Academic Writing—Counterarguments


You may question why a writer taking a position on a controversial topic would want to remind his or her opponent of their disagreement on the subject by presenting counterarguments.

Answer: It is an effective rhetorical strategy.
Orators and writers who include counterarguments are more respected by friend and foe alike. Besides, your opponent is not going to “forget” his or her position and will already have his/her arsenal of reasons why he/she is right.
1. Recognizing possible counterarguments accomplishes three goals:
• Recognition of counterarguments tells your opponent that you have prepared your argument well and have considered the topic very carefully and from all possible angles. You arrive at the debate from a position of strength.

• Recognition of counterarguments shows respect (and everyone wants to be respected) for your opponent, which can be very disarming to both foe and his/her followers, especially those who may be lukewarm in their support of your opponent.

• Recognition of counterarguments offers you a chance to refute your opponent’s viewpoint.
2. Refuting your opponent’s viewpoint well can be one of the most powerful rhetorical devices that you can use. For example,
Recognition: “My opponent contends that all types of homicide are morally wrong;…

Refutation: …however, one can view capital punishment as a case of “justifiable homicide,” which acts as a deterrent for future cold-blooded homicides.”
3. Why concede part of an argument?
• Sometimes what your opponent says will make sense, which would be foolish to ignore. For example,
“I recognize that my administration did not handle the financial crisis well; in hindsight, we should have fired the treasury secretary sooner, but I assure you, that as we move forward, we will solve this crisis in a timely manner.”
In short, even the “best” side can make mistakes; thus, it is best to acknowledge and concede that mistakes were committed, and then promise to move on in a more positive direction.
4. Now why, in some cases, should you accept/accommodate any part of your opponent’s argument?
Accommodating a counterargument simply means that you have accepted part of your opponent’s viewpoint, and, thus, are willing to include that part into your own argument.
• The topic may be so controversial that compromise may be necessary. For example, while you may disagree with your opponent’s pro-abortion viewpoint, you may accept that abortion may be necessary to save the life of the mother. Conversely, if your opponent is anti-abortion, you may need to concede that aborting a 9-month fetus would be murder of an infant and not just a fetus.

• An opponent may have a good point. For example, if you support the death penalty for those who commit capital crimes, you may have to accept the definition of “homicide” as the murder of another human being, for, technically, killing anyone is an act of homicide, whether it is an accidental homicide (killing a pedestrian with a car), intentional homicide (murdering someone in cold blood), or executing a prisoner. But you can still argue for the definition of “justifiable homicide” (killing in self-defense and execution of a cold-blooded killer).

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