Being able to formulate and write an effective counter argument is one of the most important skills anyone can possess. Whether in debate or in an academic thesis, a counter argument can be used to both weaken opposing viewpoints and strengthen your own.
In this blog post, we’ll look at the best ways to prepare and write an argument that undermines either your own thesis or that of an opponent. We’ll also look at why a counter argument can be so powerful in logic, persuasion, and reasoning.
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What is a counter argument?
A counter argument is any argument that is opposed to your thesis. It explains why your thesis – in part of in full – is incorrect, and uses evidence and logical reasoning to undermine your thesis.
Given this definition, it seems unusual that you would want to prepare an argument that rebuts your own thesis. However, in some cases presenting a counter argument can actually strengthen your thesis and weaken any arguments that opposite it.
A counter argument can be any argument in opposition to a thesis. For example, if your thesis is that the sky is blue, a counter argument could argue that the sky isn’t blue.
Why would you present a counter argument?
Presenting a counter argument gives you an opportunity to respond to criticism in your own essay. It allows you to answer common questions or rebuttals that your audience might have before they have a chance to raise them independently.
Counter arguments are frequently used in academic essays. For example, an essay arguing that certain parts of the countryside should be protected from commercial development might argue against itself by citing the benefits of development.
By bringing up your opponent’s argument in advance and countering it within your own essay, you can make your own argument more persuasive. You also provide a more detailed, informed understanding of the topic to your readers.
Using a counter argument is one of many persuasion tactics. Learn more about how to form persuasive, compelling arguments in our course, The Power of Persuasion.
Using counter arguments in debate
In debate, counter arguments are frequently used offensively – to undermine a point raised by an opponent – and to strengthen the argument you’re making by showing the flaws in any arguments against it.
Forming a counter argument is challenging, and requires a well-rounded knowledge and understanding of the topic you’re discussing. Because of this, forming a counter argument to common beliefs is a great way to learn about important issues.
Counter arguments can be based upon a variety of different assumptions. You could base a counter argument on facts, and argue that the opposing argument doesn’t use factually correct data. You can also base a counter argument on analysis.
In certain cases, counter arguments could target the relevance of an argument. This type of counter argument is built around the assumption that even if a certain fact is true, it has little relevance to the argument being debated.
Developing a strong counter argument
Developing a good counter argument is one of the most important skills anyone can possess. Being able to understand your opponent’s argument and turn it around is a very powerful persuasive skill that can be used to win debates and influence people.
The best way to start developing a counter argument is by exploring the topics you expect your opponent to discuss, and familiarizing yourself with the argument they are most likely to use.
Learn about the data you expect your opponent to cite, the reliability of their data, and the most persuasive arguments against it. Identify any false assumptions your opponent is likely to use so that they are easy to spot during a debate.
You can then present a factual counter argument by pointing out inconsistencies in the facts they present to support their argument. You can use an analytical counter argument, and point out that while their facts are correct, their analysis isn’t.
In his wonderful essay, How to Disagree, Paul Graham breaks debating down into a pyramid with seven different levels. A good counter argument should be built using the strategies near the top of the pyramid, rather than those near the bottom.
Effective counter arguments need to be logically consistent, focused, and delivered in a format that your audience can understand. Enroll in our course, A Clear Logical Argument Guaranteed, to learn how to from logical, persuasive arguments.
Using counter arguments to refine your thesis
In the process of presenting counter arguments to your thesis, you may discover an argument that is both true and relevant. In this case, using this counter argument is likely to damage your thesis more than it supports it.
This presents an interesting moral conundrum. Do you simply exclude the counter argument in order to strengthen your thesis, or refine your thesis to take the new evidence into account?
When evidence directly disproves your thesis, you should use it to modify, refine, and strengthen your thesis. Acknowledge the validity of the counter argument and adjust your own argument to respond to its criticisms.
Separating counter arguments from your thesis
When writing your thesis or participating in a debate, it’s important to label your counter argument as something that other people believe, rather than something that forms the core of your own argument.
If you don’t clearly mark your counter argument as being a rebuttal of your thesis, your audience may mistakenly believe it’s your own view. Make sure you introduce your counter argument using phrases like “It is argued that” or “It may seem as if”.
In general, you should present a counter argument towards the end of your thesis but prior to your conclusion. This gives you a chance to express your key points in advance of the counter argument and provide a rebuttal for your audience.
Are you writing a counter argument for a college essay? Our course, College Writing Essentials, will teach you how to write persuasive, logically consistent, and effective academic essays.
Would you like to learn more about debating?
Although counter arguments are most frequently used in academic essays, they are most powerful when used in response to an argument presented in debate. A well-rounded, fair counter argument can often win a challenging debate or argument.
Our blog post on argument writing is a great primer on writing counter arguments that persuade and inform your audience and strengthen your thesis.