As discussed in the previous section, for Toulmin, argumentation is an attempt to justify a statement or a set of statements and focuses solely upon proving those statements. But what happens when you can concede that your opponent has a valid point? Because we are complex creatures, humans oftentimes find themselves strongly opposed to something that later changes for them once they are presented with different evidence. While many arguments can seemingly be based upon emotions alone, when presented with logical evidence to refute our position we may experience a crisis of conscience. Is it possible to hold firmly to one belief yet concede that the opposing side has merit? There is a way if you utilize the Rogerian method for argumentation.
Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was an American psychologist and clinical therapist who utilized a humanistic (client-centered) approach to psychology. When applied to argumentation, the Rogerian method makes use of examining counterarguments as enhancements, or concessions, rather than viewing them as completely oppositional. According to Lunsford et al., “Rogers argued that people involved in disputes should not respond to each other until they [can] fully, fairly, and even sympathetically state the other person’s position.” Rogers’ non confrontational methods, when applied to argumentation in rhetoric, suggests that the most personal feelings are also the most common and, therefore, are the most likely to be understood.
One benefit to utilizing a Rogerian approach in composition studies is that it encourages the writer/arguer to build a bridge towards oppositional positions. This does not mean that you abandon your own position, and it does not mean that your position is weak. Rather, a Rogerian approach provides alternative perspectives for considering a given position as well as methods for responding to counterarguments that might seem to refute your major premise.
Much like the Toulmin method, the Rogerian method relies upon claims that can be supported with evidence (data). How the Rogerian method differs is in the concession where, if there is a strong, valid argument that refutes your claim, you concede that argument might be a valid point in a different context. Or, perhaps you concede that a portion of your opponent’s argument is valid for your position, yet point out how the circumstances differ, therefore making your position the most logical, strongest one for your given topic. While the goal remains to persuade your reader/audience to view your position as valid, when utilizing the Rogerian method you build common ground to other possibilities and demonstrate that counterviews are not entirely wrong.
When used in argumentation, the Rogerian method allows for a dialogue to occur surrounding an issue. By examining counterarguments to your claims, you are able to view your position/ thesis from a different point of view. Understanding all (or most) of the points surrounding your given topic will strengthen your own position as you will create a more fully informed essay.
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- Andrea Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters, Everything’s an Argument, 8th ed. (Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018), 139. ↵