How do I evaluate an argument?

An argument is a conclusion based upon evidence (i.e. premises). Arguments are commonly found in newspaper editorials and opinion columns, as well as mgazine essays. To evaluate these arguments, you must judge whether it is good or bad. "Good" and "bad" are not, however, merely subjective opinions. An evaluation should be based upon rational criteria, such as the F.E.L.T. criteria below.

When you evaluate your essays and columns, you probably won't use everything in this list below. Focusing on one issue or another is usually quite effective, since a long list of criticisms becomes tiresome and difficult to explain thoroughly.


Is the argument fair and balanced, or does it contain bias? Bias can be detected by asking the following questions:

  1. Is the argument overly emotional and filled with loaded language?
  2. Is the argument one-sided? Are there alternative points of view not addressed? What are the implications of this narrowness?

Evidence and Logic:

Is the attitude of the writer appropriate for the content? For example, is it too serious? Is it too sarcastic or dismissive? Is it overly dramatic? (Tone can reinforce bias.)


Reading an Argument Carefully
Here are some further thoughts on examining an argument:

Warning: Did you read through the entire article? Writers will often start their articles by explaining a certain point of view, only to demolish or refute that point of view by the end of the article. If you don’t read to the end, you’ll completely reverse the intent of the writer and thus discredit your evaluation! Try the example below.

A recurring debate in the discussion of human nature is whether humans are generally selfish or altruistic. It can be argued that humans only do good in order to be rewarded. I will help an old lady across the street because it will impress my wife, or because the old lady is wealthy. You will save a drowning person because your girlfriend is watching, or because there are lots of people with cameras. Yet there are many other examples of those who act out of genuine concern for others. Would you say that Mother Teresa devoted her entire life to the poor out of a guilty conscience? Can you believe that rescuers who run into a burning house do so only after seeing television cameras? These people act altruistically1: they respond to the emotional stress of others by trying to shoulder and ameliorate2 - at considerable personal cost - some of that stress themselves. This could also be called integrity - still a respected virtue in our culture - which is defined as doing one’s moral duty when you would rather do the opposite. Perhaps, at times, we do act out of self-interest or personal benefit, but cynics will find it hard to ignore those many selfless acts that corroborate3 the human behaviour of altruism.

1 To act selflessly without thought of self-interest.
2 to provide relief; end pain
3 confirm, support or prove


1. From the above argument, one can conclude that

a. people act mainly for selfish reasons.
b. people act only out of empathy for others.
c. people are confused regarding their motives.
d. people can act for both selfish and selfless reasons.

2. The author probably favours

a. kindness towards others.
b. self-interest.
c. ignoring our sense of duty.
d. both a and b.