Chapter four begins the discussion of academic argumentation. Pullman defines it as when “assertions are presented with supporting evidence to an audience who will agree or disagree but won’t vote or otherwise make a binding decision” (228).
While reading the beginnings of this chapter, I began to find myself making more notes in the margins, asking more questions. Even when Pullman provided his first definition in this chapter and then compared it to debates, I questioned it. I realized I was reading against the grain more. Before, I had to consciously make an effort to question the material presented before me. Now, the questions would form themselves as I read. I still didn’t ponder everything presented, but I did notice a significant improvement from my readings and notes I had done before. I felt like I was truly developing as a critical reader.
For example, let’s go back to Pullman’s relation of academic argumentation and debates. Chapter four states that academic argumentation is different from debates in the sense that debates involve people who are competing to win while academic argumentation has all sides considering “getting it right” (228). I found this interesting because it almost implies that debaters are not doing the “right” thing but that they are simply using everything they have to only “win” against their component. Their argument could even be “wrong.” And what does “right” here even mean? Pullman also highlights that academic argumentation can be competitive too, but he fails to recognize that debates could have “right” sides.
Here’s another example. Pullman examines an academic audience and explains that academic arguments are skeptical and need to provide evidence (229). He provides us with the advice of “The better the evidence, the better the argument” (229). “Better” is another vague term that usually has a strong meaning in our language. But what does “better” evidence mean? Does it mean more relevant or recent evidence? Something from a credible author? Actual primary sources? All of the above? It’s kind of like watching the food network station (If you’ve seen Ina Garten you may know what I am talking about). The chef is in the midst of cooking a meal and she says make sure you drizzle some “good” olive oil on top. What does “good” mean here? Obviously in both of these situations we assume something positive that enhances the overall argument or meal. However, doesn’t it imply that in some situations there will still be a better item than the one we chose as “better?” Is this another case where we have different ideas of what is better, or at least “good,” anyways?
To further explain, I’m going to analyze another section in the reading. Pullman examines proofs, one of which is “Narratives” (231). I find that narratives sometimes come off as more convincing than other proofs. If this is the case, would that mean narratives are “better” proofs than other proofs/evidence? I would argue no because while narratives are sometimes seen as more convincing, they are also only a one-time example. This can lead to fallacies when developing arguments because there is only one example for reference. It might have happened to someone, but did it happen to anyone else? Does a personal experience add more weight to persuasion? Think of reviews online for restaurants or items. One good review or bad review might not make a difference. To the person who wrote the review, they could argue they are right because they have a deeper connection from their experience. Multiple narratives, however, might change minds because that means multiple people who had an investment in something also had an experience worth noting in some way. Of all these examples, what is the best proof and evidence?
In fact, Pullman brings up a lot of interesting ideas in this chapter. One of which is the formula in developing academic argumentation which includes things like intros and conclusions and my previous analysis of proofs and evidence. The reading is a bit brief on conclusions. Pullman highlights that a conclusion is mostly for an audience and warns readers to be careful over how they word things, like don’t call people an “idiot” if they do not agree (231). This was also interesting in the fact that, assuming we are writing academically, it almost seems obvious that we should be thorough but always respectful and professional. However, that does not mean it always happens. Considering our political climate, this seems to expose how not everything that “should” be a certain way is that certain professional way.
While chapter four reviews multiple different topics, the last topic that really caught my interest was the discussion of modality. Modality is defined as the “level of expected commitment to the argument” (231). Through his discussion on this, Pullman reexamines proof and explores the ideas of argumentative errors. “How much proof do you need?” he asks. With that question in mind, the author describes to readers that no matter how much proof we have, some people will not be convinced. As an example of this, he said that some people still don’t believe the Holocaust happened (232).
Now, to me, this is a very loaded statement to read against the grain. To what extent do these people believe it didn’t happen? Is the proof of lives that were lost not enough to convince them? What about the Holocaust is not believable, because as “facts” go, it is hard to argue with numbers? Even if the numbers could be off by a little, there were still lives lost. Is it the meaning or “reason” behind the Holocaust they do not believe? Is there a point in even arguing in situations like that where no amount of proof can convince someone?
The last point he makes is that the timing of an argument makes a difference, as well as the presenter of an argument makes a difference in its persuasion. Is Pullman referencing kairos and ethos here?
I found the beginnings of this chapter to be very thought-provoking. What did you guys think? Do any of you find yourself reading against the grain more? So far, I have only been reading against the grain in classes but I wonder if I began to read public news more I would find this skill emerging there too. Did anything I say here make you guys want to read me against the grain?