What is a text-based argumentative essay?
Doing philosophy requires the use of reason in the service of attempts to resolve fundamental questions. As this activity often concerns determining which claim among competing claims is most reasonable to believe, and because texts are the medium through which philosophers make claims and do philosophy, texts by others is often the immediate focus of philosophical inquiry. Because one of the aims of this course is for YOU to do philosophy, you are now being asked to make and to defend a claim relative to a claim defended by someone else in a specific text.
Text-based critical writing assignments of this sort will benefit anyone who will ever have occasion to exercise their critical thinking skills on written material (e.g., historians must deal critically with biographies, narratives, and media reports; managers must deal critically with memos, sales reports, and business plans; lawyers must deal critically with legal briefs and court rulings; researchers must deal critically with reports, articles, and proposals). Dealing critically with written material can occur whenever disagreement with a text is possible. Whenever disagreement with a text is possible, it is also possible to offer evidence in support of that disagreement. The presentation of such evidence constitutes an argument. Unsurprisingly, presenting and defending arguments lies at the heart of an argumentative essay — the sort of essay that you are about to write.
Writing a text-based argumentative essay requires that you present the text’s argument, take a stand about it, then present reasons in support of your stance. To write a text-based argumentative essay well, you must be good at the following tasks:
communicating precisely what the issue at stake is — an author’s claim — and what your stance is with respect to that issue;
ascertaining and making explicit what is the argument offered by the author in support of his or her claim;
exploring the implications of what is stated in the text; and
discovering and constructing arguments for and/or against the claims contained in the text.
The text-based argumentative essay that you are about to write requires that you perform each of the above tasks — and a few others.
Your essay must be a typed .doc, .docx, or .pdf file. Each essay must have a cover page. On it, list the title of your essay, your name, and PHIL 3400. The cover page does not count in your page total. Each subsequent page must be numbered and doubled spaced.
Explicitly divide your essay into the following parts. You may use different headings if you wish, but you need to use section headings:
1: The Issue
2: Method and Presuppositions
3: The Text’s Argument
4: Analysis of the Text’s Argument
Within each part, include the content specified below.
Part 1: The Issue
Critical argumentative essays are used in the service of attempts to resolve a particular problem or to answer a particular question. Each piece we have read was an attempt to solve a particular fundamental question or problem. Your essay will be another voice in that discussion. Hence, the first stage in constructing an essay of this sort requires that you communicate precisely what the problem or question is. What question or problem was the author attempting to resolve? What was the author’s controversial claim with respect to that issue? You can do this in a paragraph or so. The next thing you must here is to make a brief but explicit characterization of what you intend to do or to show. For instance,
My purpose for this essay is to show that SUCH-AND-SUCH (is true).
My purpose for this essay is to show that SO-AND-SO is wrong to claim that SUCH-AND-SUCH.
My purpose for this essay is to show that SO-AND-SO is wrong: it is (or is not) the case that that SUCH-AND-SUCH is true (correct, wrong, necessary, best, required, etc.).
Don’t give the reasons that the author gives in support of his or her claim. They go in Part 3. Nor should you give the reasons in support of your claim. They go in Part 4. Biographical information about the author is irrelevant to his or her claim, so do not tell me where the author was born, where he went to school, what her pet’s name was, etc. And DO NOT begin with something like “Since the dawn of time, philosophers have been wrestling with the problem of BLANK.” The dawn of time was 15 billion years ago. It does not matter what you fill in the BLANK with; what you say would be false. That is NOT a good way to being.
Part 2: Method and Presuppositions
Having identified what the issue is and WHAT you intend to do or to show, you must now give a brief account of HOW you intend to do it. Thus, the second stage in constructing a text-based argumentative essay is to identify, briefly, how you intend to support the claim that you made in Part 1. For instance, “In order to show that such-and-such, I shall attempt to establish that x, that y, and that z.”
Just as important, you must also identify the presuppositions upon which your analysis is predicated. Presuppositions are concepts or ideas that you ASSUME to be true, but which you will NOT SHOW to be true. Presuppositions of some sort are always necessary. Without them, you would have no way of limiting the scope of your essay. This is only a 10-12 page essay. You do not have the space for an exhaustive treatment of whatever the issue is. What do you need to assume the reader understands but which you do not have space to explain? For instance, “I presuppose that J. S. Mill correctly identifies the necessary and sufficient conditions that must be met before state coercion is justified.” Having identified this presupposition, I would not bear the burden for SHOWING that Mill is correct. This frees the me to focus on other matters. You MAY NOT presuppose that your claim is true. To do so would be to beg the question — to assume the truth of the very claim you are supposed to show to be true.
Part 3: The Text’s Argument
The third stage is where you make explicit what is the argument offered by the author of the text in support of his or her claim. As this is where you explicate the view upon which your analysis will be brought to bear, you must, in an unbiased, fair, accurate, and concise manner, let the reader know what the view is that you are attacking. For instance:
Aristotle claims that “the good” is “that at which all things aim” (p. 31). For human beings, “the good” is happiness. Achieving happiness requires the following: a, b, and c. Achieving c requires doing such-and-such. By ‘such-and-such’ he means this-and-that. . . . Thus, for Aristotle, happiness means such-and-such.
Do not just state the author’s claim. No claim, by itself, is ever an argument. And do not quote whole blocks of text. I know what the author says. You need to show that you can fairly, accurately, and concisely capture the author’s argument.You may do this in prose or in standard form.
Part 4: Analysis of the Text’s Argument
Having identified the position with which you disagree, this is where you show why it is wrong. The fourth stage in constructing a text-based argumentative essay is the presentation of (a) reasons (arguments) in support of the claim that you asserted in Part 1, (b) arguments against the argument presented in Part 3, and (c) the implications of what was stated in the text (Part 3). As this is the “argumentative” part of the “argumentative essay,” Part 4 will be the longest section.
Your defense of the claim that you made in Part 1 must consist of at least one (but preferably more than one) factual or logical consideration whose truth makes YOUR claim more worthy of belief or acceptance than the one found in the text. Does your opponent violate the principles of good reasoning (the RIFUT Rule)? Are there counterexamples to your opponent’s position? Is your opponent inconsistent?
Note: Your goal is to persuade an audience (me). This means that the statements you offer in support of your claim should not be controversial — i.e., they should be at least more likely to be accepted by your audience than the claim you are attacking in the text. Note further that the audience for philosophical argumentation is usually defined as the most rational audience possible — i.e., a neutral audience prepared to be persuaded by reason alone, as opposed to an audience willing only to accept claims that serve their ethnic, economic, religious or personal interests.
Do not rest after showing why your opponent is wrong and you are right. What counter-argument might your opponent might level against YOUR argument? You must identify at least one such criticism, then deal with it. Doing so strengthens your analysis.
Part 5: Conclusion
The fifth and final step is the conclusion. This is where you state the relationship between the issue at stake and the analysis that you have provided. Specifically, the conclusion should clearly state: (1) the claim that has been established, (2) the consequences for the larger issue/question in light of your analysis, and (3) an estimate of the strength of your analysis (e.g., do you have reservations about the case that you made, are there counter-examples that weaken your argument. Don’t be arrogant. Leave yourself room for amending your position.
Because you are expected to cite any idea or quote that is not your own, in standard bibliographic form, on a separate sheet of paper titled ‘References’, list all the works that you cited. Here is an example of a reference from our textbook:
Hume, D.: Selection from Enquiry concerning human understanding. In T. Crane & K. Farkas (Eds.), Metaphysics: A guide and anthology (pp. 382-389). Oxford: 2011.
Your essay must include proper citations from at least 2 references FROM OUR TEXTBOOK. Do NOT quote the editor of our anthology. Quote the author of the article. Although this section is not part of your word count, how you cite references within the paper is. Hence, avoid lengthy in text citations. What follows is “sufficient”: (Hume, p. 382).
You may NOT use as a reference anything that is available only online. Hence, if your source is not in print somewhere (in a book, journal, etc.), DO NOT use it. If you quote something without citing it in your essay, you are plagiarizing. If you copy something without citing it in your essay, you are plagiarizing. If you try to pass off someone else’s paper as your own, you are plagiarizing. If you plagiarize, you get a ‘0’ on the Essay . . . and some very bad things will happen. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE!
Again, your essay must be a .doc, .docx, or .pdf file. Name your file using the convention ‘essay.lastname.extension’ (e.g., ‘essay.smith.pdf’). To submit your essay, use the link on Moodle below to first select your essay, then to upload it. Your essay is due (SEE GAME PLAN). If the assignment is late, your grade will be penalized 10% each day it is late. If you do not submit your essay by the time I turn in grades, you will receive a ‘0’ for the essay.
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