utilitarian defense of freedom of expression
J.S. Mill offers a broad, utilitarian defense of freedom of expression, even the expression of opinions that are offensive, hateful, or bigoted. Do you agree with his reasoning? Why or why not? This is the question for the essay.
And these are the directions.
You are to write a thesis-driven, argumentative essay in response to one of the assigned prompts. Essays must be a minimum of five, double-spaced pages (see the ‘Formatting Guidelines’ handout). The successful essay will demonstrate a clear understanding of the concepts and readings under discussion and develop a strong justification in defense of a thesis (see the ‘Grading Rubric’ for further details).
Structure your essay as follows: (1) Introduction/Argumentative Thesis; (2) Body consisting of exposition, analysis, and defense of thesis (aim for 30% exposition and 70% analysis and justification); and (3) Conclusion (summarize key findings/arguments).
For an example of an effective argumentative essay written for a popular audience, please see: Appiah, et. al, “In Defense of Hierarchy.”
What do successful essays have in common? Let’s look at what the authors of “In Defense of Hierarchy” do well within each of the three structural components of their essay.
Engaging opening: Appiah and the other authors of this piece begin with a mere observation — that contemporary liberal democracies claim to value equality but that we can not really do without some types of hierarchy. Their discussion of this observation is easy to follow yet also thought provoking and engaging.
NO unsubstantiated generalizations or vague language.
Clear thesis: “As a group, we believe that clearer thinking about hierarchy and equality is important in business, politics and public life. We should lift the taboo on discussing what makes for a good hierarchy. To the extent that hierarchies are inevitable, it is important to create good ones and avoid those that are pernicious. It is also important to identify the ways in which useful and good hierarchies support and foster good forms of equality.” Note that this thesis is clear even though the authors adopt a nuanced position. The author’s state a position and offer a brief justification for this position which they will then develop throughout the body of the essay. Also, do not be afraid to use the term ‘I’ when identifying your thesis (e.g., “In this essay, I will argue…).
✦ Body — Exposition (Summary or Explanation)
Paragraph structure: The body of the essay develops in a logical manner. After stating their thesis, the authors clarify any terms or concepts necessary to understanding their argument (here they define the term ‘hierarchy’ and distinguish between different types). A good critical essay must do this so that readers who are unfamiliar with the subject matter can all follow along! Plan to devote at least 2 paragraphs to exposition.
Topic Sentences & Transitions: Note that the author’s guide the reader from one point to the next through the use of well phrased topic sentences and, sometimes, rhetorical questions (e.g. “What then, should be said in praise of hierarchy?”) Do not overuse rhetorical questions. But do try to imitate their example, tying together the different part of your essay through the use of transition words and phrases such as ‘thus’, ‘therefore’, ‘Given that…,’ etc.
✦ Body — Analysis & Justification of Thesis
Framing the argument: The authors do an excellent job in this piece of framing their argument for the reader by numbering their points. That is, they discuss three reasons for reconsidering the value of hierarchies and let their readers know explicitly when they are moving from one point to the next (e.g. “First, bureaucratic hierarchies can serve democracy…”; and “Apart from their civic importance, hierarchies can be surprisingly benign in life more broadly…”).
Consider limitations and objections: After offering arguments for the continuing value of hierarchy, the authors consider possible limitations and objections. For example they note that, “(a)s well as being empowering, hierarchies should be dynamic over time. Hierarchies are often pernicious not because they distinguish between people, but because they perpetuate these distinctions even when they are no longer merited or serve a good purpose.” Moreover, they consider instances where hierarchies have harmed individuals and they try to respond the the objection that even a justified or valuable hierarchy could perpetrate harm (e.g.: “But are hierarchies compatible with human dignity?…”). You must do the same! Before concluding your essay, address and respond to possible objections.
Avoid hasty conclusions! The authors do not abruptly stop writing. Instead, they use their conclusion to restate their thesis. At this point, they are able to do so in a more detailed manner since the reader now has the benefit of both the exposition and analysis and can better appreciate the thesis
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