Short Writing Assignments, 2010
SOCI 130 Medicine and Society
Updated September 24, 2010
This semester you will be assigned to write several short papers in which you are supposed to read a case that involves some problem in medical ethics or a policy conflict, think about what issues are at odds with each other in the case, decide what action you think should be taken, and argue your case. These papers are meant to prepare you for a class discussion and so they cannot be turned in after class unless you get in touch with me ahead of time (or call when you are sick).
The general goal of the writing assignments in this course is to help you to learn the difference between an opinion and an argument, and for you to make effective arguments. These short papers are meant to give you an opportunity to write out an argument, and to do it in a way that is not simply an expression of an opinion.
An opinion is a personal point of view, usually guided by emotional feelings or private values. You may give facts to support an opinion, but in general opinions are hard to dispute because they are not presented as a logical product that results from looking at facts. Rather they are personal and emotional. Everyones entitled to an opinion. But we dont have to take their opinions seriously.
Arguments are different because they can be separated from the individuality of the person making the case. Arguments have a logical structure and they can be challenged by attacking their logic. Arguments also are based on and responsive to data. You can reject an argument by showing that it is contradicted by the facts. Generally for every argument there are one or more counter arguments that negate them. In debate tournaments, you may be assigned any point of view on an issue and be required to present convincing arguments regardless of your opinion. This is a good illustration of the way that arguments are separated from the people who make them in a way that opinions are not.
A good argument generally acknowledges that there is a counter argument. In fact, it generally is a good idea to state the counter argument and then tell why you do not think it is correct.
In evaluating your paper, here are things I will be looking for.