I've mentioned Honest Argument before, one of the group of websites that has sprung up recently to host online argumentation and which includes visual representation of those arguments - here is a better idea of what can be acheived:
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Another method for mapping arguments is to use hypertext to allow 'drilling down' in to arguments; this is the method used to illustrate arguments for and against replacing Trident, the United Kingdom's nuclear deterent.
The disadvantage of using this method is that it is difficult to get an idea of the overall structure of the argument, and to therefore analyse it holistically. Each individual argument may be criticised or supported, but the 'map' is hidden from view. Unlike the more rigourous structure imposed by software like Rationale, there is a lot of scope for missing suppressed premises or drawing unwarranted conclusions.
On the other hand, this might be a halfway-house between a prose only format and a truly visual map. It has the potential to improve upon, for example, the linear structure of essays, to allow greater depth without detracting from the pithiness of the thesis and supporting points.
An alternative implementation could even use a wiki format.
Concept mapping is a technique for visualizing the relationships between different concepts. A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships between concepts. Concepts are connected with labelled arrows, in a downward-branching hierarchical structure. The relationship between concepts is articulated in linking phrases, e.g., "gives rise to", "results in", "is required by," or "contributes to".
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I have an interest in game-theory, so the argument maps for the contention that it is rational to defect in a one shot prisoner's dilemma drew my attention:
(Click to enlarge)
For those who are unfamiliar with the prisoners dilemma, the wikipedia entry is a good introduction:
In game theory, the prisoner's dilemma is a type of non-zero-sum game in which two players can "cooperate" with or "defect" (i.e. betray) the other player. In this game, as in all game theory, the only concern of each individual player ("prisoner") is maximizing his/her own payoff, without any concern for the other player's payoff.
The argument that it is always better to defect (in a single iteration game) is based upon the premise that:
In the classic form of this game, cooperating is strictly dominated by defecting, so that the only possible equilibrium for the game is for all players to defect. In simpler terms, no matter what the other player does, one player will always gain a greater payoff by playing defect. Since in any situation playing defect is more beneficial than cooperating, all rational players will play defect.
This can also be illustrated by use of a simple table:
From this table you can see that if a player Co-operates, then the otcome for that player is guaranteed to be either Win or Lose-big. In contrast, if the player Defects, the guaranteed outcome for that player is either Win-big or Lose. No matter what the other player does, it is in each player's interest to defect.
A good place to look for arguments on which you can practice your argument mapping skills is at TruthMapping. Not only does it have a database of arguments that have already been open to challenge and debate, it also has a primitive map of each these arguments, which may help you get started
As an example, I picked an argument from TruthMapping about whether or not determinism can be shown to be either true or false:
1) PREMISE: The only claims about public reality which can be considered true or false are those which can in principle be submitted for experimental evaluation.
Determinism claims that all events in the universe are controlled by physical laws.
No matter what the outcome of any experiment, a determinist can claim that it was determined.
4) FROM 1,2 AND 3 IT FOLLOWS THAT:
There is no experiment which can prove the truth of determinism.
5) FROM 4 IT FOLLOWS THAT:
Determinism can be neither true nor false.
The primitive argument diagram looked like this (I have dropped statement 6 from the written statements, since it was a step further than the thesis of the argument)
So, having played about with it, what did I come up with?
You will probably see, that in addition to the objections being placed within the diagram itself, the structure has also changed. This is a great advantage of using argument mapping, because when you see the arguments laid out in diagrammatic form, you also notice that what you originally thought was a supporting claim actually requires a suppressed premise, or what you assumed were separate premises are in fact mutually dependant.
You can download the Rationale file Download Determinism.rtnl. I have included a bonus argument on determinism (a picture of its structure follows) - but it has not been analysed. I leave that as an exercise for the reader.
I am currently working on creating an argument map illustrating Stephen Law's excellent book "The War for Children's Minds" which is a well argued plea to teach Kantian Liberal enlightenment values (primarily critical thinking) to our children. It is a daunting prospect, particularly for someone with my limited experience of argument mapping, but here is a snapshot of this 'work in progress'.
I found an interesting philosophical argument map supporting the claim that science cannot explain everything at:
I have presented it slightly differently using Rationale, since I believe the (circled) claim that "It(e) therefore cannot be answered by an appeal to any part of the spatiotemporal universe" is superfluous: