT'S UNIVERSAL PRONOUNCING DICTIONARY OF BIOGRAPHY AND MYTHOLOGY
DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY Revised edition. Confined to English
biography, and to persons dead at the dale of publication of Supplement
(1909). The articles are full, and of the highest authority. In the
index and epitome is a convenient summary of dates and facts.
APPLETON'S CYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY Six volumes, 1887-1901; with
supplement (unfinished), bringing it down to date.
WHO'S WHO An annual publication; English, but with some American names;
living persons only.
WHO'S WHO IN AMERICA; WER IST'S; QUI ETES-VOUS Corresponding works for
America, Germany, and France.
DEBRETT'S PEERAGE A repository of a great mass of facts concerning
English families of historical distinction.
FOR CURRENT OR HISTORICAL FACTS
THE STATESMAN'S YEAR BOOK Arranged by countries; contains a great mass
of facts; has a bibliography at the end of each country or state.
THE WORLD ALMANAC; THE TRIBUNE ALMANAC Examples of annuals issued by
large newspapers, which contain an enormous mass of facts, chiefly
WHITAKER'S ALMANAC Much miscellaneous information about the British
empire and other countries.
THE ANNUAL REGISTER; THE NEW INTERNATIONAL YEARBOOK; THE AMERICAN
YEARBOOK These three give information about the events of the preceding
INDEX TO THE LONDON _Times_
LIPPINCOTT'S NEW GAZETTEER A geographical dictionary of the world.
THE CENTURY ATLAS With classified references to places.
THE HANDY REFERENCE ATLAS Small size (octavo); a most useful book for
the desk or library table.
PLOETZ'S EPITOME OF UNIVERSAL HISTORY A very compact epitome of history,
with all the important dates.
NOTES AND QUERIES A periodical devoted to notes and queries on a
multitude of curious and out-of-the-way facts; yearly index volumes are
BIBLIOGRAPHIES ISSUED BY THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
SONNENSCHEIN'S THE BEST BOOKS A guide to about fifty thousand of the
best available books in a great variety of fields, classified by
Make yourself familiar with all of these books which are within your
reach. Get into the habit, when you have a few minutes to spare, of
taking them down from the shelves and turning over the pages to see what
they contain. And whenever a question of fact comes up in general talk,
make a mental note of it, or better, one in writing, and the next time
you go to the library hunt it up in one of these reference books. You
will be surprised to see, when once you have made the habit, how short a
time it takes to settle disputes about most facts; and at the same time
you will be extending your general knowledge.
In learning the use of these and other books, do not forget the most
important source of all, the librarian. The one guiding principle of
modern librarianship is to make the books useful; and it gives every
proper librarian active pleasure to show you how to use the books in his
In using books and magazines scrutinize the character of the source. Is
it impartial or partisan? Is its treatment of the subject exhaustive and
definite, or cursory and superficial? Does the author know the subject
at first hand, or does he rely on other men? On such points the second
book or article will be easier to estimate than the first, and the third
than the second; for with each new source you have the earlier ones as a
basis for comparison. In any case do not trust to a single authority: no
matter how authoritative it is, sooner or later the narrow basis of your
views will betray itself, for an argument which is merely a revamping of
some one else's views is not likely to have much spontaneity.
In many subjects, and especially those of new or local interest, you
will not find the facts gathered and assimilated for you; you must go
out and gather your own straw for the making of your bricks. Such are
most questions of reform or change in school or college systems, in
athletics, in municipal affairs, in short, most of the questions on
which the average man after he leaves college is likely to be making
To get decisive facts on such questions as these you must go, in the
case of local subjects, to the newspapers, to city and town reports, or
to documents issued by interested committees; for college questions you
go to the presidents' reports and to annual catalogues or catalogues of
graduates, or perhaps to _Graduates' Bulletins_ or _Weeklies_; for
athletic questions you go to the files of the daily newspapers, or for
records to such works as the _World_ or _Tribune Almanacs_; for school
questions you go to school catalogues, or to school-committee reports.
You will be surprised to find how little time you use to get together
bodies of facts and figures that may make you, in a small way, an
original authority on the subject you are discussing. It does not take
long to count a few hundred names, or to run through the files of a
newspaper for a week or a month; and when you have done such
investigation you get a sense of surety in dealing with your subject
that will strengthen your argument. Here, as in the larger discussions
of later life, the readiness to take the initiative and the ingenuity in
thinking of possible sources are what make you count.
Such sources you can often piece out by personal inquiry from men who
are conversant with the subject--town or city officers, members of
faculties, principals of schools. If you go to such people hoping that
they will do your work for you, you will not be likely to get much
comfort; but if you are keen about your subject yourself, and ready to
work, you will often get not only valuable information and advice, but
sometimes also a chance to go through unpublished records. A young man
who is working hard and intelligently is apt to be an object of interest
to older men who have been doing the same all their lives.
1. Name those of the sources on pages 34-36, which are available to you.
Report to the class on the scope and character of each of them. (The
report on different sources can be divided among the class.)
2. Name some sources for facts relating to your own school or college;
to your own town or city; to your own state.
3. Report on the following, in not more than one hundred words, naming
the source from which you got your information: the situation and
government of the Fiji Islands; Circe; the author of "A man's a man for
a' that"; Becky Sharp; the age of President Taft and the offices he has
held; the early career of James Madison; the American amateur record in
the half-mile run; the family name of Lord Salisbury, and a brief
account of his career; the salary of the mayor of New York; the island
of Guam: some of the important measures passed by Congress in the
session of 1910-1911. (This exercise a teacher can vary indefinitely by
turning over the pages of reference books which his class can reach; or
the students can be set to making exercises for each other.)
14. Bibliography. Before starting in earnest on the reading for your
argument, begin a bibliography, that is, a list of the books and
articles and speeches which will help you. This bibliography should be
entered in your notebook, and it is convenient to allow space enough
there to keep the different kinds of sources separate. In making your
bibliography you will use some of the sources which have just been
described, especially "Poole's Index," and "The Reader's Guide," and the
subject catalogue of the library. Make your entries so full that you can
go at once to the source; it is poor economy to save a minute on copying
down a title, and then waste ten or fifteen in going back to the source
from which you got it. On large subjects the number of books and
articles is far beyond the possibilities of most courses in
argumentation, and here you must exercise your judgment in choosing the
most important. The name of the author is on the whole a safe guide: if
you find an article or a book by President Eliot on an educational
subject, or one by President Hadley on economics, or one by President
Jordan on zoology, or one by any of them on university policy, you will
know at once that you cannot afford to neglect it. As you go on with
your reading you will soon find who are authorities on special subjects
by noting who are quoted in text and footnotes. If the subject happens
to be one of those on which a bibliography has been issued either by the
Library of Congress or from some other source, the making of your own
bibliography will reduce itself to a selection from this list.
Keep your bibliography as a practical aid to you in a very practical
task. Do not swell it from mere love of accumulation, as you might
collect stamps. The making of exhaustive bibliographies is work for
advanced scholarship or for assistant librarians. For the practical
purposes of making an argument a very moderate number of titles beyond
those you can actually use will give you sufficient background.
Notebook. Enter in your notebook the titles of books, articles, or
speeches which bear on your subject, and which you are likely to be able
Illustration. Bibliography for an argument on introducing
commission government of the Des Moines type into Wytown.
WOODRUFF, C. R. City Government by Commission. New York, 1911.
Bibliography in appendix.
HAMILTON, J. J. The Dethronement of the City Boss. New York, 1910.
From Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, Vol. II (1905-1909).
(There are thirty entries here under the heading, Municipal Government,
and the subheading, Government by Commission. Of these I omit those
dealing with cities in Texas, as not bearing directly on the Des Moines
plan, and select seven of the most recent.)
"Another City for Commission Government," _World's Work_, Vol. XVIII
(June, 1909), p. 11,639.
"City Government." _Outlook_. Vol. XCII (August 14, 1909), pp.
BRADFORD, E. S. "Commission Government in American Cities," National
Conference on City Government (1909), pp. 217-228.
PEARSON, P. M. "Commission System of Municipal Government"
(bibliography), Intercollegiate Debates, pp. 461-477.
ALLEN, S. B. "Des Moines Plan," National Conference on City
Government (1907), pp. 156-165.
"Des Moines Plan of City Government," _World's Work_, Vol. XVIII
(May, 1909), p. 11,533.
GOODYEAR, D. "The Example of Haverhill," _Independent_, Vol. LXVI
(January, 1909), p. 194.
From Reader's Guide (1910). (Seven entries, of which I select the
GOODYEAR, D. "The Experience of Haverhill," _Independent_, Vol.
LXVIII (February, 1910), p. 415.
"Rapid Growth of Commission Government," _Outlook_, Vol. XCIV (April,
1910), p. 822.
TURNER, G. K. "New American City Government," _McClure's_, Vol. XXXV
(May, 1910), pp. 97-108.
"Organization of Municipal Government," American Government and
Politics; pp. 598-602.
15. Planning for a Definite Audience. Before setting to work on the
actual planning of your argument there are still two preliminary
questions you have to consider--the prepossessions of your audience, and
the burden of proof; of these the latter is dependent on the former.
When you get out into active life and have an argument to make, this
question of the audience will force itself on your attention, for you
will not make the argument unless you want to influence views which are
actually held. In a school or college argument you have the difficulty
that your argument will in most cases have no such practical effect.
Nevertheless, even here you can get better practice by fixing on some
body of readers who might be influenced by an argument on your subject,
and addressing yourself specifically to them. You can hardly consider
the burden of proof or lay out the space which you will give to
different points in your argument unless you take into account the
present knowledge and the prepossessions of your audience on the
Where the question is large and abstract the audience may be so general
as to seem to have no special characteristics; but if you will think of
the differences of tone and attitude of two different newspapers in
treating some local subject you will see that readers always segregate
themselves into types. Even on a larger scale, one can say that the
people of the United States as a whole are optimistic and self-confident
in temper, and in consequence careless as to many minor deficiencies and
blemishes in our national polity. On a good many questions the South,
which is still chiefly agricultural, has different interests and
prepossessions from the North; and the West, being a new country, is
inclined to have less reverence for the vested rights of property as
against the rights of men, than the Eastern states, where wealth has
long been concentrated and inherited.
As one narrows down to the immediate or local questions which make the
best subjects for practice the part played by the audience becomes more
apparent. The reform of the rules of football is a good example: a few
years ago an audience of elderly people would have taken for granted the
brutality of the game, and its tendency to put a premium on unfair play;
the rules committee, made up of believers in the game, had to be
hammered at for several years before they made the changes which have so
greatly improved it. So in matters of local or municipal interest, such
as the location of a new street car line, or the laying out of a park,
it will make a vast difference to you whether you are writing for people
who have land on the proposed line or park, or for the general body of
Differences in thy prepossessions of your audience and in their
knowledge of the subject have, therefore, a direct and practical effect
on the planning of your argument. Suppose you are arguing in favor of
raising the standard of admission to your college; if your argument is
addressed to the faculty you will give little space to explaining what
those requirements now are; but if you are sending out an address to the
alumni you must give some space to telling them clearly and without
technicalities what present conditions are and explaining the changes
that you propose. Theoretically an argument should change in form and
proportions for every audience which you address. The theory may be
pushed too far; but in the practice of real life it will be found nearly
true. With different audiences you will unconsciously make different
selection of material, and you will vary your emphasis, the place of
your refutation, and the distribution of your space.
Notebook. Enter the audience for whom your argument might be
written, and note what you think would be their knowledge of the
subject, and their prepossessions toward it.
Illustration. The citizens of Wytown. They are convinced that
there should be a change in the city government; but they are not yet
familiar with the Des Moines plan.
1. Bring to class editorials from different newspapers on the same local
subject, and point out differences of attitude which they assume in the
audiences they address.
2. Suggest three different possible audiences for your argument, and
show what differences you would make in your argument in addressing each
16. The Burden of Proof. The principle which underlies the
responsibility for the burden of proof may be summed up in the adage of
the common law, _He who asserts must prove_.
At the law this principle has been elaborated into a large and abstruse
subject; in ordinary arguments where there is no judge to make subtle
discriminations, you must interpret it in the broadest way. The average
man lacks both the interest and the capacity for making keen
distinctions; and when you are writing for him you would make a mistake
if you were to stickle for fine points concerning the burden of proof.
In general, the principle as it bears on the arguments of everyday life
implies that any argument in favor of a change shall accept the burden
of proof. This application of the principle is illustrated in the
following extract from an editorial article in _The Outlook_ some years
ago, on a proposed change in the law of New York concerning the
safeguards of vivisection.
* * * * *
The real question is not as to the merits of vivisection, but as to the
proper safeguards with which the law should surround it.
At present the law of New York state applies to experiments upon animals
the same principle that it applies to surgical operations upon men,
women, and children. It does not attempt to prescribe the conditions
under which either experiments or operations should be conducted; but it
does prescribe the standards of fitness which every person who may
lawfully engage in surgery and which every person who may lawfully
engage in animal experimentation must meet. It penalizes with fine or
imprisonment or both the unjustifiable injuring, mutilating, or killing
of animals; and it confines to regularly incorporated medical colleges
and universities of the state the authority under which animal
experimentation may be conducted.
The burden of proof rests upon those who would have the state abandon
this principle and substitute for it the principle of prescribing the
conditions of scientific investigation. It rests upon them to prove, in
the first place, that the present law is inadequate. It is not
sufficient for them to produce lawyers who give opinions that the law
is not efficient. There are lawyers of the highest standing in the state
who declare that it is efficient. The only adequate mode of proof would
be by the prosecution of an actual abuse. So far as we have been able to
learn, only one authentic case of alleged unjustifiable experimentation
has been brought forward by the supporters of the bills. This is
certainly not proof that the present law is inadequate.
In the second place, the burden of proof rests upon them to show that
legal restrictions on the methods of science would not vitiate
investigations, and would not, therefore, entail upon human beings
greater suffering than would otherwise be inflicted upon animals ...
It is because _The Outlook_ is convinced by overwhelming evidence that
the practice of vivisection has not increased suffering but has rather
widened immeasurably the merciful ministrations of medicine and surgery
that it regards as dangerous unintelligent interference with
vivisection, and urges the maintenance of the principle underlying the
present New York law.
* * * * *
So with other questions of policy, the burden of proof would be on any
one who proposed a change from a policy long established, such as free
trade in England, and to a less extent protection in this country, the
elective system in many American colleges, the amateur rule in school
and college athletics.
Always, one must remember that the burden of proof depends on the
prepossessions of the audience, and that on the same question it may
change within a moderately small number of years. Ten years ago, on the
question of the popular election of senators the burden was clearly on
the side of those who advocated a change in the Constitution. By this
time (1912) the burden of proof has for a majority of the people of the
United States probably swung to the other side. In the state of Maine,
where prohibition had been embodied in the state constitution for a
generation, the burden of proof was on those who in 1911 argued for its
repeal; whereas in Massachusetts, which has done well for many years
with local option and high license, the burden would still be on those
who should argue for state prohibition. In the discussions of the game
of football a few years ago the burden of proof before an audience of
athletes would have been on those who declared that the game must be
changed; with college faculties and men of like mind the burden of proof
would have been on those who defended the old game. In each case that
comes up, you cannot place the burden of proof until you know whether
the people you are trying to convince have any prepossessions in the
matter: if they have, the burden of proof is on him who attempts to
change those prepossessions; if they have not, the burden is on him who
is proposing to change existing views or existing policies.
In no case, however, with a popular audience is it very safe to depend
much on the burden of proof; almost always it is better to jump in and
actively build up the argument on your own side. In argument, as in
strategy, take the offensive whenever you can.
* * * * *
Notebook. Note whether the burden of proof is with you or against
you, taking into account the probable prepossessions of the audience you
* * * * *
Illustration. In the argument for the introduction of the
commission form of government into Wytown the burden of proof is on the
affirmative to show that the Des Moines plan of city government will
cure the evils of the present government of Wytown. With the audience
assumed (see p. 43), there is no burden of proof on the affirmative to
establish the need of a change.
1. In three subjects which you might choose for an argument show where
the burden of proof would lie.
2. In the case of one of these arguments show how the burden of proof
might change with the argument.
17. The Brief. When you have settled these preliminary questions of
the audience you wish to win over to your view, and of the way their
prepossessions and knowledge of the subject will affect your
responsibilities for the burden of proof, you are ready to begin work on
the brief, as the plan for an argument is called. This brief it is
better to think of as a statement of the logical framework of the
argument, which you are constructing for the purpose of clearing up your
own mind on the subject, and especially to help you to see how you can
most effectively arrange your material. It differs from the usual brief
in a case at law in that the latter is ordinarily a series of compact
statements of legal principles, each supported by a list of cases
already decided which bear on that principle. The brief you will be
making now will consist of an _introduction_, which states whatever
facts and principles are necessary to an understanding of the brief, and
the _brief_ itself, which consists of a series of propositions, each
supporting your main contention, and each in turn supported by others,
which again may each be supported by another series. Such an analysis
will thoroughly display the processes of your reasoning, and enable you
to criticize them step by step for soundness and coerciveness.
I shall first explain the several steps which go to the making of the
introduction to the brief; and then come to the making of the brief
18. The Proposition. The first step in making the introduction to your
brief is to formulate the question or proposition (the two terms are
interchangeable in practice). Until you have crystallized your view of
the subject into a proposition you have nothing to argue about.
"Commission form of government" is a subject, but it is not arguable,
for it gives you no hold either for affirming or denying. "Commission
government should be adopted in Wytown," or "Commission government has
improved political conditions in Des Moines," are both propositions
which are arguable (though not yet specific enough), for it is possible
to maintain either the affirmative or the negative of either of them.
The proposition must be single. If it be double, you have what the
lawyers call "a squinting argument," that is, an argument which looks in
two directions at the same time. For example, the proposition,
"Commission government would be a good thing for Wytown, but the
initiative and referendum are wrong in principle," involves two separate
and unconnected principles, since commission government as first
embodied at Galveston does not include the initiative and referendum.
Many people, including those of Galveston and other places in Texas,
would accept the first half of the proposition, and disagree with the
second half. On the other hand, "Wytown should adopt a commission
government on the Des Moines plan," would not be a double proposition,
though this plan includes the initiative and referendum; for the
proposition makes the issue that the plan should be adopted or rejected
as a whole.
In some cases a proposition may be grammatically compound, and yet carry
a single assertion. "Municipal government by commission is more
economical and efficient than municipal government with a mayor and two
chambers," is really a single assertion of the superiority of the
commission plan of government. In this case there is no danger of
getting into a split argument; but even here it is safer to reduce the
proposition to one which is grammatically single, "Municipal government
by commission has proved itself superior to municipal government with a
mayor and two chambers." A predicate wholly single is a safeguard
against meaning two assertions.
The proposition must not be so abstract or vague in terms that you do
not know whether you agree or disagree with it. Macaulay summed up this
difficulty in one of his speeches in Parliament:
* * * * *
Surely my honorable friend cannot but know that nothing is easier than
to write a theme for severity, for clemency, for order, for liberty, for
a contemplative life, for an active life, and so on. It was a common
exercise in the ancient schools of rhetoric to make an abstract
question, and to harangue first on one side and then on the other. The
question, Ought popular discontents to be quieted by concession or
coercion, would have been a very good subject for oratory of this kind.
There is no lack of commonplaces on either side. But when we come to the
real business of life, the value of these commonplaces depends entirely
on the particular circumstances of the case which we are discussing.
Nothing is easier than to write a treatise proving that it is lawful to
resist extreme tyranny. Nothing is easier than to write a treatise
setting forth the wickedness of wantonly bringing on a great society the
miseries inseparable from revolution, the bloodshed, the spoliation, the
anarchy. Both treatises may contain much that is true; but neither will
enable us to decide whether a particular insurrection is or is not
justifiable without a close examination of the facts.
In other words, though the word "insurrection" seems to be plain in
meaning, yet when we make it one term of a judgment of which the other
term is "justifiable," we find that we do not know whether we agree or
not. The terms of the proposition are so vague that there can be no
meeting of minds. If we limit the subject to a specific case,
insurrection in Venezuela, or insurrection in Cuba, then we have made a
beginning toward making the proposition arguable. In these particular
cases, however, it would probably be necessary to go further, and
specify which insurrection in Venezuela or in Cuba was intended, before
the average American would be prepared either to affirm or to deny.
Wherever the terms of a proposition are too vague to provoke profitable
discussion they must be narrowed down to a specific case which will draw
forth affirmation and denial.
A common case where the vagueness of the proposition leads to
difficulties in the argument is described in the following passage:
* * * * *
An equally common form of argument, closely allied to the argument by
analogy, and equally vague, is that which is popularly known as the
objection to a thin end of a wedge. We must not do this or that, it is
often said, because if we did we should be logically bound to do
something else which is plainly absurd or wrong. If we once begin to
take a certain course there is no knowing where we shall be able to stop
with any show of consistency; there would be no reason for stopping
anywhere in particular, and we should be led on, step by step, into
action or opinions that we all agree to call undesirable or untrue....
For it must not be forgotten that in all disputes of this kind there are
two parties opposed to each other, and that what divides them is
precisely their lack of agreement on the question what principle is
really involved. Those who see a proposal as a thin end of a wedge
always see the principle as a wider, more inclusive one, than those who
make the proposal; and what gives them freedom so to see it is merely
the fact that it remains indefinite.
As a practical example of this confusion, consider the following extract
from a speech in the United States Senate opposing the popular election
* * * * *
Every intelligent student of the present rapid trend toward popular
government must see what would happen when this sentimental bar of the
States being represented by two Senators instead of by the people in the
United States Senate is thrown down. The initiative, the referendum, and
the recall are but symptoms of the times. That the people will have
their way, because they, and they alone, are the government, is the
underlying spirit of our institutions, of our newest State
Constitutions, and of our progressive laws. Skillful agitation seizes
upon every pretext and eagerly grasps and enlarges every opportunity for
appeal to the passions in an advancement of its purposes. The next cry
will necessarily be, "Why not elect the Supreme Court of the United
States by popular vote? Why not elect the Federal Judiciary everywhere
by popular vote?"
* * * * *
Here the proposition, "That the people will have their way, because
they, and they alone, are the government, is the underlying spirit of
our institutions, of our newest state constitutions, and of our
progressive laws," is not only obscure in terms, but it is wholly vague,
for it does not define how far the progressive party propose to carry
popular direct government. Until the two sides agree on that point they
have nothing definite enough for profitable argument.
It is surprising to notice how often in political debates this fallacy
is committed. It is human nature to believe for the time being that the
other side will do the worst thing that the circumstances make possible.
Fortunately, human nature just as constantly refutes the error.
To make clearer this necessity of having a definite proposition to
argue, let us take one of the subjects suggested on page 10 which is not
yet in a form for profitable argument, and amend it. "The standard for
graduation from this college should be raised," is a subject that can be
discussed, but as it stands it would not be a good proposition for an
argument, because it is vague. How much should the standard be raised?
By what method should it be raised? These and other questions you would
have to answer before you would have a proposition definite enough to be
argued with profit. The proposition could be made definite enough by
such amendments as the following: "The standard for graduation from this
college should be raised by requiring one eighth more hours of lecture
or recitation in each of the four years"; or, "The standard for
graduation from this college should be raised by increasing the pass
mark in all courses from fifty per cent to sixty per cent"; or, "The
standard for graduation from this college should be raised by allowing
no student to have his degree who has fallen below sixty per cent in one
fourth of his work, and has not attained eighty per cent in at least one
eighth of his college work." In each of these cases the proposition is
so definite that you could find exactly how many students would be
affected. A proposition which involves a definite body of facts is
arguable; one which involves an indefinite and incalculable body of
facts is not.
To take another example from the brief we shall be working out in this
chapter, the proposition, "Wytown should adopt the commission form of
government," is not definite enough, for there are various forms of
commission government, such as the Galveston plan, the Des Moines plan,
and by this time a considerable variety of others; and citizens who are
at all particular in their voting would want to know just which of these
was proposed for their approval. The proposition, therefore, would have
to be limited to, "Wytown should adopt a commission government after the
Des Moines plan."
The exact form of your proposition will not always come to you at the
first try. It may easily happen that you will not see the exact issue
involved in the argument until you have gone some way with the processes
of analysis which we shall be considering in the rest of this chapter.
Always hold yourself ready to amend your proposition, if you can thereby
come closer to the question.
Notebook. Enter the exact proposition which you are to argue.
Illustration. Wytown should adopt the commission form of
government, in the form now in practice at Des Moines, Iowa.
1. Make three arguable propositions on the subject, "Entrance
examinations for college."
2. Criticize the following propositions and amend them, if necessary, so
that they might be argued with profit:
a. Freshmen should be required to keep reasonable hours.
b. The honor system should be introduced everywhere.
c. This city should do more for its boys.
d. The street railway companies in this city should be better
e. The amateur rules for college athletes are too stringent.
f. Intercollegiate football is beneficial.
19. Definition of Terms. Making a proposition definite is chiefly
a process of defining terms which are found in it; but when these are
defined you may still in your argument use others which also need
definition. In general the definition of terms, whether in the
proposition or not, implies finding out just what a term means for the
present purpose. Almost every common word is used for some variety of
purposes. "Commission," for example, even within the field of
government, has two very different meanings:
As applied to state and national administration, the term "commission
government" is used in connection with the growing practice of
delegating to appointed administrative boards or commissions--the
Interstate Commerce Commission, state railroad commissions, tax
commissions, boards of control, etc.--the administration of certain
special or specified executive functions ...From the standpoint of
organization, then, "commission government," as applied to the state,
connotes decentralization, the delegation and division of authority and
responsibility, and the disintegration of popular control ...As applied
to city administration, however, commission government has a very
different meaning. In striking contrast to its use in connection with
the state, it is used to designate the most concentrated and centralized
type of organization which has yet appeared in the annals of
representative municipal history. Under so-called commission government
for cities, the entire administration of the city's affairs is placed in
the hands of a small board or council--"commission"--elected at large
and responsible directly to the electorate for the government of the
Furthermore, even the term "commission government for cities" is not
wholly definite, for there are already several recognized types of such
government, such as the Galveston type, the Des Moines type, and recent
modifications of these. If you are making an argument for introducing a
commission government, therefore, you must go still further with your
definitions, and specify the distinguishing features of the particular
plan which you are urging on the voters, as is done in the definition on
page 59. In other words, you must make exactly clear the meaning of the
term for the present case.
Your first impulse when you find a term that needs defining may be to go
to a dictionary. A little thought will show you that in most cases you
will get little comfort if you do. The aim of a dictionary is to give
all the meanings which a word has had in reasonable use; what you need
in an argument is to know which one of these meanings it has in the
present case. If you were writing an argument on the effects or the
righteousness of the change wrought in the English constitution by the
recent curtailment of the veto power of the House of Lords, and wished
to use the word "revolution," and to use it where it was important that
your readers should understand precisely what you intended it to convey,
you would not burden them with such a definition as the following, from