When you write an academic essay, you make an argument: you propose a thesis and offer some reasoning, using evidence, that suggests why the thesis is true. When you counter-argue, you consider a possible argument against your thesis or some aspect of your reasoning. This is a good way to test your ideas when drafting, while you still have time to revise them. And in the finished essay, it can be a persuasive and (in both senses of the word) disarming tactic. It allows you to anticipate doubts and pre-empt objections that a skeptical reader might have; it presents you as the kind of person who weighs alternatives before arguing for one, who confronts difficulties instead of sweeping them under the rug, who is more interested in discovering the truth than winning a point.
Not every objection is worth entertaining, of course, and you shouldn't include one just to include one. But some imagining of other views, or of resistance to one's own, occurs in most good essays. And instructors are glad to encounter counterargument in student papers, even if they haven't specifically asked for it.
The Turn Against
Counterargument in an essay has two stages: you turn against your argument to challenge it and then you turn back to re-affirm it. You first imagine a skeptical reader, or cite an actual source, who might resist your argument by pointing out
- a problem with your demonstration, e.g., that a different conclusion could be drawn from the same facts, a key assumption is unwarranted, a key term is used unfairly, certain evidence is ignored or played down;
- one or more disadvantages or practical drawbacks to what you propose;
- an alternative explanation or proposal that makes more sense.
You introduce this turn against with a phrase like One might object here that... or It might seem that... or It's true that... or Admittedly,... or Of course,... or with an anticipated challenging question: But how...? or But why...? or But isn't this just...? or But if this is so, what about...? Then you state the case against yourself as briefly but as clearly and forcefully as you can, pointing to evidence where possible. (An obviously feeble or perfunctory counterargument does more harm than good.)
The Turn Back
Your return to your own argument—which you announce with a but, yet, however, nevertheless or still—must likewise involve careful reasoning, not a flippant (or nervous) dismissal. In reasoning about the proposed counterargument, you may
- refute it, showing why it is mistaken—an apparent but not real problem;
- acknowledge its validity or plausibility, but suggest why on balance it's relatively less important or less likely than what you propose, and thus doesn't overturn it;
- concede its force and complicate your idea accordingly—restate your thesis in a more exact, qualified, or nuanced way that takes account of the objection, or start a new section in which you consider your topic in light of it. This will work if the counterargument concerns only an aspect of your argument; if it undermines your whole case, you need a new thesis.
Where to Put a Counterargument
Counterargument can appear anywhere in the essay, but it most commonly appears
- as part of your introduction—before you propose your thesis—where the existence of a different view is the motive for your essay, the reason it needs writing;
- as a section or paragraph just after your introduction, in which you lay out the expected reaction or standard position before turning away to develop your own;
- as a quick move within a paragraph, where you imagine a counterargument not to your main idea but to the sub-idea that the paragraph is arguing or is about to argue;
- as a section or paragraph just before the conclusion of your essay, in which you imagine what someone might object to what you have argued.
But watch that you don't overdo it. A turn into counterargument here and there will sharpen and energize your essay, but too many such turns will have the reverse effect by obscuring your main idea or suggesting that you're ambivalent.
Counterargument in Pre-Writing and Revising
Good thinking constantly questions itself, as Socrates observed long ago. But at some point in the process of composing an essay, you need to switch off the questioning in your head and make a case. Having such an inner conversation during the drafting stage, however, can help you settle on a case worth making. As you consider possible theses and begin to work on your draft, ask yourself how an intelligent person might plausibly disagree with you or see matters differently. When you can imagine an intelligent disagreement, you have an arguable idea.
And, of course, the disagreeing reader doesn't need to be in your head: if, as you're starting work on an essay, you ask a few people around you what they think of topic X (or of your idea about X) and keep alert for uncongenial remarks in class discussion and in assigned readings, you'll encounter a useful disagreement somewhere. Awareness of this disagreement, however you use it in your essay, will force you to sharpen your own thinking as you compose. If you come to find the counterargument truer than your thesis, consider making it your thesis and turning your original thesis into a counterargument. If you manage to draft an essay without imagining a counterargument, make yourself imagine one before you revise and see if you can integrate it.
Copyright 1999, Gordon Harvey (adapted from The Academic Essay: A Brief Anatomy), for the Writing Center at Harvard University
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A Patients Right To Die - With A Free Essay Review
Imagine that you are lying in the hospital bed and the past months have brought nothing but agony and pain to you. Tears and sadness can be seen on the faces of your family and friends wishing there was something they could do for you. Then, your doctor informs you that what you have is incurable and will only get worse. Would you be able to live on with the pain and try to make the most of your lifes situation? For years, doctors have been prohibited from helping patients to take their own lives. I believe that a terminally ill patient should have the right to decide if they have had enough. By legalizing euthanasia, also referred to as physician assisted suicide, tremendous misery and anguish of patients can be saved. The right to die should be a fundamental freedom to each person (Gorsuch, 2008).
Patients should have to right to die with their dignity intact rather than have their illness leave them as merely a shell of their former selves. Some say assisted suicides will open a whirlwind response to non-critical patient suicides and other abuses. It is the pain and anguished experienced by the patients and their families that ultimately can be protected. When do we agree with the person going through this anguish first hand and allow them to determine their own destiny? Assisted suicide is done in order to put a stop to a patients agony and suffering. Working with the state government would help nurses and hospitals gain a clearer definition of what assisted suicide covers in order to prevent the abuse of this practice.
Physician assisted suicides, also referred to as euthanasia, have been in existence for hundreds of years. One name more known with this subject is Jack Kevorkian, but he was not the first practitioner of assisted suicides. If we look at Romeo and Juliet, we see how a reluctant sells a vial poison to Romeo, who uses the vial to kill himself after learning of Juliets death. These types of deaths have been seen as honorable in past events. New and often expensive medical technologies have been developed that prolong life. However, the technologies also prolong the dying processes, leading some people to question whether modern medicine is forcing patients to live in unnecessary pain when there is no chance they will be cured. Passive euthanasia when a feeding tube is removed or a respirator is disconnected has become accepted as one solution. However, someone who overdoses on pills remains controversial. Assisted suicide is known as a type of active euthanasia where a doctor provides a lethal prescription dose to a patient who is responsible for performing the final act. Even though changes in modern medicine are continuous, attitudes toward assisted suicide among the legal system are not as unceasing.
Another argument we see in opposition of assisted suicides is that it violates medical ethics. The American Nurses Association (ANA) position statement reads, "A nurse must not act deliberately to end a person's life" (Kjervik, 1996). The Hippocratic oath also states; "I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel" (Pretzer, 2000). These are two of the most respected and acknowledged documents in the medical field. What both of these statements are doing is prohibiting any partaking of a patient's life or helping a patient in his or her death. Health care professionals work hard on developing a caring and trusting relationship with their patients, giving support while providing the medical care necessary for the patients well-being. We are working so hard on the relationship than we must also ask ourselves, when is it right to make the patient most comfortable with in incurable and painful disease?
Those against assisted suicide question and bring religious views into play arguing that life must be sanctioned by all means as life is most sacred. Another position seen from the opposition is that when a patient is undergoing medical treatment, they must be made to stay alive for as long as possible no matter what they may want because only God can decide when one may die. We can look at the Terri Schiavo as one example in relation (Quill, 2005). Terri was far beyond life based on an examined life and a medical basis; most philosophers would say she could be considered no longer a person. At what point do we take the best interest of the patient into hand and heart? We see how patients can have a say whether to live off of a machine or to have it unplug and this is justified legally. Because these people cannot speak up for themselves, but those that can and are suffering are unjust in their reasonings.
In summary, everyone is going to have an opinion in this matter just as each case is unique in nature. We can see how one case of someone who is suffering from stage four pancreatic cancer can be sympathized with verses reaching out and trying alternative ways to help a patient with extreme depression wanting to end their life because of what their depression is telling them to do. We have seen changes in the form of more and more hospice and homes in communities and this high need of hospice nurses nationwide. This is a struggle that will be within the medical field for years to come as there is no legal end in sight. The power to protect our civil liberty which is the right to die should lie within us.
I'll begin with your second paragraph, since I've little to say about your first paragraph (but note that some readers prefer a more elaborate thesis statement than the one you offer; i.e., some teachers may want your thesis statement not only to state your view but also to summarize your reasons for holding that view). The second paragraph deals with the topic of patient dignity and with the slippery-slope argument against legalizing euthanasia. Generally, try to keep to one topic per paragraph. I think it would be a good idea, in any case, to devote a paragraph to the question of "patient dignity." It's a fairly vague concept on its own, but it shouldn't be too difficult to make it more concrete. You try to do that by referring to the fact that patients become "merely a shell of their former selves," but really that's just a cliche. Don't be afraid to talk about the actual conditions under which terminally ill patients sometimes must live. For instance, some patients need help eating, washing, and going to the toilet. Some patients wear diapers and need others to change their diapers. Others throw up on themselves, or wet their beds. And so on. That kind of stuff is perhaps unpleasant to write about, but writing about it will allow you to clarify what you mean about dignity.
The third paragraph also deals with more than one topic: the history of euthanasia; the impact of life-prolonging technology; passive euthanasia; assisted suicide properly speaking. One of the problems with having a bunch of different topics in one paragraph is that it is difficult to keep track of your argument; you move very quickly from one assertion to another without pausing to clarify how each assertion contributes to the demonstration of the truth of your thesis. What do we learn from the history of euthanasia, for instance, that might help us rethink our resistance to euthanasia today? (I especially don't understand, by the way, the relevance of the reference to Romeo and Juliet, since its subject is a matter of fiction, not history, although you could argue that it reflects the values of its time). With your reference to modern medical technology, you seem to want to argue that we, in modern times, have all the more reason to be receptive to the idea of euthanasia, but you don't actually, explicitly, make that argument, but instead rush headlong towards your next topic.
So slow down. Divide the topics you actually want to discuss, and want to draw conclusions from, into separate paragraphs. Note that you could devote one paragraph to the difference between historical attitudes and modern attitudes to euthanasia, thus making one topic, that difference and its implications, out of what was originally two topics (the history of euthanasia; modern medical technology). What you want to aim for, in other words, is a paragraph that is argumentatively coherent. To achieve that aim, you will need to know in advance what you want the paragraph to argue. So ask yourself that question every time you go to write a paragraph: what exactly do I want to argue here?
Your next paragraph does deal with one topic: medical ethics. So as a paragraph it is better, more coherent, than the previous paragraph. Note, however, that the paragraph does not culminate in an argument related to your thesis, but rather in a question. It is almost always better to make your claims explicit, instead of relying on your reader to come to the conclusion of you would want the reader to reach. Readers are unreliable!
I don't quite understand what you are trying to say in the last two sentences of your paragraph on the religious opposition to euthanasia. They are worded very awkwardly (the last sentence is not, grammatically speaking, a sentence at all). Revise those sentences with a view to making a compelling case why the religious view is less ethical than the view that favors giving patients the right to physician assisted suicide.
The first sentence of your conclusion is a bit banal, but the second sentence makes a good point, although again not explicitly enough. It may be crucial to the success of your argument that we believe it is possible to tell the difference between cases where euthanasia is justified and cases where it is not. It's not a bad idea to emphasize in your conclusion the point that you make in that respect.
Submitted by: Jinkers02