How to Argue Better

The fundamental principles and purposes of productive arguments

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Duke University Professor

  • Overview
  • Episodes
  • Recommended for you


We need to argue better in all areas of life so that we can understand each other, cooperate, and achieve our goals. This course will teach you how. You will learn what arguments are and how to identify, analyze, evaluate, and construct them. Concrete examples and exercises will enable you to master these essential skills.


What You'll Learn

  • What are arguments

  • What are they good for

  • Why do we need them

Supplementary Readings:

Think Again: How to Reason and Argue (Penguin Books in the UK and Oxford University Press in the US, 2018) (translated into Korean and Chinese)  

Understanding Arguments, 9th Edition, Concise Version, by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Robert Fogelin (UA9) (Cengage, 2014)  


PART I: The Nature of Arguments
8 Episodes



1. Why should you take this course?


Learning about arguments is valuable in many ways. These lessons will help you avoid mistakes yourself. They will also help you understand other people who disagree with you about important issues in all areas of life.

2. The problem of political polarization


Political polarization is tearing our societies apart. People who disagree about politics insult each other and refuse to compromise. The basic problem is mutual antagonism that stems from an inability to understand competing views.

3. Can arguments reduce political polarization?


Mutual antagonism can often be reduced by asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers. This solution to polarization is exemplified by Ann Atwater and C.P Ellis, who transformed their hostility into friendship.

4. Do you know enough already?


We are all susceptible to wishful thinking, generalizing from what comes to mind, and miscalculating probabilities. To avoid these common mistakes, we all need to learn how to analyze and assess arguments.

5. What is an argument?


Arguments are often despised because they are misunderstood as competitions or theatrical displays of intellectual prowess. Instead, arguments are sets of sentences with a premise and a conclusion. They are tools for understanding issues and people.

6. Is this an argument?


Some passages do not include any argument. We can tell when an argument is being given by looking at particular words that mark reasons and conclusions.

7. What are arguments used for?


Arguments present reasons, but what are reasons? Reasons include justifications of beliefs and actions as well as explanations of events and refutations of other arguments. Some arguments aim only to persuade without really giving any reason. One way to evaluate arguments is by whether and how well they serve their purposes.

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