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Arguments in Depth
WRITING ASSIGNMENT A Definition Argument
The assignment for this chapter focuses on definition disputes about categories. Write
an essay in which you argue that a borderline or contested case fits (or does not fit)
within a given category. In the opening of your essay, introduce the borderline case
you will examine and pose your definition question. In the first part of your argument, define the boundaries of your category (criteria) by reporting a definition used
by others or by developing your own extended definition. In the second part of your
argument (the match), show how your borderline case meets (or doesn’t meet) your
definition criteria.
Exploring Ideas
Ideally, in writing this argument you will join an ongoing conversation about a
definition issue that interests you. What cultural and social issues that concern you
involve disputed definitions? In the public arena, you are likely to find numerous
examples simply by looking through news stories—for example, the disputes about
the definition of “torture” in interrogating terrorist suspects or about “freedom of
religion” in debates about religious organizations having to pay for contraception in
employees’ health insurance. Often you can frame your own definition issues even
if they aren’t currently in the news. Is using TiVo to avoid TV commercials a form
of theft? Is flag burning protected free speech? Is solitary confinement “cruel and
unusual punishment”? Is Wal-Mart a socially responsible company? Are voter ID
laws racist?
If you have trouble discovering a local or national issue that interests you, you can
create fascinating definition controversies among your classmates by asking whether
certain borderline cases are “true” or “real” examples of some category: Are highly
skilled video game players (race car drivers, synchronized swimmers, marbles players)
true athletes? Is a gourmet chef (skilled furniture maker, tagger) a true artist? Is a chiropractor (acupuncturist, naturopathic physician) a “real doctor”? Working as a whole
class or in small groups inside or outside class, create an argumentative discussion on
one or more of these issues. Listen to the various voices in the controversy, and then
write out your own argument.
You can also stimulate definition controversies by brainstorming borderline cases
for such terms as courage (Is mountain climbing an act of courage?), cruelty to animals
(Are rodeos [zoos, catch-and-release trout fishing, use of animals for medical research] guilty of cruelty to animals?), or war crime (Was the American firebombing of
Tokyo in World War II a war crime?).
As you explore your definition issue, try to determine how others have defined
your category. If no stable definition emerges from your search, create your own
definition by deciding what criteria must be met for a contested case to fit within
your category. Try using the strategy for creating criteria that we discussed on pages
235–237 with reference to police brutality. Once you have determined your criteria,
freewrite for five or ten minutes, exploring whether your contested case meets each of
the criteria.
Definition and Resemblance Arguments
Identifying Your Audience and Determining What’s at Stake
Before drafting your argument, identify your targeted audience and determine what’s
at stake. Consider your responses to the following questions:

What audience are you targeting? What background do they need to understand
your issue? How much do they already care about it?
Before they read your argument, what stance on your issue do you imagine them
holding? What change do you want to bring about in their views?
Organization Plan 1: Definition Argument with Criteria and Match in
Separate Sections
Introduce the issue and state
your claim.
Present your criteria.
Present your match argument.

Arguments in Depth
What will they find new or surprising about your argument?
What objections might they raise? What counterarguments or alternative points
of view will you need to address?
Why does your argument matter? Who might be threatened or made uncomfortable by your views? What is at stake?
Organizing a Definition Argument
As you compose a first draft of your essay, you may find it helpful to know typical
structures for definition arguments. There are two basic approaches, as shown in
Organization Plans 1 and 2. You can either discuss the criteria and the match separately or interweave the discussion.
Questioning and Critiquing a Definition Argument
A powerful way to stimulate global revision of a draft is to role-play a skeptical audience. The following questions will help you strengthen your own argument or rebut
Organization Plan 2: Definition Argument with Criteria and Match Interwoven
Introduce the issue and state
your claim.
Present series of criterion-match
Respond to possible objections to
your argument.
Definition and Resemblance Arguments
the definition arguments of others. In critiquing a definition argument, you need to
appreciate its criteria-match structure because you can question your criteria argument, your match argument, or both.
Questioning Your Criteria

Could a skeptic claim that your criteria are not the right ones? Could he or she offer
different criteria or point out missing criteria?
Could a skeptic point out possible bad consequences of accepting your criteria?
Could a skeptic cite unusual circumstances that weaken your criteria?
Could a skeptic point out bias or slant in your definition?
Questioning Your Match

Could a skeptic argue that your examples or data don’t meet the STAR criteria (see
Chapter 5, pages 92–93) for evidence?
Could a skeptic point out counterexamples or alternative data that cast doubt on
your argument?
Could a skeptic reframe the way you have viewed your borderline case? ■

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