Criticizing with kindness
If you write counterarguments that are weak or insubstantial, all the better to dismiss them and lose ethos to boot. This is especially true if your readers are passionate about your subject.
Somewhere along the way you have to take on, and tackle, the strongest counterargument you can think of - and that can be difficult.
Daniel Dennett, one of today's best modern philosophers, asks "Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
Here's his answer, word-for-word:
"How to compose a successful critical commentary:
"1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, 'Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.'
"2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
"3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
"4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism."This strategy builds ethos, pathos, and logos when formulating counterarguments. Ethos by being able to re-express your opponents position plainly (you are fair). In addition, when you can show that there are points of agreement you are building ethos (again, you are fair), but this also expresses pathos since we all want to get along somehow.
You can accomplish logos by expressing the logical outcome you gained from your opponent's position (what you learned). That sometimes seems to be the sticking point for new college writer's, how can I validate the claim I am supposed to be arguing against? You don't have to validate all of it, just some of it. At times, you may not be able to validate any of it, but if you look like you can reach some kind of common ground that makes you look reasonable (again, more ethos).
So thinking of your own counterargument, how can you adopt this formula?