Some of you have been doing this consciously; most of you have been doing this subconsciously (or sometimes, not at all). How exactly do you counter-argue or rebut an argument? For those of you who do this subconsciously, this post aims to develop metacognitive awareness – to make you aware of how you think – in the hope that (1) you’ll find it easier to come up with good counter-arguments and rebuttals when you’re stuck and you don’t instinctively know how to do it and (2) you’ll be able to push yourselves further and improve by packing in more tiers of evaluation in your writing. This applies to both your essays (where you’ll need counter-arguments for balance, and rebuttals to reconcile those counter-arguments) and your AQs (where, assuming all other requirements are met, the quality of your evaluation separates the good from the average).
The rebuttal tiers
(Note that this also applies to counter-arguments and evaluative comments)
- NOT TRUEThe “not true” tier is the first and most basic tier. It is a direct counter to the previous argument presented, and it is exactly what the name suggests – it says that the previous argument presented is just plain wrong. Note that it is possible to have multiple “not true” tiers, as something could be wrong for multiple reasons.
- EVEN IF
This is the second tier, and, once again, it is exactly what its name suggests – that even if the previous argument presented is true, it still doesn’t negate the fact that your stand holds, and that of your opponent falls. In other words, you are conceding that your opponent’s argument is factually accurate, but you are saying that, say, there are other problems with their overall stand that makes you right, and them wrong. To signpost this tier, instead of using “even if”, you might also use “despite the fact that (opponent’s argument) …”
- IN FACT
This is definitely my favourite tier. It’s often quite difficult to use, so I get particularly excited when it’s done correctly – and when I’m happy, I gladly give you extra marks for insight and originality. In this tier, you have to use the exact same argument that your opponent presented previously, and use that same argument to prove your stand. Wow. You’re ripping the words out of your opponent’s mouth and saying, “Hey, thanks for that – actually, you’ve just proved my stand!”
As with the “not true” stand, there could be multiple “furthermore” tiers in a counter-argument or rebuttal. I find this tier is the most difficult to define, because it is often a matter of presenting any additional, related argument that further develops your main argument.
Is chocolate better than sex?
Chocolate is better than sex because it will never disappoint a chocolate lover. We rarely hear of people complaining that they have been disappointed by chocolate. However, it is not uncommon to hear people complain that sex disappointed them.
It is not true that chocolate never disappoints a chocolate lover. It could well disappoint someone if they’re simply not in the mood for a sweet treat – perhaps they’re craving something salty or spicy instead, or perhaps they’ve just has an obscene amount of food and trying to consume more – chocolate or not – will push them over the edge and make them hurl. But even if it were true that chocolate never disappoints, this does not mean that chocolate is better than sex, as some of the reasons that make sex better than chocolate are more significant than the mere fact that chocolate never disappoints. In fact, one can argue that it is precisely because chocolate never disappoints that it is not better than sex. The state of never disappointing means that there are never any surprises, there’s never any anticipation on whether or not one will be disappointed. Just uniform happiness. Uniformity is dull; variation is exciting. Furthermore, if one still stubbornly insists on arguing that uniformity is better, it can be said that sex, too, is comparable to chocolate in how often it disappoints – as with chocolate, it might never disappoint some people, and it might sometimes disappoint others, depending on their mood. Ultimately, it cannot be said that chocolate is better than sex. (Note: The final “furthermore” tier can also be seen as an “even if” tier.)
In the above example, all four tiers were used. However, although it is possible to use all four tiers in a counter-argument or rebuttal, it is highly unlikely that they will all apply. Often, it is impossible to concede the point (in the “even if” tier) without sounding contradictory. And sometimes, you simply cannot deny the factual accuracy of you opponent’s argument (meaning you won’t be able to use the “not true” tier). So typically, you’re looking at using two or three of these tiers. And while these tires are best suited to counter-arguments and rebuttals, the “furthermore” tier can also be used to add layers of depth to your main arguments. As a general rule, the more (correctly executed, logical) tiers you have, the stronger your counter-argument or rebuttal.
Of course, the stronger you make your counter-argument, the more difficult it will be to rebut it – and reconciling your counter-arguments with strong rebuttals is crucial. This does not mean you should intentionally present a weak counter-argument – your examiners will see right through that one. What you’re aiming to do is to present a good, solid counter-argument – then blow us away with an even better rebuttal. But what if you can’t think of a rebuttal that’s better than your counter-argument? What if your counter-argument really is that impressive? I have gotten these questions before, and I find them most befuddling – if your counter-argument really is that strong, just argue the opposite stand instead!