I'm trying to work out the best way to approach this (3rd year undergraduate) essay titled in the form "What does it mean to argue that X?", and I'm having difficulty expressing a case for what it means to argue something as opposed to just presenting the argument itself. Is there any sense in which we can discuss the meaning of an argument independent of the contents of the argument itself?

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1 Answer 1


The question ' what does x mean?' can be interpreted in (at least) two ways. One is that it is asking for an explanation of x; the other is that it is asking for an explanation of the implications of x. For example, consider the sentence 'the fact we have run out of fuel means we will have to walk the rest of the way'. In that sentence, the word 'means' refers to the implication of the phrase preceding it. Given that, you might interpret the essay title as looking for the further implications of arguing X. For example, if you were asked to write upon the topic 'what does it mean to argue for greater funding for healthcare?' you might raise issues of affordability, priorities, the undesirable effect of redirecting budgets from other areas etc. There are other types of implication too- you might say that to argue for greater funding for healthcare implies a belief in fairness, or overlooks the possibility that reform, rather than increased investment, is needed.

So 'what does it mean to argue for X' is asking not about the literal meaning of the argument but about the associated implications of such an argument.

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