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8.3: Generating Antithetical Points in Five Easy Steps

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    Generating potential objections to your working thesis—the points you can use to develop your antithesis essay—is a simple process.  In fact, if your working thesis is on a controversial topic and you’ve already done a fair amount of research, you might need very little help generating antithetical points.  If you are doing research on gun control, you have undoubtedly found credible research on both sides of the issue, evidence that probably supports or rejects your working thesis.  

    In addition to those points that seem straight-forward and obvious to you already, consider these five basic steps for generating ideas to consider your antithesis: have a working thesis, think about opposing viewpoints, think about the alternatives, and imagine hostile audiences.  Once you have generated some plausible antithetical arguments, you can consider different ways to counter these positions.  I offer some ideas on how to do that in the section “Strategies for Answering Antithetical Arguments.”

    • Step 1:  Have a working thesis you have begun researching and thinking about. If you are coming to this chapter before working through the working thesis essay exercises in chapter five, you might want to take a look at that chapter now.

    You also need to have at least some preliminary research and thinking about your working thesis done before you consider the antithesis.  This research is likely to turn up evidence that will suggest more clearly what the arguments against your working thesis might actually be.

    • Step 2:  Consider the direct opposite of your working thesis.  Assuming you do have a working thesis that you’ve begun to research and think about, the next step in generating ideas for a working thesis is to consider the opposite point of view. Sometimes, this can be as simple as changing the verb or modifying term from positive to negative (or vice-versa).  Consider these working theses and their opposites:
    Working Thesis The Opposite
    Drug companies should be allowed to advertise prescription drugs on TV. Drug companies should not be allowed to advertise prescription drugs on TV.
    The international community should not enact strict conservation measures to preserve fisheries. The international community should enact strict conservation measures to preserve fisheries.

    This sort of simple change of qualifiers can also be useful in exposing weak working theses because, generally speaking, the opposite of positions that everyone simply accepts as true are ones that everyone accepts as false.  If you were to change the qualifying terms in the weak working theses “Drunk driving is bad” or “Teen violence is bad” to their opposites, you end up with theses for positions that are difficult to hold.  After all, just as most people in modern America need little convincing that drunk driving or teen violence are “bad” things, few credible people could argue that drunk driving or teen violence are “good” things.

    Usually, considering the opposite of a working thesis is more complex than simply changing the verb or modifying term from positive to negative (or vice-versa).  For example:

    Working Thesis The Opposite(s)
    While many hackers commit serious computer crimes and represent a serious Internet security problem, they can also help law enforcement officials to solve and prevent crime.  Computer hackers do not represent a serious threat or Internet security problem. There is little hackers can do to help law enforcement officials solve and enforcement officials solve and 

    Both opposites are examples that counter the working thesis, but each takes a slightly different emphasis.  The first one questions the first premise of the working thesis about the “threat” of computer hackers in the first place.  The second takes the opposite view of the second premise.

    • Step 3: Ask “why” about possible antithetical arguments.  Of course, these examples of creating oppositions with simple changes demand more explanation than the simple opposite.  You need to dig further than that by asking and then answering-- the question of why. For example:

    Why should drug companies not be allowed to advertise prescription drugs? Because…

    • The high cost of television advertising needlessly drives up the costs of prescriptions.
    • Television commercials too frequently provide confusing or misleading information about the drugs.
    • The advertisements too frequently contradict and confuse the advice that doctors give to their patients.

    Why  should the international community enact strict conservation measures to preserve fisheries?  Because…

    • Without international cooperation, many different kinds of fish will become instinct in the coming decades.
    • Preventing over-fishing now will preserve fish populations for the future.
    • Unchecked commercial fishing causes pollution and other damage to the oceans’ ecosystems.
    • Step 4:  Examine alternatives to your working thesis.  For example, consider the working thesis “Drug companies should not be allowed to advertise prescription drugs on television because the commercials too often contradict and confuse the advice that doctors give their patients.” This working thesis assumes that drug ads are an important cause of problems between doctors and patients.    However, someone could logically argue that there are other more important causes of bad communication between doctors and patients.  For example, the number of patients doctors see each day and the shortness of each visit certainly causes communication problems.  The billing and bureaucracy of insurance companies also often complicates doctor/patient communication.

    Now, unlike the direct opposite of your working thesis, the alternatives do not necessarily completely invalidate your working thesis.  There’s no reason why a reader couldn’t believe that both drug advertisements on television and the bureaucracy of the insurance companies are the cause of bad doctor/patient communication.  But it is important to consider the alternatives within your research project in order to convince your readers that the position that you are advocating in your working thesis is more accurate (see especially the “Weighing Your Position Against the Opposition” strategy on page xx for answering these sorts of antithetical arguments.  

    • Step 5:  Imagine hostile audiences.  Whenever you are trying to develop a clearer understanding of the antithesis of your working thesis, you need to think about the kinds of audiences who would disagree with you.  By thinking about the opposites and alternatives to your working thesis, you are already starting to do this because the opposites and the alternatives are what a hostile audience might think.  

    Sometimes, potential readers are hostile to a particular working thesis because of ideals, values, or affiliations they hold that are at odds with the point being advocated by the working thesis.  For example, people who identify themselves as being “pro-choice” on the issue of abortion would certainly be hostile to an argument for laws that restrict access to abortion; people who identify themselves as being “pro-life” on the issue of abortion would certainly be hostile to an argument for laws that provide access to abortion.

    At other times, audiences are hostile to the arguments of a working thesis because of more crass and transparent reasons.  For example, the pharmaceutical industry disagrees with the premise of the working thesis “Drug companies should not be allowed to advertise prescription drugs on TV” because they stand to lose billions of dollars in lost sales. Advertising companies and television broadcasters would also be against this working thesis because they too would lose money.  You can probably easily imagine some potential hostile audience members who have similarly selfish reasons to oppose your point of view.

    Of course, some audiences will oppose your working thesis based on a different interpretation of the evidence and research.  This sort of difference of opinion is probably most common with research projects that are focused on more abstract and less definitive subjects.  A reader might disagree with a thesis like “The Great Gatsby’s depiction of the connection between material goods and the American dream is still relevant today” based on differences about how the book depicts “the American dream,” or about whether or not the novel is still relevant, and so forth.  

    But there are also different opinions about evidence for topics that you might think would have potentially more concrete “right” and “wrong” interpretations. Different researchers and scholars can look at the same evidence about a subject like conservation of fisheries and arrive at very different conclusions.  Some might believe that the evidence indicates that conservation is not necessary and would not be effective, while other researchers and scholars might believe the completely opposite position.

    Regardless of the reasons why your audience might be hostile to the argument you are making with your working thesis, it is helpful to try to imagine your audience as clearly as you can.  What sort of people are they?  What other interests or biases might they have?  Are there other political or social factors that you think are influencing their point of view?  If you want to persuade at least some members of this hostile audience that your point of view and your interpretation of the research is correct, you need to know as much about your hostile audience as you possibly can.  Of course, you’ll never be able to know everything about your hostile audience, and you certainly won’t be able to persuade all of them about your point.  But the more you know, the better chance you have of convincing at least some of them.

    Exercise 8.2

    • Working through these steps, try to sketch out in more detail the antithetical points to your working thesis.  Consider the opposites and the alternatives to your working thesis.
    • Try to imagine as clearly as you can potentially hostile readers.  Make a list of readers that might be hostile to your thesis and note the reasons for their hostility.
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