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Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning

Learn the fundamentals of argumentation and build a foundation for communication and reasoning that will benefit you in every area of your life.
Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 125.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from No, You Do Not Innately Know This As Dr. Zarefsky notes at the very outset, most people will naturally, and wrongly, view argumentation as a rancorous and quarrelsome activity. He patiently makes the case for why it simply is not. At the same time, this is not a smooth road that you can travel while multitasking, so please do your best to invest thirty uninterrupted and undistracted minutes at a time while pursuing this study. Otherwise, you will realize all to quickly that this is not a course of simple syllogisms or "if p, then q" or "a, if and only if b." While there are moments of tedium during some of the deeper dives, the real strength of this course is the multitude of real-life examples Dr. Zarefsky offers to illustrate principles that might otherwise be a challenge to grasp. You must follow this road until the end.
Date published: 2023-04-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well organized Very interesting progressive review of argumentation. Graphics of current topic under discussion are very helpful. Some lectures that refer to definitions in earlier lectures would be easier to digest of a quick overview graphic of referenced topic could be included. Example would be a quick graphic overview of topoi when used in later chapters.
Date published: 2022-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good course. I'm about halfway though the course and I enjoy it, and the best feature of all is the trailer. I love how ridiculous it is.
Date published: 2022-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging presenter and Excellent Presentation I only planned to watch the first lecture or two (to learn the basics) but I found the presentation so interesting that I watched the whole course! Professor Zerefsky is an amazing speaker who very effectively explains all the material through the continual use of illustrative and entertaining examples.
Date published: 2021-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Wisdom of History We completed this course and loved it.Are now sharing it with our grandson who loves history and graduates from high school next year.
Date published: 2020-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Practical Course I enjoyed this course so much I bought Professor Zarefsky's book "The Practice of Argumentation". For someone who has never taken a class on Argumentation, I thought this course was an effective introduction. I also thought David Zarefsky is an engaging instructor. My only complaint about the course is that I wish he would have spent a bit more time on some of the more difficult ideas, for example categorical syllogisms and inductive/deductive reasoning. Overall, I wish I had taken this course much earlier in my life.
Date published: 2020-02-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Resolution: A basic effective reasoning course will be a high school requirement with more in-depth exploration in a required undergraduate college course. This will serve as a counter to the level of antagonism and talking past one-another that is widely observed within the current zeitgeist of the country.
Date published: 2020-01-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from presenter is not interesting i could not finish watching this because the presenter did not measure up to my expectation.
Date published: 2019-05-23
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Reasoning, tested by doubt, is argumentation. We do it, hear it, and judge it every day. We do it in our own minds, and we do it with others. What is effective reasoning? And how can it be done persuasively? This is equally a course in argument and in reasoning. This course teaches how to reason. It teaches how to persuade others that what you think is right. And it teaches how to judge and answer the arguments of others-and how they will judge yours.


David Zarefsky

It's my belief that the most ethical way to go about influencing other people is through argumentation, which respects their individuality, and respects their freedom, and seeks their free assent.


Northwestern University

Dr. David Zarefsky is the Owen L. Coon Professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University, where he has taught for over 30 years. He earned his B.S., master's degree, and Ph.D. from Northwestern University. From 1988 through 2000, he served as the Dean of the School of Speech.

A nationally recognized authority on rhetoric and forensics, he is a past president of the National Communication Association (NCA) and recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award in 1994 and the Distinguished Service Award in 2001. On no fewer than 13 occasions, his outstanding lecturing skills have been recognized by the inclusion of his name on Northwestern's Associated Student Government Honor Roll for Teaching.

Dr. Zarefsky has authored five books, edited three more, and published over 50 scholarly articles and reviews. He received the 1986 National Communication Association's Winans-Wichelns Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address for his book President Johnson's War on Poverty: Rhetoric and History and the same award again in 1991 for Lincoln, Douglas, and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate.

By This Professor

Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning
Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning


Introducing Argumentation and Rhetoric

01: Introducing Argumentation and Rhetoric

We will examine argumentation in its classical sense-as the study of effective reasoning. This introductory lecture will relate argumentation to the field of rhetoric and consider how argumentation is ethical. With a clear understanding of basic terms, we will preview the directions we will take in the course.

32 min
Underlying Assumptions of Argumentation

02: Underlying Assumptions of Argumentation

Argumentation is a means of decision-making, and there are several assumptions that we make when we use it. This lecture will focus on five key assumptions.

30 min
Formal and Informal Argumentation

03: Formal and Informal Argumentation

This lecture will review the defining features of deduction and induction and will summarize three major forms of deductive reasoning: categorical, conditional, and disjunctive. The lecture will conclude by emphasizing why informal reasoning is involved in contemporary study of argumentation.

30 min
History of Argumentation Studies

04: History of Argumentation Studies

The study of informal argumentation can be traced to the beginnings of rhetoric in ancient Greece. During the Renaissance, the subject matter of rhetoric was divided, with argumentation assigned to philosophy. Formal logic was held to be the highest form of reasoning, and argumentation tried to imitate it. Since the mid-20th century, theorists have identified weaknesses in the formal-logic model a...

30 min
Argument Analysis and Diagramming

05: Argument Analysis and Diagramming

This lecture examines how controversies begin and how the process of arguing produces individual arguments. It will consider the claim as the most basic part of the argument and identify types of claims. Then it will present the structure of an argument: a claim, evidence for it, an inference linking the evidence to the claim, and a warrant justifying that inference.

30 min
Complex Structures of Argument

06: Complex Structures of Argument

The diagram presented in Lecture 5 will help us understand a simple argument structure, but most arguments are embedded in complex structures. A claim in one part of the argument may be evidence in another, and subsidiary claims are joined to support a main claim or resolution. Mapping and analyzing these structures offers considerable advantages, and these will be reviewed.

30 min
Case Construction-Requirements and Options

07: Case Construction-Requirements and Options

The complex structure of argument discussed in Lecture 6 can be termed a case: the pattern of arguments used to support a claim. In assembling a case, arguers must be sure to address all the issues raised by the claim in the particular situation. Addressing the issues will satisfy an initial burden of proof. In meeting these requirements, arguers have choices about what arguments to use and how to...

30 min
Stasis-The Heart of the Controversy

08: Stasis-The Heart of the Controversy

Stasis refers to the focal point of dispute, the point at which contending positions meet. It is determined by the choices that advocates make about what to stipulate and what to contest. The first decision to be made in responding to a case is what the point of stasis will be. This lecture will illustrate the concept, which is drawn from ancient theories of rhetoric. Finally, using the concept of...

30 min
Attack and Defense I

09: Attack and Defense I

This lecture and the next will consider the processes of refuting and rebuilding cases. Attacks on a case achieve the best possible resolution of a controversy. Decisions to be made in planning an attack include which arguments to attack, at which parts of the argument to focus the attack, and what type of attack to develop. These choices can be understood best if they are examined systematically.

31 min
Attack and Defense II

10: Attack and Defense II

This lecture continues the discussion of attacking arguments by focusing on a second set of choices: those related to the arrangement and presentation of the attacks, then the focus shifts to defending and rebuilding arguments. The lecture will consider the basic strategic options of the defense, and highlight the most significant choices. The lecture also will consider methods of refutation and h...

31 min
Language and Style in Argument

11: Language and Style in Argument

This lecture completes a series that addresses the development of arguments into cases and the dynamics of controversy created by the presentation of a case. Here, the specific concern is with choices related to language and presentational style, how language is a factor, and how the presentation of an argument is part of its content.

30 min
Evaluating Evidence

12: Evaluating Evidence

With this lecture we turn to argument appraisal and focus on individual arguments. We begin with the evidence supporting an argument. It must be agreed to by the arguers for a meaningful discussion to proceed. Evidence can be categorized in many ways, but we will focus on examples, statistics, tangible objects, testimony, and social consensus.

31 min
Reasoning from Parts to Whole

13: Reasoning from Parts to Whole

The next six lectures focus on inferences, the most complex parts of an argument, and how they determine the argument scheme to be used. Six common inference patterns will be reviewed. This lecture considers inferences from example, which are used to relate specific cases to general claims and to apply general statements to specific cases. The lecture will also identify common errors.

30 min
Reasoning with Comparisons

14: Reasoning with Comparisons

A common form of inference is that like things should be treated alike. This is reasoning from analogy. This lecture describes types of analogies and tests for this reasoning with comparisons. It will consider why logicians often consider analogy the weakest type of inference, while rhetoricians often consider it the strongest. We will address two uses of the argument from analogy: the judicial an...

30 min
Establishing Correlations

15: Establishing Correlations

The focus of this lecture is on inferences from sign. Sign inferences establish the relationship between two factors so one can be predicted from knowledge of the other. Sign arguments are used to infer the unknown from the known, to predict outcomes, and to rely on the judgment of expert authorities. The lecture concludes with pitfalls to avoid in making sign inferences.

30 min
Moving from Cause to Effect

16: Moving from Cause to Effect

Causal inferences assert that one factor has influence over another. Influence must be inferred because it cannot be observed. The lecture will consider meanings of the concept of causation, purposes for which causal arguments are used, and methods that have been used to infer the existence of causal influence. The lecture will conclude by discussing factors that can undermine a causal inference.

31 min
Commonplaces and Arguments from Form

17: Commonplaces and Arguments from Form

This lecture considers inferences based on social knowledge and inferences that resemble deductions but are not. Commonplaces are beliefs or judgments that an audience generally accepts as being true. Often these come in pairs of seemingly opposed terms with each term sometimes being preferred. Dilemmas, arguments from hypothesis, and arguments from probabilities are examples of inferences that ar...

30 min
Hybrid Patterns of Inference

18: Hybrid Patterns of Inference

This lecture will examine three hybrid patterns: reasoning with rules, reasoning about values, and dissociation.

31 min
Validity and Fallacies I

19: Validity and Fallacies I

The central question of this and the next lecture is: What makes a good argument? The answer is validity. In formal reasoning, validity is a matter of structure unrelated to content. In informal reasoning, it means following patterns that have led to good results and avoided fallacies. This lecture examines errors specific to each pattern of inference, and then considers errors of vacuity ("e...

30 min
Validity and Fallacies II

20: Validity and Fallacies II

This lecture continues the discussion of general errors in reasoning that was begun in Lecture 19 with the treatment of vacuity. We examine deficiencies in relevance and discuss fallacies. The lecture concludes by reviewing two challenges to understanding fallacies. One suggests that arguments are valid or fallacious depending on their context; the other suggests that fallacies should be understoo...

30 min
Arguments between Friends

21: Arguments between Friends

The final group of lectures moves into examining the practice of argumentation in society. The organizing principle is the concept of spheres of argument, sets of expectations that provide contexts for arguing. This lecture concerns the personal sphere. Dialogue is the mode of discourse, and participants seek to resolve their own disagreements. The ideal of a critical discussion is proposed. Pract...

31 min
Arguments among Experts

22: Arguments among Experts

Argumentation takes place where there are field-specific patterns of inference or appraisal. Argument fields can be defined by subject matter, orientation, or worldview. Drawing on examples from law, science, management, ethics, and religion, this lecture considers how the nature of argumentation is affected by the field in which it takes place. The lecture also considers interfield disputes and h...

30 min
Public Argument and Democratic Life

23: Public Argument and Democratic Life

The public sphere is the place for arguments about matters of interest to people as citizens, for example, deliberations about public policy. There are several ways to devise arguments that can appeal simultaneously to different political presumptions. A robust public sphere to negotiate tensions inherent in democratic argument is crucially important, and this lecture speculates on the current sta...

31 min
The Ends of Argumentation

24: The Ends of Argumentation

This lecture considers two meanings of the term "end." It re-examines, from Lecture 5, how controversies begin by studying the conditions under which they end, but most of the lecture concerns "end" in the sense of the larger purposes that are served by the process of argumentation. Argumentation helps achieve the goals of a democratic society by cultivating the skills of criti...

31 min