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Balance in Essays

What’s the point?

A good argumentative essay always addresses the alternative viewpoints held by people who
disagree with the writer. This shows that the writer is mature enough to handle opposition, and
intelligent enough to see the issue from different perspectives, even if he does not agree with
some of these perspectives. It also allows the writer to refute the opposition, thereby showing the
opposing view to be flawed or limited, and strengthening his own position.

Many students often do not see the relevance of including balance in their essays. They argue that
even acknowledging the existence of any alternative viewpoint weakens their argument and is
therefore not only unnecessary, but also detrimental to their essays. They fail to understand that
this is true only when they are unable to handle the necessary task of rebuttal in a competent
manner, or when they deliberately choose a very weak opposing viewpoint and then refute it in
the belief that this strengthens their argument. It is needless to say that a poor rebuttal does not
enhance the argument in any way, and may, in some cases, weaken it. However, using this as an
excuse for not dealing with alternative viewpoints is as ridiculous as trying to argue that it is
pointless to try to write an essay at all, since there is always a chance the arguments may be
faulty. Furthermore, failing to address alternative views shows a lack of intellectual rigour and
courage, and makes the writer appear narrow-minded at best, and ignorant at worst. This weakens
an argument as much as, or perhaps even more than, a poor rebuttal. Similarly, picking a very
weak opposing view simply makes the writer look like an intellectual coward who does not dare
to engage with the issues that really matter.

Clearly, the most sensible thing to do is to make sure that the alternative views raised can be
addressed adequately in the rebuttal. This requires careful thought and planning, because the key
to the challenge of dealing with balance lies in highlighting the right alternative views. On the
one hand, the writer has to draw attention to ideas that are significant enough to matter. On the
other hand, these alternative ideas cannot be so strong that they become impossible to refute
satisfactorily. This is a delicate balancing act that must be thought through very carefully in the
planning stages of the essay.

You can refute the opposing view by showing that


1) it is a good point, but so is yours;
2) it is a good point, but yours is better; or
3) it is untrue.

Refer to your Year 1 GP File 2 Pg 10, 11, and 21 for a list of


sentence structures and phrases that you should use to indicate
balance.
How far would you agree that despite Man’s attempt to control Nature, Nature has instead
been more successful in controlling Man?

Thesis statement:

The balance of power between Man and Nature is shifting towards Man as we become more advanced, but
Nature will always have the last laugh.

Opposing view and rebuttal:

Despite our huge dependence on the environment, many propose that since we have increased
knowledge about the environment, we are more able to control it. This is a flawed belief in my
opinion. As most scientists would testify, the knowledge of how something works or how it is caused
does not necessarily mean that we have control over it. We study in geography how natural disasters like
typhoons are caused but we are powerless to prevent their occurrence. We can only limit the damage
caused by such natural disasters by the way we build our buildings. We can see from this that Nature has
control over us. Even with knowledge of how to maintain an adequate supply of rain through water and tree
management, implementation problems and miscommunication have led to a split screen of destruction in
North India where on one side persistent floods have levelled farms and killed many while on the other
side extreme droughts have led to poor harvests and driven some farmers to suicide.

Comments:

Note the use of phrases like ‘many propose’ and ‘This is a flawed belief’ to indicate that:
1) the alternative viewpoint is one that is held by many, yet
2) the writer disagrees with this popular view.

The fact that many people hold the opposing view ‘despite our huge dependence on the
environment’ suggests at the outset that such a belief may be mistaken.

This paragraph is very effective because:


1) it does not simply stop at stating that many think that Man is in control of Nature. It
explains why they think so – because of our increased knowledge.
2) it successfully refutes the opposing view by drawing attention to what is a well-known
fact: that the ability to understand something does not necessarily result in the ability to
control it. In other words, it argues directly against the idea that knowledge is an adequate
protection against problems.
3) It uses a whole range of very specific examples to support the argument. This shows that
the writer has a sound knowledge of the topic and makes his rebuttal seem more credible.
Is there ever any justification for the taking of lives?

Thesis Statement:

The taking of lives is inexorably cruel, but it can be justified when the purpose is to punish or
alleviate suffering, not to satisfy a particular evil agenda.

Writer’s view, opposing view and rebuttal:

The taking of lives is justified when a life is terminated as a result of a person’s wrongdoings.
This judgment that is being passed about a person’s eligibility to continue life manifests itself in
some countries’ legal systems, where the death penalty is legalized. In this case, it is assumed that
a person’s liberty and right to life is subordinated to the state’s jurisdiction. Critics of other
countries are less convinced by the efficacy of the death penalty in containing crimes. There
still exists a significant divide in views pertaining to the legalisation of the death penalty.
Opponents charge that it undermines the value of life as the life of a living individual can be
stripped off as readily as any other commodity from the person, ignoring the criminal’s right to
live. However, this argument mostly chooses to turn a blind eye to the gravity of the crime
that the criminal committed. Most criminals are only subjected to the heavily punitive sentence in
circumstances when heinous crimes like homicide and drug trafficking are committed. An
unforgivable crime should be treated with a heavy sentence, a logic embodied in the saying “an
eye for an eye, a life for a life.”

Comments:

This incorporates the writer’s own viewpoint, the opposing argument and the rebuttal. This
particular structure works here because the writer wants to tackle a variety of different issues (the
death penalty, abortion, and euthanasia) in the same essay. It would not have made sense for the
writer to try to address the opposing views for all of these issues in a single paragraph.

Note the use of:


1) phrases like ‘Critics… are less convinced’ and ‘a significant divide in views’ to indicate
that this is a deeply controversial issue.
2) ‘Opponents charge that…’ to indicate that this is the opposing viewpoint.
3) ‘However, this argument mostly chooses to turn a blind eye…’ to show that the opposing
view is limited and myopic.

This is very effective because the issue is dealt with in a very measured, mature and sensible
fashion. The writer engages with the strongest opposing argument (that the death penalty
‘undermines the value of life as the life of a living individual can be stripped off as readily as any
other commodity from the person’) without belittling it. He then argues that
1) the death penalty is only imposed under the most extreme conditions, and
2) the death penalty is based on the concepts of logic and justice.

However, the inclusion of drug trafficking as a crime serious enough to warrant the death penalty
weakens the argument because it is too highly controversial, and because too few countries
actually practise this today.
‘The world would be a better place without religion.’ Do you agree?

Thesis Statement:

In fact, a world without religion is quite likely to be much improved due to the often-disastrous
combination of human nature with religious fervour. The most benign of religions can and have
been manipulated to justify terrible actions with distressing regularity. Furthermore, the benefits
of religion, such as morality and purpose, can usually be found elsewhere.

Opposing View and Rebuttal:

It is of course true that religion has many benefits, and one of the most major arguments in
favour of religion is the fact that many religions, however different elsewhere, advocate a style
of living that is seen to be morally correct, and which promotes basic moral concepts like filial
piety and the sanctity of human life. If nothing else, this creates a stable society that can then
progress. This may be true, but it neglects the idea that morality can be based on other
concepts. It also implies that all free-thinkers must be immoral, which comes across as
immediately ridiculous as free-thinkers account for a large part of the world’s population and by
and large, utter and complete immorality is still seen as the behaviour of a minority. Morality can
be created by the society and the self. Behaving in a conventionally moral manner is, quite often,
the most efficient way of keeping a society in order (which may be the reason for the enforcement
of many moral ideas by law) and conformity to a social norm can be as compelling a reason as
religion to observe a moral code. Simple concepts such as empathy and concern for others can
also act as adequate alternatives for religion in producing moral behaviour and thought.

It is also argued that religion is psychologically beneficial as it allows the individual to grasp his
or her role in a much greater system, which contributes to both the individual’s psychological
stability and to his sense of direction and purpose, and ultimately inspires both individuals and
society to work towards greater goals. Examples often cited include the abundance of great
achievements inspired by religion, and the charitable work done by religious organizations like
the Jesuits. While all this is undeniable, it must be noted that people do not always need
religion as a spur to greater achievements. Many great human endeavours are carried out in the
absence of any kind of religious affiliation, and may be motivated by other ideals such as
compassion for mankind or a love for one’s field of work. In fact, most of the greatest artwork
and literature of the 20th century was created by people who were vehemently atheist, such as
Samuel Beckett and Sartre, and the fact is that most scientific discoveries are now made without
reference to any kind of religious influence at all. Even in the field of charitable work, there are
now many groups, such as the International Red Cross Society and Oxfam, that are not linked to
any religion.

Comments:

This deals with the 2 most common arguments advanced in favour of religion, and shows that
while they are valid, they are limited in scope and may not be true in the modern context. The
first opposing view is refuted by logical analysis, while the second view is refuted using a range
of examples that prove it to be untrue. Both rebuttals offer the reader viable alternatives to
religion.
Note the use of:
1) ‘It is of course true’, ‘one of the most major arguments in favour of…’, ‘It is also argued’
and ‘Examples cited often include…’ to indicate the introduction of the opposing view.
(NB: The tone of ‘It is of course true’ may sound slightly dismissive or condescending.
Take care if using it.)
2) ‘This may be true, but it neglects the idea that…’, ‘It also implies that…’, and ‘While all
this is undeniable, it must be noted that’ to introduce the rebuttal.