Reasons and the Enthymeme
A reason is any idea that functions to support another idea. It invites the reader to agree with one statement by linking it to another statement that explains why it is true. A reason, then, is
anything one might say after “because” or “therefore.” An example:
The present arms control negotiations do not go far enough.
These negotiations do not include discussion of biological and chemical weapons.
These two assertions are connected by an implicit (or understood) “because.” Stated in reverse order, they would be connected by an implicit “therefore.”
Any assertion can function as a reason. For example, the thesis statement above (the first assertion), or a combination of the two above-stated assertions, could serve instead as a reason for a
different thesis statement (claim or conclusion). An example:
The current administration is not really serious about arms control.
The present arms control negotiations do not go far enough, by not including discussion of biological and chemical weapons.
No idea is necessarily a reason or a conclusion until it is put into relation with another idea. Reasoning is a process of creating logical relationships between ideas in such a way that belief in one
is intended to follow as a consequence of belief in another. A reason can offer an explanation of cause or motive, or it can be a statement that argues for belief. For the purposes of this style of
argumentative writing, the reason must be a statement that argues for belief: it must answer the reader’s implicit question, “Why should I believe that this assertion is true?”
A line of reasoning for this style of argumentative essay must result from consideration of what assertions to support and what reasons to develop, because obviously it cannot support and
develop all possible lines of reasoning that might be followed. Of all the potential reasons for making a particular assertion, a writer must choose those reasons s/he thinks are the best reasons
why an audience should come to believe his/her thesis to be true. As writers, therefore, we must decide for each thesis that we develop which line of reasoning is most worth pursuing. This
consideration, in relation to our thesis, will determine the shape or structure of each composition we write.
At this point, we need a name for the relationship created between a reason and a conclusion. This combination of assertions is called an enthymeme, a term adopted from classical rhetoric. It
is more open and flexible than terms derived from formal logic. It is best to think about reasoning first as a natural process and not as a system of rules. We reason all the time, usually without
trying to follow any rules or fit our thoughts into predefined patterns. We make connections conform to logical models. The enthymeme, then, refers to any combination of ideas in which a
conclusion of any kind is supported by a reason.
Enthymemes occur throughout our discourse whenever we connect ideas in this way:
Idea 1 because Idea 2
Idea 1 therefore Idea 2
In the first case, Idea 1 is the conclusion. In the second case, Idea 2 is the conclusion.
But the conclusion-reason model by itself does not guarantee that an enthymeme makes connections that are logical and reasonable. What makes the difference between what an audience will
accept as a reasonable connection between ideas and what may seem an unreasonable connection is the unstated assumption that connects the reason and the conclusion. Enthymemes,
therefore, can be said to derive from beliefs that the particular audience is assumed already to have accepted as given. The choice of one reason or another to support a conclusion results from
an understanding of what sorts of agreements can be assumed.
Real arguments are often hard to reduce to the underlying enthymemes from which they derive their reasoning. But such enthymemes are, nevertheless, providing the basis on which the
argument’s actual sentences are formed. The enthymemes represent the reasoning of the argument, even though that reasoning may be explicit or implicit, directly or indirectly conveyed in
the language of the argument.
Three kinds of statements, then, make up enthymemes: conclusion, stated reason and unstated assumption. Writer and audience must already agree that the implicit, unstated assumption is
true, without the need for further argument, before the audience can be expected to accept the connection between the writer’s reason and conclusion as a reasonable one.
An argument, remember, must address the stasis point of a real question at issue, or it will not address the genuine concerns of the intended audience. The argument itself can move from a
general principle to a specific conclusion:
Handguns should not be outlawed because the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution establishes the right to bear arms.
or it can articulate a specific instance from which a more general conclusion is inferred:
Handgun ownership should be unregulated because many people have protected themselves from violent assault using unlicensed handguns.
Often, when specific reasons are stated in enthymemes, general principles tend to be assumed, and vice versa. If general principles can be assumed to be shared, then specific arguments can
proceed on that basis. But if specifics can be taken for granted, general assumptions may not be. It depends, like so many other rhetorical choices, on the audience.
Developing an Enthymeme and Line of Reasoning
The following is an illustrative example of the process of developing and supporting an enthymeme that expresses a significant idea which addresses the stasis point of a specific, genuine
question at issue:
Question at Issue: Can/should graffiti (or certain kinds of graffiti) be seen or supported as “art?”
An enthymeme responding to this question would make a claim about what the author believes to be true or false, good or bad, necessary to do or not to do, important or not important, etc.
about this question.
Here is an example of one possible thesis (claim or assertion) on this subject, with which your line of reasoning would be structured to earn agreement from your audience:
Certain kinds of graffiti should be recognized as art and supported accordingly.
Here is a reason (main reason to believe the thesis is true, the best reason your audience can be expected to accept (including a shared term between thesis and reason and an implicit,
Graffiti has an important message to communicate about the lives and conditions of its creators.
Stated as an enthymeme: Certain kinds of graffiti should be recognized as art and supported accordingly because graffiti has an important message to communicate about the lives and
conditions of its creators.
Shared term: Graffiti. Shared assumption: If a means of expression attempts to communicate an important message, it can/should be considered art and is worthy of social/cultural support.
Your line of reasoning would be constructed to make the case for your main reason—to earn your audience’s assent to your thesis. Such a line of reasoning would require you to:
• Clarify what kinds of graffiti you think should be seen as art and give specific examples.
• State what criteria you would use to determine which kinds of graffiti should be considered art.
• Carefully make connections between the lives of graffiti artists and their art: How is the medium an essential part of the message?
• Give reasons why we should “read” such graffiti in a particular way and what’s important about doing so. (That is, what is the “message” of such “art,” and why is it crucial that the
dominant culture receive and understand it?)
• State what kinds of support you advocate giving to “artistic” graffiti.
• State what positive benefits might reasonably result from doing this for graffiti artists and society.
Potential concerns, questions, objections or counter-opinions to be addressed through counterargument:
• Graffiti is done in public spaces. With other kinds of art, I can choose whether or not to be exposed to it, so why should I be visually “assaulted” by this so-called “art” against my will?
• Graffiti is vandalism of public or private property, and my tax dollars have to be spent to cover it up. So why should we “encourage” it?
• Why should I be “forced” to learn to “read” this often-offensive “art?”
• Where you have graffiti, you often have gangs, drugs, etc. I don’t want to encourage that element. Even if I grant you that some graffiti is genuinely artistic, how do we guarantee that
gang “tagging” isn’t tolerated or encouraged as well?
• Are the medium and the message so linked that if you preserve, encourage or support graffiti by photographing it, displaying it in certain pre-designated areas or even in art galleries,
making film documentaries about it, etc. you actually destroy its artistic value?
• Might re-framing graffiti as “art” simply be a way to let mainstream society off the hook from truly hearing or responding to the “message” about the social/political
disenfranchisement and disadvantaged life conditions out of which it is generated?
Revision and the Structural Enthymeme
The enthymeme will have the following basic, but very open form:
Assertion 1 because Assertion 2
Each of these assertions will be a complete idea: the first one will be the conclusion that your essay aims to earn, and the second will be the main reason you have chosen in support of that
conclusion. Your task, as you develop your line of reasoning, is to find the best reason you can to support your central idea—the best reason you can offer and that you believe your audience
will accept, why your audience should believe your thesis to be true.
The “because” clause, then, should provide a clear direction in answer to the question, “Why should be reader believe that my thesis is true?” An honest search for this answer (through critical
reading, critical thinking and an open-minded process of inquiry) may result in the need to rethink the thesis itself—in fact, it often does. We view our ideas more critically when we carry out a
sincere search for good reasons to support them.
As you write and revise, it helps to critically check both parts of your enthymeme so that it will be one you can rely on to provide an adequate line of reasoning for a good argumentative essay.
Such an enthymeme provides the logical direction for the essay’s structure and reasoning to take.
Testing the Thesis:
1. Does my thesis express a significant idea? Does it state, in a complete sentence, an assertion (or claim)?
2. Does my thesis truly hit a stasis point and answer a question that is really at issue for the audience? What kind of question at issue is it?
3. Does my thesis say exactly what I mean? Are the terms I use precise and clear?
4. Has my thesis developed out of a process of critical thinking and reasoning? Have I adequately considered each side of the issue?
5. Can my thesis be developed reasonably?
Testing the Reason:
1. Is my “because” clause a complete, precisely stated idea?
2. Does my main reason represent a central reason for answering the question, “What makes this thesis true?”
3. Does my main reason share one logical term with my thesis?
4. Is the implied assumption upon which my enthymeme rests one that my audience can be expected to accept without further argument? (This means, of course, the same audience for
whom the question answered by the thesis is a genuine question at issue.)
5. Have I avoided using “unshared terms” that mean essentially the same thing? (If I haven’t, my reasoning may be circular.)
An example of circular reasoning would be:
Abortion is murder because abortion is killing babies and killing babies is murder.
The writer of such an argument is simply redefining terms so that they all mean the same thing (a tautology). The use of the verb “to be” is often problematic for this reason: it implies an
equivalency of terms that leads to a repetition of the same idea rather than making an inference.
An example of reasoning that reflects a similar view of abortion that is not circular is:
Anything prohibited by the church is wrong, and abortion is prohibited by the church; therefore, abortion is wrong.
You’ll notice that it’s much easier to construct a workable enthymeme from the second example: “Abortion is wrong because abortion is prohibited by the church.” Thesis: Abortion is wrong.
Reason: Abortion is prohibited by the church. Logically shared term: The word abortion appears in both clauses. Assumption: Anything prohibited by the church is wrong. (Of course, this
argument would only work if you could assume your target audience already shared this assumption. Therefore, this might be a workable enthymeme in a Christian magazine, but possibly not in
a college classroom. You must seek to offer the main reason your audience can be expected to accept as reasonable and compelling.)
In the broadest sense, the parts of the enthymeme can be thought of as loosely dictating the largest units of an essay’s structure:
question at issue beginning
assumption and because clause middle
Beginning: The reader is introduced to a problem that is of interest to the audience because it requires a solution (the question at issue). Establishes the background and context for the
argument you make in your enthymeme.
Middle: The solution to the problem depends on the reader and writer sharing a common understanding (the assumption). Given this understanding, an answer to the problem can be developed if
a certain condition is shown to be the case (the because cause, which establishes the author’s burden of proof). This is where you will lay out your evidence: specific examples, explanations,
personal experience, observations, support from class readings, etc., in support of your main reason.
End: Given the shared assumption and the condition just developed (supported, earned or “proven” in the main body of your essay), your audience can now accept that the solution you propose
(your thesis) follows logically from your reason, that your thesis is true.
Each of these parts can be as long or short as the specific case requires, based on your understanding of the question at issue, its stasis point(s) and the concerns, values and beliefs of your
audience. They do not correspond to paragraphs (as in the traditional “three-paragraph” essay structure). This could be the structure of an essay, a chapter or an entire book. Within these
parts, many kinds of sentences and transitions occur, as necessary. Not every argument requires the same components to make its case, but among the needs that may arise as an enthymeme
is expanded into a structure are needs for examples, definitions, qualifications, factual evidence, explanations (analogies, anecdotes), authoritative testimony (quotes, paraphrases), and the
need to acknowledge and refute potential counter-opinions through counterargument. But these basic functions are common to essays that take a reader through a developing line of reasoning
toward an earned conclusion.
Essay 2: The Persuasive Argumentative Essay
What is a persuasive/argument essay?
Persuasive writing, also known as the argumentative essay, utilizes logic and reason to demonstrate that a particular idea is the best way to address or resolve a question at issue of interest
and concern to a particular group of people, or discourse community. It attempts to persuade a reader to adopt a certain point of view or to take a particular action. The argument must
always use sound reasoning and solid evidence by stating facts, giving logical reasons, using examples, and quoting experts.
When planning a persuasive essay, follow these steps:
1. Choose your position. Which side of the issue or problem are you going to write about, and what solution will you offer? Know the purpose of your essay.
2. Analyze your audience. Your target audience are those most inclined to disagree with your position. To reach and persuade them, it will be necessary to first visualize these people as
reasonably thinking people of integrity who happen to have a different point of view on your chosen issue than you do. You must attempt to genuinely understand their perspectives in order to
best anticipate and respectfully address their questions, concerns and objections through counterargument (see Audience Assessment assignment).
3. Research your topic. A persuasive essay must provide specific and convincing evidence. It is necessary to go beyond your own knowledge and experience and draw on expert or
professional sources. Typically, this involves using the library, scholarly databases, and/or interviews with people who are experts on your topic. For our purposes, however, while students may
utilize outside sources as well, you are only required to draw on our course readings for support and counterargument.
4. Structure your essay. Figure out what evidence you will include and in what order you will present the evidence. Remember to consider your purpose, your audience, and your topic.
The following criteria are essential to produce an effective argument (see our Understanding the Enthymeme handouts)
• Be well informed about your topic. To add to your knowledge of a topic, read thoroughly about it, using legitimate sources. Take notes.
• Test your thesis. Your thesis, i.e., argument, must have (at least) two sides. It must be controversial or debatable. If you can write down a thesis statement directly opposing your own,
you will ensure that your own argument is debatable. Test the significance of your idea. Identify your question(s) at issue.
• Respond to audience concerns in order to persuade. Understand the opposite viewpoint of your position and then counter it by providing evidence and reasoning to demonstrate why
your idea is the best, most workable solution to the problem and by reasonably, respectfully addressing anticipated questions, objections or concerns. (Thinking about the Rogerian approach of
identifying and building on common ground is a good starting point for this.)
• Support your position with evidence. Remember that your evidence must appeal to reason (logic), and must be the best reasons you believe your audience will be inclined to accept, as
opposed to being based in personal values, emotions or beliefs.
The following are different ways to support your argument:
• Facts – A powerful means of convincing, facts can come from your reading and research into your topic and ideas. Note: Do not confuse facts with truths. A “truth” is an idea believed by
many people, but it cannot be proven.
• Statistics – These can provide excellent support. Be sure your statistics come from responsible sources. Always cite your sources.
• Quotes – Direct quotes from leading experts that support your position are invaluable. Students will be required to incorporate at least four quotes from at least two different articles
from Ch. 2 or Ch. 5 of 75 Arguments (whichever section you choose for your topic focus) for support and/or counterargument.
• Examples – Examples enhance your meaning and make your ideas concrete. They are a form of supporting evidence. Some examples may come from your own observations and
experiences—but do not rely on these exclusively: remember, all it takes to “refute” a personal experience or opinion is a different personal experience or opinion, so your own observations and
experiences alone are unlikely to be persuasive to your audience.
If you do choose to incorporate outside, scholarly sources for this paper, in addition to—not instead of—the required use of our class readings, these sources must be from the UCC Library’s
databases or be credible online/Internet sources, books, academic journals or magazines (that is, not simply general internet sources, blogs, etc.).