Friday, March 21, 2008

Making or analyzing arguments - according to Stanley Fish

When I get time (when would that be?) I enjoy reading Stanley Fish's "Think Again" column from the New York Times. Here's what he said recently in his "Why I Write These Columns" post from March 9:

Every once in a while I feel that it might be helpful to readers if I explained what it is I am trying to do in these columns. It is easier to state the negative: For the most part, it is not my purpose in this space to urge positions, or come down on one side or the other of a controversial question. Of course, I do those things occasionally and sometimes inadvertently, but more often than not I am analyzing arguments rather than making them; or, to be more precise, I am making arguments about arguments, especially ones I find incoherent or insufficiently examined.
Says Fish, further down,

The difference between making arguments and analyzing them is not always recognized, and when it is missed, readers get outraged about things I never said.
This is exactly the challenge for our students in the rhetorical analysis essay. They are sometimes busy arguing about the content - what was said - that they cannot see the method - how it was said.


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