write an argument paper


See p. 239 of Writing Arguments for the basic requirements for the assignment.

Additional specifications.

Identify a problem that depends on resolving a disagreement about the meaning of a term. (By ‘term’ we mean a word or phrase used in a technical or quasi-technical sense. It is the definition of the word only in this technical sense that is at issue.) The main focus of your definitional analysis will be a categorical judgment, having the general form, “x is an A”, where x represents an individual object referred to out in the world and Arepresents a categorical term belonging to the language used. Your individual object (x) should be an entity about which there is a question regarding its proper classificationor interpretation. What is important about the categorical term (A) is its meaning: this meaning can be specified by providing a set of criteria or principles (C) that determine whether, for any given individual (x1, x2,…), that individualis included in or excluded from the category. It is this set of criteria that is at issue in the definitional argument; the aim of the analysis is to arrive at the most accurate and effective set of criteria for your categorical term, and to reject the criteria put forward by an opposing account. This “criteria analysis” will form the major part of your definitional analysis. This will involve the presentation and critique of opposing criteria and the presentation and defense of your preferred criteria. At the root of the criteria analysis is a definitional judgment, a claim about the meaning (the set of criteria C) of your categorical term (A). The definitional judgment has the following general form: [ [The criteria (C) constituting the meaning of A] are (c1, c2, c3, … cn). (I.e., CA = (c1, c2, c3, … cn.)] Each statement of a criterion (c) is a statement of a general rule, with a modality specification. Your definitional judgment will then become, in the argument’s support structure, a warrant, i.e., a general principle assumed as a premise, for your categorical claim (your claim that “x is an A”). The reason and “grounds” supporting the categorical judgmentinvolves description of the relevant properties of the problematic object and the evidence supporting this description, andis called the “match analysis”, and in most cases will be the minor part of the overall analysis in terms of emphasis.

You need to look for an issue involving a controversial categorical term about which there is disagreement regarding its definition; and for your individual object you need to look for peripheral or borderline cases out there in the world that challenge the existing definitions (i.e., callthem into question, where the existing definitions are insufficient to decide the question of which category the object belongs to). Try to avoid cases where the definitional question would be a “surrogate issue”, i.e., where the resolution of the definitional questiondepends on the prior resolution of a much more difficult and contentious larger issue (e.g., arguments about the definition of ‘marriage’ (in the context of the problem of the understanding and acceptance of homosexuality) or ‘life’ (in the context of the question of the morality of abortion and abstinence from sex before marriage for women)). Since you are writing only a 5 – page paper and not a treatise, your individual problematic object should be a relatively concrete, definite phenomenon, rather than an abstract concept.

For material on various aspects of definitional arguments, see the following sections of Writing Arguments.

• Organizing a definitional argument: p. 239- 240

• Criteria- match structure of definitional arguments: p. 229- 230

• Toulmin analysis of definitional arguments: p. 230

• Kinds of definitions: p. 231- 237

• Strategies for the criteria argument: p. 234- 237.

Definitional analysis and argument is about the proper conceptualization of a problem or problematic phenomenon. Experience is made meaningful by virtue of its particulars being assimilated to general structures (e.g., a system of categories, such as the lexicon of a language) in terms of rules or principles belonging to the structures that identify a property with respect to which the objects are equivalent. Confronted with a problematic phenomenon which challenges our understanding, the question is, “Which category (or categories) would be most effective for making sense of the phenomenon?” Definitional arguments often require reflection on our conceptual instruments, the categories that we use to understand the world, and involve the adjustment or modification of these categories (i.e., modifying the definitions) in order to better make sense of the world. Thus the issue in a definitional argument is often not only what has been, but what ought to be the definition of the controversial term.

The meaning of a term, as opposed to its definition, “is what it is” independently of our attempts to define it; it is the result of a process of construction by the speech community involving the internal differentiation of the category through repeated usage of the term over the course of the history of the language, in varying contexts. Normally we are not consciously aware of the meanings of the words we use (i.e., “meanings” in the above sense, of the set of criteria (C) that determine membership of the category (A)); we find it difficult to say explicitly what the criteria are, but we can become aware of the criteria to some extent by focusing reflectively on the usage of the word in particular acts of language use. A definition is a conscious attempt to characterize or bring to explicit expression what the meaning of the word is, implying a reciprocal process of adjustment between the attempted definition and the actual meaning of the word. Over the course of time, changes naturally occur in the meanings of practically every word of a language, as a result of countless intuitive decisions by speakers using the word in new contexts or in relation to borderline cases. The definitional argument makes this naturally occurring decision process the focus of conscious and explicit analysis and argument.

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