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What is an argument? | Reading

Let's talk about how arguments work! Argument is when an author wants to convince you of their position. “This is my position; you should share this position, and here is why.” Arguments are supported by reasons, evidence, examples. Not just pure opinion, not just cherry-picked stories. Data! Fact! Observable reality. Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- [David] Hello, Readers. Today we shall take the field in rhetorical combat, also known as argument. Argument is when an author wants to convince you of their position. "This is my position; you should share this position, and here is why." Argument does not sneak, it does not come in through the back. It is supported by reasons, evidence, examples. Not just pure opinion, not just cherry-picked stories: data, fact, observable reality. There is a place for pure subjective opinion, and it is the realm of the movie and the restaurant review. "I did not like this movie because I didn't laugh at its jokes." "I did not enjoy the hamburger I got because I found it too dry for my liking." This is not what we're talking about today. Obviously, argument is rooted in opinion and subjective personal preferences, but those opinions need to be backed up with evidence. Let's compare arguments for and against a tax on soda. Now, this writer argues that sugar contributes to obesity, and therefore, people should be prevented from buying soda, which is full of sugar on the grounds that it is bad for them, let's take a look. The soda tax could alter many people's behavior, causing them to stop buying sugary drinks. Some foods are necessities like milk, eggs, and bread. People will buy them even if the prices increase. Sugary drinks aren't necessary. If the price goes up, people will buy fewer sugary drinks and they won't be consuming as much sugar, therefore, the obesity rate will go down. Whereas this author counters that people have a right to make what they see as unhealthy decisions. Soda and other sugary drinks have been targeted because they lack nutrition and are basically just liquid sugar. Most people would agree that proper nutrition is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, do legislators have the right or responsibility to regulate people's sugar intake in order to improve their health? I say, no. All right, let's evaluate these claims. For the first argument in favor of the soda tax, how do we know this is true? What evidence does this author give that this tax will alter people's behavior? What evidence does this author give that sugary drinks aren't seen to be as essential as milk? After all, not everyone can or does drink milk. In the piece, the evidence that the author gives us is this table, which shows how much sugar is in soda per serving, but it doesn't use evidence to connect sugar consumption to unhealthy outcomes. All this says is, soda has a lot of sugar. I wanna see evidence, I wanna see studies. How do we know this tax would change behavior? Good readers think through the impacts of an argument. If this tax went into effect, what would the consequences be? Are there faults in the author's logic? It might stop some people from buying soda, but in an unfair way. Here's how I'm processing this as a reader. If you take a bottle of soda that previously costs, say $2, and the tax makes it $10, that will make it more difficult to purchase. But to a millionaire, the difference between $2 and $10 is basically nothing. Whereas to a poor or middle class person, that $8 difference adds up pretty quickly. I see this as a possible unintended consequence of this proposal, that it hits poor people harder than rich people. As readers, it's not just our responsibility to interpret what the author is saying, we also have to ask ourselves, what are they not saying? In the second argument, the author is arguing that it isn't the government's responsibility to determine how much sugar people consume, and therefore taxes on sugary drinks are unnecessary. So now I'm asking, whose responsibility is it to determine how much sugar is in a drink? Why is sugar so inexpensive to begin with? Do legislators have a responsibility there? Now we know it's not legal to bottle rat poison and sell it as tea, but whose responsibility is that? What isn't this author saying, and how does not saying it serve their argument? They're not saying what the government could or should do, only what it shouldn't do. And this is why I want you to be skeptical whenever you read anyone's argument about anything. You need to figure out what the terms of the debate are. What does the argument assume as a given? What's a problem worth fixing? What are the trade offs that the writer thinks are acceptable? So when you encounter an argument in text, look for the claims, and then look to see if those claims are backed up with data-supported reasoning. Is the author using evidence and logic? Do they anticipate objections to their arguments and push back on or incorporate those critiques? Above all else, I want you to remain skeptical. Everyone's selling something, even me. It's just the thing I'm trying to sell you is the fundamental idea that you can learn anything. You've got this, Readers. David out.