From this point on, you will have a chance to argue with the author/speaker and express yourself, but keep in mind the following general maxims of scholarly etiquette:
Do not say that you agree, disagree, or suspend judgment until you have adequately interpreted the book/message. Do not begin criticism until you are able to say, with reasonable certainty, “I understand,” i. e., I have done an adequate job with parts one and two. Complete the task of understanding before rushing in.
When you disagree, do so reasonably and not contentiously.
Demonstrate that you know the difference between knowledge and personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgments that you make.
Three conditions must be satisfied if controversy is to be well conducted:
Make an attempt at impartiality by reading/listening sympathetically.
Acknowledge any emotions that you bring to the dispute.
State your own assumptions explicitly.
Determine, wherever possible, the origins and the consequences of the author’s/speaker’s arguments.
Try to locate the origins of the author’s/speaker’s ideas in the larger picture of history. What movements, currents of thought, or other thinkers might have influenced him or her? Then carry the author’s/speaker’s ideas to their logical conclusions. To the best of your ability and given the academic background that you already possess, relate the author’s/speaker’s ideas to those of other authors with whom you are familiar.
Judge the soundness of the author’s/speaker’s arguments.
As called for, show where the author/speaker is uninformed. To support your remarks, you must be able to state the knowledge that the author/speaker lacks and show how it is relevant, i.e., how it affects the conclusions.
As called for, show where the author/speaker is misinformed, where assertions are made that are contrary to fact. This kind of defect should be pointed out only if it is relevant to the conclusions. To support your remark, you must be able to argue the truth or greater probability of a position contrary to the author’s / speaker’s.
As called for, show where the author/speaker is illogical, where there are fallacies in reasoning. In general fallacies are of two sorts. There is the non sequitur, which means that the conclusion simply does not follow for the reasons that are offered. Then there is the problem of inconsistency, which means that two things the author/speaker has tried to say are incompatible. To make either of these criticisms, you must be able to show the precise respect in which the author’s/speaker’s argument fails to be forcibly convincing. Be concerned with this defect only if major conclusions are affected by it.
In addition, show where the author/speaker fails to draw any conclusions that are implied by the evidence given or principles involved.
If you have not been able to show that the author/speaker is uninformed, misinformed or illogical on relevant matters, you simply cannot disagree. You must agree, at least in part, although you may suspend judgment on the whole. If you have been convinced, you should admit it. If, despite your failure to support one or more of these critical points, you still honestly feel unconvinced, perhaps you should not have said that you understood in the first place!
Judge the completeness of the author’s/speaker’s arguments.
Define any inadequacy precisely. Did the author/speaker solve all the problems he/she started with? Did the author/speaker make the best use of available materials and resources? Did the author/speaker see all the implications and ramifications of the problem? Did the author/speaker make all essential or relevant distinctions in his or her presentation?
Judge the value of the book / message.
Your final evaluation must be concerned with the truth and significance of the book/message for a given purpose, i.e., its value. This judgment must be based on definite criteria. These criteria should be internal (soundness and completeness) as well as external (relevance to some purpose).
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