Recapping the argument

In this workshop, you will practice recapping arguments. This is where you tell your reader the full argument that you will evaluate, even if your evaluation examines just a single part of it.

Remember that you’ll organize your papers in this class in this order:

1. THESIS: State your thesis.
2. RECAP: Recap the argument that you are examining (the one your thesis is about).
3. THESIS DEFENSE: Defend your thesis.
4. OBJECTION & REPLY: State and deflect an objection.

This workshop addresses just the second item above.

In our first workshop, recall, we said that, when writing your papers, you should write them as if you are addressing students outside the class rather than your professor. Make your papers accessible and define all jargon (words or phrases students outside class wouldn’t know) as soon as it’s introduced. This is why your thesis statement has to mention the argument that your thesis is about. Otherwise, a reader outside class wouldn’t know what you are talking about.

Let’s put this idea into concrete terms by using the example that we used before, an argument that Frankfurt rejects that goes as follows:

1. An utterance X is bullshit if and only if it is carelessly made (his third definition).
2. Much advertising and political slogans are carefully made.
3. So, they do not count as bullshit.

A thesis might go something like this. “In this paper, I show why we should agree with Frankfurt and reject the argument that claims that advertising and political slogans are not bullshit. We should reject it because it falsely assumes that no bullshit can be carefully made.” There are other possible theses that one can write, of course, if one rejects the argument. Plus, one might defend the argument instead of rejecting it, in which case there will be various theses one can write to announce that position. But this formulation will suffice to illustrate the next step in your paper.

So far, we have only referred in shorthand to the argument that we will examine. In our thesis statement, we referred to it merely as the argument that claims that advertising and political slogans are not bullshit. Now, we must present the entire argument for that position, so that our reader – someone who, we are assuming, is a student outside our class – will know precisely what we are talking about. That means that we must present all the premises and the conclusion of the argument, without omitting or skipping any of them. What follows are some methods for accomplishing this.

Method one

The simplest and most straightforward way of doing this is to take the statement of the argument as it appears verbatim and repeat it. For your first and second papers, this will suffice. For later papers, we’ll modify this expectation, but you shouldn’t worry about meeting the modified expectation until you write your later papers. For now, it will be adequate to write something like this:

The argument that Frankfurt rejects begins with the premise that an utterance is bullshit if and only if it is carelessly made. Its second premise claims that much advertising and political slogans are carefully made. It concludes that they do not count as bullshit.

Notice that each and every premise and the conclusion are presented. Not one of them is omitted or skipped over.

Placed together, you get a nice transition from your thesis statement, which mentions, if only in shorthand, the argument to which you are referring, to your recap, which then presents the full argument, in detail. For example, your paper would now read:

In this paper, I show why we should agree with Frankfurt and reject the argument that claims that advertising and political slogans are not bullshit. We should reject it because it falsely assumes that no bullshit can be carefully made.

The argument that Frankfurt rejects begins with the premise that an utterance is bullshit if and only if it is carelessly made. Its second premise claims that much advertising and political slogans are carefully made. It concludes that they do not count as bullshit.

Method two

If you don’t want to repeat verbatim each premise and the conclusion of the argument, you can try paraphrasing, but if you do paraphrase, be sure that you capture each and every premise of the argument and that you include the conclusion as well. An example might be the following:

The argument that Frankfurt considers goes as follows. Since statements count as bullshit if and only if they are carelessly made, and since much advertising and political slogans are rather carefully made, it follows that those advertising and political slogans don’t count as bullshit.

If we were to unpack that recap, we’d see that each and every premise, as well as the conclusion, are presented (see the argument on preceding page). Explanation:

The argument that Frankfurt considers goes as follows. Since statements count as bullshit if and only if they are carelessly made [premise one], and since much advertising and political slogans are rather carefully made [premise two], it follows that advertising and political slogans don’t count as bullshit [conclusion, i.e. statement three].