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What Is a Forensic Argument?

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In constructing arguments, the types traditionally include arguments of blame, value and choice. A forensic argument is an argument of blame. It uses different types of rhetoric to make a persuasive point.

Blame Arguments

A blame argument is one that indicates a source of fault. After analyzing a situation, it assesses the source of conflict and assigns that fault to a given party. As such, blame arguments tend to revolve around issues from the past, as the events to be considered have resolved and an outcome has been established. The term stem's from Aristotle's rhetorical classifications. He was the first to call blame arguments "forensic." The best way to identify a blame argument is to assess "whodunit." If the argument resolves that question, it is likely a blame-based, and thus forensic, argument.

Demonstrative Rhetoric

Blame arguments tend to use demonstrative rhetoric. Demonstrative rhetoric occurs when an individual highlights the source of behavior or action as a motive. For example, demonstrative rhetoric is used if you say something like, "That's why you're yelling. You're upset about the dishes." These kinds of arguments are typically classified as "tribal" talk. It revolves around simplifying a situation and creating a call to judgment.

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Rhetoric of Punishment

Because blame or forensic arguments tend to discuss issues of the past, the surrounding rhetoric tends to be punitive in nature. This assumption rests on the concept of the impossibility of changing things that have already occurred. As such, a forensic argument issues a verdict on a yes or no question with consequences already identified. For example, a forensic argument might say, "You disrespected me in front of our guests because you wanted to get back at me for forgetting to do the dishes, and as such, I'm no longer speaking to you." These kind of arguments assign blame with a certain ramification intended and identified.

Function of Forensic Argument

Forensic argument is used every day by a variety of actors. On an institutional level, forensic argument is an integral part of our legal system. The courts determine guilt and punishment for individuals who have played a role in unsavory situations. This is a literal assignment of blame with consequences attached. It is also used on an interpersonal level. Parents will assess the behavior of their children with punishments attached, and couples arguing about past events may end a relationship based on behavior and blame.


While forensic argument may serve some utility, on other levels, it fails to accomplish any kind of progress. Because forensic arguments typically deal with issues of the past, they fail to provide immediate solutions or plans for avoiding similar conflicts in the future. For example, a forensic argument may point out that someone's music was too loud, and as a result, you are angry about it. However, more effective argumentation would instead ask for the music to be turned down, or establish a framework for determining appropriate time and volume levels for future music play. These forms of argument may be more effective in mitigating future conflict and avoiding negative ramifications to behavioral issues.

About the Author

Lauren Nelson was a nationally recognized public speaker and debater for eight years and has three years of contracted technical writing under her belt. Nelson is a graduate of Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Arts in corporate and organizational communication and is currently serving as Director of Communications for Attain Capital Management.

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