Argument Mapping – A Tool For Improving Your Critical Thinking

Argument mapping is a way to visually show the logical structure of arguments, where “arguments constitute a body of evidence in relation to some proposition (an idea that is true or false)”. It does so by having the user break up an argument into its constituent claims, and use lines, boxes, colors and location to indicate the relationships between the various parts. Thus, a map is produced which illustrates why a particular conclusion was reached by clearly outlining its reasons and objections. The resulting argument map allows us to see exactly how each part of an argument is related to every other part.

Typically an argument map is a “box and arrow” diagram with boxes corresponding to propositions and arrows corresponding to relationships such as evidential support. Argument mapping is similar to other mapping activities such as mind mapping and concept mapping, but focuses on the logical, evidential or inferential relationships among propositions. Where images and topics are the main feature of associative connections in mind maps, and concepts are the main relationships in concept maps, inferences between whole propositions are the key feature of argument maps. Argument mapping is concerned with informal reasoning and “real world” argumentation and thus contrasts with the use of diagrammatic techniques in formal logic such as Venn diagrams.

Argument Mapping

Argument is a claim and reason(s) to believe that that claim is true. Arguments can have many claims, many reasons, many objections and rebuttals, but only one conclusion. Conclusion is the main point an argument is trying to prove, usually a belief, also called the position, the main claim, the issue at hand. Reason is the evidence given to support the conclusion. Objection is a ‘reason’ that a claim is false or an evidence against a claim and rebuttal is an objection to an objection.

Every argument is made up of one or more simple arguments. A simple argument is the building block of all arguments, consisting of one claim and one reason (with two or more co-premises). Co-premise is the subset of a reason. Every reason has at least two co-premises, and each of these co-premises must be true for the reason to support the claim. A complex argument has several simple arguments linked together,together, they form a debate.

Argument mapping involves clearly outlining a contention at the top of a map, followed by tiers of reasons and objections. Steps involved in argument mapping are;

  1. Begin with the contention – a statement of the issue under consideration. Write this in the top box. Formulate it carefully and precisely from the start.
  2. Add the top level first – reasons (green – for) and objections (red – against) that support or oppose the contention.
  3. Start at the top and work down in levels – add evidence to support (reasons – green) or oppose (objections – red) any statement on the map. Ensure you enter all the important arguments.

The main advantage argument mapping may have over other forms of mapping tools is that it focuses on a certain sub-class of relationships (i.e., logical inferences between propositions). It also puts limitations around the items being mapped. Some other notable advantages of argument mapping technique in business management are;

  • Reasoning process are clearly laid out, which allows managers to focus on questioning and thinking processes.
  • Managers can more easily recognize areas, which still need to be explored to justify a conclusion.
  • The layout of argument maps encourages managers understanding of critical thinking procedures.
  • Argument maps encourage a comprehensive understanding of managers thought processes and enables management to provide detailed and effective feedback.

A weakness of argument mapping is also its strength; argument mapping does not capture looser, more tangential relationships, e.g., cause and effect. This makes it a tool with a very precise purpose. Another disadvantage of argument mapping is that it can assume too much.

Argument mapping can be augmented with CAAM (Computer-Aided Argument Mapping) software programs that aid the mapping process. Use of CAAM software’s such as Araucaria, Athena and  Rationale, which help managers create and manipulate argument map diagrams. Argument mapping can be used in any discipline as every discipline deals with arguments.

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