Formulating #liespy

Note: This post is dedicated to addressing the final project for our #liespy course and, at times, is an amalgam of my previous posts from other classes (primarily my #VCUagora posts).

We are almost done with our summer session!? Time is a crazy thing.

In preparation for our final project, here are some elements to think about when polishing it up for submission:

1.) You should have a strong thesis (i.e. main claim) up front that appropriately responds to one of the prompts.  When thinking about the strength of a thesis, I invoke a list of criteria my friend and colleague Dr. Jason Coats uses: it should be debatable, supportable, precise, significant, and interesting.  This is what I mean by these:

  • Debatable: It needs to be something some will find false (i.e. someone will disagree with you).  If a thesis is not debatable, then you are not really doing any work–it’s already understood as true and/or trivial.  This is where ambition comes into play: the more ambitious a claim, the more you can (possibly) satisfy this criterion.
  • Supportable: You can’t just pull a thesis out of the air without evidence to justify why you think you are right, no matter how ambitious a claim may be.  Your thesis needs to be grounded in hard evidence you can point to and you can clearly explain to your audience how such evidence should be understood to help show why your thesis is true.
  • Precise: Theses should not be broad; an audience needs to clearly understand what you’re claiming and the parameters with which it exists.  It’s a common misconception with undergraduate argument formulation that the broader the claim, the easier it will be to support it.  What happens instead is the broader the claim, the less people will care (and the more work you would have to do to make it significant). You want to have your thesis be as concise and precise as possible to establish something that people will actually care about.
  • Significant: It needs to be clear why this thesis is significant to your audience.  What are the stakes here?  Why should others care about the relevant issue the way you see it?
  • Interesting: Your thesis should be something you care about and think is worthwhile of academic pursuit.  Also, it should be interesting to others who care about the same topic/field you are addressing.

In short, think about what you really wish to accomplish with your project and then check your thesis to see whether it encapsulates the same ambition.  A more ambitious thesis will require more legwork to support, though it will also amount to a more sophisticated and robust project.

2.) Make sure you clearly explain the issue at hand (i.e. what people typically think about your topic) and why you think this understanding is wrong. The idea here is that you’re developing an argument that is novel and interesting to others: something they perhaps haven’t thought about in the same way as you, but want to know more given what you are starting to establish.  Building the significance of your view–and why people need to embrace it–will go a long way with support.

3.) Lean on the sources from class you will use for support It’s often the case that sources aren’t being used enough for support.  The idea is to think of the sources you will use (2-3) going beyond direct examples of ideas to include moments where the author’s arguments can be applied for support.  The arguments we have discussed have limits, though you can stretch them and apply the arguments loosely to many other ideas and evidence for analysis. You need to demonstrate to your reader that you know what you’re talking about, and that you can utilize and explain the source material in a way that bolsters your own work. Your sources are your friends, and think of them that way.

4.) Check the suppressed points in your argument.  It’s often the case that we leave out full explanations of the principles we use to guide our reasoning: principles we don’t always share with others.  Look to see where these points may be unpronounced and explain them in enough detail so that someone who may not share your same values can fully understand your view.  (This is also how to consider moments of counterarguments to your on view, as we have done in mini projects past.  It’s always important to consider what others may say to you and rebut them accordingly, providing what others may say about your point(s) and responding to the alternative view you raise.)

5.) Give your conclusion some weight.  Don’t just think of the conclusion as the final ten or so seconds of your project.  Take some time to reiterate the significance of your thesis and explain what the audience needs to know when moving forward in life after your awesome argument.  There are various models for concluding, and I encourage you wholeheartedly to look to Dr. Coats’s post for his students on concluding essays. (Despite this not being a written project, these models are still useful.) Though no matter what, note that all conclusions should restate the purpose of the argument in unique language and drive home the stakes of what you have established.





Reasoning with Games #liespy

Our second mini project is much like the first, though this assignment calls on you to posit your own argument with a tenable objection to your own view and why you ultimately win out.  My previous post will still be helpful when making this project; however, here are some additional thoughts on how one can go about making an argument of such nature.

When making objections, it’s often helpful to think about what it would mean for a premise if it were true and then work your way back to see if something absurd follows (this form of argument is called reductio ad absurdum).  If we assume something is true and then the result is something we would never maintain, then we know the premise cannot be true.  Consider the following game:

A very special island is inhabited only by knights and knaves. Knights always tell the truth, and knaves always lie. You meet three inhabitants: Tom, Sue and Bill. Tom tells you that Bill is a knave. Sue tells you, `Only a knave would say that Bill is a knave.’ Bill claims that Tom and Sue are the same.  

Who is a knight and who is a knave?

Here is how to go about solving the game using this specific form of argument:

Round 1

Let’s assume that Tom is a knave.  This would mean that Bill is a knight, considering that Tom is lying.  If Bill is a knight, it would mean that Sue is also a knave (because Bill is telling the truth).  However, if Sue is a knave, it would mean that she would be telling the truth we she says that only a knave would say that Bill is a knave (because Tom is a knave), which can’t be the case because knaves always lie.  So, Tom must be a knight.

Round 2

Let’s assume that Tom is a knight.  If Tom is a knight, then we know that Bill is a knave (because knights always tell the truth).  If Bill is a knave, this means that he is lying when he says that Tom and Sue are the same, so we know they are different.  Since we assume Tom is a knight, it would mean that Sue is lying when she says that only a knave would say that Bill is a knave.  So, since we assume that Tom is a knight and we know that he and Sue are not the same (because Bill is lying), Sue is a knave.

We get these results:  Tom is a knight, Sue is a knave, and Bill is a knave.

Even though this is just a game, it nevertheless is a valuable model for considering how to reason and show that a view is false.  Consider the Twain example from my previous post with the first premise of his argument:

Premise 1: All necessities of our circumstances are virtues

Let’s assume this is true.  If it is, it would mean that everything that is a necessity is virtuous.  As I wrote before, this would mean things like eating and sleeping are virtues because they are necessary components of life. This would also seem particularly complicated in various contexts of “necessary”: killing and stealing for survival seems necessary at times, though again, not virtuous.  So, unless we are willing to accept all of this, it would seem like Premise 1 is false.

When testing your own arguments, think about what they would necessarily entail if they were sound and whether this is a problem (it can also be done with the objections you consider to your own view).

Critiquing Arguments #liespy

Our Mini Project #1 assignment is a departure from the application work we have been completing with the micro projects; rather than just summarizing a text and explaining how we can extend the author’s work to our course content for possible new considerations, the mini project asks you to pinpoint a particular criticism of an argument and explain why it’s valuable and successful.  As stated in the assignment, you need to do all of these three things:

(1) accurately and concisely summarize the author’s argument, (2) provide a tenable and novel objection (i.e. something that has not been said before, or a new approach of criticism), and (3) explain what the author may say in response to you and why your objection ultimately works.

Here are some ways to think about these three steps

Step 1: Accurately and concisely summarize the author’s argument

The two articles you can select for this project (Harris or Bok) have clear arguments that can be broken down into parts (or “reasons” or “premises”) for criticism.  Simply put, an argument is a set of reasons (we can also call them premises) working together to show why a thesis (or a conclusion) is true.   People discuss “argument” differently given particular disciplines. Philosophers, for instance, typically break arguments down formally into premises and conclusions. Consider the following example:

Premise 1: If the building is burning down, then we should run like hell.
Premise 2: The building is burning down!
Conclusion: Therefore, we should run like hell!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is an example of a formal argument where the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises—meaning, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. Though we can break arguments down this way, we typically don’t make formal arguments in common conversation and writing. Rather, we typically use informal ways of discussing arguments like enthymemes (or brief arguments). Here is the same argument as an enthymeme:

We should run like hell (claim) because the building is burning down! (reason)

Neither Harris nor Bok write out their arguments in formal ways in their work.  However, this does not mean that you can’t break them down in such a way.  Consider this passage from Twain, “On the Decay of the Art of Lying”:

No fact is more firmly established than that lying is a necessity of our
circumstances–the deduction that it is then a Virtue goes without saying.
No virtue can reach its highest usefulness without careful and diligent
cultivation–therefore, it goes without saying that this one ought to be
taught in the public schools–even in the newspapers.

We can break this down as follows:

Premise 1: All necessities of our circumstances are virtues
Premise 2: Lying is a necessity of our circumstances
Therefore, Lying is a virtue (this necessarily follows from the first two premises)
Premise 3: Virtues should be cultivated through teachings in public schools and in newspapers
Therefore,  Lying should be cultivated through teachings in public schools and in newspapers

Here is the more informal way of writing this argument:

Lying is a virtue because it is a necessity of our circumstances.  Because it is a virtue, lying should be cultivated and taught in public schools and in newspapers

Of course, when summarizing someone’s argument, you need to do more than just list out reasons and their claim (or premises and their conclusion): textual support for all of these must be explicitly stated for your audience because we need to know why Twain believes each component here..  For instance, this does not say anything about the kinds of lying Twain thinks should be cultivated (judicious lying)–that would need further explanation.  However, this form provides a way to clear identify the major components of an argument so you can assess its strength.

Step 2: Provide a tenable and novel objection

Now that we have Twain’s argument broken down, we can see whether we reject any of the premises.  If we do, we need to justify what we think is false.  Here’s just one (very short) possible objection someone may have:

It is false that all necessities of our circumstances are virtues.  Even if lying is necessary, it does not mean that all necessary components of life are virtues.  Eating and sleeping are necessary components of life, but one would seem hard pressed to call eating and sleeping virtuous acts.  This would also seem particularly complicated in various contexts of “necessary”: killing and stealing for survival seems necessary at times, though again, not virtuous.  Perhaps some necessities of life are virtues, though certainly not all of them.  I need more to buy that lying is a virtue.

This is just one way of going about establishing why Twain’s argument doesn’t work.  It also won’t work on its own (see step 3 below!).

Step 3: Explain what the author may say in response to you and why your objection ultimately works

Here is what Twain may say to the person raising the objection in Step 2:

Oh, dear fool.  Perhaps not all necessities of our circumstances are virtues; however, this does not mean that lying isn’t a virtue.  Did you not read the rest of my essay?  I explain that judicious lying is virtuous–even more virtuous that telling an injurious truth!  Do you not believe that, if lying judiciously is a virtue, then it should be taught to the public?  How could you support such a view?

It could still be the case that lying is a virtue, which could still work for Twain’s argument. Here is the response the person could make to Twain:

Fair.  I will accept that if lying judiciously, as you say, is a virtue then it should be taught to the public.  However, now that we agree that not all necessities of our circumstances are virtues, I do not see how lying judiciously is a virtue.  You make a case that it’s better to lie to people at times because we are doing for their benefit with the best intentions.  Though, why should we what we think is best for others to believe actually is best for others to believe?  Isn’t honesty also a virtue?  Why should we believe we are doing the wrong thing when telling the truth, even if the truth may be injurious?

Though the response would need to be more than this, it is how the conversation could go. The key point: when considering why you think a view is wrong, you need to address precisely what is wrong with it, what the person may  reasonably say back in response to you, and why you think your view is still better.  (See my post on acknowledgement & response if you’d like to consider other ways of discussing this element of critique).


Distinguishing Views #liespy

As previously mentioned, thinking about definitions (the way we should think of them) entails thinking about the necessary and sufficient conditions for whatever is at hand.  Consider the standard definition of lying we are working with on Flipgrid:

A lie is a false statement uttered with the intent to deceive.

If this is right, then it necessarily excludes certain things that aren’t actually uttered (images, impersonations, etc.).  This is problematic for many, considering many would look at things like a doctored image  and say they were lies.  This also means that the person uttering the lie must have the intent to deceive, so simply uttering a false statement wouldn’t constitute a lie (like many seem to think).  It would also mean things like bald-face lies (lies that are uttered when the audience knows the utterance is false) wouldn’t be lies, either.  It would also seem to exclude other things that some consider lies: exaggeration, bullshitting, and other things in between.  These issues complicate matters for the standard definition of lying, suggesting that it may perhaps be too limited.  This is not to say that the conditions can’t be parts of lies; no one will deny that a lie can be a false statement uttered with the intent to deceive, but many disagree that lies are only false statements uttered with the intent to deceive.

Consider the definitions we have so far:
Standard Definition: A false statement uttered with the intent to deceive.
Smith’s Definition: Any form of behavior the function of which is to provide others with false information or to deprive them of true information.
Harris’s Definition : When one intentionally misleads others when they expect honest communication.

Notice that Smith’s definition is incredibly inclusive–any form of behavior.  As he mentions, this would include things like wearing makeup or deodorant.  This is quite the departure from the standard definition considering how much it would include as a lie.  This also isn’t as narrow as Harris’s definition, either.  For Harris, the audience (or conversational partner, or interlocutor–whatever you’d like to call the recipient of a lie) must expect honest communication.  This adds a contextual element to lying that neither the standard definition nor Smith give attention.

All three of these can’t be right.  The key things to consider: What do these views have in common?  Here are parts of the authors’ views so far:

Twain: Lying is necessary circumstance of life and, therefore, we ought to lie judiciously.
Smith: Lying is an evolutionary phenomenon.
Harris: Typical notions of why we should lie to others are misguided; we shouldn’t lie to others.

What do they necessarily entail if they are right, and what is problematic about this (if anything)?  For instance, how should we think about the discussed versions of lying we have so far?

Silent lie (Twain): Where someone may believe something the speaker knows is false and the speaker does nothing to alter the belief (ex. Your mother saying, “Well I know you would never steal from church because you were raised better” when in fact you did and you said nothing to change your mother’s mind).
Lies of commission (Harris):  Lying with conscious intent to gain something.
Lies of omission (Harris): Doing nothing to correct a false understanding that harms another or for self-benefit.
White Lies (Harris): Lies we tell at sparing others’ discomfort.


Some Conditions for Definitions #liespy

When thinking about how we understand the world, it’s vital to think about exactly what we mean when we employ particular terms.  Thinking about definitions is a core component in critical thinking: figuring out what something precisely is (and is not) before thinking about what should be done with it and how it should be understood.   In short, defining things is not an easy task.   Take ‘critical thinking’, for instance.  Many invoke this phrase and mean something like close reading: looking at a text and trying to figure out the ways it can/should be understood.  Many assignments and courses ask you to “think critically about x,” which seems to mean something like “think hard on x” or “scrutinize x” or “analyze x” or “critique x” (etc.).  Though, others–philosophers, for instance–will think of ‘critical thinking’ as a more disciplined process of reasoning and judgement.  In philosophy, critical thinking is a field of study: we learn to understand how to think better and assess common arguments and assertions based on particular rules and processes (see my previous post on flaws in reasoning for a bit more on this).  The word ‘logic’ works the same way.  Often in common conversation people will use ‘logic’ to mean how people think.  Utterances like “I don’t understand your logic here”  or “Your logic is wrong” seem to mean something like “I don’t know why you believe what you do” or “I don’t get your reasoning here.”  ‘Logic’ to philosophers is another field of study with particular principles, formulas, and methods.  This is not to imply that philosophers are right and others are wrong; rather, it is to say that people differ widely on how they use the same terms and what they mean by them, which can result in a lot of confusion and problems when making arguments and judgements.

Here are three ways we can think about types of definitions:

Way 1: Reportive Definitions

These are definitions that include typical, standard usage of terms.  Dictionaries, for instance, provide these.  “Standard usage” here means how the word is commonly understood in a contemporary society.  ‘Hipster’ is a good instance of this (because for some reason people can’t stop calling other people hipsters).  Consider the following:

Tommy is such a hipster!  

This would seem to imply something pejorative in contemporary society–Tommy is pretentious or looks a certain way.  This same sentence would mean something quite different if we were in the 1940s, where ‘hipster’ had a more specific denotation of someone who was really into hot jazz.

Way 2: Stipulative Definitions

These are definitions we create based on specific circumstances of their use.  For instance, when researchers employ terms in academic articles, they typically take the time in the beginning of a paper to explain to the reader what they precisely mean (ex. “For our purposes here, ‘hipster’ means someone who follows the latest obscure subculture trends).  It may not be something that is the standard usage of a word, though it works given the proper context its given.

Way 3: Essentialist Definitions

These are definitions that include the essential nature (or purpose) of the concept.  These are unlike the above types of definitions because they ask for theories behind how we should understand particular terms.  For instance, “equality” or “love” or “vengeance” or other larger concepts demand deeper reasoning to justify how we think they should be understood.  At the heart of it, these definitions serve as theories for how we should understand the concept employed.

When applying this to our class, I am asking you to define ‘lie’ by the third way; we are looking for the conditions that must exist–and should only exist (the “necessary and sufficient conditions” for a term)–in order to constitute a lie.  So far, many students have said wonderful things on Slack and blog posts about what can constitute a lie.  Though, what is the contained, precise definition?  How do we know it’s the right one?

When thinking about defining what it means to lie, think about everything that goes into lying as you see it.  What does it include?  What does it not?

Consider the point @reynoldssrm2 made in our Slack conversation:

I do believe that lying is telling someone a false statement. But that does not always mean that the person conveying said false information is a liar. Imagine, if I tell you that Dunkin Donuts on Broad st. is giving away 3 free donuts to everyone who comes into the store shirtless. I know what I’m telling you is a lie but you don’t. Then I tell you to tell 20 friends that same information so they can all get free donuts. When those 20 friends walk into Dunkin Donuts with no shirt on and walk out shirtless, donutless, and disappointed they are going to call you a liar. When in reality you did lie, communicating a false statement, but you did so unknowingly. I believe in this situation I am the only true liar, whilst you are just a pawn in the lying game.

This is a great example of conditions for lying.  It may be a necessary condition for lying that it includes a false statement, but it’s not a sufficient one–meaning, you have to make a false statement when lying, but not all false statement are lies on their own.

What, then, are the necessary and sufficient conditions for lying?  How should we concisely understand the term to include everything you have discussed so far but excludes everything else?  For instance, is the “false statement” clause too narrow?  Can lies be things that aren’t statements at all (images, actions, etc.)?  Is the intent to deceive necessary?  What is a succinct way of defining the concept?

Some help for thinking about how to define something to encapsulate its precise meaning:

  1. Definitions should not be too broad.  ExampleA clock is any device that tells time.  We can’t include all devices that tell time though, right?  This would include things like TVs, phones, and many other devices.
  2. Definitions should not be too narrow. Example: A clock is a time-telling device that people have in their homes on nightstands and walls.  This would exclude all kinds of non-home clocks.
  3. Definitions should not be too broad and too narrow.  Example: A clock is time-telling device that people own.  This would be too broad because one can own something that tells time without it being a clock, and it is too narrow because it only includes devices people own (omitting things like public clocktowers and things of the like).


This is step one.  Once we figure out what we precisely mean by ‘lie’ we can move on to discussing what we should make of them (i.e. how we should judge them and assess when, if ever, it’s ok to lie).

Entering Conversations with Stasis Theory #VCUoculist

You will soon (very soon, in fact) make an argument involving some aspect of the problem you established in your Unit II work (Look to the Unit III assignment for precise details).  The purpose of this paper is to make a debatable, supportable, and significant claim about the issue: what the reader should understand and believe.  So, it is important that we hit the ground running and figure out what you want to assert.  When writing such an argumentative essay, it is important to understand (1) the relevant research, and (2) what you want to say.  With (2), there are many ways to enter conversations regarding topics, and not everyone wants to tackle a particular topic in the same way.  As a way to help figure out how to enter the conversation, it is helpful (I think) to look at stasis theory.  The term stasis is derived from a Greek word meaning “a stand.” [1]  In order to help refine one’s point regarding a particular issue, ancient rhetoricians would address these four questions (or staseis):

  1. Conjecture—Is there an act to consider (Does the thing exist?)?
  2. Definition—How should we understand the act (How should we define the thing?)?
  3. Quality—How serious is the act (Is the thing good or bad?)?
  4. Policy—Should this act undergo any particular procedure (What should be done about the thing?)?

 Many students think that they have to prove something should happen: to take a specific position (ex. we shouldn’t eat meat, we shouldn’t factory farm, etc).  However, these kinds of positions tend to be broad and miss the potential for creating an argument that is useful and more important given the particular kind of conversation one finds necessary with the topic.  Questions of conjecture, for instance, can be very powerful: demonstrating that something is actually a problem can be all that you need to do as a writer.  That is, you do not always need to (1) demonstrate a problem exists and then (2) pose what should be done about it.  Surely, posing solutions is wonderful.  However, a lot of the work can come from just demonstrating how a problem should be understood (a conceptual issue!).  It all depends on how you want to tackle the issue and what you want the reader to understand.  The key here is that your thesis be precise and significant with the issue!

It’s important to note that topics do not need to entertain all of the staseis.  For instance, questions about the death penalty in America would not consider questions of conjecture—we know the death penalty exists.  HOWEVER, questions about how we define it and should understand it are very important to constitutional law (and so are questions of quality and policy).  It’s not that the conversations you enter with your topics should hit every question—it’s that considering these kinds of questions will help you figure out where the conversation is with the research you’ve compiled and your stake in the matter.  

Ideally, considering staseis will help you do several things:

  1. Clarify thinking about the point in dispute
  2. Help consider assumptions and values shared within an audience
  3. Establishes areas in which more research needs to be done
  4. Suggests what focus is important to privilege 


Below is an example of using stasis theory to examine what you want to say about your given topic.  I did this analysis for a paper I once wrote about the Miranda warnings, and though I go through all four of the questions, note that the real focus here was with Definition and Quality.


I used stasis theory to show how stasis regarding the Miranda warnings has been interrupted.   Though having a history of going unimpeded, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has changed the Miranda warning’s status in its staseis, sending it back to definition.  The four points are as follows:

Conjecture: Miranda exists.  It does so because the under the 5th and 14th Amendments, suspects should not be coerced by police to incriminate themselves.  It came into existence after Ernesto Miranda signed a confession without being told he had right to counsel.  Miranda’s case made the U.S. Supreme Court enact the Miranda warnings to make sure that all suspects are aware of their rights when questioned by the police.

Definition: Miranda is a set of procedural safeguards that are read to avoid self incrimination by knowingly and intelligently waiving one’s rights, and to help alleviate coercive pressures inherent in custodial surroundings.  It belongs to a larger class of principles that exist to inform citizens of their rights.  Its parts are the actual rights that are read, and they are related because they represent what is stated in the 5th and 14th Amendments. 

Quality:  The Miranda warnings are a good thing and should exist because many don’t understand their rights, and those who do still run the risk of being intimidated or coerced by the police to incriminate themselves.  Miranda is better than any alternative because it enforces the point of the 5th Amendment–to prevent self-incrimination—while not making it impossible for police to continue interrogating possible guilty individuals. 

Policy: Miranda has to be enacted when questioning suspects, and should remain to be the case because of the potential for self-incrimination and the inherent coercive nature of the law (as stated in definition and quality).  However, the new policy is that the Miranda warnings should still exist, but whatever right the suspect invokes during question, that invocation has a shelf-life of fourteen days.  After fourteen days, if the person is Mirandized again, whatever right he/she invokes (or doesn’t) at that time stands, and the original request is disregarded.

This policy change causes the following changes with the Miranda warnings:

Definition: With the new rule, Miranda has an additional part that includes a time limit for salience of rights invoked by suspects.  This part is not related to the other parts that are connected to the 5th and 14th Amendments.

Quality: The new understanding of Miranda is worse than an understanding of Miranda without the time constraint, because the new Miranda neglects to consider the power of coercion inherent in custodial settings.  We should give suspects a leg up when they invoke their rights and let the invocations stand.  It is more detrimental to the suspect to not have counsel when questioned rather than have counsel present, and preventing self-incrimination should be at the forefront of the issue.  Furthermore, we can only assume that there is something intervening when a person requests counsel in one instance but waives the right in another. 

The Court ruling takes Miranda back to definition because it has to account for its new time constraint.    This then causes a problem for its quality, because it undermines the point that, even though suspects are read their rights, coercive pressure can still exist.  In letting one’s invocation of his/her right last as long as he/she is questioned on the same issue, the coercive threat is fought as best as possible.  However, with this new policy, it makes the current state of Miranda—one with a time limit—less desirable than Miranda warnings that would promise that an invocation of a right is indelible.  Therefore, because of the new policy, the definition of Miranda has changed for the worse and has produced a quality for Miranda that is less desirable than something else—Miranda warnings without the time constraint.  Though the policy regarding the Miranda warnings may be better than having no policy ensuring police read suspects their rights, it is not as desirable as the original policy regarding Miranda that did not include the time limit.

[1] Note: Information regarding stasis theory comes from Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students.

Breaking Down Articles #VCUoculist

Monday marked the first day of class where we used a Google doc to collaborate and break down a reading for its valuable points of thought.  Hooray!  We will do this frequently throughout this semester for several reasons:

  1. Collaboration across classes is a valuable tool considering that we can learn from one another to have more precise, robust understandings of the material.
  2. It’s imperative that we practice and practice and practice putting others’ ideas into our own words (if anything just to demonstrate that we know what we’re talking about).
  3. We will now forever have a body of core ideas from the text to make portable and use for support with our own ideas and arguments. (Forever until the Internet fails us, of course.  But that will never happen.)

We will talk more about how an author’s core ideas are used in arguments (as what we can call a “warrant”), how their use differs from how we use evidence, and many other wonderful things about argumentation.  For now, let’s compare the list of warrants everyone generated from Beverly Tatum, “The Complexity of Identity: ‘Who am I?'” with my summary of the chapter:

In “The Complexity of Identity: ‘Who Am I?’” Tatum argues that we have multiple identities, many times both dominant and subordinate ones, and that these identities must be negotiated to both oppose oppression we may face and acknowledge oppression we tacitly—or overtly—accept with others. Tatum invokes and supports Charles Cooley’s assertion that “other people are the mirror in which we see ourselves” (9). As she argues, “who we are” comes from historical, social, and cultural contexts, and moreover, how we are seen (and judged) by others within these contexts. In addition to these factors, our identity is diachronic—it changes and is shaped over time. Though, given the importance of context regarding identity, certain things we associate with “who we are” in a particular time may not always be relevant. What are always relevant in any given time are the aspects of our identity that others notice and reflect back on us—the aspects that make us different (race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, etc.).

Though these aspects may not encapsulate us entirely, our subordinate (or targeted) identities are the ones we identify with most. As Tatum writes, “Dominant group[s] [hold] the power and authority in society relative to the subordinates and determine[s] how that power and authority may be acceptably used” (11). Dominants assign roles to subordinate groups reflecting their “devalued status,” which ultimately shape the way subordinates see themselves (ex. Blacks being historically seen as less intelligent than Whites, and women less emotionally stable than men) (11). Though, dominants are ignorant to subordinate experiences. Conversely, subordinates are keenly attuned to dominants and are so because of the control dominants have within society (like various media). This knowledge is necessary, Tatum maintains, because subordinates must understand how to navigate power struggles they face for survival—whether they be active (ex. women defending themselves from male aggressors) or inactive (not responding to aggressive behavior) demonstrations (12-13). Ultimately, Tatum concludes that in attending to our various identities and understanding our abilities for social change as subordinates—to alter the mirrors in which we see ourselves—as well as our dominance over other groups, we come closer to free self expression.


Summarizing texts in accurate and precise ways is a remarkable skill, and it takes a lot of practice to get good at it.  However, unless we have some specific charge, we don’t often write formal summaries of texts in order to use the arguments within them for our own purposes.  It is always the case that one should use others’ ideas accurately and document them appropriately, but this does not mean that one is responsible for utilizing the entire work to make use of one/several core view(s).  When looking to texts like the Tatum chapter–a text we read specifically for the argument and definitions employed–think about what passages seem most valuable based on the view(s) posited and how you can possibly put them into your own words and apply them to areas of your own interest. For example, though we know that this article has nothing to do with Richmond, VA specifically, how can Tatum’s argument be applied to the various conversations and primary texts so far in class?


Extending Drafts

Here are some points of advice if you are drafting your essay and feel like you do not have enough to write to get the project where you need it.

1.) Do not look at your work for this paper as something that is merely getting you to the word count.  If you are looking to this project solely as its word requirement then you are putting yourself in severe risk of failing to produce quality work.  Think about what you really wish to accomplish with your argument and then check your thesis to see whether it encapsulates the same ambition.  A more ambitious thesis will require more legwork to support, though it will also amount to a more sophisticated and robust (i.e. longer) paper.  (Note: Being ambitious does not mean being broad. Our criteria for a strong main claim are forever in play.)

2.) Use your sources. It’s often the case that sources aren’t being used enough for support.  The idea is to think of your sources going beyond direct examples of ideas to include moments where the author’s arguments can be applied for support.  Your sources have limits, though you can stretch them and apply the arguments loosely to many other ideas and primary texts for analysis.  Additionally, going beyond the eight required sources for the paper to include more source material is certainly possible, and oftentimes desirable.  As Ballenger writes in The Curious Researcher, documentation is key element distinguishing the research paper from any other kind of essay (117). You need to demonstrate to your reader that you know what you’re talking about, and that you can utilize and explain the source material in a way that bolsters your own work. Your sources are your friends, and think of them that way. Here’s how:

  • You need to introduce them.  Be sure to use a signal phrase (given the style you’re using) to introduce authors when you first mention them. 
  • You don’t want to take advantage of them.   Don’t let your sources do all of the work; don’t just quote/paraphrase without saying what you think, or how the quotations/paraphrases work within your paragraphs to support your own point.  Paragraphs should include a healthy mix of your own words and the source material.
  • You don’t block them out of the conversation.  Let them talk from time-to-time to get an actual conversation going on, rather than you just solely going on with what you think.  Your view matters, but you need to integrate your sources coherently and completely into your view.
  • You don’t want them to annoy everyone and talk forever.  Be sure to only include necessary information, either with paraphrases or with direct quotations (eliminate unnecessary parts of the passages and use ellipsis (…) to indicate information you’ve omitted).  Your reader will thank you.
  • You need to give your friends credit.  Always cite what you get from them with in-text citations including page numbers.

Consider this student example.  Note that the highlighted portions are when the sources are talking, and that it’s an even ratio between author and source (also note that the quotations are sandwiched in: it goes from author to source to author): 

Direct-to-consumer advertisements can also lead to an over prescription of medications. When commercials are not clear enough and provide only subjective symptoms for a disorder, people can easily misinterpret the information and be led to believe they have the advertised disease. Some advertisements also lead people to believe that they can successfully self-diagnose, when in reality a diagnosis takes a lot of information to confirm, and symptoms can be in different form depending on the individual.  Mary Ebeling’s article “‘Get with the Program!’: Pharmaceutical Marketing, Symptom Checklists and Self-diagnosis” asserts that advertisements cause people to feel they can properly diagnose themselves without knowing that they are actually missing an essential part of the diagnostic process. DTCA often lists the symptoms of a disorder but these symptoms are only “ signs” of certain problems in the body but do not prove the cause of the problem (826). When people view commercials they are led to believe they can diagnosis solely on those conditions. But according to Ebeling, symptoms are considered “subjective criteria” because they could signify multiple disorders; whereas “ signs-alterations in organs and biochemistry” give the doctor “ objective data… to constitute a disease” (828). This is a potential negative of DTCA because people are convinced they have a disorder before they seek medical assistance and take actual tests. When patients misdiagnose themselves it is more likely that their doctor will inaccurately diagnose them. As Mintzes asserts, “Systematic review of diagnostic accuracy in primary care estimates that 15 people are falsely diagnosed with depression for every 10 correctly diagnosed” (269). This is significant because the rate of false diagnoses has increased and advertisements are partly to blame because they have the potential to convince people they have the described illness and embody those symptoms.

3.) Check the suppressed points in your argument.  It’s often the case that we leave out full explanations of the principles we use to guide our reasoning: principles we don’t always share with others.  Look to see where these points may be unpronounced and explain them in enough detail so that someone who may not share your same values can fully understand your view.  (This is also how to consider acknowledgement and response on paragraph level: providing what others may say about your point(s) and responding to the alternative view you raise.)

4.) Consider the range of rhetorical appeals in your paper and diversify on the paragraph level, if necessary.  Look for moments where you rely heavily on a specific rhetorical strategy in the paper and see whether including others would bolster the strength of the point (ex. focusing on bringing in more data/case study material when doing more exposition, or explaining the weight of the problem for individuals involved when looking at hard research).

5.) Give your conclusion some weight.   Like introductions to longer papers, conclusions for them can be longer.  Don’t just think of the conclusion as the final paragraph of your paper.  Take some time to reiterate the significance of your thesis and explain what the reader needs to know when moving forward in life after your awesome argument.  There are various models for concluding, and I encourage you wholeheartedly to look to Dr. Coats’s post for his students on concluding essays.  Though no matter what, note that all conclusions should restate the purpose of the argument in unique language and drive home the stakes of what you have established.

Acknowledgment & Response

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of explaining warrants when necessary, it’s important to discuss acknowledging the opposition to your argument (or portions of it) and responding appropriately. We can think of this task as tackling charges of problems with the logical structure of our arguments (i.e. claims, reasons, evidence. We can refer to this as as “intrinsic soundness”). Though, much of the task with acknowledgment is spent addressing various alternatives to framing the problem the way you do, or considerations of evidence you may have overlooked (we can refer to this as “extrinsic soundness”). It’s not necessarily the case that there will be stark objections that you have to entertain—issues are very rarely black/white, yes/no. This is why it’s important to understand the nuances of your argument so you can anticipate reasonable counterarguments and respond to them. It’s not that you just pull something out of the air that someone could say in response to what you’re saying and then beat it down (this is a Straw Man fallacy). The considerations must be reasonable insofar as someone who is actually invested in the issue may actually have a problem with what you’re asserting and have good reason to take such a problem.

When imagining these kinds of considerations, it’s necessary to have your audience in mind—the stakeholders in what you’re arguing.  Thus, it’s key to think of the actual stakes they have in what you’re saying and what they will say to push back.  And research audiences are not pushovers.  It is helpful to try and put yourselves in their shoes when thinking about possible objections to you portions of your argument: What would people interested in your project say in response to what you present?  More specifically, what would the authors of your sourcework say?

Consider the following dialogue:

Kelly: Sally, you should stop eating soy because it is bad for your health.
Narrator: Sally is making the claim backed up by the one reason—soy is bad for you.
Sally: Wait, what? How is soy bad for me? What about Silken tofu smoothies? Soybean salads? I thought that soy was the health food of choice!
Kelly: Uh, yeah Sally…maybe in the 90s. But recent studies have shown that frequent soy intake can lead to an increase in risk of breast cancer because of high estrogen levels. In fact, Smirkens and Willis (2012) showed that soybeans are the most concentrated source of isoflavones in our diet, and that since isoflavones bind to estrogen receptors, they can have similar effects as estrogen. You don’t want to take this risk so you shouldn’t eat soy. Think about the isoflavones!
Narrator: Here, Kelly is using research to support her assertion that soy is bad for one’s health because of the increased risk of breast cancer.
Sally: Wait a minute… aren’t isoflavones good things? I remember reading a study conducted by Tompkins and White (2013) that showed isoflavones’ positive effects on regulating cell growth, which actually protects us against some cancers. Additionally, Blanch and Phillips (2011) showed that isoflavones have shown to moderately help cholesterol levels. So, I don’t know about all this isoflavone talk.
Narrator: Sally, not too keen on what Kelly is proposing, responds to the point by explaining other evidence supporting an alternative position on isoflavones.
Kelly: Okay, you may be right that Smirkens and Willis’s study may have been too limited—isoflavones may not be all that bad.
Narrator: Kelly is now necessarily conceding a bit given the evidence presented and the limitations of the study she references.
Kelly: Though, there are other reasons why soy is bad for you. For instance, look at processed foods like soy burgers and soy energy bars. When items such as these include the words “soy protein” on the package, it means that they are processed. As Terry and Calvin (2013) showed in their comprehensive study of the Boca “Chik’n” patty, this means that many of the original essential nutrients are stripped from the food. Eating these products only seems healthy given the soy hype–they are just empty nutrients.
Narrator: Kelly is now offering and supporting another reason that soy should not be consumed—certain soy products are bankrupt of nutrients.
Sally: Ugh! I hate empty nutrients!
Kelly: Don’t we all?

The major points here:
*You must make acknowledgements to rebuttals when making claims–nothing is perfect.
*These rebuttals come from your research–you don’t just make them up.
*Conceding to certain points does not mean that your argument is bad–it just means that you need to continue to support your point with additional reasons/evidence.

 The major major point: it’s your job to establish relevant and real acknowledgments you must make given your argument.  This demonstrates your credibility to the reader and helps establish trust, which is essential.

To help illustrate this major major point, previous wonderful UTAs wrote this sample paragraph using the language of A&R. Pay attention to the choices they made with verbs and adverbs when signaling—you will need to make the same kinds of moves when making such points.

Vegetarianism contributes to a healthier diet by eliminating from the diet the saturated fat and cholesterol found in many meat products. However, author Keegan Vegan (2013) noted that many vegetarians consume eggs for added protein, in which case they are not significantly cutting cholesterol out of their diets due to the high cholesterol content in eggs. “In just two eggs,” Vegan points out, “a vegetarian can already exceed his or her recommended daily cholesterol intake” (p. 53). While it is true that vegetarians need to watch how much egg product they are consuming, cholesterol in eggs can be eliminated rather simply. Consumers can separate the egg yolks, which contain the most cholesterol, from the egg whites and use only the egg whites. On the other hand, eliminating meat from the diet also raises the issue of losing other nutrients provided by meat. Author Laura Carnivora (2012) asserted that removing meats from the diet cuts out valuable sources of nutrients like iron and vitamin B12, of which eggs and dairy products contribute significantly less (p. 102). While meats are rich sources of many essential vitamins and nutrients, the vegetarian can obtain these nutrients through a well-researched combination of other fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Substitutions of fruits and vegetables also provide additional necessary nutrients that meat does not contain, while reducing intake of cholesterol and saturated fat at the same time. Through diligence and well-researched choices, vegetarians can make positive substitutions for protein and the vitamins and minerals found in meat while cutting out the negative components in many meat products.