Argument mapping improves critical thinking

April 13, 2007 at 3:00 am 4 comments

Taro in ThailandFollowing up on my post on Critical Thinking, I’ve been looking into how arguments can be visualised. Simply put, an argument map is a presentation of reasoning, where the inferential sequence or structure is visualised and made explicit in an organic manner. I remember in my undergraduate philosophy courses doing very simple structural diagrams on paper and it wasn’t easy to share them or reproduce them, nor was it easy to keep track of who had rebutted what in a long philosophical debate. But now there is software to help give structure to our thinking and graphically display our claims in inferential or evidential relationship to each other.

Early 20th Century lawyer, J.H. Wigmore, is probably the originator of the graphical displaying of arguments. He developed a graphical structure for evidence in legal proceedings. Check out one of his maps here. In the 1950s, philosopher, Stephen Toulmin (a student of Wittgenstein), further developed argumentation analysis in his book, The Uses of Argument. Here’s an example of one of his maps.

Robert Horn is very well-known for his efforts in visualising argumentation, with his best known map probably being Can Computers Think? Horn picked a debate that had been raging since the 1950s – the Turing Test: whether computers can or ever will be able to think. I found Robert Horn’s explanation of how he developed pictorial argumentation maps very interesting. You can download each map and read about the claims, rebuttals, counter rebuttals etc – a great way to learn more about the structure of reasoning and argumentation. Horn considers that text and pictures have become so interwoven that they form a language of their own – visual language – and was really the first to hit on the use of a map as metaphor in the context of his work.

We have difficulty navigating our way around complex arguments when there’s no map. It would be a bit like trying to find your way around Sydney, London or New York without maps! Philosophers have been thrashing it out over the last 2500 years or so, attempting to discern what constitutes a good argument, but our minds more easily grasp the visual and so argumentation maps are a great form of knowledge generation and transfer – a non-expert can see what the essence of a debate is and what the experts think and disagree about.

Here is a good site that offers a tutorial on how to construct an argument map, including some practical exercises; and here is a link to a comprehensive list of tools for argument mapping, and the related techniques of concept and mind mapping.

I leave you with a photo of Taro. I don’t think anyone would argue that this is one cute pup :)-


Entry filed under: Critical thinking, Information visualisation, Knowledge Management, Useful resources.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Douglas Woods  |  September 30, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    OK, a very interesting article. So basically you are saying that arguments can be explored, maybe explained, not necessarily resolved by using a type of mind-map?
    Makes some sense to me!

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  October 1, 2007 at 5:00 am

    Exactly! mind-mapping I believe can illuminate thoughts, ideas, concepts, which can be further fleshed out, used as the basis for further exploration, triggering of new ideas etc etc. It gives some structure to the unstructured.

  • 3. CarloV  |  April 8, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Where can I find some information to the ARGUMENT VISUALIZATION ?

    I need it for a university self research (thesi)

    can you send me some link via e-mail?

    thank yoi

  • 4. thinkingshift  |  April 9, 2008 at 1:08 am

    Hi Carlo

    There are some great argument visualisation tools available such as ConvinceMe and QuestMap for example. This run-down of argument visualisation tools might be useful to you:



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