In academic writing, it is essential that you take a clear stance or position towards the material you incorporate into your essays. This helps you negotiate an original contribution to the literature, and avoids the “appeal to authority” fallacy, whereby we say something is true just based on the status of the person making the claim. You can develop your own stance or position by critically evaluating or responding to the sources. A critical evaluation need not be used to disagree with the source, and you may want to partially or wholly support or defend what the author argues. Try to think of your critical response as an assessment of BOTH the uses and the limits of what an author has to say (Harris 2006); to what extent can we apply (or not) their ideas? What do their ideas help us to see or hide from our view?
Critically evaluating an argument
- Is there anything missing from the argument (implicit assumptions or hidden premises)?
- Are there any errors in the reasoning (formal / informal fallacies)?
- Is there sufficient empirical evidence or plausible proofs for the reasons given (data/warrants)?
- Can you think of any counter-examples or cases where the argument does / doesn’t work (rebuttals)?
- Are there any counterarguments / supporting arguments in the sources we have read?
- Are anyone’s views being misrepresented (straw man fallacy)?
- What are the uses/limits of the source’s position?
Positive responses can:
- add extra examples / cases / evidence
- deal with others’ criticisms / objections
- show the positive uses / implications of the position
Negative responses can:
- look for errors in reasoning / fallacies
- look for any problems with the proof /evidence
- look for counter-examples / cases
- use others’ criticisms as support
- show the negative uses / limitations of the view
The suggestion that happiness can only exist under politically equal conditions misunderstands Aristotle and is overgeneralized. Firstly, Adler assumes that happiness should necessarily be “achievable by all” (1984, 6). While this is a key demand of the American Declaration of Independence, and one we might agree with, it overlooks the fact that Aristotle, who elsewhere justified Greek slavery as “natural”, never argued that everyone ought to achieve happiness just because they could (Aristotle, quoted in Adler 1984, 6). Adler also sets up a false dichotomy when he argues that if only one person, the leader, achieves complete happiness, others below him cannot achieve happiness by definition. Jeremy Bentham (1907) makes a convincing case for a utilitarian ethics that measures and compares all the feelings of pleasure and displeasure felt by everyone in a society to find the total “level of … general happiness” (9). This implies that, while general happiness might be low (or very low) in an authoritarian or hierarchical state, this does not mean that happiness could not exist at all there. Therefore, Adler’s argument that human happiness can only be realized in an egalitarian society (Adler 1984, 7) is exaggerated.
Adler, Mortimer J. 1984. Aristotle’s Ethics: The Theory of Happiness. New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Bentham, Jeremy. 1907. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Nevertheless, … = transition from summary paragraph
Adler’s suggestion that … is overstated = topic / concluding sentence
- While this is a key demand of the American Declaration of Independence (etc.) = concessions
- … is based on an assumption that (etc.) = criticisms / responses
- “original text” = quotation marks to indicate where exact quotations from a source begin and end
- Adler … (1984, 6) = partial in-text Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) author-date citation (Year-of-publication, page-number-of-quote) because the author’s name was previously mentioned
- (9) = page number only on subsequent CMS citation of paraphrase from same source
- (Aristotle, quoted in Adler 1984, 6) = CMS in-text reference for an indirect citation of a source (i.e., one which was quoted in the source that you read)
- … = shows that words have been cut from the quote of the original source
- Adler, Mortimer J. 1984. … = CMS end-text reference (for a book) (Author-surname, Author-forename(s). Year-of-publication. Title-of-book. City: Publisher.)
- An analytical summary is an assessed task in ENG 101, and these skills are essential in ENG 102.
- Indirect citation of sources is not recommended, and consultation of the original is usually prefereable. This is often not possible in ENG 101, however, where you are limited to citing the provided texts.