Illustration Counterarguments and Rebuttals – Learning to Disagree and Defend Your Case

All of us have had points of disagreement with others, and these are part and parcel of daily life. Sometimes we argue our way out and try to convince the other party to our point of view, at other times we just agree to disagree.

But what do you do when you strongly disagree with someone in a public setting and have to reason your way out?

SPH CEO Ng Yat Chung recently found himself in a spot when he took offence at a reporter’s question and shot back with the now-iconic “I take umbrage at your comment.” Little was said to explain himself and Ng subsequently found himself the subject of online memes, criticising his unbecoming behaviour. How then should he — and in fact, we —refute and defend ourselves in a calm, civil and persuasive way?

This post will cover the topics of counterarguments and rebuttals—what each of them mean; and how you can structure a rebuttal paragraph (which includes the counterargument) in your argumentative essay.

Note that a rebuttal is required only in an argumentative essay since you need to convince the reader towards your stand/point of view. (A discursive essay does not require one as its purpose is to throw up reasons for both sides of the issue without compelling the reader to take a side.)

What is a counterargument?

A counterargument(CA) is an argument from the opposing point of view. In the context of an argumentative essay, it should oppose the stand that you made in the introduction.

Let’s take this essay question for example:

The COVID-19 circuit breaker has been detrimental for families. Do you agree?

Your stand:

No, the COVID-19 circuit breaker has not been detrimental for families.

Counterargument

On the other hand, [signal CA] there are families who are unable to provide adequate support for their children’s home-based learning (HBL) needs.[opposing point] These parents could be working outside and are unable to care for their children at home, with the latter gradually becoming disengaged from the challenges of HBL. [brief explanation of why it matters/its severity]

The CA highlights a group of families who are adversely affected by the circuit breaker and explains why it is a valid point of concern. This anticipates what people on the opposing side might disagree about, giving you an opportunity to convince them that their concerns are probably unfounded. This is when you can defend your stand.

Note: When you surface a CA, you need to ensure that you are able to refute it well. Otherwise, you’d very well be shooting yourself in the foot and weaken your stand.

There are also other ways to signal your CA:

  • Some may claim that…
  • Some people believe that…
  • However, others might argue that…

What is a rebuttal?

After you have raised a point of concern, the rebuttal comes after the counterargument and disputes/refutes it.

It should show why the counterargument given is:

  • False— explain why it is invalid
  • Weak— acknowledge that the CA is true, but has its loopholes
  • A problem that can be easily solved— acknowledge that the CA is true, but there are solutions to address it

Your stand:

No, the COVID-19 circuit breaker has not been detrimental for families.

Rebuttal

Admittedly, there are families who are at a disadvantage because parents are unable to provide care and support for their children over a prolonged time indoors. [acknowledge that CA is true] However, [signal rebuttal] schools do provide support for students who may not have a conducive learning environment and resources at home. These students can use a school laptop, enjoy a quiet environment and consult a teacher on duty when in doubt.(P1) Moreover, even though parents may not be around at home, there are opportunities for children to take up household responsibilities. They can help with the chores, look after their siblings and learn to work independently. (P2) [offer solutions to address the problems] As such, a prolonged stay-in period may not be all that undesirable as arrangements can be in place to support both parents and children. [reiterate that your argument still stands]

In this rebuttal, two solutions are offered to resolve two potential problems faced by low-income families (which were raised in the CA). This is then followed by a concluding statement that the situation is not all that bleak for this group of families and that support is available and opportunities for growth can be seized amidst such challenges.

There are also other ways to signal your rebuttal:

  • There is some truth to this claim, but…
  • Perhaps, to a certain extent, it may be true that…, but…
  • While this may be true in certain cases,…
  • While we acknowledge that…, but nevertheless,…

Note that the CA and rebuttal come together in one paragraph.

We have learnt what a CA and rebuttal are, and how to structure them in a paragraph. They provide meaningful ways of engaging your “critics” (those who oppose your stand) and showing why they should buy your point of view. This brings your argumentative essay to another level where you are not only arguing for your case, but persuading people to join your camp, so to speak. Beyond taking umbrage, there is always a place for winsome argumentation. How do you think SPH CEO Ng could have responded in a more persuasive way?

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