Chapter 12: Constructing Arguments: Writing to Persuade
Critical Thinking Focus
: Using reasons, evidence, and logic
: Convincing an audience
: Arguments about important issues
: Arguing a position on a significant issue
Overview of Chapter 12
Chapter 12 deals with one of the central concerns of college writing courses: the construction of various types of sound arguments. It also explains fallacies such as hasty generalizations, and it explores how to evaluate arguments. The Writing Project asks students to write a logical, well-organized argument for a position that is important to them. The section on "cue words" presents a valuable technique for linking claims and support in arguments (and in other kinds of writing as well).
Teaching Chapter 12
Chapter 12 begins with some definitions of logic and argument, and a bit of the history of classical rhetoric. Concepts such as logos, ethos, pathos, generation or discovery, arrangement, deduction and induction, and refutation are introduced and linked to the Thinking-Writing Model presented in Chapter 1 of Critical Thinking, Thoughtful Writing
. The authors make a distinction between argument as a way of beating an opponent and argument as a way of informing others of differences for the purpose of reaching agreement or consensus.
You might introduce the chapter by having two students read aloud the dialogue between Dennis and Caroline on page 477. Then, discuss the definitions of argument, reasons or evidence, and conclusion, claim, or thesis in terms of the dialogue, and the words for useful arguments on page 481. The point that our reasons and our reasoning are not always correct, should be reiterated since a later section of the chapter will discuss faulty and weak arguments. The middle section of the chapter explains arguments as inferences and draws on information in Chapter 10. The activity of constructing arguments to decide, explain, predict, and persuade on pages 486-488 can be completed in class as a precursor to a discussion of how to evaluate arguments on the bases of truth, validity and soundness. The extensive sections on deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, empirical generalization, and logical fallacies make up a short course in formal logic. These topics are worth covering if time in your course permits. Students can peruse television commercials, print advertising, and Internet advertising for examples of these types of logic and illogic.
The thinking-writing activities in Chapter 12 will produce pieces that students can fold into the longer Writing Project.
: Analyzing Argumentative Writing (page 468)
To examine arguments, students will select one of their own essays for this class and one essay that they have read for class, and, with each, establish its claim, evidence, audience, and proposed changes or actions.
: Establishing Agreement (page 476)
Because most issues are not reducible to simple binary oppositions—extremes such as right/wrong, moral/immoral, or good/bad—students will engage in an exercise that may help them to reach some middle ground or compromise. They will find a classmate who disagrees with them about something, and then both disagreeing parties will write a statement of their position, investigate their warrants, and then see if there is anything they can agree on.
: Analyzing Your Audiences (page 476)
Other than their teachers, students will name two different audiences to whom they have written; for each instance, they will think about what they did specifically to address, relate to, and accommodate that audience. Examining this chapter’s essays, students will summarize who those essays’ audiences are and what the writers did to reach out to them. Which passages demonstrate obvious attention paid to the audience?
: Analyzing a Dialogue (page 481)
Students underline cue words in the Dennis and Caroline dialogue and identify the convincing and unconvincing arguments in that dialogue.
: Evaluating Deductive Arguments (page 499)
Students analyze short arguments using a three-step process.
: Analyzing Empirical Generalization (page 503)
Students analyze examples of inductive reasoning by answering five questions about them.
: Analyzing Fallacies (page 509)
Students find and analyze false appeals in advertisements and political statements.
Readings in Chapter 12
"I Want You
for U.S. Army" by James Montgomery Flagg (page 471) and www.goarmy.com
by the U.S. Army (page 472)
The first two paired readings in this chapter give students practice in analyzing visual texts and in evaluating Web sites. Flagg’s 1917 recruitment poster calls upon the reader’s sense of service and obligation, while the 2001 Web site appeals to potential recruits by offering career opportunities. Elsewhere on the site is the Army’s "An Army of One" message, which moves even further from Flagg’s approach by appealing to individualism.
"Drugs" by Gore Vidal (page 482)
In sometimes satirical and sometimes inflammatory prose, Vidal complicates all the causes and effects of drug use in the United States in this argument for legalization.
"The Case for Slavery" by A.M. Rosenthal (page 483)
In an extended comparison of legalization of drugs to slavery, Rosenthal argues that legalization would be the worst thing the U.S. could do. Legalization would only increase crime, violence, and addiction.
"In No Hurry for Next Leg of the Journey" by David Gonzalez (page 491)
Gonzalez’s argument against euthanasia can be whittled down to the personal testimony of three people who also oppose euthanasia. Consequently, his argument is bereft of appeals to reason (logos
) but replete with those to emotion (pathos
) and morality (ethos
Gonzalez sets his scene in a room at Calvary Hospital, which, under the auspices of New York’s Catholic Archdiocese, treats "adults in the final stages of advanced cancer," dying patients who are "offere[d] . . . an alternative to assisted suicide." Gonzalez adds that this is not a place Jack Kevorkian "has ever visited." Given its context, do students consider that quotation ad hominem
reasoning or just a statement of fact?
Dying of cancer, Michael Burke recognizes why some terminal patients, wracked by frustration and pain, may feel driven to suicide; for him, however, suicide isn’t an option. Burke not only believes in an afterlife, but argues that he could never deprive his wife and children—or himself—of even one extra week together. Gonzalez provides quotations from Burke that undermine Kevorkian’s advocacy of euthanasia and that explain his, Burke’s, decision to remain alive as long as he can.
Supplementing Burke’s nobly emotional sentiments in defense of his argument, Gonzalez adds one statement apiece from two of Calvary’s staff members. In the words of the medical director, emotional suffering and depression are "more painful than physical pain." Gonzalez does not attempt to support that supposition. According to the director of the hospital’s palliative care unit, health maintenance organizations, HMOs, create a "medical run-around" that is frustrating to terminal patients and "exploited by proponents of assisted suicide." Gonzalez offers no support for this supposition, either.
"Hospice Care or Assisted Suicide: A False Dichotomy" by John L. Miller (page 492)
Miller’s argument, "which comes from within the hospice movement but which supports legal reforms to allow physician-assisted suicide," attempts to establish agreement between this controversy’s opposing sides, sides that risk "the danger of falling to extremes." Miller wants to find a "balance in supporting the dignity for those we care for" because, unfortunately, "the problem with hospice care is that in spite of our best public relations efforts, it doesn’t always take away people’s pain, and it isn’t always wanted." Consequently, he argues, it is essential to find a "middle ground" that legally will reform the process of assisted suicides. Acknowledging that such reforms will require "fine details," Miller adds that his purpose is not to wrestle with those details in this essay, but to argue "the ethical justification for such a position."
Students should study carefully the ways that Miller is careful not to alienate his audience. How would they describe his tone? What individual words or phrases can they find to illustrate his accommodating voice?
A majority of this polemic rebuts the notion that assisted suicide is a "slippery slope" that may lead to eugenics or even genocide. Are students satisfied with this reasoning? If not, where does it open itself up to fallacies? Using Miller’s definition of the difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia, do students think that his proposed reforms for assisted suicide clear it of the moral taint of euthanasia?
"The Declaration of Independence" (page 510)
This venerable document is presented as an excellent example of "argument."
"Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Seneca Falls" by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (page 512)
This ‘Declaration’ is less well-known than the one preceding it, but worthy of careful study and analysis. Stanton argues for the equality of women in politics, the pulpit, trades, professions, and commerce.
: Arguing a Position on a Significant Issue (page 517)
Students are to write carefully researched and structured arguments or position papers on issues that are significant. The assignment is left open for the instructor to contextualize in terms of the number and range of sources, length, and academic format for citations. Students are also asked to do some meta-analysis of their arguments on a separate page by answering questions about the audience and hwy the issue is important.
The Writing Process
The information following the Project explains the principles for writing responsible arguments that have been discussed in Chapter 12 and connects the Project to the Thinking-Writing Model presented in Chapter 1. There is specific help for generating ideas, defining a focus, organizing ideas, drafting, revising, and proofreading.
The questions in earlier sections of Chapter 12 work well for peer reviews of students' argument drafts. For example, under the criterion of truth, reviewers consider how true the supporting reasons are. Reviewers can respond to these questions: Does each reason make sense? What evidence is the writer offering as part of each reason? Are any reasons consistent with my own experience? Are reasons based on sources that can be trusted? Under the criterion of validity, reviewers respond to how well the reasons support the claim or conclusion of the argument. Under the criterion of soundness, reviewers consider how accurate the reasons given are and how valid the argument’s structure is.
"Cellular Phones in Public Schools" by Josephine R. Cimino (page 522)
A busy working mother, Cimino argues that students should have cell phones in school for their own safety and their parents’ convenience.