Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The "how far" question

Heeyyy, kids! It's model essay time again!

Been trying to explain to the kids why "to what extent..." and "how far..." questions cannot logically be answered with "to a large/small extent". The common error is to argue for and against the subject in order to somehow determine whether the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa. However, unless the essay identifies some criteria for this decision -- such as a value, a context or some other yardstick -- that decision is arbitrary and often baseless. Less skilled essayists are also likely to end up with internally conflicting arguments with little to no resolution.

"To what extent" and "how far" assume that the subject is already in play. In this case, the question "how far should a state have a right to monitor the actions of people within its borders?" the argument is not whether a state should or should not have or use its internal monitoring capabilities. Rather, the assumption is that the state does indeed have a right to do so, the question then being how much of this right is it acceptable to exercise before it becomes an unacceptable abuse of power. This is not a question for merely comparing pros and cons but a question of clearly identifying what is normal, acceptable behaviour of the state and what is clearly abnormal, unacceptable behaviour. And if at all possible, identifying some kind of general principle that can guide the responsible use of such power.

Hopefully, the kids will be able to see how this essay argues and resolves the above dilemma without tying itself up in convoluted knots. Ok, enough talk. Here it is: click here.

Behind the scenes: wrote another massively long essay but ruthlessly chopped it down to [close to] the word limit. Also replaced one of the original paragraphs 'cos it was sounding paranoid and pushing towards an extreme I did not want to deal with. Yes, I'm also aware that the conclusion is easier said than done. Sue me.

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