Evidence & illustrate

1 May

The last part of a SEXI argument is the illustration, or better said the evidence supporting your EXplanation. Here too time limits what you can do. The idea here is not to try to be too scientific, but to try to be convincing, or as scientific as possible given the time constraints.

There are a couple of sources of evidence you can use:

Inductive evidence:

  • Examples
  • Statistics
  • Analogy (example of a different situation that shows parallels to the one you’re trying to evidence)

Deductive evidence:

  • Theories

Evidence from authority:

  • Expert opinion
  • Expert sources with certain opinions or facts

The above list is pretty much self-explanatory, but a couple of things could use some additional explanation. Why is an example so powerful you might think. The reason is that although a single example is hardly scientific evidence, it nevertheless shows you that your EXplanation does occur in real life. At the same time the example also gives a more descriptive illustration, contrary to for example statistics which are simply dry numbers. So psychologically an example, or more examples, that illustrate your EXplanation can be very powerful. To see examples at work, look at just any business book, or self-help book and see them at work. Every theory, or argument, is always followed by a vivid example of a company or person that became successful by adhering to that theory. It makes the theory more real, more tangible, than if you would just present dry numbers and facts and that is the power of examples.

An analogy is, as described, an example of a different situation that shows parallels to the one you’re trying to evidence. For example, suppose you’re trying to support the argument that decriminalization of cannabis will decrease crime. You’re having trouble finding examples or statistics that support that fact, so you look at parallel cases. One favorite analogy is then the abolishment of the prohibition on alcohol in the USA and the resulting decline in crime it had. It has the same mechanism, or EXplanation, as with cannabis, being that a popular/social accepted substance that is banned leads to a high demand for it in the illegal circuits, resulting in a rise in crime. If it is subsequently decriminalized, then crime will drop as legal alternatives will become more popular. Obviously this parallel has its flaws and this is the danger of an analogy, for the opposition will try to show that the differences make the analogy useless as evidence. But nevertheless if you’re lacking in powerful examples to support your case, because it is a new plan that hasn’t been implemented anywhere for example, then analogies are very useful.

If we look at deductive evidence, theories, than what is meant is that we use the scientific evidencing someone else has done and use it as a short cut to support our argument. The difficulty is that it only works if your audience is familiar with your theory and accepts it, or if you’re able to explain the essence of it in a very short time frame. This is often a problem in debates. One popular line of moral argumentation uses the theory of justice by John Rawls, specifically the concept of the ‘veil of ignorance‘ to support certain fairness arguments. In university debating this concept is often well understood by the jury, but outside that context it is often hard to explain given limited time. So although useful, use this type of evidence with care

Evidence from authority can also be useful when needing to support arguments, because you use the reputation and work done by that person, without having to go into detail. Again this saves valuable time. Crucial here is that the authority is accepted by your audience as an authority and that the expert opinion is based on some kind of scientific research, or life long experience. Using a famous movie star as evidence, might work for commercials, but hardly ever for debates. Also make sure your authority is accepted as unbiased by your audience.

Next post will delve deeper into how to present your evidence and whether it makes sense to lie about your evidence.

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