How to Refute an Argument

You may or may not know that I have been coaching a group of (mostly) new Lincoln Douglas debaters in our newly formed speech & debate club. Side Note– This activity is one of the best you can get your kids involved in. They learn how to research, communicate, recognize good arguments and bad ones, and how to disagree without hating the person they disagree with. Find a club, join it.

One of the things we are working on is refutations. To refute an argument you have to look at its parts and point out the weaknesses. I think this process can be massively helpful in the world.

An argument, if well constructed, will have 3 parts: Claim, warrant and impact.

  1. Claim- It’s a declaration. It frames the rest of the argument, and helps shape the overall discussion. There’s normally an assertion tied to a subject.
  2. Warrant- This is the reason we should accept the claim. It’s evidence, logic, inference. 
  3. Impact- This is why it’s important. 

An argument should have all 3 of these present, though some could be implied.
To refute an argument you must find weaknesses in the parts.

You can attack a claim. Maybe the claim doesn’t apply to the overall discussion. Maybe it’s just a statement by itself, without a warrant. Does the assertion relate to the subject of the claim?

You often find the most meat for refutation when examining the warrant. What is the reasoning, is it sound? If there is evidence- is it solid, is the interpretation sound, is there contradicting evidence? Does the reasoning apply to the claim? 

You can attack the impact. Does the argument outweigh others? How much of a difference does this argument make to the issue? An argument may be true, but outweighed by other factors, which are also true. 

As you are reading things on the internet, listening to media, talking with your friends and neighbors, the more you practice thinking about arguments critically, the more quickly you can discern what’s true and what’s less than true.