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Humanities Libertexts

2.6: Finding the Counterarguments

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    Very often, as we read an argument we will find not just what the author thinks and believes, but the author’s description of other people’s opposing arguments as well. An argument is part of an ongoing broader conversation about the subject, and the writer can remind us of what they are responding to. So as we read we can look for and mark these counterarguments.

    In a complex text it can be easy to miss that a particular point is actually not one that the writer agrees with--they may be bringing it up in order to shoot it down. We can look out for particular phrases that are often used in academic writing to signal that the writer is switching sides temporarily and describing an idea that goes against the argument.

    Very often the way the author will both signal to us that they are introducing the counterargument and signal their attitude toward it. They will convey the degree to which they disagree and the respect or contempt they feel for this opposing view.

    Attitude to the Counterargument

    Phrases that Signal a Counterargument

    Negative :

    The writer thinks the counterargument is completely wrong.

    • It is a popular misconception that_____________.
    • Some have fallen for the idea that_____________.
    • Many people mistakenly believe that_____________.

    Neutral :

    The writer is about to describe a counterargument without giving their opinion yet.

    • Many people think _____________.
    • Some, on the other hand, will argue that _____________.
    • Some might disagree, claiming that _____________.
    • Of course, many have claimed that _____________.
    • Some will take issue with _____________, arguing that _____________.
    • Some will object that _____________.
    • Some will dispute the idea that _____________, claiming that _____________.
    • One criticism of this way of thinking is that _____________.

    Note that these neutral examples don’t tell us whether the writer thinks the counterargument has any validity. Usually, the writer will want to follow them with a sentence that does reveal their opinion.

    Positive :

    The writer sees some merit in the counterargument. They agree with it even though it hurts their argument. This is called concession.

    • It is true that ___________.
    • I do concede_____________.
    • We should grant that_____________.
    • We must admit that_____________.
    • I acknowledge that _____________.
    • X has a point that _____________.
    • Admittedly, _____________.
    • Of course, _____________.
    • To be sure, _____________.
    • There may be something to the idea that _____________.

    In the border argument example, the writer never directly mentions other writers who disagree. Instead, they signal with the phrase “I admit” that they are going to summarize a valid point which goes against their own main argument:

    I admit that completely open borders would put our security at risk.

    We could add this to our map as follows, with the counterargument in red to show it goes against the rest of the argument:

    The top half of the graphic is a chain of reasons.  The first reason "We would feel it was right to cross the border without permission" is in a box with an arrow next to it pointing to the next reason, "We should recognize illegal crossing as ethical," which in turn has an arrow from it pointing to the reason "Border walls and detention centers are unjust," which points to the final claim, "We need a new policy that offers respect and help to migrants."   Below, in red, with an arrow pointing up toward the final claim, is the counterargument "Completely open borders would put our security at risk."