Seven forms of argument




About 30 years ago, I took at course on securities law at Boston University School of Law.  I don’t remember the professor’s and remember very little about the course, one of the things that stuck with me over the years are the seven forms of argument. The professor said that there were seven forms of argument.  They are:

  1. Precedent — what happened before?  What were the decisions before?
  2. Anomalous Consequences — what are all the bad things that will happen if a certain course of action is followed?
  3. Precise Words — are there precise rules or words for this situation?
  4. Analogy — what are some analogous situations?
  5. Legislative History — intent — what has the original intent?
  6. Similar case other jurisdictions — what have other people done when faced with a similar problem?
  7. First principles – Public Policy — what is good public policy?

I always thought these were a great way to think about every argument or even every time you were trying to influence someone. You can just go down the list and see if you have covered every type of argument.  In addition, they roughly correspond to some of Robert Cialdini’s factors that persuade people to comply with requests.  This is how they line up:

  • Precedent — Robert identifies consistency as a key influencing factor.  People like to be consistent with what they have said or done before.
  • Precise Words — Authority is a key influencing factor and it is the authority of the exact language that gives it its weight.
  • Analogy — Consensus is a main factor in persuasion and analogy uses it because it shares what other people have done in similar circumstances.
  • Legislative History — This is another factor that taps into authority as a factor — what does someone who is an expert have to say is similar to looking at what people who drafted or passed a law said on the subject.
  • Similar case other jurisdictions — Consensus is another key influencing factor.  People look at what others have done in similar situations.

I have always liked the list of seven forms of argument and review them when I’m trying to make a case for something.




  • Nathan S. Gibson

    Nathan S. Gibson is an independent worker compliance business partner who provides expertise and creative solutions to enhance workforce flexibility and maintain compliance. He helps mitigate the risks associated with the misclassification of self-employed consultants, freelancers and independent contractors.

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