Relating the Conceptual and Concrete

Barry Mauer and John Venecek

We discuss the following on this page:

We provide the following activity on this page:

Relating the Conceptual and Concrete

Just as a lawyer in a courtroom alternates between presenting legal principles (concepts) and a specific case (concrete facts), you need to alternate between the conceptual and concrete when you present your argument to readers. Generally, researchers use deductive reasoning to make their case to their readers. Deductive reasoning uses syllogisms that tell us what to think about a particular case. In deductive logic you need to prove both premises are true and prove that the conclusion must follow from the premises.


A syllogism is

  1. [Major premise – conceptual] The Black Aesthetic is defined as literature or art that seeks to remember history, define identity, gain recognition, and celebrate blackness;
  2. [Minor premise – concrete] ‘Sonny’s Blues’ seeks to remember history, define identity, gain recognition, and celebrate blackness;
  3. [Conclusion] Therefore, ‘Sonny’s Blues’ is an example of the Black Aesthetic.

The major premise is about a broad concept (the Black Aesthetic) and its general principles and purposes. The minor premise is concrete since it is about a particular case: James Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues.” The conclusion results from applying the conceptual principle to the concrete case.

Our sample syllogism is not very good, however, since it tells us something that we already knew or could discover easily. We can make a better argument by considering a specific problem. Addiction is one of the themes in “Sonny’s Blues.” A relevant research question might be: “How does the Black Aesthetic help us to understand or solve the problem of addiction?” The thesis, or answer, might have something to do with figuring out how the loss of history, identity, recognition, and celebrations of blackness draws some black people into addiction and how the restoration of those things might help prevent addiction or help addicts recover.

If we pursue this line of inquiry, we can keep our syllogism above, but we need to add a new one to it:


  1. [Major Premise] Sometimes addiction is a response to anomie, which Emile Durkheim conceptualized to mean rootlessness, alienation, and a lack of belonging.
  2. [Minor Premise] Black people (such as Sonny) have experienced anomie because they have lost much of their history and identity to racism.
  3. [Conclusion] Therefore, black people (such as Sonny) are more likely to turn to addiction.

Here you need to define key concepts and show how they apply to the particular case of Sonny. You need to support your major premise; how strong is the theory that anomie is a cause of addiction? You also have to explain what “sometimes” and “more likely” mean; are there statistics you can find?

When we find data that supports a major premise, we are using inductive reasoning. The deductive syllogism we discussed earlier moved from conceptual principle (about addiction and anomie) to a concrete case (Sonny’s experiences with anomie as a result of racism). The inductive argument moves the opposite way; it gathers concrete cases from the real world (found in scientific studies) to see if there is a strong relationship between addiction and anomie, and between anomie and racism. If we can support our premises through inductive reasoning, then our deductive argument is more secure.

But you should expect pushback against your argument. For instance, in “Sonny’s Blues,” Sonny plays music that is integral to black history and identity, so has he really lost a sense of black history and identity? It is Sonny’s non-addicted brother, our narrator, who realizes that he, much more than Sonny, has lost a sense of black history and identity. Given this information, should we give up on our argument? Not necessarily! Sonny’s music may not solve the problem of his addiction, but it may keep him from getting worse. The narrator, though not an addict, may be suffering in other ways as a result of his loss of black history and identity. Carefully assess the scientifichistorical, and textual evidence to make your argument.

An abductive argument is about the causal relationships of events. It is similar to the reasoning that detectives and doctors use every day when they see a result (evidence of crime or illness) and reason backwards to determine its causes. The deductive argument about Sonny’ addiction discussed above could be reframed as an abductive argument, reasoning from results to causes. What caused Sonny’s addiction? Were there multiple factors? Often with abductive arguments we need to gather more evidence to make sure we have identified the correct causes.

Conductive reasoning is associative logic based on resemblance, puns, homonyms, and images. It explains how we make associations, such as the way people get nicknames. A famous nickname, used in “Sonny’s Blues,” is the name “Bird,” referring to jazz musician Charlie Parker. How did Parker get the name “Bird”? There are many theories:

The origin stories about his nickname Yardbird (usually shortened to Bird) include that it derived from a cousin mispronouncing his name as “Yarlie”, and that it was conferred by a musician after Parker rescued a chicken that had been struck by a car and then had it cooked for dinner. The most convincing explanation is the one provided by trombonist Clyde Bernhardt, in his autobiography I Remember. “Charlie told me he got the name ‘Yardbird’ because he was crazy about eating chicken: fried, baked, boiled, stewed, anything. Down there in the South, all chickens are called yardbirds.”[1]

A research paper into “Sonny’s Blues” might examine the ways in which conductive reasoning functions in black subcultures such as jazz.[2]

Relating the Conceptual and Concrete [Refresher]

Take this quiz to check your comprehension of this section.
If you are using an offline version of this text, access the quiz for this section via the QR code.

  2. In the “Back Matter” of this book, you will find a page titled “Rubrics.” On that page, we provide a rubric for Relating the Conceptual and Concrete.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Relating the Conceptual and Concrete Copyright © 2021 by Barry Mauer and John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book