The Making of Arguments
J. H. Gardiner

Part 4 out of 5



49. The Brief and the Argument. If your brief is thoroughly worked
out, and based on a careful canvass of the evidence, the work on your
argument ought to be at least two thirds over. The last third, however,
is not to be slighted, for on it will largely depend your practical
results in moving your readers. Even a legal argument rarely goes to the
court on a written brief alone; and the average reader will never put
himself to the effort of reading through and grasping such a brief as we
have been planning here. Furthermore, if your complete argument is
merely a copying out of the brief into consecutive sentences and
paragraphs, you will get few readers. The making of the brief merely
completes what may be called the architectural part of your labors; the
writing of an argument will use all the skill you have in the choice of
words and putting them together.

We saw in Chapter I that argument has two kinds of appeal to its reader:
on the one hand, through its power of convincing it appeals to his
reason; on the other, through its persuasive power it appeals to his
feelings and his moral and practical interests. Of these two kinds of
appeal the convincing power is largely determined by the thoroughness of
the analysis and the efficiency of the arrangement, and therefore in
large part hangs on the work done in making the brief; the persuasive
power, on the other hand, though in part dependent on the line of
attack laid out in the brief and the choice of points to argue, is far
more dependent on the filling in of the argument in the finished form.
Even the severest scientific argument, however, is much more than the
bare summary of the line of thought which would be found in a brief; and
in an argument like the speeches in most political campaigns a brief of
the thought would leave out most of the argument. Wherever you have to
stir men up to do things you have only begun when you have convinced
their reason.

50. The Introduction of the Argument. Much depends on the first
part of your argument, the introduction. Its length varies greatly, and
it may differ largely in other ways from the introduction to your brief.
If the people you are trying to convince are familiar with the subject,
you will need little introduction; a brief but clear statement of
fundamentals will serve the purpose. For such an audience it is chiefly
important to make the issues stand out, so that they shall see perfectly
distinctly the exact points on which the question turns. Then the sooner
you are at work on the business of convincing them, the better. In such
arguments the introduction will perhaps not differ greatly in substance
from the introduction to the brief, though it must be reduced to
consecutive and agreeable form. At the other extreme is such an argument
as that of Huxley's (p. 233), where he had to prepare the way very
carefully lest the prejudice against a revolutionary and unfamiliar view
of the animate world should close the minds of his hearers against him
before he was really started. Accordingly, before getting through with
his introduction he expounded not only the three hypotheses between
which the choice must be made, but also the law of the uniformity of
nature and the principles and nature of circumstantial evidence. Where
one shall stop between these two extremes is a question to be decided in
the individual argument.

One thing, however, it is almost always wise to do; indeed, one would
not go far wrong in prescribing it as a general rule: that is, to state
with almost bald explicitness just how many main issues there are, and
what they are. In writing an argument it is always safe to assume that
most of your readers will be careless readers. Few people have the gift
of reading closely and accurately, and of carrying what they have read
with any distinctness. Therefore make it easy for your readers to pick
up and to carry your points. If you tell them that you are going to make
three points or five, they are much more likely to remember those three
or five points than if they have to pick them out for themselves as they
go along. Huxley, perhaps the ablest writer of scientific argument in
the language, constantly practiced this device. In his great argument on
evolution, he says (see p. 235): "So far as I know, there are only three
hypotheses which ever have been entertained, or which well can be
entertained, respecting the past history of nature"; and then, as will
be seen, he takes up each in turn, with the numbering "first," "second,"
and "third." In the same way in his essay "The Physical Basis of Life"
he says, not far from the beginning, "I propose to demonstrate to you
that, notwithstanding these apparent difficulties, a threefold
unity--namely, a unity of power or faculty, a unity of form, and a unity
of substantial composition--does pervade the whole living world." Burke,
in his great speech "On Conciliation with America," said, "The capital
leading questions on which you must this day decide are two: first,
whether you ought to concede; and secondly, what your concession ought
to be."

It is hardly too much to say that those writers whose sense of style is
most developed are most likely to state the issues with the baldest and
most direct precision.

The statement of the issues will bring out the importance of closely
limiting the number of main issues. There are few subjects of argument
which do not conceivably touch the interests and beliefs of their
audiences in many directions; but out of these aspects some obviously
count far more than others. If in your introduction you try to state all
these issues, small and great, you will surely leave confusion behind
you. Very few people are capable of carrying more than three or four
issues distinctly enough to affect their judgment of the whole case; and
even of these some will not take the trouble to do so. If you can simmer
down the case to one or two or three critical points, you are making a
good start toward winning over the minds of your readers.

A good statement of the history of the case is apt to be a useful and
valuable part of an introduction, especially for arguments dealing with
public policies. If you remind readers of what the facts have been, you
can more easily make clear to them the present situation from which you
make your start. An argument for raising or lowering the tariff on some
article would be apt to recount the history of the tariff so far as it
concerned that article, and the progress in importing it and
manufacturing it within the country. In writing out the argument from
the brief on page 90 one would almost inevitably include the recent
history of the city government.

In general it is best to make this preliminary statement of the history
of the case scrupulously and explicitly impartial. An audience is likely
to resent any appearance of twisting the facts to suit the case; and if
on their face they bear against your contentions, it is wiser to
prepare for your argument in some other way. There are more ways of
beginning an argument than by a statement of facts; and resource in the
presentation of a case goes a long way toward winning it.

It is often wise to state your definitions with care, especially of
terms which are at the bottom of your whole case. The definition from
Bagchot on page 58 is a good example. Here is the beginning of an
address by President Eliot, in 1896, on "A Wider Range of Electives in
College Admission Requirements":

As usual, it is necessary to define the subject a little. "A wider range
of electives in college admission requirements." What field are we
thinking of when we state this subject? If we mean the United States,
the range of electives is already very large. Take, for example, the
requirements for admission to the Leland Stanford University. Twenty
subjects are named, of very different character and extent, and the
candidate may present any ten out of the twenty. Botany counts just as
much as Latin. There is a wide range of options at admission to the
University of Michigan, with its numerous courses leading to numerous
degrees; that is, there is a wide range of subjects permissible to a
candidate who is thinking of presenting himself for some one of its many
degrees. If we look nearer home, we find in so conservative an
institution as Dartmouth College that there are three different degrees
offered, with three different assortments of admission requirements, and
three different courses within the college. I noticed that at the last
commencement there were forty-one degrees of the old-fashioned sort and
twenty-seven degrees of the newer sorts given by Dartmouth College. Here
in Harvard we have had for many years a considerable range of electives
in the admission examinations, particularly in what we call the advanced
requirements. We therefore need to limit our subject a little by saying
that we are thinking of a wider range of admission electives in the
Eastern and Middle State colleges, the range of electives farther west
being already large in many cases.[54]

Professor William James, in his essay "The Will to Believe," in which he
argues that it is both right and unavoidable that our feelings shall
take part in the making of our faiths, begins with a careful definition
and illustration of certain terms he is going to use constantly.

Next, let us call the decision between two hypotheses an option. Options
may be of several kinds. They may be (1) _living_ or _dead_; (2) _forced_
or _avoidable_; (3) _momentous_ or _trivial_; and for our purposes we
may call an option a _genuine_ option when it is of the forced, living,
and momentous kind.

1. A living option is one in which both hypotheses are live ones. If I
say to you, "Be a theosophist or be a Mohammedan," it is probably a dead
option, because for you neither hypothesis is likely to be alive. But if
I say, "Be an agnostic or be a Christian," it is otherwise: trained as
you are, each hypothesis makes some appeal, however small, to your

2. Next, if I say to you, "Choose between going out with your umbrella
or without it," I do not offer you a genuine option, for it is not
forced. You can easily avoid it by not going out at all. Similarly, if I
say: "Either love me or hate me," "Either call my theory true or call it
false," your option is avoidable. You may remain indifferent to me,
neither loving nor hating, and you may decline to offer any judgment as
to my theory. But if I say, "Either accept this truth or go without it,"
I put you on a forced option, for there is no standing place outside of
the alternative. Every dilemma based on a complete logical disjunction,
with no possibility of not choosing, is an option of this forced kind.

3. Finally, if I were Dr. Nansen and proposed to you to join my North
Pole expedition, your option would be momentous; for this would probably
be your only similar opportunity, and your choice now would either
exclude you from the North Pole sort of immortality altogether or put at
least the chance of it into your hands. He who refuses to embrace a
unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he tried and failed.
_Per contra_ the option is trivial when the opportunity is not unique,
when the stake is insignificant, or when the decision is reversible if
it later prove unwise. Such trivial options abound in the scientific
life. A chemist finds an hypothesis live enough to spend a year in its
verification: he believes in it to that extent. But if his experiments
prove inconclusive either way, he is quit for his loss of time, no vital
harm being done.

It will facilitate our discussion if we keep all these distinctions well
in mind.[55]

In some arguments the working out of the definitions of a few principal
terms may occupy much space. Matthew Arnold, a famous critic of the last
generation, wrote as an introduction to a volume of selections from
Wordsworth's poems an essay with the thesis that Wordsworth is, after
Shakespeare and Milton, the greatest poet who has written in English;
and to establish his point he laid down the definition that "poetry is
at bottom a criticism of life; that the greatness of a poet lies in his
powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life--to the question,
How to live." To the development of this definition he gave several
pages, for the success of his main argument lay in inducing his readers
to accept it.

Many legal arguments are wholly concerned with establishing definitions,
especially in those cases which deal with statute law. The recent
decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Corporation
Tax cases and the Standard Oil Case are examples: in each of these what
was at issue was the exact meaning of the words used in certain statutes
passed by Congress. In the common law, too, there are many phrases which
have come down from past centuries, the meanings of which have been
defined again and again as new cases came up. We have seen (p. 63) how
careful definition the word "murder" may need. "Malice aforethought" is
another familiar instance: it sounds simple, but when one begins to fix
the limits at which sudden anger passes over into cool and deliberate
enmity, or how far gone a man must be in drink before he loses the
consciousness of his purposes, even a layman can see that it has

In such cases as these a dictionary definition would be merely a
starting point. It may be a very useful starting point, however, as in
the following extract from an article by Mr. E.P. Ripley, president of
the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company, on "The Railroads
and the People":

There is one point regarding this matter that many forget: this is that
in all affairs there are two kinds of discrimination. There is the kind,
which, as the dictionary expresses it, "sets apart as being different,"
which "distinguishes accurately," and there is the widely different kind
which "treats unequally." in all ordinary affairs of life we condemn as
"undiscriminating" those who have so little judgment or fairness as not
to "distinguish accurately" or "set apart things that are
different"--who either treat equally things that are unequal, or treat
unequally things that are equal. Now, when the railway traffic manager
"sets apart things that are different," and treats them differently, he
simply does what it is the duty of every one to do.[56]

Then he goes on to develop this definition by showing the facts on which
it has to bear.

On the other hand do not bore your readers with dictionary definitions
of words whose meaning no one doubts; that is a waste of good paper for
you, and of good time for them; and we have seen in Chapter II the
futility of the dictionary for cases in which there is real disagreement
over the meaning of a word.

It will be seen, then, that the analysis you have made in preparation
for the brief may spread out large or small in the argument itself. It
is wise, therefore, to look on the work done for the introduction to the
brief as work done largely to clear up your own thought on the subject;
when you come to writing out the argument itself, you can go back to the
introduction to the brief, and see how much space you are now going to
give it.

In a college or school argument you will usually follow it rather
closely; and you do well to do so, for you will thus fix in your mind a
useful model. But when you get out into the world, you will have to
consider in each case the needs and prepossessions of the particular
audience. Here as everywhere in the argument you must exercise judgment;
there is no formula which will fit all cases. The scheme of analysis of
the case which has been expounded in Chapter II has stood the test as
the best means yet found of exploring a subject and insuring clarity of
thought and certainty of attack;[57] but I know of no single fixed scheme
for the argument itself which will not be racked apart by the first half
dozen practical arguments you apply it to.

51. The Body of the Argument. In the main body of the argument the
difference from the brief will be largely a matter of expansion: the
brief indicates the evidence, the argument states it at length. Here
again you cut your argument to fit your audience and the space at your
command. In an argument in the editorial of a newspaper, which is rarely
longer than a long college theme, there is little space for the
statement of evidence. In Webster's argument in the White Murder Case,
which has some thirteen thousand words and which must have taken two
hours or more to deliver, the facts are studied in minute detail. Most
people are surprised to see the way in which a full statement of
evidence eats up space; if the facts are at all complicated, they must
be analyzed and expounded one by one and their bearing on the case laid
out in full. This necessity of using space in order to make facts clear
is the reason why it is so hard to find adequate and convincing
arguments which will print in less than fifteen or twenty pages. The
trouble with a swift and compact argument like that of Macaulay's on the
authorship of the _Junius Letters_ (see p. 155) is that unless you have
gone into the question for yourself, you do not know whether to accept
the stated facts or not. If you do accept them, the conclusion is
inevitable; but if you happen to know that scholars have long held the
decision doubtful, you want to know more about the facts in detail
before surrendering to Macaulay's conclusion. For an average reader
to-day, who knows little of the facts, this argument would have to be
greatly expanded.

In this expansion comes the chance for all the skill in exposition that
you can muster, and for that subtle appeal to your readers' feelings
which lies in vividness and precision of phrasing, considerations with
which I will deal separately further on. Questions of proportion of
space we may consider here.

The only rule that can be laid down for the distribution of your space
is to use your sagacity, and all your knowledge of your subject and of
your audience. In a written argument you have the advantage that you can
let your pen run on your first draft, and then go back and weigh the
comparative force of the different parts of the argument, and cut out
and cut down until your best points for the purpose have the most space.
In a debate the same end is gained by rehearsals of the main speeches;
in the rebuttal, which is best when it is spontaneous, you have to trust
to the judgment gained by practice.

Other things being equal, however, brevity carries an audience. If you
can sum up your case in half the time that it takes the other side to
state theirs, the chances are that your audience will think you have the
right of it. Above all, beware of boring your readers by too exhaustive
explanation of details or of aspects of the case which they care nothing
about. I suppose there is no one of us who has not a worthy friend or
two who will talk through a whole evening on whether a lawn should be
watered in the evening or the early morning, or whether the eighth hole
on the golf course should not be fifty yards longer. One must not be
like the man who in the discussion of bimetallism a few years ago used
to keep his wife awake at night expounding to her the iniquities and
inequalities of a single standard. It is safer to underestimate than to
overestimate the endurance and patience of your audience.

52. The Refutation. The place of the refutation will, as we have
seen in the chapter on planning (see p. 82), vary greatly with the
argument and with the audience. Its purpose is to put out of the way as
effectively as possible the main points urged by the other side. In an
argument of fact this is done both by exposing weak places in the
reasoning and by throwing doubt on the facts cited, either through proof
that they are contradicted by better evidence, or that the evidence
brought forward to establish them is shaky or inconclusive. In an
argument of policy the points on the other side are met either by
throwing doubt on the facts on which they rest, or by showing that the
points themselves have not coercive force.

Where there are really strong points on the other side, in either kind
of argument, it is often sound policy to admit their strength. This is
especially true in arguments of policy where the advantages are closely
balanced. If you are trying to convince a boy that he should go to your
college rather than to another, you do not gain anything by telling him
that the other college is no good; if he is worth gaining over he will
know better than that. And in general if you have given a man to
understand that there is nothing to be said for the other side, and he
afterwards finds that there are strong grounds for it, your argument
will have a fall in his estimation.

In the manner of your refutation lean towards the side of soberness and
courtesy. It has been said that the poorest use you can put a man to is
to refute him; and it is certain that in the give and take of argument
in active life the personal victories and defeats are what are soonest
forgotten. If after a while you have to establish a fact in history or
in biology, or to get a verdict from a jury or a favorable report from
the committee of a legislature, you will think a good deal more about
the arguments of your opponents than about them personally. There are
few arguments in which you can afford to take no notice of the strong
points of the other side; and where the burden of proof is strongly with
you, your own argument may be almost wholly refutation; but it is
always worth bearing in mind that if it is worth while for you to be
arguing at all, there is something, and something of serious weight, to
be said on the other side.

53. The Conclusion. The conclusion of your argument should be short
and pointed. Gather the main issues together, and restate them in terms
that will be easy to remember. Mere repetition of the points as you made
them in your introduction may sound too much like lack of resource; on
the other hand, it helps to make your points familiar, and to drive them
home. In any event make your contentions easy to remember. Most of us go
a long way towards settling our own minds on a puzzling question when we
repeat to some one else arguments that we have read or heard. If you can
so sum up your argument that your readers will go off and unconsciously
retail your points to their neighbors, you probably have them. On the
other hand, when you have finished your argument, if you start in to
hedge and modify and go back to points that have not had enough emphasis
before, you throw away all you have gained. In arguing nothing succeeds
like decision and certainty of utterance. Even dogmatism is better than
an appearance of wabbling. It is the men like Macaulay, who see
everything black and white with no shades between, who are the leaders
of the world's opinion. Sum up, then, wherever it is decent to do so, as
if there were only one side of the case, and that could be stated in
three lines.

54. The Power of Convincing. The convincing power of an argument
depends on its appeal to the reason of its readers. To put the same fact
in another way, an argument has convincing power when it can fit the
facts which it deals with smoothly and intelligently into the rest of
the reader's experience. If an argument on a complicated mass of facts,
such as the evidence in a long murder case, makes the reader say, "Yes,
now I see how it all happened," or an argument for the direct election
of United States senators makes him say, "Yes, that is a plain working
out of the fundamental principles of popular government," then he is
convinced. In this aspect argument merges into exposition. It is
significant that, as has already been noted, Matthew Arnold's argument
that Wordsworth is the greatest English poet after Shakespeare and
Milton, and Huxley's argument that the physical basis of animal and
plant life is the same, are both used in a book of examples of
exposition.[58] The essential difference between argument and exposition
from this point of view lies in the emphasis: normally an explanation
covers the whole case evenly; an argument throws certain parts and
aspects of the case into relief.

If, therefore, to be convincing, your argument must provide a reasonable
explanation of the whole state of affairs to which the case belongs, you
can use all the devices there are for clear and effective explanation. I
will therefore briefly review a few of these.

Of the value of an introduction which lays out the ground to be covered
I have already spoken. The more distinct an idea you can implant in your
readers' minds of the course you are going to follow in your argument,
the more likely they will be to follow it. Since the success of your
argument hangs on carrying them with you on the main issues, let them
know beforehand just what those issues are, and in such a way that they
can hold them with a minimum of effort. The value of a clear and, as it
were, maplike introduction is even greater in an argument than in an

In the second place, use your paragraphing for all that it is worth, and
that is a great deal. The success of any explanation or argument springs
from the way in which it takes a mass of facts apart, and rearranges
them simply and perspicuously; and there is no device of composition
which helps so much towards clearness as good paragraphing. Accordingly
when you come to make your final draft, make certain that each paragraph
has unity. If you have any doubts see if you can sum up the paragraph
into a single simple sentence. Then look at the beginnings of the
paragraphs to see whether you have made it easy for your readers to know
what each one is about. Macaulay's style is on the whole clearer and
more effective for a general audience than that of any other writer in
English; and his habit of beginning each paragraph with a very definite
announcement of its subject is almost a mannerism. Incidentally there is
no better rough test of the unity of your paragraphs than thus to give
them something of the nature of a title in the first sentence. Often,
too, at the end of an important paragraph it is worth while to sum up
its essence in pithy form. Mankind in general is lazy about thinking,
and more than ready to accept an argument which is easy to remember and
repeat. The end of a paragraph is the place for a catchword.

In the third place, bind the sentences in your paragraphs together. When
one is building up a first draft, and picking facts from a variety of
sources, it is inevitable that the result shall be somewhat disjointed.
In working over the first draft, really work it over, and work it
together. Make all the sentences point the same way. Pronouns are the
most effective connectives that we have; therefore recast your
sentences so that there will be as little change of subject as possible.
Then use the explicit connectives in as much variety as you can. It is
not likely that you will make your paragraphs too closely knit for the
average reader.

In the fourth place, bind your argument together as a whole by
connectives at the beginnings of the paragraphs and by brief summarizing
paragraphs. In the present generation of schoolboys a good many have
groaned over Burke's speech "On Conciliation with America"; but if the
first time that one of these sufferers must make an argument in real
earnest, he will go back to Burke for some of the devices used to bind
that argument together, he will be surprised to see how practically e
efficient those devices are. And none of them counts more for clarity
and thoroughness than the conscientious way in which Burke took his
hearers by the hand at the beginning of each paragraph, and at each turn
in his argument, to make sure that they knew just how they were passing
from one point to another.

From the doctrine of clear explanation, then, we may carry over to the
making of clear arguments the habit of laying out the ground at the
beginning, of making the paragraphs do their full work by attending to
unity, to emphasis, and to coherence, and of binding the paragraphs
together into a closely knit whole.

55. The Power of Persuading. Finally, we have to consider the
question of how an argument can be made persuasive--probably the most
difficult subject in the range of rhetoric on which to give practical
advice. The key to the whole matter lies in remembering that we are here
dealing with feelings, and that feelings are irrational and are the
product of personal experience. The experience may be bitter or sweet,
and to some degree its effects are modified by education; but in
substance your feelings and emotions make you what you are, and your
capacities in these directions were born with you. If the citizens of a
town have no feeling about political dishonesty, reformers may talk
their throats out without producing any result; it is only when taxes
get intolerable or the sewers smell to heaven that anything will be
done. Many people die for whose deaths each of us ought to feel grief,
but if these people have never happened to touch our feelings, we can
reason with ourselves in vain that we should feel deeply grieved.
Feeling and emotion are the deepest, most primitive part of human
nature; and very little of its field has been reduced to the
generalizations of reason.[59]

When you come, therefore, in the making of your argument to the point of
stirring up the feelings of your readers on the subject, do not waste
any time in considering what they ought to feel: the only pertinent
question is what they do feel. On your shrewdness in estimating what
these feelings are, and how strong they are, will hang your success as
an advocate. Tact is the faculty you need now--the faculty of judging
men, of knowing when they will rise to an appeal, and when they will lie
back inert and uninterested. This is a matter you cannot reason about;
if you have the faculty it will be borne in on you how other men will
feel on your subject. The skill of politicians, where it does not
confine itself to estimating how much the people will stand before
rebelling, consists in this intuition of the movement of public opinion;
and the great leaders are the men who have so sure a sense of these
large waves of popular feeling that they can utter at the right moment
the word that will gather together this diffused and uncrystallized
feeling into a living force. Lincoln's declaration, "A house divided
against itself cannot stand, I believe that this government cannot
endure permanently half slave and half free," brought to a head a
conflict that had been smoldering ever since the adoption of the
Constitution, and made him the inevitable leader who was to bring it to
a close. It will be noticed, however, that the time had to come before
the inspired word could make its appeal. The abolitionists and
antislavery men had long been preaching the same doctrine that Lincoln
uttered, and the folly and wickedness of slavery had been proved by
philosophers and preachers for generations. Until the time grows ripe
the most reasonable doctrine does not touch the hearts of men; when the
time has ripened, the leader knows it and speaks the word that sets the
world on fire for righteousness.

The same faculty, on a smaller scale, is needed by every one of us who
is trying to make other people do anything. The actual use of the
faculty will vary greatly, however, with different kinds of arguments.
In certain kinds of scientific argument any attempt at persuasion as
such would be an impertinence: whether heat is a mode of motion, whether
there are such infinitesimal bodies as the ions which physicists of
to-day assume to explain certain new phenomena, whether matter consists
of infinitesimal whirls of force--in all such questions an argument
appeals solely to the reason; and in such Bacon's favorite apophthegm
has full sway, Dry light is ever the best. In Huxley's arguments for the
theory of evolution feeling had some share, for when the theory was
first announced by Darwin some religious people thought that it cut at
the foundations of their faith, and Huxley had to show that loyalty to
truth is a feeling of equal sanctity to scientific men: hence there is
some tinge of feeling, though repressed, in his argument, and a definite
consciousness of the feelings of his audience.

At the other extreme are the arguments where the appeal to feelings is
everything, since it is clear that the audience is already of the
speaker's way of thinking. Examples of such arguments are most apt to be
found in speeches in political campaigns and in appeals for money to
help forward charities of all kinds. It is probable that most of the
conversions in political matters are through reading; consequently the
purpose of the speeches is to stir up excitement and feeling to such a
heat that the maximum of the party voters will take the trouble to go
out to the polls. Arguments directed to this class, accordingly, are
almost wholly appeals to feeling. The famous debate between Lincoln and
Douglas in 1858 was of this character; of the thousands of people who
heard them in one or another of the seven debates most had taken sides
already. In such a case as this, however, where a change in general
political opinion was impending, the reasoning of the debates had more
force than in ordinary times, and probably helped many voters to a
clearer view of a very distressing and harassing situation. Between
times, however, in politics, where there are no great moral or practical
differences between parties, the purpose of speeches is almost wholly
persuasive. Success one way or another is a question of getting out the
voters who more or less passively and as a matter of habit hold to the
party. Party speakers, accordingly, use every device to wake up their
voters, and to make them believe that there is a real crisis at hand.
Every attempt is made to attach moral issues to the party platforms, and
to show how the material prosperity of the voters will fail if the
other party wins.

Roughly, therefore, we may say that persuasion tends to play a small
part in arguments of facts, and a larger part in questions of policy.
This is a rough generalization only, for every one knows what eloquence
and efforts at eloquence go into the arguments before juries in capital
cases, and how dry and abstract are the arguments before the judges on
points of law, or on questions of public policy in books of political
economy. But in the long run, the less feeling enters into decisions of
questions of fact, the better.

Of the factors which make for the persuasiveness of an argument I will
speak here of three--clearness of statement, appeal to the practical
interests of the audience, and direct appeal to their feelings.

There can be no doubt that clearness of statement is a powerful element
in making an argument persuasive, though the appeal that it makes to the
feelings of the readers is slight and subtle. In practice we mostly read
arguments either to help make up our minds on a subject or to get aid in
defending views for which we have no ready support. In the latter case
we do not need to be persuaded; but in the former there can be no
question that an argument which clears up the subject, and makes it
intelligible where before it was confusing, does have an effect on us
over and above its aid to our thought.

56. The Practical Interests of the Audience. Of directly persuasive
power, however, are the other two factors--the appeal to the practical
interests of readers, and the appeal to their emotions. Of these the
appeal to practical interests has no proper place in arguments on
questions of fact, but a large and entirely proper share in most
arguments of policy. Henry Ward Beecher's speech on the slavery issue in
the Civil War, before the cotton operatives of Liverpool,[60] is a
classic example of the direct appeal to the practical interests of an
audience. They were bitterly hostile to the North, because the supplies
of cotton had been cut off by the blockade; and after he had got a
hearing from them by appealing to the English sense of fair play, he
drove home the doctrine that a slave population made few customers for
the products of English mills. Then he passed on to the moral side of
the question.

Arguments on almost all public questions--direct election of senators,
direct primaries, commission form of government, tariff, currency,
control of corporations, or, in local matters, the size of a school
committee, the granting of franchises to street railroads or water
companies, the laying out of streets, the rules governing parks--are all
questions of policy in which the greatest practical advantage to the
greatest proportion of those who are interested is the controlling force
in the decision. At particular times and places moral questions may
enter into some of these questions, but ordinarily we come to them to
settle questions of practical advantage.

In arguments on all such questions, therefore, the direct appeal to the
practical interests of the people you are addressing is the chief factor
that makes for persuasiveness. Will a change to a commission form of
government make towards a reduction of taxes and towards giving greater
and more equitably distributed returns for those that are levied? Will
the direct primary for state officers make it easier and surer for the
average citizen of the state to elect to office the kind of men he wants
to have in office? Will a central bank of issue, or some institution
like it, establish the business of the country on a basis less likely to
be disturbed by panics? Will a competing street-car line make for better
and cheaper transportation in the city? In all such questions the only
grounds for decision are practical, and founded in the prosperity and
the convenience of the people who have the decision.

To make arguments in such cases persuasive you must show how the
question affects the practical interests of your readers, and then that
the plan which you support will bring them the greatest advantage.
Generalities and large political truths may help you to convince them;
but to persuade them to active interest and action you must get down to
the realities which touch them personally. If you are arguing for a
commission government in your city on the ground of economy, show in
dollars and cents what portion of his income the owner of a house and
lot worth five or ten thousand dollars pays each year because of the
present extravagance and wastefulness. If you can make a voter see that
the change is likely to save him ten or twenty-five or a hundred dollars
a year, you have made an argument that is persuasive. The arguments for
the reformation of our currency system are aimed directly at the
material interests of the business men of the country and their
employees; and the pleas for one or another system attempt to show how
each will conduce to the greater security and profit of the greatest
number of people.

To make such arguments count, however, you must deal in concrete terms.
A recent argument[61] for the establishment of a general parcels post in
this country presents figures to show that for the transportation of a
parcel by express at a rate of forty-five cents, the railroad gets
twenty-two and one-half cents for service which it could do at a
handsome profit for five cents. Of the validity of these figures I have
no means of judging; but the effectiveness of the argument lies in its
making plain to each of its readers a fact which touches his pocket
every time he sends a parcel by express. It is this kind of argument
that has persuasiveness, for the way we spend our money and what we get
for it come close home to most of us. Of all practical interests those
of the purse are of necessity the most moving for all but the very rich.

Money interests, however, are far from being the only practical
interests which concern us: there are many matters of convenience and
comfort where an individual or a community is not thinking of the cost.
Such questions as what kind of furnace to set up, whether to build a
house of brick or of cement, which railroad to take between, two cities,
are questions that draw arguments from other people than advertising
agents. Of another sort are questions that concern education. What
college shall a boy go to; shall he be prepared in a public school, or a
private day school, or a boarding school? Shall a given college admit on
certificate, or demand an examination of its own? Shall a certain public
school drop Greek from its list of studies; shall it set up a course in
manual training? All these are examples of another set of questions that
touch practical interests very closely. In arguments on such questions,
therefore, if you are to have the power of persuading and so of
influencing action, you must get home to the interests of the people you
are trying to move. The question of schools is very different for a boy
in a small country village and for one in New York City; the question
of admission is different for a state university and for an endowed
college; the question of Greek is different for a school which sends few
pupils on to college and for one which sends many: and in each case if
you want to influence action, you must set forth facts which bear on the
problem as it faces that particular audience. Except perhaps for the
highest eloquence, there is no such thing as universal persuasiveness.
The questions which actively affect the average man usually concern
small groups of people, and each group must be stirred to action by
incentives adapted to its special interests.

57. The Appeal to Moral Interests. Still further from the interests
that touch the pocket, and constantly in healthy and elevating action
against them, are the moral interests. The appeal to moral motives is
sometimes laughed at by men who call themselves practical, but in
America it is in the long run the strongest appeal that can be made. We
are still near enough to the men who fought through the Civil War, in
which each, side held passionately to what it believed to be the moral
right, for us to believe without too much complacency that moral forces
are the forces that rule us as a nation. Mr. Bryan and Mr. Roosevelt
have both been called preachers, and the hold they have had on great,
though differing, parts of the American people is incontestable. If any
question on which you have to argue has a moral side, it is not only
your duty, but it is also the path of expediency, to make appeal through
the moral principle involved.

The chief difficulty with making an appeal to moral principles is to set
them forth in other than abstract terms, since they are the product of a
set of feelings which lie too deep for easy phrasing in definite words.
In most cases we know what is right long before we can explain why it is
right; and a man who can put into clear words the moral forces that move
his fellows is a prophet and leader of men. Moreover, it must be
remembered when one is appealing to moral principles that upright men
are not agreed about all of them, and there is even more doubt and
disagreement when one comes to the practical application of the
principles. We have seen in Chapter I what bitter division arose in our
fathers' time over the right and the righteousness of slavery; and how
in many states to-day good and God-fearing people are divided on the
question of prohibition.

But even where the two sides to a question agree on the moral principle
which is involved, it by no means follows that they will agree on its
application in a particular case. Church members accept the principle
that one must forgive sinners and help them to reform; but it is another
thing when it comes to getting work for a man who has been in prison, or
help for a woman who has left her husband. How far is the condoning of
offenses consistent with maintaining the standards of society? And in
what cases shall we apply the principle of forgiveness? In a business
transaction how far can one push the Golden Rule? Life would be a
simpler matter if moral principles were always easy to apply to concrete

One must use the appeal to moral principles, therefore, soberly and with
discretion. The good sense of readers will rebel if their moral sense is
called on unnecessarily; and even when they cannot explain why they
believe such an appeal unsound, yet their instincts will tell them that
it is so. The creator whose right hand is always rising to heaven to
call God to witness disgusts the right feeling of his audience. On the
other hand, where moral principles are really concerned there should be
no compromise. If in a political campaign the issue is between honesty
and graft in the public service, or between an open discussion of all
dealings which touch the public good, and private bargaining with party
managers, the moral principles cannot be kept hidden. If a real moral
principle is seriously involved in any question, the debate must rise to
the level of that principle and let practical considerations go. And
every citizen who has the advantage of having had more education than
his fellows is thereby placed under obligation to hold the debate to
this higher level.

58. The Appeal of Style. Finally, we have to consider the appeal to
the emotions, which is the distinguishing essence of eloquence, and the
attempts at it. In part this appeal is through the appeal to principles
and associations which are close to the heart of the audience, in part
through concrete and figurative language, in part through the
indefinable thrill and music of style which lies beyond definition and

The appeal to venerated principle we have considered already, looked at
from the side of morals rather than of emotions. But morality, so far as
it is a coercive force in human conduct, is emotional; our moral
standards lie beyond and above reason in that larger part of our nature
that knows through feeling and intuition. All men have certain standards
and principles whose names arouse strong and reverent emotions. Such
standards are not all religious or moral in the stricter sense; some of
them have their roots in systems of government. In a case at law, argued
purely on a question of law, there does not seem much chance for the
appeal to feeling; but Mr. Joseph H. Choate, in his argument on the
constitutionality of the Income Tax of 1894, before the Supreme Court
of the United States, made the following appeal to the principle of the
sanctity of private property, and the words he used could not have
failed to stir deep and strong feelings in the court.

No longer ago, if the Court please, than the day of the funeral
procession of General Sherman in New York, it was my fortune to spend
many hours with one of the ex-Presidents of the United States, who has
since followed that great warrior to the bourne to which we were then
bearing him. President Hayes expressed great solicitude as to the future
fortunes of this people. In his retirement he had been watching the
tendency of political and social purposes and events. He had observed
how in recent years the possessors of political power had been learning
to use it for the first time for the promotion of social and personal
ends. He said to me, "You will probably live to see the day when in the
case of the death of any man of large wealth the State will take for
itself all above a certain prescribed limit of his fortune and divide
it, or apply it to the equal use of all the people, so as to punish the
rich man for his wealth, and to divide it among those who, whatever may
have been their sins, at least have not committed that." I looked upon
it as the wanderings of a dreaming man; and yet if I had known that
within less than five short years afterwards I should be standing before
this tribunal to contest the validity of an alleged act of Congress, of
a so-called law, which was defended here by the authorized legal
representatives of the Federal Government upon the plea that it was a
tax levied only upon classes and extremely rich men, I should have given
altogether a different heed and ear to the warnings of that
distinguished statesman.[62]

Our emotions do not rise, however, anymore surely in the case of our
veneration for the basal principles of religion and government than in
that of more personal emotions. The appeal to the Constitution is worn
somewhat threadbare by the politicians who call on it at every election,
small or great, as is the appeal to the principles of the Pilgrim
Fathers. It takes eloquence now to rouse our feelings about these
principles. If you have a case important enough to justify appeal to
such great principles and the skill in language to give your appeal
vitality, you may really arouse your readers. But, on the whole, it is
sound advice to say, Wait a few years before you call on them.

The second mode of appeal to the feelings of your audience, that through
concrete and figurative language, is more within the reach of advocates
who are still of college age. This is particularly true of the use of
concrete language. It is a matter of common knowledge that men do not
rouse themselves over abstract principles; they will grant their assent,
often without really knowing what is implied by the general principle,
and go away yawning. On the other hand, the man who talks about the real
and actual things which you know is likely to keep your attention. This
goes back to the truth that our emotions and feelings are primarily the
reaction to the concrete things that happen to us. The spontaneous
whistling and humming of tunes that indicate a cheerful heart rise
naturally as a response to the sunlight in spring; the fear at the
terror that flies in a nightmare is the instinctive and physical
reaction to indigestion; we sorrow over the loss of our own friends, but
not over the loss of some one else's. The stories that stir us are the
stories that deal with actual, tangible realities in such terms that
they make us feel that we are living the story ourselves. Stevenson has
some wise words on this subject in his essay, "A Gossip on Romance." The
doctrine holds true for the making of arguments.

Even where as in Burke's speech "On Conciliation with America,"
abstractness is not vagueness, the style would be more effective for the
richer feeling that hangs over and around a concrete vocabulary. The
great vividness of Macaulay's style, and its bold over so many readers,
is largely due to his unfailing use of the specific word. If you will
take the trouble to notice what arguments in the last few months have
seemed to you especially persuasive, you will be surprised to find how
definite and concrete the terms are that they use.

Accordingly, if you wish to keep the readers of your argument awake and
attentive, use terms that touch their everyday experience. If you are
arguing for the establishment of a commission form of government, give
in dollars and cents the sum that it cost under the old system to pave
the three hundred yards of A Street, between 12th and 13th streets. The
late Mr. Godkin of the New York _Evening Post_, in his lifelong campaign
against corrupt government, to bring home to his readers the actual
state of their city government and the character of the men who ran it,
used their nicknames; "Long John" Corrigan, for example (if there had
been such a personage); and "Bath-house John Somebody" has been a
feature of campaigns in Chicago. The value of such names when skillfully
used is that by their associations and connotation they do stir feeling.
Likewise if you are arguing before an audience of graduates for a change
from a group system to a free elective system in your college, you would
use the names of courses with which they would be familiar and the names
of professors under whom they had studied. If you were arguing for the
introduction of manual training into a school, you would make taxpayers
take an interest in the matter if you gave them the exact numbers of
pupils from that school who have gone directly into mills or other work
of the kind, and if you describe vividly just what is meant by manual
training. If your description is in general terms they may grant you
your principle, and then out of mere inertia and a vague feeling against
change vote the other way.

A rough test for concreteness is your vocabulary: if your words are
mostly Anglo-Saxon you will usually be talking about concrete things; if
it is Latinate and polysyllabic it is probably abstract and general.
Most of the things and actions of everyday life, the individual things
like "walls" and "puppies," "summer" and "boys," "buying" and "selling,"
"praying" and "singing," have names belonging to the Anglo-Saxon part of
the language; and though there are many exceptions, like "tables," and
"telephones," and "professors," yet the more your vocabulary consists of
the non-Latinate words, the more likely it is to be concrete, and
therefore to keep your readers' attention and feelings alive. Use the
simple terms of everyday life, therefore, rather than the learned words
which would serve you if you were generalizing from many cases. Stick to
the single case before you and to the interests of the particular people
you are trying to win over. To touch their feelings remember that you
must talk about the things they have feelings about.

The use of similes and metaphors and other figurative language raises a
difficult question. On the whole, perhaps the best advice about using
them is, Don't unless you have to. In other words, where a figure of
speech is a necessity of expression, where you cannot make your thought
clear and impart to it the warmth of feeling with which it is clothed in
your own mind except by a touch of imaginative color, then use a figure
of speech, if one flashes itself on your mind. If you add it
deliberately as adornment of your speech, it will strike a false note;
if you laboriously invent it the effort will show. Unless your thought
and your eagerness for your subject flow naturally and inevitably into
an image, it is better to stick to plain speech, for any suggestion of
insincerity is fatal to the persuasiveness of an argument.

The value of the figure of speech is chiefly in giving expression to
feelings which cannot be set forth in abstract words, the whole of whose
meaning can be defined: in the connotation of words--that indefinable
part of their meaning which consists in their associations,
implications, and general emotional coloring--lies their power to clothe
thought with the rich color of feeling which is the life. At the same
time, they serve as a fillip to the attention. There are not very many
people who can long keep the mind fixed on a purely abstract line of
thought, and none can do it without some effort. Professor William James
is a notable example of a writer whose thought flowed spontaneously into
necessary figures of speech:

When one turns to the magnificent edifice of the physical sciences,
and sees how it was reared; what thousands of disinterested
moral lives of men lie buried in its mere foundations; what patience
and postponement, what choking down of preference, what
submission to the icy laws of outer fact are wrought into its very
stones and mortar; how absolutely impersonal it stands in its vast
augustness,--then how besotted and contemptible seems every
little sentimentalist who comes blowing his voluntary smoke wreaths,
and pretending to decide things out of his private dream.[63]

One cannot go to sleep over a style like that, for besides the
obvious sincerity and rush of warm feeling, the vividness of
the figures is like that of poetry. On the either hand, one
must remember that it is given to few men to attain the
unstudied eloquence of Professor James.

Fables and anecdotes serve much the same purpose, but
more especially throw into memorable form the principle
which they are intended to set forth. There are a good many
truths which are either so complex or so subtle that they defy
phrasing in compact form, yet their truth we all know by intuition.
If for such a truth you can find a compact illustration,
you can leave it much more firmly fixed in your readers' minds
than by any amount of systematic exposition. Lincoln in his
Springfield speech, for example, threw into striking form the
feeling which was so common in the North, that each step
forward in the advance of slavery so fitted into all earlier ones
that something like a concerted plan must be assumed:

We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are, the
result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different
portions of which we know have been gotten cut at different times and
places and by different workmen,--Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James,
for instance,--and we see these timbers joined together, and see they
exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortises
exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different
pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too
many or too few, not omitting even scaffolding,--or, if a single piece
be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared
yet to bring such piece in,--in such a case we find it impossible not to
believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one
another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft
drawn up before the first blow was struck.

On the other hand, there is the danger of being florid or of playing the
clown if you tell too many stories. Whether your style will seem florid
or not depends a good deal on the part of the country you are writing
for. There is no doubt that the taste of the South and of a good deal of
the West is for a style more varied and highly colored than suits the
soberer taste of the East. But whatever part of the country you are
writing for, just so soon as your style seems to those special readers
overloaded with ornament it will seem insincere. In the same way, if you
stop too often to tell a story or to make your readers laugh, you will
produce the impression of trifling with your subject. In both these
respects be careful not to draw the attention of your readers away from
the subject to your style.

The ultimate and least analyzable appeal of style is through that thrill
of the voice which in written style appears as rhythm and harmony.
Certain men are gifted with the capacity of so modulating their voices
and throwing virtue into their tones that whoever hears them feels an
indefinable thrill. So in writing: where sounds follow sounds in
harmonious sequence, and the beat of the accent approaches regularity
without falling into it, language takes on the expressiveness of music.
It is well known that music expresses a range of feeling that lies
beyond the powers of words: who can explain, for example, the thrill
roused in him by a good brass band, or the indefinable melancholy and
gloom created by the minor harmonies of one of the great funeral
marches, or, in another direction, the impulse that sets him to
whistling or singing on a bright morning in summer? There are many such
kinds of feeling, real and potent parts of our consciousness; and if we
can bring them to expression at all, we must do so through the rhythm
and other sensuous qualities of the style which are pure sensation.

How is that to be done? The answer is difficult, and like that
concerning the use of figurative language: do not try for it too
deliberately. If without your thinking of it you find yourself becoming
more earnest in speech, and more impressed with the seriousness of the
issue you are arguing, your voice will show it naturally. So when you
are writing: your earnestness will show, if you have had the training
and have the natural gift for expression in words, in a lengthening and
more strongly marked rhythm, in an intangibly richer coloring of sound.
In speech the rhythm is apt to be shown in what is called parallel
structure, the repetition of the same form of sentence, and in
rhetorical questions. In writing, these forms more easily tend to seem
either excited or artificial. Sustained periodic structure, too, can be
carried by the speaking voice, when it would lag if written. Every one
recognizes this incommunicable thrill of eloquence in great speakers and
writers, but it is so much a gift of nature that it is not wise
consciously to cultivate it.

59. Fairness and Sincerity. In the long run, however, nothing makes
an argument appeal more to readers than an air of fairness and
sincerity. If it is evident in an argument of fact that you are seeking
to establish the truth, or in an argument of policy that your single aim
is the greatest good of all concerned, your audience will listen to you
with favorable ears. If on the other hand you seem to be chiefly
concerned with the vanity of a personal victory, or to be thinking of
selfish advantages, they will listen to you coolly and with jealous
scrutiny of your points.

Accordingly, in making your preliminary survey to prepare the statement
of the facts that are agreed on by both sides, go as far as you can in
yielding points. If the question is worth arguing at all you will still
have your hands full to get through it within your space. In particular
waive all trivial points: nothing is more wearisome to readers than to
plow through detailed arguments over points that no one cares about in
the end. And meet the other side at least halfway in agreeing on the
facts that do not need to be argued out. You will prejudice your
audience if you make concessions in a grudging spirit. Likewise,
wherever you have, to meet arguments put forward by the other side,
state them with scrupulous fairness; if your audience has any reason to
suppose that you are twisting the assertions of the other side to your
own advantage, you have shaken their confidence in you, and thereby
weakened the persuasive force of your argument. Use sarcasm with
caution, and beware of any seeming of triumph. Sarcasm easily becomes
cheap, and an air of triumph may look like petty smartness.

In short, in writing your argument, assume throughout the attitude of
one who is seeking earnestly to bring the disagreement between the two
sides to an end. If you are dealing with a question of fact, your sole
duty is to establish the truth. If you are dealing with a question of
policy, you know when you begin that whichever way the decision goes,
one side will suffer some disadvantage; but aim to lessen that
disadvantage, and to discover a way that will bring the greatest gain to
the greatest number. An obvious spirit of conciliation is a large asset
in persuasion.

With the conciliation make clear your sincerity. A chief difficulty with
making arguments written in school and college persuasive is that they
so often deal with subjects in which it is obvious that the writer's own
feelings are not greatly concerned. This difficulty will disappear when
you get out into the world, and make arguments in earnest. A great part
of Lincoln's success as an advocate is said to have been due to the fact
that he always tried to compose his cases and to make peace between the
litigants, and that he never took a case in which he did not believe. If
you leave on your audience the impression that you are sincere and in
earnest, you have taken a long step towards winning over their feelings.

On the whole, then, when one is considering the question of persuasion,
the figure of speech of a battle is not very apt. It is all very well
when you are laying out your brief to speak, of deploying your various
points, of directing an attack on your opponent's weakest point, of
bringing up reserve material in rebuttal; but if the figure gets you
into the way of thinking that you must always demolish your opponent,
and treat him as an enemy, it is doing harm. If you will take the
trouble to follow the controversies which are going on in your own city
and state over public affairs, you will soon see that in most of them
the two sides break even, so far as intelligence and public-spiritedness
go. In every transaction there are two sides; and the president of a
street railroad may be as honest and as disinterested in seeking to get
the best of the bargain for his road as the representatives of the city
are in trying to get the best of it for the public. There is no use
going into a question of this sort with the assumption that you are on a
higher moral plane than the other side. In some cases where a moral
issue is involved there is only one view of what is right; if honesty is
in the balance, there can be no other side. But, as we have seen, there
are moral questions in which one must use his utmost strength for the
right as he sees the right, and yet know all the time that equally
honest men are fighting just as hard on the other side. No American who
remembers the case of General Robert E. Lee can forget this puzzling
truth. Therefore, unless there can be no doubt of the dishonesty of your
opponent, turn your energies against his cause and not against him; and
hold that the proper end of argument is not so much to win victories as
to bring as many people as possible to agreement.


1. Compare the length of the introductory part of the argument of the
specimens at the end of this book; point out reasons for the difference
in length, if you find any.

2. Find two arguments, not in this book, in which the main points at
issue are numbered.

3. Find an argument, not in this book, in which a history of the case is
part of the introduction.

4. Find an argument, not in this book, in which the definitions of terms
occupy some space.

5. In the argument on which you are working, what terms need definition?
How much space should the definitions occupy in the completed argument?

6. In the argument on which you are working, how much of the material in
the introduction to the brief shall you use in the argument itself? Does
the audience you have in mind affect the decision?

7. How do you intend to distribute your space between the main issues
you will argue out?

8. How much will explanation enter into your argument?

9. Find an argument, not in this book, in which the explanation chiefly
makes the convincing power.

10. In which of the arguments in this book does explanation play the
smallest part?

11. Examine five consecutive paragraphs in Huxley's argument on
evolution, or _The Outlook_ argument on the Workman's Compensation Act,
from the point of view of good explanation.

12. Find two examples of arguments, not in this book, whose chief
appeal is to the feelings.

13. Find an argument, not in this book, which is a good illustration of
the power of tact.

14. Name an argument which you have read within a few months which made
a special impression on you by its clearness.

15. Find an argument in the daily papers, on local or academic affairs,
which makes effective appeal to the practical interests of its audience.
Analyze this appeal.

16. Name three subjects of local and immediate interest on which you
could write an argument in which you would appeal chiefly to the
practical interests of your readers.

17. Name two current political questions which turn on the practical
interests of the country at large.

18. Name two public questions now under discussion into which moral
issues enter. Do both sides on these questions accept the same view of
the bearing of the moral issues?

19. Find an argument, not in this book, in which the eloquence of the
style is a distinct part of the persuasive power.

20. What do you think of the persuasive power of Burke's speech "On
Conciliation with America"? of its convincing power?

21. Find an argument, not in this book, in which the concreteness of the
language adds to the persuasive power.

22. Find two examples, not in this book, of apt and effective figures of
speech in an argument.

23. Find an example of an apt anecdote or fable used in an argument.

24. In Lincoln's address at Cooper Institute, what do you think of his
attitude towards the South as respects fairness?

25. In the argument on which you are at work, what chance would there be
of inducing agreement between the two sides?



60. The Nature of Debate. The essential difference between debate
and written argument lies not so much in the natural difference between
all spoken and written discourse as in the fact that in a debate of any
kind there is the chance for an immediate answer to an opponent.
Quickness of wit to see the weak points on the other side, readiness in
attacking them, and resource in defending one's own points make the
debater, as distinguished from the man who, if he be given plenty of
time, can make a formidable and weighty argument in writing. The best
debating is heard in deliberative bodies which are not too large, and
where the rules are not too elaborate. Perhaps the best in the world is
in the British House of Commons, for there the room is not so large that
hearing is difficult, and skill in thrust and parry has been valued and
practiced for generations.

The military figure for argument is more apposite in debate than
anywhere else, for in the taking of the vote there is an actual victory
and defeat, very different in nature from the barren decision of judges
in intercollegiate and interscholastic contests. It is undoubtedly rare
that a particular debate in any legislative body actually changes the
result; but in the long run the debates in such bodies do mold public
opinion, and within the body amalgamate or break up party ties. The
resource and the ready knowledge of the subject under debate necessary
to hold one's own in such running contests of wit Is an almost essential
characteristic of a party leader. It is on these two qualities that I
shall chiefly dwell in this chapter.

61. Subjects for Debate. Debate almost always deals with questions
of policy. In trials before a jury there is something approaching a
debate over questions of fact; but the rules of evidence are so special,
and within their range so strict, that even though the arguments are
spoken, they can have little of the free give and take which makes the
life and the interest of a real debate. Accordingly I shall draw my
illustrations here from questions of policy, and so far as is possible
from the sort of question that students are likely to turn their
attention to. The later years of school and the whole of the college
course are often the molding years for a man's views on all sorts of
public questions. It has been said that a man's views rarely change
after he is twenty-five years old; and though one must not take such a
dictum too literally, yet unquestionably it has truth. At any rate it is
certain that a student, whether in high school or college, if he is to
do his duty as a citizen, must begin to think out many of the questions
which are being decided in Congress, in state legislatures, and in
smaller, more local bodies. At the same time, in every school and
college questions are constantly under discussion of a nature to provide
good practice in debate. Some of these questions must be decided by
school committee, principal, faculty, or trustees, and most of them call
for some looking up of facts. They would provide admirable material for
the development of judgment and resource in debating, and in some cases
a debate on them might have effect on the actual decision.

The choice of subject is even more important for debating than for
written argument. In a written argument if you have a question which has
two defensible sides, it does not make much difference whether one is
easier to defend than the other: in a debate such a difference might
destroy the usefulness of the subject. Though to some older minds the
abolition of football is a debatable question, before an audience of
undergraduates who had to vote on the merits of the question the subject
would be useless, since the side which had to urge the abolition would
here have an almost impossible task. So in a debate on the "closed
shop," in most workingmen's clubs the negative would be able to
accomplish little, for the other side would be intrenched in the
prejudices and prepossessions of the audience. In political bodies
unevenness of sides is of common occurrence, for a minority must always
defend its doctrines, no matter how overwhelming the vote is certain to
be. In the formal debates of school and college, on the other hand,
where the conditions must be more or less artificial, the first
condition is to choose a question which will give the two sides an even

A fair test of this evenness of sides is to see whether the public which
is concerned with the question is evenly divided: if about the same
number of men who are acquainted with the subject and are recognized as
fair-minded take opposite sides, the question is probably a good subject
for debate. Even this test, however, may be deceptive, since believing a
policy to be sound and being able to show that it is so are very
different matters. The reasons for introducing the honor system into a
certain school or college are probably easier to state and to support
than the reasons against introducing it; yet the latter may be
unquestionably weighty.

In general, arguments which rest on large and more or less abstract
principles are at a disadvantage as against arguments based on some
immediate and pressing evil or on some obvious expediency. Arguments for
or against a protective tariff on general principles of political
economy are harder to make interesting and, therefore, cogent to the
average audience than are those based on direct practical gains or
losses. This difference in the ease with which the two sides of a
question can be argued must be taken into account in the choice of a

In the second place, the subject should be so phrased that it will
inevitably produce a "head-on" collision between the two sides. If such
a proposition as "The present city government should be changed" were
chosen for a debate, one side might argue it as a question of the party
or of the men who happened to be in control at the time, and the other
as a question of the form of government. So on the question of
self-government for a college or school, unless the type of
self-government were carefully defined, the two sides might argue
through the debate and not come in sight of each other. What was said in
Chapter II about framing the proposition for an argument applies with
even more force to finding the proposition for a debate; for here if
they do not meet on an irreconcilable difference, there is little use in
their coming together.

In the third place, it is desirable that the proposition should be so
framed as to throw the burden of proof on the affirmative. Unless the
side which opens the debate has something definite to propose, the
debate must open more or less lamely, for it is hard to attack or oppose
something which is going to be set forth after you have finished
talking. Here, however, as in the case of written arguments, it must be
remembered that burden of proof is a vague and slippery term; "he who
asserts must prove" is a maxim that in debate applies to the larger
issues only, and the average audience will give themselves little
trouble about the finer applications of it. If you are proposing a
change in present conditions, and the present conditions are not very
bad, they will expect you to show why there should be a change, and to
make clear that the change you propose will work an improvement. It is
only when conditions have become intolerable that an audience thinks
first of the remedy. In the ordinary school or college, for example,
there is little reason in current conditions for introducing the honor
system in examinations: in such a case the burden of proof on the
affirmative would be obvious, If, however, as occasionally happens,
there has been an epidemic of dishonesty in written work, then the
authorities of the school and the parents would want to know why there
should not be a change. But it would both bore and confuse an audience
to explain to them at length the theory of the shifting of the burden of
proof; and the chances are that they would say, "Why doesn't he prove
his point, and not spend his time beating about the bush?"

Finally, the proposition should, if possible, give to the negative as
well as to the affirmative some constructive argument. If one side
occupies itself wholly with showing the weakness of the arguments on the
other side, you get nowhere on the merits of the question; for all that
has been shown in the debate, the proposition put forward by the
affirmative may be sound, and the only weakness lie in its defenders.
Moreover, where the negative side finds no constructive argument on the
merits of the question, or elects to confine itself to destructive,
arguments, it must beware of the fallacy "of objections"; that is, of
assuming that when it has brought forward some objections to the
proposition it has settled the matter. As I have so often pointed out in
this treatise, no question is worth arguing unless it has two sides; and
that is merely saying, in another way, that to both sides there are
reasonable objections. Where a negative side confines itself to
destructive arguments it must make clear that the objections it presents
are really destructive, or at any rate are clearly more grave than those
which can be brought against leaving things as they are. And if they
confine themselves to destroying the arguments brought forward by the
affirmative in this particular debate, they must make clear that these
arguments are the strongest that can be brought forward on that side.

On all questions as to construction of terms and burden of proof, it
should be understood beforehand that the judges of a formal debate will
heavily penalize anything like pettifogging or quibbling. The two sides
should do their best to come to a "head-on" issue; and any attempt at
standing on precise definition, or sharp practice in leading the other
side away from the main question, should be held to be not playing the
game. Where the judges are drawn from men of experience in affairs, as
is usually the case, they will estimate such boyish smartnesses at their
true value.

62. Technical Forms. The formal debates of school and college have
certain forms and conventions which are partly based on parliamentary
procedure, partly have been worked out to make these debates more
interesting and better as practice; and there are certain preliminary
arrangements that improve debating both as intellectual training and as
fun. I shall speak first of the forms and conventions.

In debates in school and college it is usual to have two or three on a
side, and for good reasons. In the first place, the labor of working up
the subject is shared, and it is better fun working with some one else.
Then, in the debate itself there is more variety. In class debates there
are usually two speakers on each side, with provision of time for
several four- or five-minute speeches from the floor before the closing
speeches in rebuttal.[64] If there are as many speakers as this a
two-hour period must be allowed. This allotment of time will naturally
be adapted to special conditions; as, for example, where it is desirable
that there shall be more speakers from the floor, or where it is desired
to give the whole time to the regular debaters. In important
intercollegiate debates there are usually three speakers, each of whom
has ten minutes for his main speech and five minutes for rebuttal. This
arrangement varies greatly, however, in different places, and not
infrequently there is only one speech in rebuttal. The affirmative is
usually given the last speech, on the theory that it is a disadvantage
to have to open the debate. Obviously, however, in practice the reverse
may often be true, since a skillful speech in opening may largely
determine the course of the debate; and for this reason many debating
societies and colleges allow the closing speech to the negative. It is
wise not to look on any of these rules as inviolable.[65]

The distribution of the points between the speakers on a side should be
made beforehand, but always with the understanding that the exigencies
of the debate may upset the arrangement. We shall see presently the
advantage there is in having each member of a "team" prepared to defend
all the points on his side. The only speech for which a fixed program
can be made beforehand is the first speech on the affirmative: obviously
this must at any rate expound the main facts which the audience must
know in order to understand the speeches that follow. After that each
speaker should be prepared either to answer directly what has just been
said or to explain why he postpones the answer. At the same time, unless
his hand has been forced, he must make the point or points which have
been committed to him in the preliminary plan of campaign. Each speaker
after the first generally takes a minute or two to sum up the position
as his side sees it; and the final speaker on each side ought to save
time to recapitulate and drive home the main points that his side has
made and the chief objections to the arguments on the other side. Beyond
these suggestions, which should not be allowed to harden into invariable
rules, much must be left to the swift judgment of the debaters. It is a
good test of skill in debating to know just when to stick to such rules,
and when to break away from them.

A debater uses certain forms which have long been established in
parliamentary law. To begin with, he never uses the name of his
opponent: if he has to refer to him he refers indirectly in some such
form as "the last speaker," "the first speaker for the affirmative,"
"the gentlemen from Wisconsin," "our opponents," "my colleague who has
just spoken." This is an inviolable rule of all debating bodies, whether
a class in school or college or one of the Houses of Congress.

In a formal debate the subject is stated by the presiding officer, who
is usually not one of the judges, and he also introduces each of the
speakers in the order agreed on beforehand.

In class debates the subject is usually given out by the instructor, who
may assign the speakers, or may call for volunteers, or may let each
member of the class take his turn in regular rotation. This distribution
will usually work itself out to suit the class and the circumstances. In
interscholastic and intercollegiate debates the subject is generally
chosen by letting one side offer a number of subjects from which the
other selects one. Sometimes the team which does not have the choice of
subject has the choice of sides after the other team has picked the
subject. In a triangular debate two or three subjects are proposed by
each team, and then one is selected by preferential voting of all the
contestants, first choice counting three points, second two, and third
one. In such a contest each institution has two teams, one of which
supports the affirmative, and the other the negative; and the three
debates take place on the same day or evening.

In class debates the two sides should unite in preparing an agreed
statement of facts, which shall contain so much of the history of the
case as is pertinent, facts and issues which it is agreed shall be
waived, and a statement of the main issues. Furthermore, it is highly
desirable that the sides should submit to each other outline briefs
covering the main points of their case. With such preparations there is
little probability that there can be any failure to meet. The same
preparations would be useful in interscholastic and intercollegiate
debates, wherever they are practicable. Anything which leads to a
thorough discussion of identical points and to the consequent
illumination of the question makes these entertainments more valuable.

For intercollegiate and interscholastic debates it is wise to have some
sort of instructions for the judges, which should be agreed on
beforehand. These instructions must make clear that the decision is to
turn not on the merits of the question, as in real life, but on the
merits of the debaters. Among those merits the substance should count
much more than the form. Of the points that count in judging the
substance of the debate the instructions may note keenness of analysis,
power of exposition, thoroughness of preparation, judgment in the
selection of evidence, readiness and effectiveness in rebuttal, and
grasp of the subject as a whole. For form the instructions may mention
bearing, ease and appropriateness of gesture, quality and expressiveness
of voice, enunciation and pronunciation, and general effectiveness of
delivery. Sometimes these points are drawn up with percentages to
suggest their proportionate weight; but it is doubtful whether so exact
a calculation can ever be of practical value. In most cases the judges
will decide from a much less articulate sense of which side has the

63. Preparations for Debating. Since the chief value of debating,
as distinguished from written arguments, is in cultivating readiness and
flexibility of wit, the speaking should be as far as possible
extemporaneous. This does not imply that the speaking should be without
preparation: on the contrary, the preparation for good debating is more
arduous than for a written argument, for when you are on your feet on
the platform you cannot run to your books or to your notes to refresh
your memory or to find new material. The ideal debater is the man who so
carries the whole subject in his mind that the facts flow to his mind as
he talks, and fit into the plan of his argument without a break. To the
rare men who remember everything they read, such readiness is natural,
but to far the largest number of speakers it comes only through hard
study of the material. Daniel Webster declared that the material for his
famous Reply to Hayne had been in his desk for months. In so far as
debating consists in the recitation of set speeches written out and
committed to memory beforehand, it throws away most of what makes
debating valuable, and tends to become elocution. We shall consider
here, therefore, ways in which speakers can make themselves so familiar
with the subject to be debated that they can confidently cut loose from
their notes.

In the first place, each debater on a team should prepare himself on the
whole subject, not only on the whole of his own side, but also on the
whole of the other side. It is usual to divide up the chief points that
a team is to make among its different members; but in the sudden turns
to which every debate is liable such assignment may easily become
impossible. If the other side presents new material or makes a point in
such a way as manifestly to impress the audience, the next speaker may
have to throw over the point assigned to him and give himself
immediately to refuting the arguments just made. Then his points must be
left to his colleagues, and they must be able to use them to effect.
Likewise a team should know the strong points on the other side as well
as on its own, and come to the platform primed with arguments to meet
them. In intercollegiate contests, to insure this fore-knowledge of the
other side the speakers as part of their preparation meet men from their
own college who argue out the other side in detail and at length. In a
triangular contest each team from a college has the advantage of having
worked up the subject in actual debate against the other. The more
thoroughly you have worked up both sides of the question, the less
likely are you to be taken by surprise by some argument which you do not
know how to meet.

64. On the Platform. When it comes to the actual debate experience
shows that speeches committed to memory are almost always ineffective as
compared with extemporaneous speaking. Even when your confidence is not
disturbed by a slippery memory there is an impalpable touch of the
artificial about the prepared speech which impairs its vitality. On the
other hand, especially with the first speeches on each side, you cannot
get to your feet and trust entirely to the inspiration of the moment;
you must have something thought out. One of the most notable lecturers
in Harvard University prepares his lectures in a way which is an
excellent model for debaters. He writes out beforehand a complete
analytical and tabulated plan of his lecture, similar to the briefs
which have been recommended here in Chapter II, with each of the main
principles of his lecture, and with the subdivisions and illustrations
inserted. Then he leaves this outline at home and talks from a full and
well-ordered mind. Some such plan is the best possible one for the main
speeches in a debate. Often the plan can be most easily prepared by
writing out the argument in full; and this expansion of the argument has
the added advantage of providing you with much of your phrasing. But it
is better not to commit the complete argument to memory: the brief of
it, if thoroughly digested and so studied as to come readily to mind, is
enough. Then practice, practice, practice, will give the ease and
fluency that you need.

The rebuttal should always be extemporaneous. Even if you have foreseen
the strongest points made by your opponent and prepared yourself to meet
them, you cannot foresee just the way he will make the points. Nothing
is more awkward in a debate than to begin with a few obviously
extemporaneous remarks, and then to let loose a little speech which has
been kept, as it were, in cold storage, and which just misses fitting
the speech to which it should be an answer. It is better to make the
rebuttal a little less sweeping than it might be and have it fall pat on
the speech which it is attacking. Ready and spontaneous skill in
rebuttal is the final excellence of debating. At the same time the skill
should be so natural that wit and good humor may have their chance. If
from the beginning you practice making your speeches in rebuttal
offhand, you will constantly gain in confidence when you are called on
to speak.

Whether to take notes on to the platform or not is a somewhat disputed
question. If you can speak without them and hold without stumbling to
the main course of your argument, so much the better. On the other hand,
most lawyers have their briefs when they are arguing on points of law,
and some sort of rough notes when they are arguing before a jury; and
when unassumingly and naturally used, notes are hardly observed by an
audience. Only, if you do have notes, do not try to conceal them: hold
them so that the audience will know what they are, and will not wonder
what you are doing when you peer into the palm of your hand.

If you have passages to quote from a book or other document, have the
book on the table beside you; its appearance will add substance to your
point, and the audience will have ocular proof that you are quoting

For purposes of rebuttal it is usual to have material on cards arranged
under the principal subdivisions of the subject, so that they can
readily be found. These cards can be kept in the small wooden or
pasteboard boxes that are sold for the purpose at college stationers. If
the cards have the proper kind of headings, you can easily look them
over while your opponent is speaking and pull out the few that bear on
the point you are to meet. Examples of these cards have been given in
Chapter II. The important thing for their use in a debate is to have the
headings so clear and pertinent that you can instantly find the
particular card you want. Naturally you will have made yourself
thoroughly familiar with them beforehand.

When you have to use statistics, simplify them so that your hearers can
take them in without effort. Large numbers should be given in round
figures, except where some special emphasis or perhaps some semihumorous
effect is to be gained by giving them in full. Quotations from books or
speeches must of necessity be short: where you have only ten minutes
yourself you cannot give five minutes to the words of another man.

Keep your audience in good humor; if you can occasion ally relieve the
solemnity of the occasion by making them laugh, they will like you the
better for it, and think none the worse of your argument. On the other
hand, remember that such diversion is incidental, and that your main
business is to deal seriously with a serious question. The uneasy
self-consciousness that keeps a man always trying to be funny is
nowhere more out of place than in a debate.

65. Voice and Position. The matter of delivery is highly important,
and here no man can trust to the light of nature. Any voice can be made
to carry further and to be more expressive, and the poorest and thinnest
voice can be improved. Every student who has a dream of being a public
speaker should take lessons in elocution or in singing or in both. The
expressiveness as well as the carrying power and the endurance of a
voice depend on a knowledge of how to use the muscles of the chest,
throat, and face; and trainers of the voice have worked out methods for
the proper use of all these sets of muscles. A man who throws his breath
from the top of his chest and does not use the great bellows that reach
down to his diaphragm can get little carrying power. So with the throat:
if it is stiff and pinched the tones will be high and forced, and
listening to them will tire the audience nearly as much as making them
will tire the speaker. Finally, the expressiveness of a voice, the
thrill that unconsciously but powerfully stirs hearers, is largely a
matter of the resonance that comes from the spaces above the mouth and
behind the nose. A humorous singing teacher once declared that the soul
resides in the bridge of the nose; and the saying is not so paradoxical
as it sounds. Lessons in the use of all these parts, and faithful
practice in the exercises which go with them, are essential for any man
who wishes to make a mark in public speaking.

With the use of the voice, though less essential, goes the position and
bearing on the platform. It is not necessary to insist that the more
natural this is, the better. If you can wholly forget yourself and think
only of your points, the chances are that your attitudes and position
will take care of themselves. Only, before thus forgetting yourself,
form the habit of talking without putting your hands in your pockets.
You ought to need your hands to talk with, if not as much as a Frenchman
or an Italian, yet enough to emphasize your points naturally. The mere
physical stimulus to the eye of an audience in following your movements
will help to keep their attention awake. Every one who has tried
lecturing to a large class knows how much easier it is to hold them if
he stands up and moves a little from time to time. Learn to stand easily
and naturally, with your chest well expanded, and your weight
comfortably balanced on your feet. If it comes natural to you, move
about the stage slightly from time to time; but be careful not to look
each time you move as if a string had been pulled. In attitude and
gesture the only profitable council is, Be natural.

For all these matters of preparation, both of what you are going to say,
the use of your voice, and your attitude and action on the platform, be
prepared for hard practice with competent criticism. It is a good plan
to practice talking from your outlines with your watch open, until you
can bring your speech to an end in exactly the time allowed you. The
gain in confidence when you go to the debate will in itself be worth the
time. Again, practice speaking before a glass to make sure that you have
no tricks of scowling or of making faces when you talk, and to get used
to standing up straight and holding yourself well. What you see for
yourself of your own ways will help you more than the advice of a

But in all your preparation think beyond the special debate you are
preparing for. What you are or should be aiming at is habit--the
instinctive, spontaneous execution of rules which you have forgotten.
When the habit is established you can let all these questions of voice,
of attitude, of gesture, drop from your mind, and give your whole
attention to the ideas you are developing, and the language in which you
shall clothe them. Then the tones of your voice will respond to the
earnestness of your feeling, and your gestures will be the spontaneous
response to the emphasis of your thought. You will not be a perfect
debater until all these matters are regulated from the unconscious
depths of your mind.

In your attitude towards the debaters on the other side be scrupulously
fair and friendly. In class debates the matter is finished when the
debate is over; and what you are after is skill, and not beating some
one. In interscholastic and intercollegiate debates victory is the end;
but even there, after the debate you will often go out to supper with
your opponents. Therefore demolish their arguments, but do not smash
their makers.

If the first speech falls to you, set forth the facts in such a way that
not only your opponents will have no corrections or protests to make,
but that they will be wholly willing to make a start from your
foundation. Yield all trivial points: it is a waste of your time and
proof of an undeveloped sense of proportion to haggle over points that
in the end nobody cares about. You have won a point if you can make the
audience and the judges feel that you are anxious to allow everything
possible to the other side.

If your opponent trips on some small point of fact or reasoning, don't
heckle him; let it pass, or, at the most, point it out with some kindly
touch of humor. If his facts or his reasoning are wrong on important
points, that is your opportunity, and you must make the most of it.
Even then, however, stick to the argument, and keep away from any
appearance of being personal.

66. The Morals of Debating. There is a moral or ethical side to
practice in debating which one cannot ignore. It is dangerous to get
into the habit of arguing lightly for things in which one does not
believe; and students may be forced into doing this if great care is not
taken in the choice of subjects and sides. The remedy lies in using, so
far as they can be kept interesting, questions in which there is no
moral element; but still better in assigning sides to correspond with
the actual views and preferences of the debaters. Where a question of
principle is involved no one should ever argue against his beliefs. The
better class of lawyers are scrupulous about this: they will not accept
a brief which they believe to be in a cause which ought not to win. If
you have clearly made up your mind on a question of public policy, you
are in a false position if you argue, even for practice, against what
you believe to be the right.

The formal debates of school and college are of necessity barren of
practical result; yet even here your discussions have a potent effect in
molding your opinions. It is a habit of mankind to start idly talking on
a subject, and as idly taking sides; then, when the talk grows warmer,
in the natural desire to carry a point to talk themselves into belief.
This is a human, though not a very reasonable way of framing your views
on public questions; and it does not make either for consistency or for
usefulness as a voter. It is not good to back one's self into opinions
of what makes for the common weal.

Furthermore, debate is something very different from dispute: to talk
round and round a subject, contradicting blindly and asserting without
bringing forward facts, has its place in our life with our friends, so
long as it is good-natured; but it does not bring illumination. The
essence of debate, whether in a classroom, in a city council, or in
Congress, should be to throw light into dark corners, and to disentangle
the view that most makes for the general good. For us in America
_noblesse oblige_ applies to every educated man. The graduate of a high
school, and, even more, the graduate of a college, has taken exceptional
benefits from the community. This obligation he can in part repay by
helping all citizens to a better understanding of the issues on which
the progress of the nation turns.

Finally, debating should share the zest that comes of any good game that
means hard work and an honorable struggle with opponents one respects
and likes. It is preeminently a social occupation. The House of Commons
has long been noted as the best club in England; and this sense of
fellowship, of continuing friendship and intimacy, gives a charm to
English parliamentary life which is hardly possible with the unwieldy
numbers and huge hall of our own House of Representatives, but does
spring out of the smaller and continuing membership of the Senate. A
class in debating should have the sense of comradeship which comes of
hard work together and the trying out of one's own powers against one's
equals and betters, and from the memory of hard-fought contests; and
intercollegiate and interscholastic contests should be carried on in the
same spirit of zest in the hard work, of a sane desire to win, and of
comradeship with worthy opponents.


1. Name three questions in national affairs which have been debated
within a month, on which you could profitably debate; three in state
affairs; three in local affairs.

2. Name two subjects affecting your school or college which are under
debate at the present time.

3. Name two subjects on which you could write an argument, but which
would not be profitable for debate. Explain the reason.

4. Name two good subjects for a debate drawn from athletics; two from
some current academic question; two from local or municipal affairs.

5. Find a proposition in which the two sides to a debate might in good
faith pass each other without meeting. Make it over so that the issue
would be unavoidable.

6. Frame a proposition in which the burden of proof would not be on the
affirmative. Make it over so that the burden of proof would fall on the

7. Draw up a scheme for a debate on one of the propositions in Exercise
4, with a tentative assignment of points to three debaters on a side.

8. Draw up a set of instructions to judges for an intercollegiate or
interscholastic debate, so framed as to produce a decision on the points
which seem to you the most important.

9. Prepare yourself for a five-minute extemporaneous speech on a subject
on which you have written an argument.

10. Name three questions on which you could not, without violence to
your convictions, argue on more than one side.





This is the first of three lectures which make a continuous argument,
which were delivered in New York. September 18, 20, and 22, 1876. It
should therefore be regarded as the introductory part of the argument;
and as a matter of fact it does not get to Huxley's positive proof, but
is occupied with disposing of the other theories. This refutation
finished, Huxley was then at liberty to go ahead with the affirmative
argument, as he indicates in the last paragraph of the lecture.

The argument is a notable piece of reasoning on a scientific subject, in
terms which make it intelligible to all educated men. When Huxley spoke,
the heat which had been kindled by the first announcement of the theory
of evolution in Darwin's "Origin of Species" was still blazing; and
there were many church people who held that the theory was subversive of
religion, without giving themselves the trouble to understand it. This
timid frame of mind explains Hurley's mode of approach to the subject.

We live in and form part of a system of things of immense diversity and
perplexity, which we call Nature; and it is a matter of the deepest
interest to all of us that we should form just conceptions of the
constitution of that system and of its past history. With relation to
this universe, man is, in extent, little more than a mathematical point:
in duration but a fleeting shadow: he is a mere reed shaken in the winds
of force. But, as Pascal long ago remarked, although a mere reed, he is
a thinking reed; and in virtue of that wonderful capacity of thought, he
has the power of framing for himself a symbolic conception of the
universe, which, although doubtless highly imperfect and inadequate as a
picture of the great whole, is yet sufficient to serve him as a chart
for the guidance of his practical affairs. It has taken long ages of
toilsome and often fruitless labor to enable man to look steadily at the
shifting scenes of the phantasmagoria of Nature, to notice what is fixed
among her fluctuations, and what is regular among her apparent
irregularities; and it is only comparatively lately, within the last few
centuries, that the conception of a universal order and of a definite
course of things, which we term the course of Nature, has emerged.

But, once originated, the conception of the constancy of the order of
Nature has become the dominant idea of modern thought. To any person who
is familiar with the facts upon which that conception is based, and is
competent to estimate their significance, it has ceased to be
conceivable that chance should have any place in the universe, or that
events should depend upon any but the natural sequence of cause and
effect. We have come to look upon the present as the child of the past
and as the parent of the future; and, as we have excluded chance from a
place in the universe, so we ignore, even as a possibility, the notion
of any interference with the order of Nature. Whatever may be men's
speculative doctrines, it is quite certain that every intelligent person
guides his life and risks his fortune upon the belief that the order of
Nature is constant, and that the chain of natural causation is never

In fact, no belief which we entertain has so complete a logical basis as
that to which I have just referred. It tacitly underlies every process
of reasoning; it is the foundation of every act of the will. It is based
upon the broadest induction, and it is verified by the most constant,
regular, and universal of deductive processes. But we must recollect
that any human belief, however broad its basis, however defensible it
may seem, is, after all, only a probable belief, and that our widest and
safest generalizations are simply statements of the highest, degree of
probability. Though we are quite clear about the constancy of the order
of Nature, at the present time, and in the present state of things, it
by no means necessarily follows that we are justified in expanding this
generalization into the infinite past, and in denying, absolutely, that
there may have been a time when Nature did not follow a fixed order,
when the relations of cause and effect were not definite, and when
extranatural agencies interfered with the general course of Nature.
Cautious men will allow that a universe so different from that which we
know may have existed; just as a very candid thinker may admit that a
world in which two and two do not make four, and in which two straight
lines do inclose a space, may exist. But the same caution which forces
the admission of such possibilities demands a great deal of evidence
before it recognizes them to be anything more substantial. And when it
is asserted that, so many thousand years ago, events occurred in a
manner utterly foreign to and inconsistent with the existing laws of
Nature, men, who without being particularly cautious, are simply honest
thinkers, unwilling to deceive themselves or delude others, ask for
trustworthy evidence of the fact. Did things so happen or did they not?
This is a historical question, and one the answer to which must be
sought in the same way as the solution of any other historical problem.

* * * * *

So far as I know, there are only three hypotheses which ever have been
entertained, or which well can be entertained, respecting the past
history of Nature. I will, in the first place, state the hypotheses, and
then I will consider what evidence bearing upon them is in our
possession, and by what light of criticism that evidence is to be

Upon the first hypothesis, the assumption is, that phenomena of Nature
similar to those exhibited by the present world have always existed; in
other words, that the universe has existed from all eternity in what may
be broadly termed its present condition.

The second hypothesis is, that the present state of things has had only
a limited duration; and that, at some period in the past, a condition of
the world, essentially similar to that winch we now know, came into
existence, without any precedent condition from which it could have
naturally proceeded. The assumption that successive stales of Nature
have arisen, each without any relation of natural causation to an
antecedent state, is a mere modification of this second hypothesis.

The third hypothesis also assumes that the present state of things has
had but a limited duration; but it Supposes that this state has been
evolved by a natural process from an antecedent state, and that from
another, and so on; and, on this hypothesis, the attempt to assign any
limit to the series of past changes is, usually, given up.

It is so needful to form clear and distinct notions of what is really
meant by each of these hypotheses that I will ask you to imagine what,
according to each, would have been visible to a spectator of the events
which constitute the history of the earth. On the first hypothesis,
however far back in time that spectator might be placed, he would see a
world essentially, though perhaps not in all its details, similar to
that which now exists. The animals which existed would be the ancestors
of those which now live, and similar to them; the plants, in like
manner, would be such as we know; and the mountains, plains, and waters
would foreshadow the salient features of our present land and water.
This view was held more or less distinctly, sometimes combined with the
notion of recurrent cycles of change, in ancient times; and its
influence has been felt down to the present day. It is worthy of remark
that it is a hypothesis which is not inconsistent with the doctrine of
Uniformitarianism, with which geologists are familiar. That doctrine was
held by Hutton, and in his earlier days by Lyell. Hutton was struck by
the demonstration of astronomers that the perturbations of the planetary
bodies, however great they may be, yet sooner or later right themselves;
and that the solar system possesses a self-adjusting power by which
these aberrations are all brought back to a mean condition. Hutton
imagined that the like might be true of terrestrial changes; although no
one recognized more clearly than he the fact that the dry land is being
constantly washed down by rain and rivers and deposited in the sea; and
that thus, in a longer or shorter time, the inequalities of the earth's
surface must be leveled, and its high lards brought down to the ocean.
But, taking into account the internal forces of the earth, which,
upheaving the sea bottom, give rise to new land, he thought that these
operations of degradation and elevation might compensate each other: and
that thus, for any assignable time, the general features of our planet
might remain what they are. And inasmuch as, under these circumstances,
there need be no limit to the propagation of animals and plants, it is
clear that the consistent working out of the uniformitarian idea might
load to the conception of the eternity of the world. Not that I mean to
say that either Hutton or Lyell held this conception--assuredly not;
they would have been the first to repudiate it. Nevertheless, the
logical development of their arguments lends directly towards this

The second hypothesis supposes that the present order of things, at some
no very remote time, had a sudden origin, and that the world, such as it
now is, had chaos for its phenomenal antecedent. That is the doctrine
which you will find stated most fully and clearly in the immortal poem
of John Milton,--the English _Divina Commedia,_--"Paradise Lost." I
believe it is largely to the influence of that remarkable work, combined
with the daily teachings to which we have all listened in our childhood,
that this hypothesis owes its general wide diffusion as one of the
current beliefs of English-speaking people. If you turn to the seventh
book of "Paradise Lost," you will find there stated the hypothesis to
which I refer, which is briefly this: That this visible universe of ours
came into existence at no great distance of time from the present; and
that the parts of which it is composed made their appearance, in a
certain, definite order, in the space of six natural days, in such a
manner that, on the first of these days, light appeared; that, on the
second, the firmament, or sky, separated the waters above, from the
waters beneath the firmament; that, on the third day, the waters drew
away from the dry land, and upon it a varied vegetable life, similar to
that which now exists, made its appearance; that the fourth day was
signalized by the apparition of the sun, the stars, the moon, and the
planets; that, on the fifth day, aquatic animals originated within the
waters; that, on the sixth day, the earth gave rise to our four-footed
terrestrial creatures, and to all varieties of terrestrial animals
except birds, which had appeared on the preceding day; and, finally,
that man appeared upon the earth, and the emergence of the universe from
chaos was finished. Milton tells us, without the least ambiguity, what a
spectator of these marvelous occurrences would have witnessed. I doubt
not that his poem is familiar to all of you, but I should like to recall
one passage to your minds, in order that I may be justified in what I
have said regarding the perfectly concrete, definite picture of the
origin of the animal world which Milton draws. He says:

"The sixth, and of creation last, arose
With evening harps and matin, when God said,
'Let tine earth bring forth soul living in her kind,
Cattle and creeping things, and beast of the earth,
Each in their kind!' The earth obeyed, and, straight
Opening her fertile womb, teemed at a birth.
Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms,
Limbed and full-grown. Out of the ground uprose,
As from his lair, the wild beast, where he wons
In forest wild, in thicket, brake, or den:
Among the trees in pairs they rose, they walked;
The cattle in the fields and meadows green;
Those rare and solitary; these in flocks
Pasturing at once, and in broad herds upsprung.
The grassy clods now calved; now half appears
The tawny lion, pawing to get free
His hinder parts--then springs, as broke from bonds,
And rampant shakes his brinded mane; the ounce,
The libbard, and the tiger, as the mole
Rising, the crumbled earth above them threw
In hillocks; the swift stag from underground
Bore up his branching head; scarce from his mould
Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved
His vastness; fleeced the flocks and bleating rose
As plants; ambiguous between sea and land,
The river-horse and scaly crocodile.
At once came forth whatever creeps the ground,
Insect or worm."

There is no doubt as to the meaning of this statement, nor as to what a
man of Milton's genius expected would have been actually visible to an
eyewitness of this mode of origination of living things.

The third hypothesis, or the hypothesis of evolution, supposes that, at
any comparatively late period of past time, our imaginary spectator
would meet with a state of things very similar to that which now
obtains; but that the likeness of the past to the present would
gradually become less and less, in proportion to the remoteness of his
period of observation from the present day: that the existing
distribution of mountains and plains, of rivers and seas, would show
itself to be the product of a slow process of natural change operating
upon more and more widely different antecedent conditions of the mineral
framework of the earth; until, at length, in place of that framework, he
would behold only a vast nebulous mass, representing the constituents of
the sun and of the planetary bodies. Preceding the forms of life which
now exist, our observer would see animals and plants not identical with
them, but like them: increasing their differences with their antiquity,
and at the same time becoming simpler and simpler; until, finally, the
world of life would present nothing but that undifferentiated
protoplasmic matter which, so far as our present knowledge goes, is the
common foundation of all vital activity.

The hypothesis of evolution supposes that in all this vast progression
there would be no breach of continuity, no point at which we could say
"This is a natural process," and "This is not a natural
process"; but
that the whole might be compared to that wonderful process of
development which may be seen going on every day under our eyes, in
virtue of which there arises, out of the semifluid, comparatively
homogeneous substance which we call an egg, the complicated organization
of one of the higher animals. That, in a few words, is what is meant by
the hypothesis of evolution.

* * * * *

I have already suggested that in dealing with these three hypotheses, in
endeavoring to form a judgment as to which of them is the more worthy of
belief, or whether none is worthy of belief--in which case our
condition of mind should be that suspension of judgment which is so
difficult to all but trained intellects,--we should be indifferent to
all _a priori_ considerations. The question is a question of historical
fact. The universe has come into existence somehow or other, and the
problem is, whether it came into existence in one fashion, or whether it
came into existence in another; and, as an essential preliminary to
further discussion, permit me to say two or three words as to the nature
and the kinds of historical evidence.

The evidence as to the occurrence of any event in past time may be
ranged under two heads, which, for convenience' sake, I will speak of as
testimonial evidence and as circumstantial evidence. By testimonial
evidence I mean human testimony; and by circumstantial evidence I mean
evidence which is not human testimony. Let me illustrate by a familiar
example what I understand by these two kinds of evidence, and what is to
be said respecting their value.

Suppose that a man tells you that he saw a person strike another and
kill him; that is testimonial evidence of the fact of murder. But it is
possible to have circumstantial evidence of the fact of murder; that is
to say, you may find a man dying with a wound upon his head having
exactly the form and character of the wound which is made by an ax, and,
with due care in taking surrounding circumstances into account, you may
conclude with the utmost certainty that the man has been murdered; that
his death is the consequence of a blow inflicted by another man with
that implement. We are very much in the habit of considering
circumstantial evidence as of less value than testimonial evidence, and
it may be that, where the circumstances are not perfectly clear and
intelligible, it is a dangerous and unsafe kind of evidence; but it must
not be forgotten that, in many cases, circumstantial evidence is quite
as conclusive as testimonial evidence, and that, not unfrequently, it is
a great deal weightier than testimonial evidence. For example, take the


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