Monday, July 8, 2013

How NOT to Reconstruct an Argument

First thing: I absolutely LOVE P!nk and this song. That being said, any criticisms and critically evaluative remarks should not be taken as instances of disapproval. This is a wonderfully uplifting song, and the fact that I feel like I have to make this disclaimer should be taken as evidence for how much I love it! Second thing: when I first heard this song I knew I wanted to write something about it; I just wasn’t sure what exactly. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure what the main focus of this post will be. I think I have a better grip on what I want to say than when I first heard it, but I worry it may still be disjointed at times. However, I think there are some interesting lessons here, even if I cannot tie them neatly together.

In most introductory philosophy courses students are asked to reconstruct an argument from class. This allows the student to better critically engage with the argument they will be addressing by making sure they have an appropriate understanding of their opponents’ position. This ability to successfully reconstruct an argument demonstrates that the student has an understanding of the difficult course material, and it helps to focus the students’ argument on a more manageable topic. If you’re reading an article by some philosopher (and you disagree with said philosopher), before explaining what it is you specifically disagree with, you have to reconstruct the philosophers’ argument to show the reader what part of the argument you will be addressing. For example, if you’re writing a paper on the morality of abortion, it’s just not possible to show why abortion is morally right or wrong in a paper for class (though many people will try!). Instead, you want to focus your argument on a more manageable topic. What you’ll most likely end up doing is pointing out something that needs to be taken into consideration when thinking about the morality of abortion, or pointing out something that is wrong with another person’s argument. Either way, before you can start you have to have a clear understanding of the topic you will be discussing; and, if you’re discussing someone else’s specific argument, then you need to first explain that person’s argument to demonstrate your understanding and show the reader what specific issue you have with the argument.

In “Try” P!nk seems to try to reconstruct an opponent’s argument. It’s not clear who the opponent is, but the main point seems to be that anyone who is trying to tell you to quit because you’re going to get hurt is not providing sufficient reason for you to give up. P!nk’s reconstruction takes place during the chorus. This is what she takes her opponent’s argument to be:

“Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame.
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned.”

The implied conclusion seems to be that if you’re going to get burned, then it’s not worth having the desire being discussed. This is followed by P!nk’s response:

“But just because it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die.
You’ve gotta get up and try try try
Gotta get up and try try try
You gotta get up and try try try.”

So, P!nk’s opponent seems to be saying that if you have desires then you’re going to get burned (because with desire comes a flame). P!nk’s response: just because it burns doesn’t mean you have to give up (in fact, the only sufficient reason to give up seems to be death). In her own words, “you’ve gotta get up and try try try.”

First, it should be pointed out that even though P!nk is encouraging you to not give up, she never actually provides us with any reason why we shouldn’t give up. In other words, there is no reason why we should try try try. (If you’re suspicious of my claim, take a look at the lyrics. If someone can point out something that is offered as a reason to keep trying, I’d love to hear it!). As a paper in a philosophy course, I’d probably give this paper a ‘D-‘. The only reason it doesn’t get an ‘F’ is because there is an attempt at reconstructing an argument, and it’s an encouraging formalization of whatever topic is being discussed. Second, a major mistake occurs in P!nk’s reconstruction. Her opponent clearly commits the fallacy of equivocation. Now, P!nk could just explain where the equivocation is occurring, thus showing the argument to be fallacious and giving us no reason to accept it. However, she seems to assume that there is some validity to this rather weak argument. While I’m not sure that anyone would ever make this actual argument, it seems like a cheap-way-out to attack what is a clearly fallacious argument. The equivocation occurs with the word ‘flame.’ In the first use, ‘flame’ seems to mean something like ‘a motivation to achieve the desired thing.’ In the second use, however, ‘flame’ literally means ‘fire.’ Consider how weird the phrase would be if we swapped ‘flame’ with the two different ways in which it is used. First:

“Where there is desire
There is gonna be [a motivation to achieve the desired thing]
Where there is a [a motivation to achieve the desired thing]
Someone’s bound to get burned.”

Notice, when ‘flame’ is taken to mean ‘a motivation to achieve the desired thing,’ it is clearly false that when someone has motivation to achieve something they desire they are always going to suffer burns. It’s not any better if ‘flame’ literally means ‘fire’:

“Where there is desire
There is gonna be [fire]
Where there is a [fire]
Someone’s bound to get burned.”

As is clear, it is also false that anytime someone has a desire a fire is actually present. Using two different senses of the word ‘flame’ is clearly fallacious. It would be weird to think that with desire comes ‘a motivation to achieve the desired thing’ and this ‘motivation to achieve the desired thing’ will literally burn you. Likewise, it is equally weird to think that with desire comes ‘fire.’

Again, I LOVE this song. It’ll never get old. I just hope students looking for advice on how to write a philosophy paper don’t turn to P!nk. She is an absolutely amazing pop star; but a philosopher she is not.

No comments:

Post a Comment