Daniel T. Richards

Daniel T. Richards

Digital Strategist & Rhetorician

An Introduction to Argument

Valid but not sound!No Candy Crush coating: Arguing is hard.

I don’t mean shouting down your opponent until he relents. I don’t mean repeating the same discredited point over and over again. I don’t mean name-calling or bringing up irrelevant facts. That’s what we accept as argument these days (especially on the Internet), but it’s all #ArgumentJunk.

Let’s define our terms.

Holding a gun to someone’s head and commanding them to empty their wallet is not an argument. Blackmailing someone is not an argument. Hypnotizing someone is not an argument. The use of force is never an argument.

A picture by itself is not an argument. Stats by themselves are not arguments. Emotions and feelings are not arguments. Disintegrated data are not arguments.

Telling your child to sit down is not an argument. A Biblical commandment is not an argument. An order from a drill sergeant is not an argument. Unsupported assertions are not arguments.

So what the heck is an argument?

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The 5 Canons of Rhetoric (Boom)

Peanut butter and jelly. Gin and tonic. Talking heads and online videos. Some things are just made for each other. Other things…not so much. And unfortunately two things that don’t often correspond are well-constructed arguments and YouTube.

We’ve lost our culture of rhetoric—that is, we’ve lost the ability to reason well and eloquently. YouTube ranters are particularly heinous offenders, taking to the medium in droves with long-winded diatribes, semi-coherent arguments, and a penchant for personal attacks. There’s a lot of #ArgumentJunk. Stuff that mimics an argument but doesn’t really count.

Luckily this guy named Cicero developed a method for constructing arguments in 55 B.C. No one has topped him since, IMHO. So before you make your next YouTube video, consider these five steps (or “canons“) to build your argument:

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