Claims


Claims are the starting point for both making and analyzing arguments. To get a hold of just what is being argued, we must first know what the claim iswhat point is being made. In a complex argument, there will be several claims, so we must first identify the central claim, or thesis. The "claim" is really a property metaphor applied to the practice of argument. When people stake a claim of land, for example, they are asserting that a portion of territory is, by right, now theirs. Of course, claims of land, like claims in argument, may be disputed. Just how, where, when and by whom that dispute is to be settled is a different matter, and is something we will consider a little bit more when we discuss stasis and kairos.

Claims are of four kinds:

  1. Fact
  2. Definition
  3. Value
  4. Policy

You will note, of course, that each claim relates, respectively, to the four stases: conjecture (fact), definition (definition), quality (value) and procedure (policy). In the link provided on the stasis page, you will see that the question of venue (is this the right jurisdiction?) is a very specific question of policy. We are free, however, to broaden the stasis of procedure to include all policy claims.

One way to identify a claim of policy is by the presence of an "ought" or "should." This is not to say, however, that only claims of policy employ this language. For example, a claim of definition may be stated as follows: "We should call abortion murder because it terminates human life for no justified reason." In this instance, a claim of policy is indeed being madewe should act by assigning this particular meaning to this action*but at the same time appealing to reasons for defining it in one way over another. This should illustrate that mere language will not always tell us that we are dealing with simply one claim. As our example shows, some claims may in fact be multiple: here, the claim is both definition and policy.

But this should also be observed: whenever we are arguing for a definition of an action, are we not at least implying that it should be so defined? Or when we examine evidence about whether an act occurred and judge that it did, are we not also implying that we should call it a fact? This gets at what we said earlier in this course, that, as Richard Weaver put it, "we have no sooner uttered words than we have given impulse to others to look at the world, or some small part of it, in our way." In saying that "language is sermonic," Weaver is saying that all utterances are persuasive. So, what is a claim of fact, or definition, or value, is also a claim of "should"at its core, every claim is persuasive.

You may have noted, too, that when I say that students should study argumentation (claim) because it will make them better thinkers and more effective arguers (evidence) that I have made a claim of policy. The warrant is one from commonplace, and that commonplace is that "most people wish to become better thinkers and more effective arguers."


*Theorists of rhetoric now believe that making a distinction between doing and talking isn't as useful as once held. How to Do Things with Words is the title of a famous, ground-breaking book by J. L. Austin, a linguistic philosopher. Michel Foucault, who among other things was interested in how different discourses actualize power relations in various institutions, noted how things happen when people in the proper roles say something in sanctioned waysand that they wouldn't happen otherwise.