About Argument Mapping

What is argument mapping?
Argument mapping is a visual method of displaying the relationship between what someone is trying to convince someone of and the reasons they offer in support of it. You can map objections to any part of the reasoning right on to the map, so you can see exactly where two people disagree. A map exposes the hidden structure of the argument so that everyone can see how all the reasons fit together. The process of mapping also exposes hidden assumptions, which are often the true source of disagreement between people.
Why reasoning skills?
i. Many problems in political discourse can be solved, or at least strides toward a solution can be made, when people think more explicitly about reasons. Reason-based deliberation is vital to the functioning of a healthy democracy.

1. Does the US have a moral duty to offer asylum to more international refugees? What is the basis of such a duty?

2. Why might a government escalate a trade war? What are the economic and social implications of issuing tariffs?

3. Should pro athletes be compelled to stand for the national anthem? Who gets to determine the meaning of such a gesture?

4. Should a baker be allowed to refuse to create a wedding cake for a gay couple? How can we weigh religious freedom against the need to prevent discrimination?

5. Should the government regulate how Facebook handles its users’ data? Can users voluntarily give up their right to privacy by accepting user agreements?

ii. Asking questions like this and being able to see how others answer them allows students to see exactly where they and the other person are not on the same page. This might mean the student realizes they were missing a major point. It might also mean that the student now knows where to focus on for convincing the other person. Sometimes it might make the discussion less frustrating and other times it might make clear a solution. All of this requires students to be able to think about reasons directly.

So how is a diagram going to improve reasoning skills?
  1. The point isn’t to solve the puzzle correctly (although students do enjoy working through our puzzle exercises!), it’s to think about why you’re placing any reason in the spot you are. It’s to be able to explain to yourself and others why you mapped the argument a certain way. With argument mapping, it really is all about the journey!
  2. Our mapping exercises engage students in deliberate practice with targeted and timely feedback. Research shows that both of these elements (deliberate practice and targeted feedback) are critical for building skills in any domain, from basketball to piano to coding.
  3. 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. They are forced to own the vocabulary of arguments when they have to talk to each other about the best way to map a text.
What arguments do students map? Theirs? Someone else’s?
i. They can do either.

ii. Students build the skills by mapping other people’s arguments for two reasons.

1. First, this exercise 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 learning how reasons interact rather than winning the argument. Further, in order to best map someone else’s argument, they have to consider how the author themself would have mapped it. This rigorous “listening” instills a sense of intellectual charity that allows for healthier and more productive arguments.

2. Second, this type of activity helps 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. How strongly do the reasons support the claim? Are the premises true? iii. After they’ve mapped other people’s arguments, they’re able to think about reasons and arguments with the right vocabulary and skills to craft their own.

Why argument mapping? Are students going to walk around mapping arguments?
i. We’ve seen that by focusing explicitly on fine-tuning reasoning skills through constant practice, we can help students to process and put forth their own arguments. It’s the process itself that is useful to better understanding how someone else thinks about the argument, and where you yourself should focus on. The goal for TA isn’t that students walk around mapping arguments, but that argument mapping develops in the students the right attitudes, practices, and habits of mind, so that when they encounter arguments, students are able to think about them in more precise, productive ways.