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Addressing the Audience

Why do we argue? Is it possible to confront an audience and benefit from your cognitive differences? Philosopher Daniel H. Cohen addresses these issues while discussing three models of argument: war, proof, and performance.

The argument-as-war model can subconsciously affect how we conduct our arguments, often magnifying the cognitive stakes and polarizing the us vs. them paradigm. This adversarial model creates a binary with only two foreseeable outcomes: glorifying victory or ignominious defeat.

To avoid the gridlock the war model may produce, the arguer must carefully assess the entry strategy to their argument. By first taking into account the position of the reader, the arguer should construct a major premise tailored to that audience which establishes some form of common ground. This allows the writer to reach a viable conclusion that takes the audience’s perspective into consideration, making for a more persuasive essay.

In order to create positivity through our arguments from two opposing views, we must rethink our approach to argumentation. As stated by Dr. Cohen, “just from a cognitive point of view, the war metaphor seems to force us into thinking that you’re the winner and I lost, even though I’m the only one who made any cognitive gain. What did you gain, cognitively, from convincing me?”

Important questions to consider when deciding on a strategy for your argument:

  1. What does my audience care about?
  2. What are my audience’s preconceived notions on this issue?
  3. Does my audience know I am addressing them?
  4. What do my audience and I agree on? (shared major premise)
  5. What types of evidence will be meaningful to my audience?
  6. What objections will my audience have to my argument?