Providing multiple arguments for a premise?




In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, a reader queries:

Let’s say I’m writing a paper where I defend a claim P. P is not the main thesis of the paper but a premise in the main argument. I often find myself giving two or three independent arguments for P, each of which I take to be sufficient. In my mind, this makes a stronger case for P. Even if you don’t find one argument compelling, you might find the other ones compelling.

But then what often happens is that referees object to *one* of these arguments for P, and the paper gets rejected. This makes me question this strategy of giving more than one argument for some claim. I wonder if others had a similar experience or have thoughts about this strategy.

Another reader submitted the following reply:

A few points. 1. I would take out any arguments that are weak, even if they support the premise. A weak argument weakens the paper even if not the argument. 2. If all the arguments are strong, you could try nipping this in the bud by being explicit: ‘For good measure I will offer three arguments for P, although I think even argument 1 is strong enough’ or something. 3. Put the strongest arguments first and last. 4. It might be that the referees reject the paper for other reasons but give you this feedback anyway. That they said what’s wrong with this argument doesn’t mean that this is why it’s being rejected.

These seem like nice suggestions, but I’m curious what others think. Having published a lot, I think that I learned one potentially helpful rule of thumb a while ago: the more you say in a paper, the more likely it is that referees will find something to object to and reject the paper–so, whenever possible, say less. I learned this rule of thumb more or less by having the kinds of experiences the OP reports here. As they note, when they give three arguments for P, it seems like there’s always a referee who has a problem with one of them. So, giving more arguments may not be helpful. Maybe the best thing to do is to give one argument, and make sure that it’s as convincing as possible.

On that note, here’s another rule of thumb that I remember someone telling me at some point: if you have a good argument, more arguments aren’t necessary. After all, a sound argument is a sound argument. So, if you have one really good one, why not just give that one and let the others go?

Finally, here’s a third rule of thumb that I’ve learned: don’t make stronger claims in a paper than you need to. For the OP: do you really need an argument for P, if P is a premise? Would it be at all possible to simply write in the paper that you’re assuming P, that P seems plausible (or should seem plausible to your interlocutors), and then tell your reader that you’re going to show that something really cool/important follows? In my experience, this can be good enough, and it obviates the need to actually defend P!

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours?

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More