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Life Arts    H4'ed 8/7/16

Stanley Fish's New Book WINNING ARGUMENTS (Review Essay)

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Guest Columnist Biography: Stanley Fish - New York Times
Guest Columnist Biography: Stanley Fish - New York Times
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) August 7, 2016: I am now retired from teaching in the Department of Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth. For better or worse, I devoted much of my adult life to teaching students in postsecondary educational institutions how to writing argumentative essays following the conventions of academic writing. The conventions of academic writing include attribution and documentation. In theory, attribution is a safeguard against plagiarizing somebody else's ideas and presenting them as your own. Documentation involves providing enough bibliographic information about the source of each of my attributions that you could check the source to see if I have accurately represented the person's thought.

Actually, there are various style sheets for document. For example, one style sheet has been prepared by the Modern Language Association of America (MLA). Another style sheet has been prepared by the American Psychological Association (APA). In academic writing, writers are expected to follow one style sheet or another consistently. But why is this the case -- why can't writers just be as inconsistent as they would like to be about documentation details -- and perhaps also be inconsistent in their spelling, punctuation, and grammar?

After all, didn't the American public intellectual Ralph Waldo Emerson tell us that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds? Aren't writers who practice consistency in their spelling, punctuation, grammar, and documentation details thereby manifesting that they have small minds? And what about teachers like me who mark student papers for such inconsistencies -- aren't we thereby manifesting small minds also? Or perhaps we are compulsive about such details, eh?

Now, argumentative writing in academic writing is not unlike argumentative writing in editorials by editorial boards of newspapers and magazines and op-ed commentaries by pundits. Even such journalistic venues of argumentative writing follow style sheets and have strictures against plagiarism.

Now, even in live oral presentations, American politicians are expected to avoid plagiarism -- by using attribution.

Now, when I teach argumentative writing in a postsecondary context, I also teach the students about having a thesis statement and about making further claim statements to break down and support the thesis statement. But of course the thesis statement makes a claim.

For each properly formed thesis statement, an antithesis statement can be formed.

Thesis: "Stanley Fish says blah-blah-blah" (assuming here that "blah-blah-blah" involves making a debatable claim).

Antithesis: "No, Stanley Fish does not say blah-blah-blah."

Each claim statement made subsequently to support the thesis also involves making a further and subordinate debatable point and then supporting it.

Aristotle was the first person in Western culture to work out rules of formal logic to follow in philosophical argumentation (also known as dialectic). According to his rules of formal logic, the conclusion of a properly worked out sequence of syllogistic logic is a certainty, based on the operational definitions employed in the syllogism. Except for such certainties, philosophical argumentation involves reasoning about probabilities.

In addition, Aristotle discusses three kinds of argumentation used in civic oratory in his treatise known as the Rhetoric: (1) deliberative rhetoric (used in debates in legislatures), (2) forensic rhetoric (used in courts of law), and (3) epideictic rhetoric (about civic values used in funeral orations, for example).

In our American experiment of representative democracy, all political debates for elective office involve epideictic rhetoric about our American civic values.

In our American context today, we Americans are also bombarded with other public forms of persuasion known as advertisements. No doubt various sellers of goods in the marketplace in ancient times advertised their offerings to the best of their abilities in the marketplace. But Aristotle does not discuss such advertisements in the Rhetoric.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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