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Building an argument

Learn more about how to build strong arguments using different types of reasoning

Learning how to think independently

Consider the testimony of Ibn Khaldun about how to reason:

Ibn Khaldun: The necessity of knowledge as a pre-requisite (for the institution of the imamate) is obvious. The imam can execute the divine laws only if he knows them. Those he does not know, he cannot properly present. His knowledge is satisfactory only if he is able to make independent decisions. Blind acceptance of tradition is a shortcoming, and the imamate requires perfection in all qualities and conditions. (Khaldun, 1967/2005, p. 158)

Note that for the jurist knowledge alone is inadequate. Knowledge becomes satisfactory only when the jurist can render independent decisions. This is because anyone with basic literacy skills can read or recite or repeat from a book and therefore "know" a principle. So too you, as a researcher attempting to use case data to draw conclusions on grounds of practical reasoning, need to do more than

  • read or recite or repeat the facts of the case study at hand
  • read or recite or repeat from the research literature you use to help you understand the case data

Instead: you need to be able to think independently. How do you that? Again: the parables show you the way.

Regard: Not thinking independently, i.e. blindly accepting the news of the world, was the mistake of the director depicted in the parables

  • First, the director blindly reported what he confronted on the ground. Admonished by his superior for not thinking independently, the director revised his reportage into an argument by linking his data (what he experienced) to his interpretations (what he concluded from his experience) by using discursive language (by writing hypotactically). This corresponds to how how your professor wants you to execute Heuristic Suite I as you identify and describe the issues of the cases.
  • Second, the director blindly, naively, and uncritically reported what the big snake told him. Admonished by his superior for not thinking independently yet a second time, the director revised his quote-and-comment reportage into an argument by comparing the testimony of his source (the big snake) with the facts of the case and with other research. By doing this the director is able to draw a conclusion far less literal, innocent, and naive, and far more considered and sensitive to the facts of the case and the consensus of the research community. This corresponds to how your professor wants you to treat your sources as you execute Heuristic Suite II: allow yourselves to not merely repeat-report naively, literally, and uncritically what you read. Instead: learn to think independently by comparing carefully the facts of the case to the testimonies of your sources (the research literature).

Thinking independently requires that you use two important discursive strategies: inference and analogy.

Umar's letter to Abu Musa on his appointment as judge in al-Kufah (Khaldun, 1967/2005):

Use your brain (emphasis mine) about mattters which perplex you and to which neither Qur'an nor Sunnah seem to apply. Study similar cases and evaluate the situation through analogy with them (p. 173).

Paraphrasing Umar: Use your brain--please, please use your brain instead of merely reciting from the course texts--about matters which perplex you and to which neither your own experience nor the research literature seem to apply (at least on their face).

Do this: evaluate the situation described in the case through analogy and inference with the findings of the research literature and with the situations depicted in the research literature. Analogy and inference are your tools.

For example: Baym describes a special interest group (people who enjoy soap operas) that uses a newsgroup as the basis for community.

  • Thinking analogically: how is the community described by Baym like, or unlike, and to what degree is it like, or unlike, the situation described in the case at hand?
  • Thinking inferentially: what can you conclude based on the similarities and differences that you identified by thinking analogically?

This is how practical reasoning (and legal reasoning) works: when confronted by a novel issue or challenge, you do not simply give up or shut down.


  1. you attempt to discover by means of research some sort of precedent that you can link to the case at hand by means of analogy and inference.
  2. you then develop conclusions based on your analogies and inferences.

Your conclusions are hypotheses. Were you to go a step further in your research you would begin to develop a research design--e.g. an experiment or a observations in the field--to test your hypothesis. But for the purposes of this course your task is only to develop hypotheses in the form of the recommendations specified in your case reports.


Khaldun, I. (2005). The Muqaddimah: An introduction to history (F. Rosenthal, Trans.). Princeton University Press. (Originally published 1967)