Definitional Argument These arguments are particularly powerful in that they help determine what something or someone is. Thus, they can result in inclusion or exclusion. They help us recognize that classifications change over time and are the result of cultural, social, and political forces. Definitions often serve group agendas while ignoring or attempting to silence others. Definitional Argumentation We rely on definition for successful, efficient communication. As you have experienced with the Fact Paper, our ability to make an argument is limited when we cannot appeal to values. Contrary to the belief that values diminish the validity of an argument by rendering it mere opinion, values are a necessary part of the argument. Indeed, they are the very heart of an argument. Thus, evaluative terms are notoriously difficult to define. Sample Questions For Potential Theses Questions related to genus: Is assisting in suicide a crime? Is NASCAR a sport? Is rap poetry? What is an X [insert your own choice here] Questions related to species: Is marijuana a relatively harmless drug or a dangerous, addictive one? Is Saudi Arabia an ally or an opponent of the USA? Is TV’s “Survivor” a reality show or a game show? Is X a Y or a Z [Insert your own topic} Questions related to conditions: Should a woman be held to the same physical requirements as a man in order to join the military? Should everyone pay the same percentage of their income taxes regardless of their income? Are high scores on the SAT’s a fair condition for entrance into universities? Must X occur in order for Y? [Insert your topic] Questions related to the fulfillment of conditions: Should academic scholarships count as taxable income? Should nontraditional educated experiences, such as semesters abroad and internships, count for college credit? Should X be counted as Y for the purposes of Z? [Insert your topic] In summary, keep in mind that you can approach an argument of definition by: Formulating a definition (What is X?): “Terrorism is any non-wartime act of violence undertaken for political gain.” Challenging a definition (Y is not X.): “Violence undertaken as part of a revolt against an oppressive regime is not terrorism.” Trying to determine if something fits an accepted definition (Y is/is not X): “The Irish Republican Army is/is not a terrorist organization.” Questions related to the membership in a named class: Is any recent president in a class with Washington, Lincoln, and/or Roosevelt? Is any writer today in a class with Shakespeare, Janet Austen, and/or John Steinbeck? Is any actor today in a class with Steward, Gable, Hepburn, or Taylor? Does X deserve the status of Y? [Insert your topic] To establish what is meant by an evaluative word, we must rely on precedent and context. We can refer to authoritative sources such as dictionaries, but we must also take into account common usage and intent. In the case of words like hot, cold, short, or tall, there may be specific temperatures or heights that we can all agree define that term. There is no such widespread agreement for other evaluative terms, especially cultural values. Cultural values are key terms to which we appeal over and again when deciding a course of action. They are values that most people would agree are fundamental to our society, even if we cannot agree on their definition. Examples of cultural values are: freedom, happiness, efficiency, maturity, ingenuity, independence, health, security, life, criminality, responsibility, and sustainability. This assignment is designed to give you practice in another technique of persuasive writing, that of defining a cultural value or other key term in such a way that seems credible to your reader. Your ability to credibly define your terms will help you to contribute to a range of public discourse in influential ways. Directive Identify an instance in a document or broadcast in which the meaning an author assigns to a word is debatable. You are not looking for an instance in which someone uses a term incorrectly. Rather, you are looking for an instance in which a person applies a word to an object or situation, and you disagree with the person’s evaluation of that object or situation. • When you have your example, then answer for yourself the following questions: • Why is it important to dispute the meaning of that word? • Your answer to that questions will help in determining your thesis/or claim. Begin your essay by summarizing your example, presenting your thesis, and previewing your definition of the disputed word. Following your introduction, present your research on your word that supports the usage for which you advocate. There are a number of ways to establish a precedent for a preferred meaning of a term, including reference to a dictionary, but not automatically to Webster’s Dictionary. Here are 3 types of strategies: Strategy #1 You can trace the etymology of your word in the Oxford English Dictionary at: http://catalog.sjlibrary.org/record=b1879016~S1 Other dictionaries: Legal: http://www.legal-dictionary.org/ Philosophical: http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/index.htm Medical: http://www.online-medical-dictionary.org/ Slang: http://www.urbandictionary.com/ Strategy #2 Another way to establish the meaning of a term is to define related terms. For instance, if you are establishing the meaning of maturity, you may also want to define experienced, responsible, and established. Strategy #3 A third strategy to establish the meaning of a term is to show how others use it, even if that usage is common only to a certain group of people. To do this, you will need to compile examples of others using your word in the manner for which you advocate. This research might include reference to the term’s equivalent in other languages. Community, democracy, intelligence, sin, redemption, God, criminality, sex, morality, love, etc. After establishing a precedent for your preferred meaning, explain the difference it will make to use that meaning over another. You will want to provide specific examples of how the word’s meaning can or will influence decision-making and social action. Remember your purpose: Give a compelling thesis/argument that gives reason for disputing the meaning of a word. Other items to consider: Who is your specific audience? What are the counter-arguments to your proposed definition? In other words, anticipate oppositional stances. How would you refute those stances?