Additional Practice: Counter-Arguments

counter-argument is an argument opposed to your thesis, or part of your thesis. It expresses the view of a person who disagrees with your position.
 
 Organization:

Where does the counter-argument go?

The short answer is a counter-argument can go anywhere except the conclusion. This is because there has to be a rebuttal paragraph after the counter-argument, so if the counter-argument is in the conclusion, something has been left out.

In practice (there are exceptions), the rebuttal is usually not the concluding paragraph, which means that generally the counter-argument is anywhere but the last two paragraphs.

Counter-arguments can be very effective in introductions, especially if you are arguing against a popularly held view. However, it’s also very common to place them after the presentation of the case for the thesis. In other words, they would go after all of the main points that support the thesis, but before the conclusion—in the third-to-last paragraph, with the rebuttal in the second-to-last. This is probably the most common position.

Generally, unless there is some compelling reason specific to the particular argument being made, it does not make sense to put the counter-argument in the middle of the case for the thesis. In other words, you would not typically present two points in support of the thesis, then the counter-argument and rebuttal, and then more points in support of the thesis.

***Here are two outlines showing the most common placement of the counter-argument. The first is probably the most common:***

  1. Introduction
  2. Supporting point #1
  3. Supporting point #2
  4. Supporting point #3
  5. Supporting point #4
  6. [there can be any number of supporting points]
  7. Counter-argument
  8. Rebuttal
  9. Conclusion
  1. Counter-argument, which also serves as introduction
  2. Rebuttal, which would usually include the thesis statement
  3. Supporting point #1
  4. Supporting point #2
  5. Supporting point #3
  6. Supporting point #4
  7. [there can be any number of supporting points]
  8. Conclusion

 

How should the counter-argument be introduced?

It’s important to use clear signals to alert the reader that the paper is about to express a view different from (typically, the opposite of) the thesis. Since the purpose of the whole paper, including the counter-argument, is to support the thesis, these signals are crucial. Without them the paper appears incoherent and contradictory.

Generally, the counter-argument will begin with a word, phrase or sentence to indicate that what follows is not the author’s view. These can range from the very simple—sometimes the single word “But” or “However” is sufficient—to quite complex whole sentences:

In his majisterial work on representation in western literature, a foundational text in the discipline, Auerbach argues that the mixture of styles is an essential ingredient of all modern realism, a view that has found wide acceptance in the half-century since its publication.

Notice, however, that even this sentence is careful to attribute these views to other people, and to call them “views”—in other words, to subtly hint that they are not facts or truths.

In general, the strategy is to make it clear quickly that this is someone else’s view. Typical introductory strategies include the following:

  • Many people [believe/argue/feel/think/suppose/etc.] that [state the counter-argument here]
  • It is often [thought/imagined/supposed/etc.] that [state the counter-argument here]
  • [It would be easy to/One could easily] [think/believe/imagine/suppose/etc.] that [state the counter-argument here]
  • It might [seem/appear/look/etc.] as if [state the counter-argument here]

Another common approach is to use a question:

  • But isn’t it true that [state the counter-argument here]?
  • [Doesn’t/Wouldn’t/Isn’t] [state the counter-argument here]?

You can also cite specific writers or thinkers who have expressed a view opposite to your own:

    • On the other hand, Fund argues that...
  • However, Ngugi has written, ...
  • Dangarembga takes the position that...

 

How should the rebuttal be introduced?

If the counter-argument requires careful signaling, so does the rebuttal. The essay has just done a 180° turn away from its thesis, and now it is about to do another 180° turn to complete the circle. The reader needs warnings and guidance or they will fall off or get whiplash—you’ll lose them, in other words, because the essay will seem incoherent or contradictory.

The common strategies for introducing the rebuttal are the mirror image of those for introducing the counter-argument, and they all boil down to the same basic concept: “Yes, but....” They can be as simple as that, or as complex as this example sentence:

While Auerbach’s claim seems initially plausible, and is backed by the copious evidence provided by his astonishing erudition, it is marred by an inconsistency that derives from an unsupportable and ultimately incoherent definition.

In all cases, the job of this transitional language is to show the reader that the opposing view is now being answered. The essay has returned to arguing its own thesis, strengthened by having taken the opposition into account. Here are some typical strategies. These are generic examples; they work best when tailored to suit the specifics of the individual topic.

  • What this argument [overlooks/fails to consider/does not take into account] is ...
  • This view [seems/looks/sounds/etc.] [convincing/plausible/persuasive/etc.] at first, but ...
  • While this position is popular, it is [not supported by the facts/not logical/impractical/etc.]
  • Although the core of this claim is valid, it suffers from a flaw in its [reasoning/application/etc.]
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