2 Claim

The claim is essentially the point of an argument.

  • If the issue is framed as a problem, the claim is the solution.
  • If the issue is framed as a question, the claim is the answer.
  • If the issue is framed as an investigation, the claim is the conclusion.

The claim is whatever you want the audience to accept by the end of the argument.

Everything else in the argument is designed to help the audience accept that claim.

Your food stinks. Image of a hamburger made out of cigarette butts.
What's the claim in this ad? (What new truth does it want the audience to accept?)

The claim is not, "Your food stinks," it's the statement in the fine print: "Secondhand smoke is ruining the experience for some of your guests, and that's costing you money."

Now, "Your food stinks" could be considered to be a claim, but it's not the conclusion or main point of the argument.

The point of this argument is to help the audience recognise that they have a problem with secondhand smoke and that it's serious enough that they need to do something about it.

Claim types

On the previous page, we looked at the way issues can be grouped into different argument types.

It's the same with claims: different issues produce different types of claims in response.

You can often recognise each type by distinctive keywords:

  • Factual claims: "X exists! Y happened!"
  • Causal claims: "X causes Y!"
  • Definitional claims: "X is Y!"
  • Resemblance claims: "X is like Y!"
  • Proposal claims: "We should do X about Y!"
  • Valuational claims: "X is a bad example of Y!"
  • Ethical claims: "It is wrong to do X to Y!"

The anti-smoking ad above made a factual claim ("secondhand smoke is a problem for your business").

What type of claim is made in this snippet (about the reality TV show Married at First Sight)?

Despite its obvious appeal, the Nine Network’s reality TV show Married at First Sight is based on a false premise. This “social experiment” is built on the notion that individuals looking for love are matched by experts, increasing the probability of a lasting and satisfying union.

However, it is entirely apparent that the show all but guarantees relationship failure.

What's the claim? And what type of claim is it? (Factual, proposal, valuational, etc... You might need to restate the claim to make the claim type "click" for you.)

The claim is that "the show all but guarantees relationship failure".

This is a causal claim.

You might think it sounds like a factual claim, but remember factual arguments are about ground truth reality, whether things do or don't exist, did or did not happen.

  • This claim does not say that the show exists or that relationships have failed on the show.
  • Instead, the claim is that the way the show is set up will almost certainly cause the relationships to fail.
  • If you think ahead to what the argument is likely to be, you'd expect the writer to say things like, "The producers of the show select and combine contestants for drama which then leads to arguments that are exacerbated by the presence of cameras, which ultimately leads to the relationships breaking down."

General vs specific claims

The scale of a claim should match the scale of the issue.

  • For example, the smoking ad above presented a general issue about secondhand smoke and made a general claim (it's a problem that costs businesses money).
  • The claim in the article about Married at First Sight was more specific because it was about the mechanics of a specific show. (It would have been even more specific if it had been about a specific relationship on the show).

What's the claim in this snippet about bridges and roads in the United States? What type of claim is it? And is it general or specific?

Too Big to Fall brings into focus the critical role played by the 600,000 bridges that comprise our National Bridge Inventory. Few Americans understand that bridges are comprised of thousands of moving parts that are in constant need of attention if they are to continue to operate as originally designed. In effect, a bridge is a finely calibrated machine that, much like a car or airplane, has an expected life span, requiring increasing amounts of maintenance if it is to be safely used decades after being put into operation.

This book makes a direct plea to our nation’s leaders to rise above the divisiveness of current politics and recognize the peril we find ourselves in. The story of our beleaguered infrastructure transcends political affiliations.

What's the claim? What type of claim is it? Is it general or specific?

The claim is that the nation's leaders should rise above party politics and work together to invest in the maintenance of bridges.

It's a proposal claim because it argues for a specific course of action. (The issue could be phrased as "What should we do about our crumbling infrastructure?" And the conclusion could be phrased as "We should unite and invest.")

And the scale of the argument is general. It's not about a specific bridge; it's about all the bridges in the country and the general trend of their continuing degradation.

Let's practice making up different types of claims with a little Balderdash game.

Here's a picture of a public park. Make seven claims about public parks, one for each claim type.

  • The claims can be completely made-up; they don't have to be truthful.
  • Don't worry about explaining any issues; we'll be able to infer issues from your claims.
  • And since most people agree that parks are good, feel free to make claims about how parks are bad, if you want a challenge.
Make 7 claims, one of each argument type. (Factual. Causal. Definitional. Resemblance. Proposal. Valuational. Ethical.)

You might make claims like these:

  • Factual: "The amount of space devoted to public parks is steadily shrinking."
  • Causal: "Public parks reduce crime."
  • Definitional: "Public parks are healthcare."
  • Resemblance: "Public parks are like a city's lungs. "
  • Valuational: "Public parks are one of the best forms of amenity in a city."
  • Proposal: "We should build more public parks and invest to make the parks we have even more beautiful."
  • Ethical: "It's not fair that many regional towns and poor neighbourhoods in cities don't have good public parks."

To recap

  • The claim is the point of the argument. (It's the answer, solution, conclusion, proposal, etc.)
  • Think of the claim as, "What do you want the audience to do, believe, accept, support?"
  • Claims can be sorted into the same argument types as issues.
  • Claims can be general or specific.
  • The type and scale of the claim are determined by the way the issue has been framed.
  • While the claim is the logical conclusion to an argument, it can be presented anywhere—beginning, middle, or end.
  • Many ads only present a claim!

On this page, we've acted as if an argument will only have one claim, but this isn't strictly true.

Complex arguments can have multiple claims.

Sometimes, the claims are independent and equally important; sometimes, they are in a hierarchy, with some claims being more important than others.

This is too complex a topic for this lesson, but it's worth pointing out that it's completely normal and you'll encounter arguments with multiple claims all the time in daily life.

When engaging with (or making) these arguments, you just want to keep asking yourself, "What's the claim? If there is more than one claim, what's the relationship between them? And if one claim is more important than the others, what's the 'main' claim?"

We'll say something that might sound confusing, but it's important to keep in mind:

On some level, every single statement in an argument could be considered to be a claim.

That's because there is always the possibility that someone will dispute a statement.

  • Remember that a claim is simply the point or conclusion of an argument.
  • If nobody disputes a statement, then there's no argument and the statement is accepted as fact.
  • But if someone disputes a statement, they are essentially starting a new argument about that statement and the statement necessarily becomes a claim at the conclusion of that new argument.

Again, this is a more advanced topic, but it is important and it takes us into a deeper conversation about how we ever understand what is true in the world.

For now, just put the idea in the back of your mind and we'll return to this conversation another time.