A rulebook for arguments

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Citation: Anthony Weston (1987) A rulebook for arguments.

Tagged: Philosophy (RSS) argumentation (RSS), essay writing (RSS), logic (RSS), informal logic (RSS), books for teaching writing (RSS), rhetoric (RSS)


This short book is mainly intended as an introduction to argumentation for college English composition students but could be useful to anyone interested in honing their understanding of logic. Philosopher Anthony Weston provides 30 general rules for making short arguments in the first 60 pages of the book. The second part of the book covers composing an argumentative essay (exploring the issue, outlining main points, and finally writing the essay); 14 rules are provided in these 30 pages. The book concludes with a very useful 6-page glossary of fallacies and an appendix pointing to books for further study in each of the areas discussed.

Arguments from philosophy, literature, and politics are used as examples, and in several cases the same argument or topic is built on throughout the book.

Here are Weston's general rules, which are also presented in the table of contents for the book.

  1. Distinguish premise and conclusion
  2. Present your ideas in a natural order
  3. Start from reliable premises
  4. Use definite, specific, concrete language
  5. Play fair (i.e. don't use loaded language or define terms inappropriately)
  6. Use consistent terms
  7. Stick to one meaning for each term
  8. Is there more than one example?
  9. Are the examples representative?
  10. Background information is crucial
  11. Are there counterexamples?
  12. Analogy requires a relevantly similar example
  13. Sources should be cited
  14. Are the sources informed?
  15. Are the sources impartial?
  16. Cross-check sources
  17. Personal attacks do not disqualify a source
  18. Does the argument explain how cause leads to effect?
  19. Does the conclusion propose the most likely cuase?
  20. Correlated events are not necessarily related
  21. Correlated events may have a common cause
  22. Either of two correlated events may cause the other
  23. Causes may be complex
  24. Modus Ponens
  25. Modus Tollens
  26. Hypothetical Syllogism
  27. Disjunctive Syllogism
  28. Dilemma
  29. Reductio ad Absurdum
  30. Deductive arguments in several steps

Theoretical and practical relevance:

Well-designed for teaching argumentative writing, and especially intended as a self-study book. Popular enough to have had a second edition published in 1992.