Analysis Of An Argument

Below, please find A Letter to the Editor of Monroe Colleges student newspaper, The Bulletin.  Read the letter carefully and then write an analysis exposing the writers fallacious argument.  Use the Powerpoint presentation on Logical Fallacies for an overview of fallacies. Also see pp. 342-353 in Current Issues and Enduring Questions for more examples.

Based on context, we may assume that the person writing the letter is a student at Monroe College who is responding to a previous editorial in which cheating was revealed as a problem on the Monroe campus; the writer, who requests that his or her name be withheld, goes on to argue in favor of cheating.

You will want to proceed from a strong thesis stated early in your essay, and you will want to defend that thesis with logic and rigor, making ample references to the letter itself.  Please do not write an essay on cheating in general; instead, focus your attention solely on exposing the logical flaws in the students letter.  Give your essay an engaging title, something more enlightening than simply Analysis of Letter to the Editor or Essay #1.

The exercise is taken from Jacqueline Berkes Twenty Questions for the Writer. Harcourt, 1981, p. 331.


A Letter to the Editor

            With a great show of moral indignation, it was recently revealed that 47 percent of Monroe college students cheated on quizzes, prelims, and examinations.  Since then, readers of The Bulletin have been deluged with pious commentaries.  Isnt it about time someone asked whether our modern Puritans arent being overly righteous in this matter?  A little giving or taking of information on an examination, or the use of a few crib notes, is not such a bad thing as some prudish minds would have us think.  The very fact that so many loyal Monroe students indulge in this is evidence that it cant be very wrong.

Analysis Of An Argument

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            On the contrary, copying or the use of crib notes seems quite pardonable in many courses.  In a course which requires remembering a lot of facts, why not use crib notes?  Its only a difference of degree between using them and using some elaborate system for memorizing facts.  Both are artificial means to help you remember.

            If we view the problem from another angle, we can see that what is so smugly denounced as dishonesty may actually reveal foresight--which is certainly a praiseworthy trait.  If you were going into an unknown wilderness, you would take along the things you knew were needed for survival, wouldnt you?  Taking crib notes into the unknown territory of an examination shows the same foresight.  Now suppose also that one of your companions on this expedition desperately needed water or food or help of some sort.  Youd do what you could for him, wouldnt you?  Helping someone on an examination isnt any different.

            To put the question another way, suppose we define charity as giving to a person in need.  Isnt one, therefore, performing an act of charity during an examination when one gives some needy person the desired information?  The fact that one isnt giving money or food doesnt make the act any less charitable.

            If we inquire who is stirring up this fuss over alleged cheating, we find its the faculty--in other words, the persons who have selfish interests to protect.  Obviously, they flunk students to make them repeat the course and thus to keep it filled.

            Finally, to take a long-range view, why should colleges get all excited over what they choose to call cheating when there are much more important things for them to worry about?  When the very existence of our democracy is being threatened by Communism, why fret about the source of Johnny Xs information on an exam in ancient history?         --Name Withheld



Suggestions for Success

  • Organize your paper by analyzing the fallacies of Name Withhelds argument in the order they occur in the letter. For instance, after your introduction, your body paragraphs should tackle the writers flaws as they occur. You might write, In his first paragraph, Name Withheld [or whatever you choose to call the writer] loses credibility by calling those who oppose his argument Puritans with prudish minds; this is an example of the ad hominem fallacy, where the writer attacks the character of the opponent rather than addressing the issue itself. Then the writer uses a bandwagon fallacy by stating, The very fact that so many loyal Monroe students indulge in this is evidence that it cant be very wrong. Really? Cheating is acceptable because everyone is doing it?
  • Quote from the letter as you analyze; dont rely too much on paraphrasing.
  • Use A Checklist for Writing an Analysis of an Argument on p. 191 of Current Issues and Enduring Questions.
  • Dont be content simply to name the fallacy; offer explanations. For instance, dont simply write In paragraph three we have a false analogy. Show how its a false analogy.
  • Be sure to use the merde handout I gave you. Be especially careful to avoid writing you and overusing the first person, I think or I believe or in my opinion, etc. You may use the rhetorical we:  We can see that the writer of the letter is a deluded fool or something like that.  Also be sure to edit carefully to remove Basics errors (see handout).
  • I expect MLA format, but since weve not covered MLA documentation, I will overlook discrepancies here. But for you overachievers, heres the deal:

The writer claims the faculty are the real culprits when he calls them persons with selfish interests to protect (Berke 331). Then, your Works Cited would look like this: Berke, Jacqueline. Twenty Questions for the Writer. Harcourt, 1981, p. 331.



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