Title: The Uses of Argument
Author: Stephen E. Toulmin
Year: 1958 
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
I have been keeping Toulmin’s almost legendary model (I’m exaggerating, of course, but not that much) at a tantalizing distance, beamingly reviewing the first two introductory essays as if no deep waters were to follow. It is no secret however that this chapter (“The Layout of Argument”) is the chief if unheeded point of interest for someone delving into the birthplaces of argumentation theory. I will therefore undertake to a) explain and illustrate the model, b) clarify purpose of the model, c) expound the implications of the model as seen by Toulmin. I believe the first task is somewhat undemanding, the second – often mistaken, whereas the third one is demanding and often mistaken. Respectively, a brisk form of the questions I will try to answer as regards Toulmin’s endeavor is this: “1. What are we doing?” “2. Why are we doing this?” and “3. What happens once we’ve done it?”
In expanding the model of argument Toulmin keeps to the procedural view established in the first two essays, i.e., the “jurisprudential analogy” between ‘logical’ and ‘legal’ processes, both seen as appraisable on procedural criteria (if the procedure turns out well, the result is good). This clashes with the “geometrical” (standard) view of syllogistic logic, where arguments are appraised according to their “form” (note that the rules of syllogisms are nothing but prescriptions about form).
Toulmin starts from a basic three-steps model seen as follows: Step 1: we make an assertion, Step 2: we are being challenged to answer the question “What have you got to go on?”, Step 3: we answer the possible additional question “How do you got there?” (i.e. “How do you justify your step?”). At this point, the model corresponds neatly to a simple syllogism of the type: conclusion – (because) minor premise – (and) major premise. For purposes which will be made apparent in due course, the results of the first three steps are called: CLAIM – DATA – WARRANT.
Let us give our tedious example:
Of course, things are not that easy and from this point on two things may happen, namely Step 4: we could alter the bearing that the datum has on our claim by some QUALIFIERS (Q) - remember “probably” and “possibly” and “presumably” from the first two essays? – and that is because of the possibility of REBUTTALS may appear. And finally Step 5: the applicability of the Warrant itself could be called into question. When this happens, “Standing behind our warrants, as this example reminds us, there will normally be other assurances, without which the warrants themselves would posses neither authority nor currency—these other things we may refer to as the BACKING (B) of the warrants” (p. 96) The model would now look something like this:
Continuing our prosaic example:
OK. Now that the model is fully stretched out, that it’s components have been revealed and it’s procedural origins explained/contrasted with the simplicity of syllogistic forms, several questions come into one’s mind, of which one is of pressing importance:“What is this?!” Or, to be more accurate, “Except for a pedantic, if not excursive report of one simple argument, why all the effort?” The next point will try to clarify this question.
Although the massive apparatus of new elements (D, B, W, C etc.) might point out differently, the model is no fandango. It’s point was not even to ordain a scheme of analysis for any future argument one would encounter (though in some respects it ended up this way, taking Toulmin by surprise), but to elaborate a model of argument which could account for aspects for which the syllogism, with its inoperative stiffness, could not account. These aspects, as I will hope to show by following Toulmin’s construction, are significant in theoretical as well as practical usage of argument. I would put it this way: the ‘universal premise’ of the classic syllogisms fails to do stuff which in normal usage of argument (i.e. not in logic textbooks) must be done in order to understand what’s going on.
The major premise of the classic syllogism is unfruitfully ambiguous. Toulmin argues that the major premise “All A’s are B’s”, while being charmingly simple, conceals two distinct procedures: a warrant-using statement (An A will be taken to be a B) and a warrant-establishing statement [i.e. the backing on account of which we use the warrant, in this case left implicit] (The proportion of A’s that are B’s is 100%). It means that a syllogism could be interpreted both as a D, W, so C string, or as a D, B, so C one. In any case, since the “All A’s are B’s” could be construed both as a warrant and as a backing, calling it a premise (just as the minor one, the datum) is at least inexact. This may seem a pale, if not trifling distinction, but note that while the warrant-using statement makes the syllogism formally valid, the later does not! So,
2.2. formal validity cannot be the criterion
“if we substitute the backing for the warrant, i.e. interpret the universal premiss in the other way, there will no longer be any room for applying the idea of formal validity to our argument.” (p.111), the references present in the backing (for example, the idea of proportion, the percentage etc.) “distroy the formal elegance of the argument” (p. 114). Construed as D, B, so C, the syllogism is “far from a tautology” (i.e. formally valid). However,
2.3. substantial can be formally valid and analytic can be formally invalid
As an illustration we may take the following: Anne is one of Jack’s sisters; All Jack’s sisters have red hair; So, Anne has red hair. […] If each one of the girls has been checked individually to have red hair, then Anne’s hair-colour has been specifically checked in the process. In this case, accordingly, the backing of our warrant includes explicitly the information which we are presenting as our conclusion: indeed, one might very well replace the word ‘so’ before the conclusion by the phrase ‘in other words’, or ‘that is to say’ In such a case, to accept the datum and the backing is thereby to accept implicitly the conclusion also […] So, for once, not only the (D; W; so C) argument but also the (D; B; so C) argument can—it appears—be stated in a formally valid manner” (pp. 115-116)
And also, as we have seen in 2.1.:
an argument may be analytic, and yet not be expressed in a formally valid way: this is the case, for instance, when an analytic argument is written out with the backing of the warrant cited in place of the warrant itself
Ok, to sum up, The Point is this: adopting the backing/warrant distinction sheds light on a number of conundrums which the classic “All A’s are B’s” failed to observe (or resolved too evasively). These issues are important because, as we have seen in 2.1. – 2.3. offer an answer to questions like: “Is the universal premise categorical?”, “Is validity a criterion for all arguments?”, “Can analytic vs. substantial provide a better account?”, and others upon which I didn’t insist here. I’ll be gallant and let Toulmin draw The Point:
This vast initial over-simplification marks the traditional beginning of much in logical theory. Many of the current problems in the logical tradition spring from adopting the analytic paradigm-argument as a standard by comparison with which all other arguments can be criticised. But analyticity is one thing, formal validity is another; and neither of these is a universal criterion of necessity, still less of the soundness of our arguments.
The next post will deal with the third question: “What happens once we’ve done this?”
 In language form, it would sound like this: in support of the claim (C) that John must pay, we appeal to the datum (D) that he went over the speed limit, and the warrant can then be stated in the form, ‘A man speeding over limit is indictable with a fine’: since, however, questions of restrictions are always subject to qualifications and conditions, we shall have to insert a qualifying ‘presumably’ (Q) in front of the conclusion, and note the possiblity that our conclusion may be rebutted in case (R) it turns out that John is the authorized driver of an ambulance. Finally, in case the warrant itself is challenged, its backing can be put in: legal provisions governing the situation John put himself in.