How to Have an Opinion

All of the texts we will read this quarter come from times very different from the present. As a result, the authors of these texts will make at least some claims with which you will no doubt disagree. When that happens, keep in mind that all the texts we will read this quarter contain some of the most important thoughts the human race has ever produced. Consequently, when disagreements between an author and you arise, try to understand (1) why an author has made the claim with which you disagree, (2) the broader purpose or purposes the author might be seeking to accomplish by making that claim, (3) what is at stake in both that claim and your disagreement with it, and (4) the weaknesses and limits of your own position. The more honest you are with yourself on this last point, the greater the benefit you will derive from our readings.

Avoid unfounded assertions. Occasionally students will simply claim that the world in which we live, especially human life, is a certain way and then proceed to write a paper as though that assumption were true. One problem with this approach is that most really interesting claims about human life can be contested. Accordingly, when you feel tempted to write a statement like “all human beings yearn for [insert nebulous value here],” ask yourself at least three questions. First, how do I know such a claim is true? Second, might there be evidence that runs counter to my claim? Third … what do I mean by [nebulous value]? You might then find yourself highlighting the text in question and hitting “delete.” There is no shame in that.



PhD Student @JohnsHopkins. Creative nonfiction and computer integrated surgery.

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