The Skills of Argument - How to Argue and Win - LW589

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
Canterbury Autumn
View Timetable
6 15 (7.5) DR SJ Pethick







Argument occurs across the full spectrum of human interaction - in pubs, at home, in seminar classes, and in professional contexts such as those provided by law, science and medicine. However, despite the importance allotted to argument and the desire of those engaged in arguments to win them, little systematic attention is given to the nature of argument and the practical skills required to argue successfully, even though this information is readily available. The ambition of the module is to equip students with this knowledge base and skills, thereby enabling them to enter into argument more confidently and with a greater prospect of success. The module divides into three parts, the first being a very brief historical and theoretical contextualisation of the topic. The second part of the module treats argument and arguing formally, by mapping the standard forms of argument and by developing the skill of picking out a bad argument from a good one, and by showing how to spot the set of common but typically unnoticed mistakes in one’s own argument or in those of others. The third part of the module turns to the skills of rhetoric and persuasion, including examination of the ploys that are often used to give bad or weak arguments persuasive force. The themes of the module are illustrated throughout using real examples from law and elsewhere.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

10 hours Lectures; 10 hours Seminars (approximately)

Method of assessment

100% examination (consisting of a critical analysis of one from a set of short unseen arguments provided on the examination paper and a written argument on a topic distributed in advance).

Preliminary reading

J Bickenbach and J Davies Good Reasons for Better Arguments (Broadview, 1997)
I Copi and C Cohen Introduction to Logic 13th ed. (Prentice Hall, 2008)
S Mills Discourse 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2003)
A C Grayling The Art of Always Being Right – Thirty-eight Ways to Win when You Are Defeated (Gibson Square, 2005).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

Students who complete the module successfully will have the ability to:
• demonstrate an understanding of the historical, sociological and political contexts for the use of argument and arguing.
• demonstrate an understanding of the concepts and principles at issue in contemporary approaches to argument, including the use of deductive and inductive reasoning, analogy, coherence and cogency, the use of authority, and modes and devices of rhetoric and persuasion.
• identify argument and distinguish it from other modes of interaction.
• analyse critically both simple and complex arguments.
• rank arguments in relation to weakness and strength in relation to a range of formal and critical criteria.
• present sustained and persuasive argument in writing.
• Be able to present sound argument with persuasive force.
• Be able to present weak argument with persuasive force.
• Be able to argue persuasively within given social, cultural or institutional parameters.
• Have the ability to engage in reasoned and informed discussion on the major themes treated on the module.

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