paradigm–argument from example or examples

Paradigm is the counterpart of enthymeme.

A paradigm put simply is an argument from example or examples, whether those examples occurred in the past or whether wholly made up as in an illustration (Aristotle 179). Where enthymemes rest upon assumptions shared by an audience, the paradigm attempts to shape those assumptions by multiplying concrete instances that speak to a principle or a pattern that can either explain or predict.

Paradigmatic reasoning resembles inductive reasoning–as opposed to deductive, or enthymematic reasoning–realized in informal discourse.

A paradigm reasons from concrete instances–facts, stories, examples–to a more general probable or plausible conclusion or principle (paradigm). I write more general or probable because paradigmatic reasoning cannot deliver reliable generalizations in the same sense as formal inductive reasoning. It would be more precise to say that paradigms warrant movement from the particular to the particular. Think of a paradigm as a string of anecdotes.

Again, a paradigm is an example or examples. Instances, instances organized around a concept. Examples may be facts, stories, models, anti-models, parables, illustrations, analogy, or metaphor.

Paradigmatic expression in English typically takes the classic form of the paradigm that begins with a conclusion, passes into a string of instances, and closes on a coda. This is the familiar talking points format that you hear on Sunday morning talking head shows. But it also appears in speeches. Here would be two eerily similar examples.

First, enjoy the famous Howard Beale “I’m mad as hell” rant from the classic film “Network.”

Click the Image. (Hooktube)

What appears like a rant actually has a precise structure, it is the structure of what Aristotle would call a paradigm:


It’s a depression.

Grounds or evidence:

[Concrete example] Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job.

[Concrete example] The dollar buys a nickel’s worth;

[Concrete example] banks are going bust;

[Concrete example] shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter;

[Concrete example] punks are running wild in the street,

Coda or conclusion:

there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.

[At this point Beale begins to develop another, related theme.]

Now compare Beale’s rant to the opening argument of the then Senator from Chicago in his long and discursive campaign ad titled “plan for change”.

Click the Image. (Hooktube)

Do parts of Obama’s disquisition seem familiar? Observe the structure of one term Senator Obama’s opening argument:


“[…] our troubled economy isn’t news.”

Grounds or evidence:

[Concrete example] 600,000 Americans have lost their jobs since January.

[Concrete example] Paychecks are flat and home values are falling.

[Concrete example] It’s hard to pay for gas and groceries and if you put it on a credit card they’ve probably raised your rates.

[Concrete example] You’re paying more than ever for health insurance that covers less and less.

Coda or conclusion:

This isn’t just a string of bad luck.

The truth is that while you’ve been living up to your responsibilities Washington has not. That’s why we need change. Real change […]

[At this point Obama begins to develop another, related theme.]

For more examples read the blog.


Aristotle. On Rhetoric, a Theory of Civic Discourse Trans. George A.  Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press 1991.


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