(Core argument)

Every argument needs at least one claim.

Every claim needs at least one reason.

A claim plus a reason is what we could consider to be the smallest possible argument.

We'll call this a core argument. (You could also call it a nutshell argument, a thesis, or an enthymeme.)

Before we move on to other argument components, we should practice making these little nutshell or core arguments.

Here's an example of a core argument in an ad for a Swiss bank. What's the claim? What's the reason? What type of argument is it?

What's the core argument (claim + reason) in this ad? And what type of argument is it?
  • The main claim is, "Clients like us."
  • The reason that justifies that claim is, "Because of our honesty."
  • So the core argument is, "Our clients like us because of our honesty."
  • This is a valuational argument because it's about matching the criteria for a good private bank (in this case, honesty).

(The statement, "We like our clients because of their money," actually serves as evidence for the advertiser's honesty. We'll talk about evidence later.)

Here's another example. What's the core argument? What type of argument is it?

What's the core argument (claim + reason) in this ad? And what type of argument is it?

If you were to verbally repeat the argument in this ad to someone, you'd say something like, "We should fund the public schools so that they can buy new equipment for student athletes." Everyone would understand the reasoning.

However, if you wanted to restate the argument with an explicit 'because' (in order to make the reasoning super clear), you could say, "We should fund the public schools because they need money to buy new equipment for student athletes."

This is a proposal argument, because it's about taking a course of action.

All ads make an argument, but because ads are competing for your time and attention, they will often leave you to infer the argument from evidence, claim, or reason alone.

For example, here's an ad from an optometry booking platform.

How would you state this ad's core argument using claim-because-reason phrasing?

What's the core argument (claim + reason) in this ad? And what type of argument is it?

The core argument is, "You should book a checkup with an optometrist because they can detect hidden eye diseases early, before they become catastrophic."

It's a proposal argument.

But the ad doesn't explicitly make the claim!

Instead, the ad gives us:

  • Evidence: Many eye diseases have no early symptoms and can be catastrophic if undetected and untreated.
  • Reason: Optometrists can detect eye diseases early.

And leaves us to fill in the blank:

  • Claim: So you should book an optometrist appointment!

To really hammer this home, let's try a balderdash game.

Use this image to make seven core arguments consisting of claim + reason, one for each argument type.

  • You can be as fantastical as you want.
  • Try to distinguish between each argument type.
  • Link with 'because' and create a reason that would logically justify your claim, no matter how absurd.
  • The core arguments don't have to be related.
Can you come up with 7 core arguments based on this image? (Factual. Causal. Definitional. Resemblance. Proposal. Valuational. Ethical.)

You might write core arguments such as:

  • Factual: "You know other people have pet crocodiles because you can see them in their swimming pools and bathtubs."
  • Causal: "Regular grooming makes your crocodile more calm because it reduces stress levels."
  • Definitional: "He's a crocodile because he prefers salt water!"
  • Resemblance: "A crocodile is just like a guard dog because it chases away intruders."
  • Proposal: "You should buy a tank because you don't want your crocodile deciding to live in your toilet."
  • Valuational: "A crocodile is a great family pet because it can teach important life lessons about responsibility and the complexity of nature."
  • Ethical: "It's right to keep pet crocodiles because it's a way to preserve the species, even though they're not in their natural habitat."

To recap

  • The smallest possible argument you could make consists of a claim plus a reason.
  • We'll call this a core argument (or a nutshell argument).
  • As always, there's a difference between what the argument is and how the argument is presented.
  • For example, all ads have a core argument, but they may not actually present the claim or reason, instead presenting just enough for us to figure them out for ourselves.