Thursday, November 6, 2008

Argument: The Wisdom of Proverbs

In the Progymnasmata exercise Proverb Amplification students are asked to consider carefully the meaning of a particular proverb and go through a series of development points to explain it. In a follow-up assignment, I ask Tutorial students to argue for or against a particular medical or health proverb, like "An apple a day . . ." or "Early to bed . . ." This is a popular one:

A good surgeon must have an eagle's eye, a lion's heart, and a lady's hand.

Most agree with this proverb and do a decent job explaining its wisdom. But then I throw in an additional assignment with a twist: argue the opposite.

The best students should be challenged to argue against their own points. This does not develop hypocrisy but humility, logic, and empathy. For example, a student could argue first that the proverb about the surgeon's qualities is certainly true--he needs skill, courage, and delicacy. But there is an amelioration of each of these: sometimes good sense or the use of good tools can take over and get a better result than detailed knowledge of the minute or perfect eyesight; sometimes courage can become arrogance and needs to be tempered with humility; and sometimes a decisive, radical action is needed to save a patient, rather than a slow gentleness that allows life to ebb away. So in a way one could argue that wisdom and decisiveness overcome perfect coordination and a conservative approach.

In any meaningful argument we should fully understand the other side--in part to sympathize with our opponents even if we hold our own line, and in part to strategize the best arguments for our own side.

1 comment:

MagistraCarminum said...

Great point, Cindy. Why wait until confrimation/refutation to learn this skill? I'll have to give it a try, should I ever take over my composition class again!