The concept of the warrant in analyzing arguments was developed by the philosopher Stephen Toulmin. Toulmin conducted wide-ranging inquiries into ethics, science and moral reasoning. Warrants are essential in making an argument, whether the argument is in writing or part of a speech or debate.
What a Warrant Is
The book “The Craft of Research” defines a warrant as “a statement that connects a reason to a claim.” In other words, if someone makes a claim, he should have valid reasons -- or sufficient data -- to support that claim. The reason needs to have relevance to the claim. If the relevance of the reason, or warrant, is not well accepted, then there is room for disagreement as to the reasoning for the claim.
Why Warrants Are Important
Warrants determine whether the stated reasons support a given claim. Making claims is a practice done in situations that vary from everyday conversations to academic research papers. A warrant can be explicit or implicit. An explicit warrant is one that is stated; an implicit warrant is one that is unstated. You often see unstated warrants in commercials. If a commercial makes a claim that its product will improve your life in a certain way, it is assumed that you have bought into the underlying, unstated assumption that you want your life improved in that way. This is common in advertising, whether the product is a health or beauty product or another product. The product makes a claim and has data to back up that claim. An explicit or stated warrant differs in that stating the warrant is critical to the argument. Commercials employ this method frequently, as well. Do you want X, Y and Z to happen? Or, do you want to prevent A, B and C from happening? It is critical to the argument to establish this, because the claim the product makes and the data that supports the claim rests on the assumption that the customer wants the end result that the product claims will happen.
How to Identify a Warrant
Identifying a warrant in an argument is not always easy. Often, warrants are not stated, but implied. A warrant is generally stated only when the person making the argument anticipates that it may not be accepted. Therefore, examining the reasoning behind a claim is sometimes the only way to identify a warrant.
Assumptions vs. Warrants
All ways of approaching an argument involve warrants. Using the terms warrant and assumption interchangeably is a common practice. Both refer to the level of acceptability of the reasoning behind a claim that is supporting an argument.
Misconceptions of Warrants
Warrants considered valid may differ from person to person, culture to culture and even from generation to generation. The idea that a warrant is always either valid or invalid is not true. While most people in some cultures may agree with the claim that bullfighting is wrong because of inhumane treatment of the bull, the underlying warrant is not widely valid in other cultures.
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