More good advice from a philosopher

When you’re reading or skimming argumentative essays… here is a quick trick that may save you much time and effort, especially in this age of simple searching by computer: look for “surely” in the document, and check each occurrence. Not always, not even most of the time, but often the word “surely” is as good as a blinking light locating a weak point in the argument.

Daniel C. Dennett: Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, Allen Lane 2013, p.53.


For ‘argumentative essays’ read ‘skeleton arguments and written submissions.’ And for ‘surely’ read also ‘obviously,’ ‘plainly,’ ‘manifestly,’ ‘clearly’ or ‘self-evidently.’

There are two uses for this technique, for a lawyer. One is to sniff out corners of the other side’s argument that they’re feeling a bit wobbly about, or don’t quite know how to explain or justify properly – so that you can direct your attack at those weak points.

The other – perhaps more importantly – is to check your own argument for weaknesses, and add reinforcement where it’s needed. If you’ve said ‘surely blah blah..,’ ‘self-evidently wurra wurra..’ etc. where in fact it’s not sure or self-evident from what else you’ve written, you need to explain why ‘blah blah’ or ‘wurra wurra’ are true.



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