What is the Function of a Claim in an Argument?
Protagoras (pictured right) engaging in a public debate. Protagoras was a Greek philosopher who is widely considered the father of argument and debate
A claim is an argument in statement form. The central or overall claim of an argumentative essay is also known as the thesis. After providing the thesis in the introduction, the author then spends the entire essay working to prove that claim through sub-claims (the central claim broken down into smaller chunks), reasoning, and evidence.
There are four types of argumentative claims: claims of fact, claims of value, claims of policy, and claims of cause and effect. Under each type of claim is an example of that claim on the topic of capital punishment. Note that the only factual claim on the topic is the claim of fact. The three other claims are up for debate and need to be supported by a lot more reasoning and evidence in order to persuade an audience to believe the argument.
Claims of Fact
A claim of fact (or a factual claim) is a claim arguing that something is or is not true. Claims of fact make assertions that can be proven or disproven with evidence.
- Less than 20 inmates were executed in the United States in 2020.
Claims of Value
A claim of value makes a judgement on something's worth, morality, or merit.
- The death penalty is unethical.
Claims of Policy
A claim of policy is an argument in support of, in opposition or, or for the alteration of an existing policy, law, or mandate.
- The United States should ban capital punishment.
Claims of Cause and Effect
A claim of cause and effect is a claim that one thing influences or affects another.
- The existence of capital punishment deters violent crimes,
What is a Counterclaim in Writing?
The first televised presidential debate took place between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. Debate participants will often prepare counterclaims in order to have a rebuttal ready for their opponent
A counterclaim is the argument opposing the author's claim. An effective argumentative essay will bring up counterclaims for two reasons:
- Bringing up counterclaims provides the author with a sense of credibility, thereby utilizing the rhetorical appeal of ethos. Rhetoric, being the art of persuasion, is a key component of any argumentative essay. Counterclaims provide credibility because it shows that not only is the author well-researched in the subject as they have proved to have researched all sides of it, but it shows that the author is not trying to hide possible information from the audience. They are being upfront with the audience about all sides of the issue, and are therefore more credible or believable.
- Bringing up counterclaims allows the author to provide a rebuttal. A rebuttal is an argument or evidence used to disprove an argument. By bringing up a counterclaim, the author is then able to disprove the counterclaim within their own argument.
An effective counterclaim will both disagree with and disprove a claim.
If the claim is that the United States should ban capital punishment, an effective counterclaim would be that the United States should not ban capital punishment because capital punishment provides a sense of closure for the families of the victims of violent crimes. This is an effective counterclaim because it disagrees with the claim (stating that it should not be banned) and provides reasoning that disproves it (that it provides closure).
Components of an Argument: Reasons and Evidence
Two key components of an argumentative essay are the reasons and evidence.
The reasons of an argument are the reasoning or logical proof provided to prove the argument. The reasons can also be thought of as the "why" behind a claim. Taking the policy claim from earlier, if an author is arguing that the United States should ban capital punishment, their reasons would be the reasons why they believe this is the case. For example, one popular reason in support of the claim about banning capital punishment is that capital punishment costs taxpayers more than life in prison. The reason "capital punishment costs taxpayers more than life in prison" answers "why" capital punishment should be banned. Reasons for a claim can also be written as a "because" statement with the claim: the United States should ban capital punishment because capital punishment costs taxpayers more than life in prison. Good reasoning for a claim is on topic, logically sound, factual, and can be supported by evidence.
Evidence provides factual proof for the reasons in an argument and can consist of facts, data, statistics, published study results, and quoted experts. In order for evidence to be reliable, it must come from a credible source that is current, nonbiased, provides researched sources, and (preferably) peer-reviewed. When providing evidence to support reasoning, always make sure that the evidence comes from a credible source and that it is directly relevant to the reasoning.
Working with the above claim and reasoning (the United States should ban capital punishment because capital punishment costs taxpayers more than life in prison), below is an example of strong evidence and weak evidence to support the claim and reason.
"Florida has estimated that the true cost of each execution is approximately $3.2 million, or approximately six times what it would cost to keep that person in prison for all of his or her natural life" (Spangenberg and Walsh 15).
- This above quote is an example of strong evidence because it directly relates to the claim and reasoning, providing factual evidence of the actual cost of capital punishment versus life in prison. Additionally, it comes from a credible source: an academic paper from the Loyola Law Review.
"In addition to wasting lives, the death penalty also wastes money. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it's much more costly to execute a person than to imprison them for life" (Andre and Velasquez).
- While this quote is from a credible source (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics), it merely restates the claim and reasoning, rather than providing actual evidence to support it.
"The demographics of the death row population show a racial bias as well. 42% of the inmates are black, although African-Americans only account for 12.5% of the U.S. population" (Walter).
- While this quote is from a credible source (Carolina Justice Policy Center) and provides factual evidence, the evidence is not relevant to the specific claim and reasoning provided. The reasoning is about the cost of the death penalty, while the evidence is about racial disparities in the implementation of the death penalty.
Claim and Counterclaim Structure
Argumentative essays have a basic structure that allows some room for the author's discretion. In a standard, five-paragraph argumentative essay, there are three sections, each with their own components.
- Introduction--The introduction of a five-paragraph essay is one paragraph. It contains a hook or way of gathering the audience's attention. The hook should be on-topic and supportive of the author's argument. After the hook, there is a transition statement (or statements) that connects the hook to the author's thesis. Finally, in the introduction is the thesis (claim). The thesis provides the main argument for the essay as well as an outline for the rest of the essay.
- Body--The body of a five-paragraph essay is three paragraphs. These paragraphs contain the author's sub-claims/reasoning, counterclaims, and evidence. Here is where the author has a bit of discretion over how to organize their essay. The body can be organized by reasoning, with the author providing three reasons as the topic sentences for the three paragraphs, then using further reasoning and evidence to prove the topic sentence. In this method, the author would address the counterclaims within each of the body paragraphs. Another way to organize the body of the essay is to spend two paragraphs discussing reasons and providing evidence for support and using the third body paragraph to address a counterclaim. This provides more room to address the counterclaim and apply a rebuttal of the counterclaim.
- Conclusion--The conclusion of a five-paragraph essay is one paragraph. The conclusion should sum up the author's entire argument from the essay. Additionally, the conclusion of an argumentative essay should look to the future. A good conclusion for an argumentative essay should address at least one of the following:
- What implications does the argument have for various stakeholders? For the audience?
- Are there predictions to be made about future developments of this issue?
- Is there a solution for how to address or resolve the issue going forward?
Claim and Counterclaim Examples
Below is an example of an effective claim, supported by reason and on-topic, credible evidence, followed by an effective counterclaim that disagrees with and disproves the claim through its own reasoning, evidence to support the counterclaims, as well as an effective rebuttal to the counterclaim with evidence of its own. Note that every step of the argument is supported by credible evidence.
- Claim: The United States should ban capital punishment.
- Reasoning: Capital punishment costs more than life in prison.
- Evidence: "Florida has estimated that the true cost of each execution is approximately $3.2 million, or approximately six times what it would cost to
keep that person in prison for all of his or her natural life" (Spangenberg and Walsh 15).
- Counterclaim: The United States should not ban capital punishment.
- Reason: Capital punishment provides a sense of justice for the victim's family.
- Evidence: "Justice requires that society impose on criminals losses equal to those they imposed on innocent persons. By inflicting death on those who deliberately inflict death on others, the death penalty ensures justice for all" (Andre and Velasquez).
- Rebuttal: While capital punishment can provide a sense of justice, it has been the case that innocent people have been executed through capital punishment, denying both the family of the victim true justice as well as creating a new victim through the court's faulty ruling; therefore, capital punishment actually adds to the injustice of the original crime.
- Evidence: "Since 1973, 186 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges related to the wrongful convictions that had put them on death row" ("Innocence").
An argumentative essay is an essay in which the author makes a claim (argument) and then attempts to persuade their audience to believe their claim through reasons, evidence, and the addressing of counterclaims. The standard format for an argumentative essay is as follows:
- Introduction (1 paragraph that contains the claim)
- Body Paragraphs (3 paragraphs that contain the reasons, evidence, and counterclaims)
- Conclusion (sums up the entire argument and provides a look to the future)
An effective argument contains all of the necessary components (claim, reasons, evidence, counterclaims) while keeping the intended audience in mind.