About Argument Mapping

What is argument mapping?

Argument mapping is a visual method of displaying how reasons work to support a claim. A map exposes the hidden structure of the argument so that everyone can see how all the reasons fit together. You can map objections to any premise, so you can see exactly where two people disagree. The process of mapping also exposes hidden assumptions (a.k.a. implicit co-premises), which are often the true source of disagreement. (You know when it feels like people are just talking past each other?)  

Why are arguments so important?
Here are some practical reasons:
Here is a philosophical reason: 
 
Human beings are always going to disagree with each other. We can either resolve these disagreements with violence or with words. When we choose to fight, we get injustice. When we choose to argue, we can listen charitably to each other’s claims, and try to persuade each other by giving each reasons and evidence. This is hard work, but it’s the best tool we have as a species. Democracy is built on arguments.
How does argument mapping improve students' reasoning skills?
  1. When students collaborate on mapping exercises, they’re energetic and focused. The process of talking about how specific reasons work to justify a claim is naturally engaging. Students own the vocabulary of arguments when they talk to each other about the best way to map a text.
  2. Our mapping exercises engage students in deliberate practice with targeted feedback. A growing body of educational research shows that both of these elements (practice and feedback) are critical for building skills in any domain. 
  3. The point isn’t to solve the puzzle correctly, it’s to think about how the reasons work together to support a claim, so you can explain to yourself and others exactly how the reasoning works. With argument mapping, it really is all about the process!
What arguments do students map - theirs or someone else’s?

Both! 

Students start building their skills by mapping other people’s arguments. This allows them to focus on how the reasons work together to support a claim – setting aside their personal biases and opinions. They can focus on the reasoning itself, rather than winning the argument. In order to accurately map someone else’s argument, they have to consider how the author themself would have mapped it. This instills a habit of intellectual charity that allows for more enjoyable and more useful discussions.

Students learn to critically evaluate an argument on its own terms, rather than simply endorsing or dismissing it based on their feelings or prior experience. Are the premises true? How strongly do they support the claim? 

After students have learned to map other people’s arguments, they have the vocabulary and the skills to craft their own arguments with precision and rigor, thereby doing justice to their fantastic ideas!

So are students supposed to walk around mapping arguments?

Not exactly. Our goal isn’t that students walk around mapping arguments, but that they develop the attitudes and habits of a critical thinker. We help students engage the arguments coming at them more rigorously and precisely, as well as to craft and communicate their own arguments. It’s the process and the practice of mapping that helps you understand how someone else thinks about an issue, and decide where you should stand on it.