Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

4.6: Check How Well the Argument Addresses Counterarguments

  • Page ID
    118327
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Audio Version (September 2021):

    Did they overlook a counterargument? 

    We may have already uncovered counterarguments that were left out when we looked for exceptions to the argument and faulty assumptions. Still, it’s worth asking ourselves if there’s any other objection the argument should have addressed. We can mention any compelling or popular counterargument in our critique. 

    Here are three ways to brainstorm counterarguments: 

    1. Try out the phrases often used to introduce counterarguments 
      Scan the common phrases used to introduce counterarguments listed in Section 2.6: Finding the Counterarguments. Does a particular phrase suggest any counterarguments that could apply in the case of the argument you are assessing?

    2. Imagine a lively, informal conversation on the topic
      This can help get our minds going. Instead of the more formal phrase “This way of thinking is completely wrong,” why not consider the argument we’re assessing and then try out the phrase, “What, are you crazy? You think _____________?  But haven’t you considered_____________?”   

    3. Take a different perspective
      Ask ourselves if there is any particular group of people or school of thought likely to object to the argument.  What would they say? For example, if we are assessing an argument by a Democratic politician, we can ask ourselves what a Republican might say in response. Or, if we are assessing an argument promoting capitalism, we can ask ourselves what a socialist counterargument might be.

     

     

    A hand making a fist with thumb down.
    Who would disagree with the argument and why? Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels, under the Pexels License.

     

    Is the description of the counterargument fair and accurate?

    If an argument describes counterarguments, we have to wonder whether it gets them right. Often, a writer may be tempted to summarize the other side in a distorted way, to exaggerate the counterargument in order to make it easier to disprove. This goes by the name of the straw man fallacy. For example, consider these two exaggerated descriptions of political parties’ positions:

    • Democrats want completely open borders.
    • Republicans want to kick all immigrants out of America.

    This fallacy involves the misrepresentation of an opponent’s viewpoint—an exaggeration or distortion of it that renders it indefensible, something nobody in their right mind would agree with. You make your opponent out to be an extremist, then declare that you don’t agree with their made-up position. Thus, you merely appear to defeat your opponent: your real opponent doesn’t hold the crazy view you imputed to them; instead, you’ve defeated a distorted version of them, one of your own making, one that is easily dispatched. Instead of taking on the real person, you construct one out of straw, thrash it, and pretend to have achieved victory. It works if your audience doesn’t realize what you’ve done, if they believe that your opponent really holds the crazy view.

    If an argument constructs and defeats a straw man, it is really only defeating a made up debate. But this distraction only works if the audience believes the straw man is the real thing. We can detect the distortion by checking the description of the other side against what the other side has actually commonly argued.

     

    A fragile-looking figure made of straw, tied together by string.
    A straw man, like an exaggerated version of an argument, is easy to knock down. Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels, licensed CC0.

     

    Is the rebuttal convincing?

    We should remember to ask the same critical questions about the author’s response to counterarguments as we do about the main argument itself.  Counterarguments and rebuttals are often left to stand on their own. As we assess the argument, we should test these as well to see if they might be incorrect or might need additional support. Is there a better way to disprove the counterargument?

     

    A large eye with arched eyebrow drawn up above a scene of two people gesticulating, presumably arguing.
    Does the argument offer a credible perspective on any likely objections? Image by Mariana Anatoneag from Pixabay under the Pixabay License.

     

    Phrases for assessing the handling of counterarguments

    Praise for the handling of counterarguments

    • The author effectively counters the common view that  _____________ by arguing that, in fact, _____________.

    • The writer acknowledges that  _____________ but explains that this is because  _____________. 

    • The argument responds to the  _____________ critique of their position by noting that  _____________.

    Critique of the handling of counterarguments

    • The argument fails to mention the opposing view that  _____________.

    • The author attempts to respond to critics by claiming that  _____________, but this response is not convincing because  _____________.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Pick an argument on a controversial topic.  You might choose something you have recently read for class or an editorial from a major news outlet.   Identify at least one possible counterargument that the article does not mention.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    Pick an argument that mentions a counterargument and use the phrases in this section or phrases of your own to answer these questions:

    1. Is the description of the counterargument fair and accurate?

    2. Is the rebuttal convincing?

    The above is original content by Anna Mills, except for the description of the straw man fallacy, which Anna Mills adapted from the "Informal Logical Fallacies" chapter of Fundamental Methods of Logic by Matthew Knachel, UWM Digital Commons, licensed under CC BY 4.0.


    4.6: Check How Well the Argument Addresses Counterarguments is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.