Argumentation Books I Can't Do Without

Chatting with a friend of mine online the other day and he asked me for my favorite argumentation\debate books. Thought I would list them here as well.

Here's the list I came up with:

The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation by Perelman and Olbrects-Tyteca

A masterwork, read it only 2 times all the way through because it is both massive and technical. Many of the examples don't resonate with modern American readers since they are all mid 20th century European social science or literary examples. And many of them are somewhat obscure even if you think you are pretty well-read.

The plus sides of the book far outweigh. Here is a comprehensive attempt to map in totality the common topoi of contemporary argument from a purely inductive basis. No discursive stone is left unturned - philosophy, courtrooms, literature, sociology, and more are examined for the presence of the new rhetorical forms.

If the book intimidates, check out Perelman's later book The Realm of Rhetoric for a boiled down approach to what is in the Treatise.

Uses of Argument by Stephen Toulmin

Essential, game-changing study for rhetoricians that study argumentation. For philosophers or others who study argument, the book is not so revolutionary. For people involved in academic debate or intercollegiate debate, the Toulmin model is almost not a model, but the right way that arguments are made.

More important of a contribution, I think, is the situatedness of argument that Tolumin suggests. The idea that argumentation is field dependent is a vital concept that places real importance on the method of argument over the truth of the argument. This allows for evaluation of argument away from tools from empirical science, or analytic philosophy.

Informal Logic by Douglas Walton

This is a nice treatment of the formal, validity-based discipline of logical reasoning in the terms of the Toulmin turn, or the turn toward the study of argument that has some resonance with the daily practice of argument. One critique that can be lodged at philosophers who study argumentation is that there's too much theory, not enough practice in their analysis. Not a lot of discussion of the daily practices of argument and the way people reason in and out of arguments all day long. This book bridges the gap between the situatedness study of rhetoricians and the theoretical structures of the philosophers interested in argument.

Rhetorical Argumentation by Christopher Tindale

A great attempt at looking through the eyes of argumentation studies at rhetoric, and then at argumentation studies through rhetoric's eyes. A wonderful read, very lucid, and with plenty of ideas for praxis between the two fields. The idea of argument as object in recent years, brought about by many field's attention to argumentation, finds some needed complication in the pages of this good book.


But these are scholarly treatments of argument! What about teaching it to debaters or potential debaters?

I always havethe Art of Deception by Capaldi hanging around. Great intro to formal reasoning, critical thinking, emotional appeals, formal fallacies, and causal reasoning. Cheap and easy to read with tons of examples and exercises. A fantastic book for anyone interested in improving his or her argumentative skill.

Also perhaps Argumentation Schemes by Walton might be good for teaching, but it's fairly technical and complex, and mostly for argument analysis. But there are some good ways in that book of breaking down arguments into structural forms or elements just to see how they work.