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					        STRUCTURING THE ARGUMENT
           OF A THEORETICAL PAPER
       in social sciences and humanities

                                 Richard Parncutt
                    Centre for Systematic Musicology, Uni Graz, Austria




Thanks to students in Musikologie Graz who contributed to the development of this approach!
   Florian Eckl, Johannes Lehner, Manuela Marin, Margit Painsi, Sonja Zechner and others
Managing uncertainty
at the “boundaries of knowledge”


            Social sciences and humanities (SSH)
               unclear questions
               uncertain answers

            e.g.:
               systematic musicology
               music psychology


      We need a systematic approach
       to theory development!
                                                   Last update:
                                                   28 May 2012
Unanswered questions
examples from music psychology


        evolutionary function of music
        nature of musical talent, emotion
        perceptual status of roots, tonics
        effect of music on intelligence
        trance, ecstasy, peak experiences, flow
        association between music and spirituality
        music, migration, integration, identity


                                                      Last update:
                                                      28 May 2012
“Truth” and “knowledge”
A hermeneutic approach for both sciences and humanities


           Process-oriented creativity
               no clear beginning or end
               any draft can be improved
               but you have to stop sometime!



           Repeated interaction:
                            theses

              bottom-up               top-down

                           evidence
                                                          Last update:
                                                          28 May 2012
This guideline is for:

         theoretical papers
         by advanced students
         working alone or in teams
         in social sciences and humanities


      or anyone who wants to
         think clearly
         convince academic colleagues
         achieve academic independence
         develop political arguments

                                              Last update:
                                              28 May 2012
  Curricular context
  Level-appropriate pedagogical approaches


Preparatory level                  Advanced level
Proseminar, regular seminar        Research seminar, colloquium

Summarize literature               Defend a thesis
    passive                           active
    achieve an overview               convince others
    danger: positivism                contribute to research




                                                           Last update:
                                                           28 May 2012
Critical thinking
“critical” = careful, complex, constructive, credible

   The most important thing you will learn at university!
       Helps you address any issue in any discipline

   What all universities need to solve their problems!
       In teaching, research, administration

   What democracies need to function!
       E.g. political advertising before election campaigns




Further info: Wikipedia on “Critical thinking”
                                                               Last update:
                                                               28 May 2012
“Truth” versus argument

 What do researchers do?
 1.    Search for “truth”? (idealistic)
 2.    Try to convince others? (pragmatic)
 2 is the only criterion for 1; only 2 has “impact”

  Research students must learn:
     to convince other researchers
     if proven wrong, to accept advice
     essential for survival in any academic career!
     seldom directly taught!
                                                             Last update:
 Further reading: Wikipedia “impact factor”, “peer review”   28 May 2012
   Reasoning versus argument
   An evolutionary psychology approach
Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2010). Behavioral and Brain Sciences
Abstract: Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make
better decisions. However, …reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and
poor decisions. … Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative.
It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so
conceived is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on
communication and their vulnerability to misinformation. … Poor performance in
standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When
the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out
to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after
arguments supporting their views. … Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations
and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist. Proactively used reasoning also
favours decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all these
instances traditionally described as failures or flaws, reasoning does exactly what
can be expected of an argumentative device: look for arguments that support a
given conclusion, and favour conclusions for which arguments can be found. Last update:
                                                                              28 May 2012
“Argument” in SSH

Empirical evidence, modeling (scientific aspect)
   systematic observation
   transparent design
   quantitative or qualitative data
   data analysis
   interpretation

Intuition, introspection, speculation (humanities)
   motivation
   context (social, cultural, historic, political, moral)
   author’s expertise and experience
   informal interaction with other researchers
                                                             Last update:
                                                             28 May 2012
“Proving theories”
    in SSH

Not possible due to problem of induction
   You can’t reliably generalize from specific observations
   You can’t reliably predict the future from the past


Can theories be (completely) disproven?
   Popper (1934, Logik der Forschung): falsification
   Kuhn (1962, Structure of scientific revolutions): paradigm shift


Solution: Compare arguments for and against
   Which side has the most or strongest evidence?


Further reading. Wikipedia “Problem of induction”                      Last update:
                                                                       28 May 2012
“Good” theories
    in SSH

   falsifiable
       empirical test allows for falsification

   supported by convergent evidence
       from different studies and disciplines

   best currently available
       may be replaced tomorrow




                                                  Last update:
                                                  28 May 2012
“Good” theories
    in SSH

 simple  parsimonious, falsifiable
 general  accounts for a range of phenomena
 concrete  clearly defined terms, processes

 logical    clear argument
 empirical  observation-based, ecological

 seminal    inspires new approaches




    Ockham     Kuhn          Popper        Gibson   Last update:
                                                    28 May 2012
Poor forms of argument
in SSH
   Mystical, authoritative
       “It says in the Bible that God created the world in 6 days”
           Cannot be confirmed.
       “It is (un-)true because author X wrote it or I/you think so”
           Everyone makes mistakes or can be criticized.

   Democratic, intersubjective
       “Most people (dis-) agree that…”
           But research should challenge beliefs!

   Emotional, pathetic
       “I have been saying this for years and nobody is listening!”
           Personal context is ok but cannot be integral to argument

EXCEPTION: introductory example (below)
                                                                        Last update:
                                                                        28 May 2012
Non-argument
in SSH

   Ethical or political statements
       “Everyone has the same rights”
           Assumption, not argument


   Unsupported claims
       “obviously,…” “intuitively,…”
           Ok if it really is obvious. Otherwise omit.

   Attempts to impress or dazzle
       meaningless jargon
       long, complicated sentences
       personal criticism
           Just leave it out.
                                                          Last update:
                                                          28 May 2012
Prerequisities
for using this guideline

To understand and apply it, you will need:
   basic academic writing skills
       conventions of presentation: headings, citations etc.
   a desire to develop advanced writing skills
       quality of argument, clarity of thinking, analytic approach
   background knowledge in relevant disciplines
       or the time and motivation to read a lot of general background
   about 20 good, relevant literature sources
       or the time and motivation to look for them

                                                                         Last update:
                                                                         28 May 2012
Metacognition about the research process
(not about the object of research)

      Metacognition is:
        cognition about cognition, thinking about thinking
        makes thinking conscious by describing it
        enables planning of research process
        enhances quality and development of thinking
        enhances quality of research


      Improve your metacognitive skills by:
        reflecting on your own research processes
        expanding your vocabulary to describe them
        building structures to organise and analyse them

                                                              Last update:
                                                              28 May 2012
A formal approach
to creating and presenting a convincing argument

       What are the main structural elements?
           names? functions? (cf. any theoretical article)

       How are those elements structured?
           Is basic structure independent of content?

       How can I build an original argument?
           Does a standard structure improve the argument?




                                                              Last update:
                                                              28 May 2012
Why formalize structure?
Why not just be intuitive?


       Learn to follow guidelines
           conferences and journals
           general style guidelines e.g. APA Publication Manual
           grant applications


       Formal structures can aid learning
           balance formality and spontaneity


       Strict formalism should be temporary
           organisational abilities become intuitive
           internalise the message of this approach, then move on


                                                                     Last update:
                                                                     28 May 2012
The “logical song”
Supertramp

  When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
     a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
  And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily,
     oh joyfully, oh playfully watching me.
  But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
     logical, oh responsible, practical.
  And then they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
     oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical.


   Develop the ability to switch between
        formal, analytical
        intuitive, emotional
  Practice both the formal and the intuitive  balance!
  Intuition: let spontaneous thoughts lead you to new insights.
                                                                       Last update:
                                                                       28 May 2012
The structure of an argument
Two interconnected patterns of connections


            Temporal structure
              how the argument is presented in time
              linear, one-dimensional



            Internal structure
              how concepts relate to each other
              hierarchical, multidimensional




                                                       Last update:
                                                       28 May 2012
Temporal structure of argument
The basic structure of any narrative


                   Introduction
                       holistic, contextualised
                        general  specific

                   Main part
                       analytic, detailed

                   Conclusion
                       holistic, contextualised
                        specific  general

                                                   Last update:
                                                   28 May 2012
Internal structure of argument

Introduction:
                       Main question


        Ist subtopic   2nd subtopic    3rd subtopic



 Conclusion:            Main thesis


      1st subthesis    2nd subthesis    3rd subthesis
                                                      Last update:
                                                      28 May 2012
Examples of argument structure
from music performance research

 Question                 Thesis           Subtopics
 What promotes a          people            parents
 child’s musical          closest to the    teachers
 development?             child             peers
                                            preparation
 What does                                  trait anxiety
                          cognitive
 performance anxiety                        situation
                          factors
 depend on?                                 learned thought patterns
                                            self-efficacy
                                            text versus music
 What is the
                          pattern           memory
 psychological basis of
                          recognition       eye movements
 sight-reading?
                                            creativity

                                                                    Last update:
                                                                    28 May 2012
Three elements of an argument
that comprise almost the same words

                Verb?       Question mark?
       Topic    no          no
       Question yes         yes
       Thesis   Yes         no

       Example
       • Topic:    The origins of music
       • Question: How did music originate?
       • Thesis:   Music originated in social interaction

                                                       Last update:
                                                       28 May 2012
Formulating a thesis
in three stages

        1. Explore
               Collect some good publications in a topic area
               Find relevant claims in the literature and list them

        2. Believe
               Choose a claim that you believe to be true
               Your belief will motivate you to investigate it!

        3. Convince
               Find arguments for and against this claim
               Do the arguments convince you? Other people?

        If you/they are not convinced, return to 1 or 2!
        Go around the cycle several times until satisfied!
                                                                       Last update:
                                                                       28 May 2012
Examples of trivial theses
Some things to avoid

A choice from only two possibilities (e.g. yes or no)
   answer contains only 1 bit of information ( one-dimensional)
   better to ask “how” or “why” ( multidimensional answer)
   cf. Likert scale versus 2AFC (e.g. yes/no)

Example: “X and Y are different with respect to Z”
   Only interesting if we add how they are different
   Cf. two-tailed test - usually only interesting if we report direction

Avoid theses…
   that cannot be falsified
   that cannot be applied in practice
   upon which experts already agree
                                                                            Last update:
                                                                            28 May 2012
Building up your argument

   Two possibilities:
   1. Fill in the table in the word file
         leave the left column and enter the content
         discuss it in class or with me

   2. Fill in the pages of the powerpoint file
         leave the headings and enter the content
         present it to the class


   In both cases:
   Revise content repeatedly (hermeneutic approach)

                                                        Last update:
                                                        28 May 2012

				
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posted:3/18/2013
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