Narrate several unrelated episodes and link them in a surprising way
THE OTHER SIDE
When writing a persuasive essay, you need to look at the other side of your issue.
There are two possible ways to do this:
refute and concede-counter.
To refute an argument is to succeed in disproving it. It is not simply to argue against.
A concede-counter gives in to one or two points on the other side and then refutes the stance of the opposition.
Does your essay acknowledge the opposition and provide evidence to refute that opposition?
The Structure of an Argument
CLAIMS – represent answers to the question: “What are you trying to prove?” Although they are the conclusions of your arguments, they often appear as thesis statements. All claims must be supported by data.
DATA – facts that support a claim; may consist of statistics, reports of personal experience, or views of experts. In the case of an argument based on a work of literature the data would consist of quotes from the text.
WARRANTS – a general principle or assumption that establishes a connection between the data (support) and the claim
QUALIFIER – a restriction placed on the claim to state that it may not always be true as stated.
RESERVATION – a restriction placed on the warrant to indicate that unless certain conditions are met, the warrant may not establish a connection between the data (support) and the claim.
What Argument Looks Like
There are three types of argument:
fact asserts verity
value argues worth
policy argues whether or not something should or should not be instituted.
What Argument Looks Like
Think of an argument as the following statement:
Because _________________, therefore
_________________, since ___________.
What Argument Looks Like
Argument At Work
Because Bill came in second in the marathon
and never missed a day of work in seven years, therefore Bill is in excellent health
Inductive reasoning from specifics to a general conclusion about all of them: Many samples of ocean water are salty, so ocean water must be salty (but there could be exceptions).
Deductive reasoning from a general warrant and reason to a specific claim: Ocean water is always salty; this water is from the ocean, so it must be salty.
Abductive reasoning that begins with a hypothesis that might explain the data in question. We then test that hypothesis using whatever reasoning seems appropriate. Abductive reasoning is problem-driven, a kind of reasoning that begins with a hypothesis that is the tentative solution to a problem.
Inductive, Deductive, Abductive Reasoning
Each kind of reasoning is vulnerable to cognitive biases:
When you think inductively, you risk basing a conclusion on too few instances. You avoid that risk by gathering more evidence than you think you need and by learning something about statistical sampling and analysis.
When you think deductively, you risk formulaic thinking, applying a rote warrant to every situation.
When you think abductively, you risk fixating on the first hypothesis that springs to mind. Guard against that by holding your earliest hypotheses delicately, by imagining more than one, and by deliberately seeking out evidence that disconfirms your favorite one.
Defend, Challenge, Qualify Structure
(Optional) anecdote, allusion, quotation, statistic, or other device to capture reader interest
paraphrase of prompt quotation/text
statement of position
Defend, Challenge, Qualify Structure
2-5 paragraphs that support thesis
argument, explanation and analysis
support from specific references to reading, observation, experience
(Optional) conclusion: synthesize argument, explanation and analysis into a restatement of the thesis
When Argument Goes Wrong, Or Right…
Fallacies are defects that weaken arguments. By learning to look for them in your own and others' writing, you can strengthen your ability to evaluate the arguments you make, read, and hear.
It is important to realize two things about fallacies:
First, fallacious arguments are very, very common and can be quite persuasive, at least to the casual reader or listener. You can find dozens of examples of fallacious reasoning in newspapers, advertisements, and other sources.
Second, it is sometimes hard to evaluate whether an argument is fallacious. An argument might be very weak, somewhat weak, somewhat strong, or very strong. An argument that has several stages or parts might have some strong sections and some weak ones.
The goal, then, is not only to teach you how to label arguments as fallacious or fallacy-free, but also to help you look critically at your own arguments and move them away from the "weak" and toward the "strong" end of the continuum.
Definition: Making assumptions about a whole group or range of cases based on a sample that is inadequate (usually because it is atypical or just too small). Stereotypes about people ("frat boys are drunkards," "grad students are nerdy," etc.) are a common example of the principle underlying hasty generalization.
Example: "My roommate said her philosophy class was hard, and the one I'm in is hard, too. All philosophy classes must be hard!" Two people's experiences are, in this case, not enough on which to base a conclusion.
Tip: Ask yourself what kind of "sample" you're using: Are you relying on the opinions or experiences of just a few people, or your own experience in just a few situations? If so, consider whether you need more evidence, or perhaps a less sweeping conclusion. (Notice that in the example, the more modest conclusion "Some philosophy classes are hard for some students" would not be a hasty generalization.)
Missing the Point
Definition: The premises of an argument do support a particular conclusion—but not the conclusion that the arguer actually draws.
Example: "The seriousness of a punishment should match the seriousness of the crime. Right now, the punishment for drunk driving may simply be a fine. But drunk driving is a very serious crime that can kill innocent people. So the death penalty should be the punishment for drunk driving." The argument actually supports several conclusions—"The punishment for drunk driving should be very serious," in particular—but it doesn't support the claim that the death penalty, specifically, is warranted.
Tip: Separate your premises from your conclusion. Looking at the premises, ask yourself what conclusion an objective person would reach after reading them. Looking at your conclusion, ask yourself what kind of evidence would be required to support such a conclusion, and then see if you've actually given that evidence. Missing the point often occurs when a sweeping or extreme conclusion is being drawn, so be especially careful if you know you're claiming something big.
Post hoc (also called False Cause)
This fallacy gets its name from the Latin phrase "post hoc, ergo propter hoc," which translates as "after this, therefore because of this."
Definition: Assuming that because B comes after A, A caused B. Of course, sometimes one event really does cause another one that comes later—for example, if I register for a class, and my name later appears on the roll, it's true that the first event caused the one that came later. But sometimes two events that seem related in time aren't really related as cause and event. That is, correlation isn't the same thing as causation.
Examples: "President Jones raised taxes, and then the rate of violent crime went up. Jones is responsible for the rise in crime." The increase in taxes might or might not be one factor in the rising crime rates, but the argument hasn't shown us that one caused the other.
Tip: To avoid the post hoc fallacy, the arguer would need to give us some explanation of the process by which the tax increase is supposed to have produced higher crime rates. And that's what you should do to avoid committing this fallacy: If you say that A causes B, you should have something more to say about how A caused B than just that A came first and B came later!
Definition: The arguer claims that a sort of chain reaction, usually ending in some dire consequence, will take place, but there's really not enough evidence for that assumption. The arguer asserts that if we take even one step onto the "slippery slope," we will end up sliding all the way to the bottom; he or she assumes we can't stop halfway down the hill.
Example: "Animal experimentation reduces our respect for life. If we don't respect life, we are likely to be more and more tolerant of violent acts like war and murder. Soon our society will become a battlefield in which everyone constantly fears for their lives. It will be the end of civilization. To prevent this terrible consequence, we should make animal experimentation illegal right now." Since animal experimentation has been legal for some time and civilization has not yet ended, it seems particularly clear that this chain of events won't necessarily take place. Even if we believe that experimenting on animals reduces respect for life, and loss of respect for life makes us more tolerant of violence, that may be the spot on the hillside at which things stop—we may not slide all the way down to the end of civilization. And so we have not yet been given sufficient reason to accept the arguer's conclusion that we must make animal experimentation illegal right now.
Like post hoc, slippery slope can be a tricky fallacy to identify, since sometimes a chain of events really can be predicted to follow from a certain action. Here's an example that doesn't seem fallacious: "If I fail English 101, I won't be able to graduate. If I don't graduate, I probably won't be able to get a good job, and I may very well end up doing temp work or flipping burgers for the next year."
Tip: Check your argument for chains of consequences, where you say "if A, then B, and if B, then C," and so forth. Make sure these chains are reasonable.
Definition: Many arguments rely on an analogy between two or more objects, ideas, or situations. If the two things that are being compared aren't really alike in the relevant respects, the analogy is a weak one, and the argument that relies on it commits the fallacy of weak analogy.
Example: "Guns are like hammers—they're both tools with metal parts that could be used to kill someone. And yet it would be ridiculous to restrict the purchase of hammers—so restrictions on purchasing guns are equally ridiculous." While guns and hammers do share certain features, these features (having metal parts, being tools, and being potentially useful for violence) are not the ones at stake in deciding whether to restrict guns. Rather, we restrict guns because they can easily be used to kill large numbers of people at a distance. This is a feature hammers do not share—it'd be hard to kill a crowd with a hammer. Thus, the analogy is weak, and so is the argument based on it.
If you think about it, you can make an analogy of some kind between almost any two things in the world: "My paper is like a mud puddle because they both get bigger when it rains (I work more when I'm stuck inside) and they're both kind of murky." So the mere fact that you draw an analogy between two things doesn't prove much, by itself.
Tip: Identify what properties are important to the claim you're making, and see whether the two things you're comparing both share those properties.
Appeal to Authority
Definition: Often we add strength to our arguments by referring to respected sources or authorities and explaining their positions on the issues we're discussing. If, however, we try to get readers to agree with us simply by impressing them with a famous name or by appealing to a supposed authority who really isn't much of an expert, we commit the fallacy of appeal to authority.
Example: "We should abolish the death penalty. Many respected people, such as actor Guy Handsome, have publicly stated their opposition to it." While Guy Handsome may be an authority on matters having to do with acting, there's no particular reason why anyone should be moved by his political opinions—he is probably no more of an authority on the death penalty than the person writing the paper.
Tip: There are two easy ways to avoid committing appeal to authority: First, make sure that the authorities you cite are experts on the subject you're discussing. Second, rather than just saying "Dr. Authority believes x, so we should believe it, too," try to explain the reasoning or evidence that the authority used to arrive at his or her opinion. That way, your readers have more to go on than a person's reputation. It also helps to choose authorities who are perceived as fairly neutral or reasonable, rather than people who will be perceived as biased.
Ad hominem and tu quoque
Definitions: Like the appeal to authority and ad populum fallacies, the ad hominem ("against the person") and tu quoque ("you, too!") fallacies focus our attention on people rather than on arguments or evidence. In both of these arguments, the conclusion is usually "You shouldn't believe So-and-So's argument." The reason for not believing So-and-So is that So-and-So is either a bad person (ad hominem) or a hypocrite (tu quoque). In an ad hominem argument, the arguer attacks his or her opponent instead of the opponent's argument.
Examples: "Andrea Dworkin has written several books arguing that pornography harms women. But Dworkin is an ugly, bitter person, so you shouldn't listen to her." Dworkin's appearance and character, which the arguer has characterized so ungenerously, have nothing to do with the strength of her argument, so using them as evidence is fallacious.
In a tu quoque argument, the arguer points out that the opponent has actually done the thing he or she is arguing against, and so the opponent's argument shouldn't be listened to. Here's an example: Imagine that your parents have explained to you why you shouldn't smoke, and they've given a lot of good reasons—the damage to your health, the cost, and so forth. You reply, "I won't accept your argument, because you used to smoke when you were my age. You did it, too!" The fact that your parents have done the thing they are condemning has no bearing on the premises they put forward in their argument (smoking harms your health and is very expensive), so your response is fallacious.
Tip: Be sure to stay focused on your opponents' reasoning, rather than on their personal character. (The exception to this is, of course, if you are making an argument about someone's character—if your conclusion is "President Clinton is an untrustworthy person," premises about his untrustworthy acts are relevant, not fallacious.)
Appeal to Pity
Definition: The appeal to pity takes place when an arguer tries to get people to accept a conclusion by making them feel sorry for someone.
Examples: "I know the exam is graded based on performance, but you should give me an A. My cat has been sick, my car broke down, and I've had a cold, so it was really hard for me to study!" The conclusion here is "You should give me an A." But the criteria for getting an A have to do with learning and applying the material from the course; the principle the arguer wants us to accept (people who have a hard week deserve A's) is clearly unacceptable. The information the arguer has given might feel relevant and might even get the audience to consider the conclusion—but the information isn't logically relevant, and so the argument is fallacious. Here's another example: "It's wrong to tax corporations—think of all the money they give to charity, and of the costs they already pay to run their businesses!"
Tip: Make sure that you aren't simply trying to get your audience to agree with you by making them feel sorry for someone.
Appeal to Ignorance
Definition: In the appeal to ignorance, the arguer basically says, "Look, there's no conclusive evidence on the issue at hand. Therefore, you should accept my conclusion on this issue."
Example: "People have been trying for centuries to prove that God exists. But no one has yet been able to prove it. Therefore, God does not exist." Here's an opposing argument that commits the same fallacy: "People have been trying for years to prove that God does not exist. But no one has yet been able to prove it. Therefore, God exists." In each case, the arguer tries to use the lack of evidence as support for a positive claim about the truth of a conclusion. There is one situation in which doing this is not fallacious: If qualified researchers have used well-thought-out methods to search for something for a long time, they haven't found it, and it's the kind of thing people ought to be able to find, then the fact that they haven't found it constitutes some evidence that it doesn't exist.
Tip: Look closely at arguments where you point out a lack of evidence and then draw a conclusion from that lack of evidence.
Definition: One way of making our own arguments stronger is to anticipate and respond in advance to the arguments that an opponent might make. In the straw man fallacy, the arguer sets up a wimpy version of the opponent's position and tries to score points by knocking it down. But just as being able to knock down a straw man, or a scarecrow, isn't very impressive, defeating a watered-down version of your opponents' argument isn't very impressive either.
Example: "Feminists want to ban all pornography and punish everyone who reads it! But such harsh measures are surely inappropriate, so the feminists are wrong: porn and its readers should be left in peace." The feminist argument is made weak by being overstated—in fact, most feminists do not propose an outright "ban" on porn or any punishment for those who merely read it; often, they propose some restrictions on things like child porn, or propose to allow people who are hurt by porn to sue publishers and producers, not readers, for damages. So the arguer hasn't really scored any points; he or she has just committed a fallacy.
Tip: Be charitable to your opponents. State their arguments as strongly, accurately, and sympathetically as possible. If you can knock down even the best version of an opponent's argument, then you've really accomplished something.
Definition: Partway through an argument, the arguer goes off on a tangent, raising a side issue that distracts the audience from what's really at stake. Often, the arguer never returns to the original issue.
Example: "Grading this exam on a curve would be the most fair thing to do. After all, classes go more smoothly when the students and the professor are getting along well." Let's try our premise-conclusion outlining to see what's wrong with this argument:
Premise: Classes go more smoothly when the students and the professor are getting along well.
Conclusion: Grading this exam on a curve would be the most fair thing to do.
When we lay it out this way, it's pretty obvious that the arguer went off on a tangent—the fact that something helps people get along doesn't necessarily make it more fair; fairness and justice sometimes require us to do things that cause conflict. But the audience may feel like the issue of teachers and students agreeing is important and be distracted from the fact that the arguer has not given any evidence as to why a curve would be fair.
Tip: Try laying your premises and conclusion out in an outline-like form. How many issues do you see being raised in your argument? Can you explain how each premise supports the conclusion?
False Dichotomy (Either/Or)
Definition: In false dichotomy, the arguer sets up the situation so it looks like there are only two choices. The arguer then eliminates one of the choices, so it seems that we are left with only one option: the one the arguer wanted us to pick in the first place. But often there are really many different options, not just two—and if we thought about them all, we might not be so quick to pick the one the arguer recommends!
Example: "Caldwell Hall is in bad shape. Either we tear it down and put up a new building, or we continue to risk students' safety. Obviously we shouldn't risk anyone's safety, so we must tear the building down." The argument neglects to mention the possibility that we might repair the building or find some way to protect students from the risks in question—for example, if only a few rooms are in bad shape, perhaps we shouldn't hold classes in those rooms.
Tip: Examine your own arguments: If you're saying that we have to choose between just two options, is that really so? Or are there other alternatives you haven't mentioned? If there are other alternatives, don't just ignore them—explain why they, too, should be ruled out. Although there's no formal name for it, assuming that there are only three options, four options, etc. when really there are more is similar to false dichotomy and should also be avoided.
Begging the Question
Definition: Basically, an argument that begs the question asks the reader to simply accept the conclusion without providing real evidence; the argument either relies on a premise that says the same thing as the conclusion (which you might hear referred to as "being circular" or "circular reasoning"), or simply ignores an important (but questionable) assumption that the argument rests on. Sometimes people use the phrase "beg the question" as a sort of general criticism of arguments, to mean that an arguer hasn't given very good reasons for a conclusion, but that's not the meaning we're going to discuss here.
Examples: "Active euthanasia is morally acceptable. It is a decent, ethical thing to help another human being escape suffering through death." Let's lay this out in premise-conclusion form:
Premise: It is a decent, ethical thing to help another human being escape suffering through death.
Conclusion: Active euthanasia is morally acceptable.
If we "translate" the premise, we'll see that the arguer has really just said the same thing twice: "decent, ethical" means pretty much the same thing as "morally acceptable," and "help another human being escape suffering through death" means "active euthanasia." So the premise basically says, "active euthanasia is morally acceptable," just like the conclusion does! The arguer hasn't yet given us any real reasons why euthanasia is acceptable; instead, she has left us asking "well, really, why do you think active euthanasia is acceptable?" Her argument "begs" (that is, evades) the real question.
Tip: One way to try to avoid begging the question is to write out your premises and conclusion in a short, outline-like form. See if you notice any gaps, any steps that are required to move from one premise to the next or from the premises to the conclusion. Write down the statements that would fill those gaps. If the statements are controversial and you've just glossed over them, you might be begging the question. Next, check to see whether any of your premises basically says the same thing as the conclusion (but in other words). If so, you're begging the question. The moral of the story: You can't just assume or use as uncontroversial evidence the very thing you're trying to prove.
Definition: Equivocation is sliding between two or more different meanings of a single word or phrase that is important to the argument.
Example: "Giving money to charity is the right thing to do. So charities have a right to our money." The equivocation here is on the word "right": "right" can mean both something that is correct or good (as in "I got the right answers on the test") and something to which someone has a claim (as in "everyone has a right to life"). Sometimes an arguer will deliberately, sneakily equivocate, often on words like "freedom," "justice," "rights," and so forth; other times, the equivocation is a mistake or misunderstanding. Either way, it's important that you use the main terms of your argument consistently.
Tip: Identify the most important words and phrases in your argument and ask yourself whether they could have more than one meaning. If they could, be sure you aren't slipping and sliding between those meanings.
Argumentum ad Traditio (Appeal to Tradition): This line of thought asserts that a premise must be true because people have always believed it or done it. Alternatively, it may conclude that the premise has always worked in the past and will thus always work in the future: "The city of Eugene has kept its urban growth boundary at six miles for the past thirty years. That has been good enough for one-third of a century, why should we change it now? If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Such an argument is appealing in that it seems to be common sense, but it ignores important questions. Might an alternative policy work even better than the old one? Are there drawbacks to that long-standing policy? Are circumstances changing from the way they were thirty years ago?
Argumentum ad Miseriocordiam (Literally, "Argument from Pity"): An emotional appeal to a logical issue. While pathos generally works to reinforce a reader's sense of duty or outrage at some abuse, if a writer tries to use emotion merely for the sake of getting the reader to accept a conclusion, it is a fallacy. For example, in the 1880s, prosecutors in a Virginia court presented overwhelming proof that a boy was guilty of murdering his parents with an ax. The defense presented a plea for leniency on the grounds that the boy was now an orphan, with no one to look after his interests if the court did not.
So How Do You Find Fallacies In Your Own writing?
Pretend you disagree with the conclusion you're defending. What parts of the argument would now seem fishy to you? What parts would seem easiest to attack? Give special attention to strengthening those parts.
List your main points; under each one, list the evidence you have for it. Seeing your claims and evidence laid out this way may make you realize that you have no good evidence for a particular claim, or it may help you look more critically at the evidence you're using.
Learn which types of fallacies you're especially prone to, and be careful to check for them in your work. Some writers make lots of appeals to authority; others are more likely to rely on weak analogies or set up straw men. Read over some of your old papers to see if there's a particular kind of fallacy you need to watch out for.
Be aware that broad claims need more proof than narrow ones. Claims that use sweeping words like "all," "no," "none," "every," "always," "never," "no one," and "everyone" are sometimes appropriate—but they require a lot more proof than less-sweeping claims that use words like "some," "many," "few," "sometimes," "usually," and so forth.
Double check your characterizations of others, especially your opponents, to be sure they are accurate and fair.
You Can Make Your Arguments Stronger By…
Using good premises (ones you have good reason to believe are both true and relevant to the issue at hand),
Making sure your premises provide good support for your conclusion (and not some other conclusion, or no conclusion at all),
Checking that you have addressed the most important or relevant aspects of the issue (that is, that your premises and conclusion focus on what is really important to the issue you're arguing about), and
Not making claims that are so strong or sweeping that you can't really support them
Argument in Action
Lets take a look at some texts that use argument:
“College is a Waste of Time and Money”
“The Case Against College”
While reading each of these texts, try and find the source of each argument: how are they supporting their claims; do they provide reservations, warrants, etc.; do they make a good case; are they fallacious?