Notable Deaths Elsewhere

December 14, 2009


Philosopher created argument model

Stephen E. Toulmin, a British-born philosopher and retired University of Southern California professor who created a model for evaluating the practical arguments that arise from daily life, died Dec. 4 of pneumonia at a Los Angeles hospital

The Oxford-trained theorist, who was the Henry R. Luce professor at the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies at USC, was best known for "The Uses of Argument," published in 1958 and still in print, which set forth six criteria for building an effective argument. It reflected his belief that philosophers should concentrate less on abstractions and more on real-world issues, such as medical ethics and environmentalism.

"It is time for philosophers to come out of their self-imposed isolation and re-enter the collective world of practical life and shared human problems," Dr. Toulmin once wrote.

He and his wife, Donna, a lawyer and training director at the USC School of Social Work's Center on Child Welfare, served as hosts to students at regular Wednesday night dinners and turned their dorm apartment into a haven for stressed-out students during finals week, offering pizza, coffee and cookies until 2 a.m.

Dr. Toulmin was trained in mathematics and physics at Cambridge University, earning a bachelor's degree in 1942. During World War II he was a junior scientific officer at the Malvern Radar Research and Development Station in England and later at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Germany. As he noted in a 1993 interview in the journal JAC, it quickly became clear to him that he was "not going to make a living as an experimenter" in radar because he often broke the equipment.

His most important work, "The Uses of Argument," outlined what he considered the six essential elements of any good argument: the claim; the data, or evidence; the warrant, or link between the claim and the data; the backing, or additional evidence; the qualifier, or strength of the claim; and the rebuttal, or exceptions to the claim.

The so-called Toulmin model of argumentation was ignored by most academics in philosophy but greatly influenced those in departments of rhetoric and communications, perhaps because it unfashionably rejected Aristotelian analysis as not very useful for everyday disputes. Toulmin's method, according to a review in the Humanist, would "awaken philosophers out of a nightmare - the nightmare brought on by an over-rich banquet upon logico-mathematical ideals."


Designed, sewed first 50-star U.S. flag

Robert G. Heft, who is credited with designing and sewing the first 50-star American flag, died Saturday at a hospital in Saginaw, Mich. A cause of death wasn't immediately available.

Mr. Heft made the flag in 1958 as part of a high school history project in Lancaster, Ohio. He spent more than 12 hours sewing the design on his mother's Singer sewing machine.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower chose Mr. Heft's design to replace the 48-star flag.

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