The Papers: Why We Shouldn't Think of X as X

Arguing a Definition

Central to any argument are the definitions of its terms, and sometimes whole arguments concern the definition of one word or concept. You must put forth an argument about why we should or should not define some concept X in the way it is usually defined. Your reasons for arguing a particular definition might be ethical, factual, logical, and/or emotional. At any rate, the purpose of this assignment is for you to argue convincingly in favor of a particular way of defining some concept that matters greatly to some group of people.

To take a current example, think about the debate going on in this country now about the definition of torture. In particular, the tactic called water boarding, which has been described as a kind of simulated drowning, is under much analysis and debate. Recent news stories have reported that the CIA has destroyed video evidence in which certain agents used the coercive technique during the interrogation of terrorist suspects. Torture, as it is defined by the Geneva Code, is illegal. The question then becomes whether or not water boarding is torture? Clearly, if the judges who review the case determine that water boarding can be defined as torture, then the CIA has done something that violates international law. The stakes in how either term, water boarding or torture, is defined are high. And whatever the courts decide will have a major impact on the lives of those involved.

The point here is that the way the term gets defined must have an effect on some group of people or on our understanding of the world.

Watch a clip of Malcolm Gladwell discussing Spaghetti Sauce

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