The object of this book is to lay out a course in the writing of arguments which shall be simple enough for classes which give only a part of the year to the work, and yet comprehensive enough for special classes in the subject. It is especially aimed at the interests and needs of the student body as a whole, however, rather than at those of students who are doing advanced work in argumentation. Though few men have either the capacity or the need to become highly trained specialists in the making of arguments, all men need some knowledge of the art. Experience at Harvard has shown that pretty much the entire freshman class will work with enthusiasm on a single argument; and they get from this work a training in exact thought and a discipline that they get from no other kind of writing.
Accordingly I have laid out this book in order to start students as soon as possible on the same kind of arguments that they are likely to make in practical life. I have striven throughout to keep in mind the interests and needs of these average individuals, who in the aggregate will tread such a variety of paths in their passage through the world. Not many of them will get to Congress, there to make great orations on the settlement of the tariff, and the large majority of them will not go into the law; and even of the lawyers many will have little concern with the elaborate piecing together of circumstantial evidence into the basis for a verdict. But all of them will sooner or later need the power of coming to close quarters with more or less complicated questions, in which they must bring over to their views men of varying prepossessions and practical interests; and all of them all their lives will need the power of seeing through to the heart of such questions, and of grasping what is essential, though it be separated by a hair’s breadth from the inessential that must be cast to one side. It is for this training of the powers of thought that a course in the making of arguments is profitable, even when pursued for so short a time as can be given to it in most schools and colleges.
In laying out the book I have had these three purposes in mind: first, that the student shall without waste of time be set to exploring his subject and running down the exact issues on which his question will tarn; second, that as he collects his material he shall be led on to consider what part of it is good evidence for his purpose, and how to test his reasoning from the facts; third, that with his material gathered and culled and his plan settled he shall turn his attention to presenting it in the most effective way possible for the particular occasion.