Book Review: A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston
What’s the good of arguing? One possibility is that under the right conditions it gets us closer to the truth. What are the conditions required?
First, an open mind and a basic respect for the truth.
Second, the assumption that your partner has an open mind and a basic respect for the truth.
Third, the discussion should be based on reason. If it is based on emotion, then you just have two people expressing their feelings and no progress is made.
What is reason? This very small no-nonsense “rulebook” offers a great start.
Weston’s main purpose for the book was to allow a professor to expedite grading essays. Rather than offer a long-winded explanation, he can refer his students to “rule 19″ and they know that they have somehow overlooked or failed to address alternative explanations for a correlation. [I sure wish a teacher had given me a book like this!]
But there are other uses as well. You can simply browse it in a reflective spirit to determine if you make any of these mistakes in your daily life. Incident investigators and root cause analysts can use chapter 6 on deductive arguments, to enhance their reasoning. [PROACT analysts in particular, will find the disjunctive syllogism, rule 25, very very familiar.]
Or, if you decide that a productive conversation is no longer in your interest, you can simply use the new latin terms to agitate people. ["My dear brother-in-law: I'm afraid that your attempt at reductio ad absurdum suffers from an erroneous false dilemma."]
Okay, okay. That last paragraph was a joke. Sort of. [Gentle humor or subtle gamesmanship is usually more effective against a raving political philosopher at the dinner-table.]
Normally I would have “key concepts” and “useful features” here, but in this case, the only key concept is that arguments should be based on reason rather than emotion, and as a short reference work it serves as it’s own “useful feature.”
A Rulebook for Arguments is a succinct introduction to the art of writing and assessing arguments, organized around specific rules, each illustrated and explained soundly but briefly. This widely popular primer – translated into eight languages – remains the first choice in all disciplines for writers who seek straightforward guidance about how to assess arguments and how to cogently construct them.
The fourth edition offers a revamped and more tightly focused approach to extended arguments, a new chapter on oral arguments, and updated examples and topics throughout.
Table of Contents
Note to the Fourth Edition
Chapter 1: Short Arguments: Some General Rules
Chapter 2: Generalizations
Chapter 3: Arguments by Analogy
Chapter 4: Sources
Chapter 5: Arguments About Causes
Chapter 6: Deductive Arguments
Chapter 7: Extended Arguments
Chapter 8: Argumentative Essays
Chapter 9: Oral Arguments
Appendix 1: Some Common Fallacies
Appendix 2: Definitions