Learning Skills

Critical Thinking: Complex Arguments


Web Resources for This Assignment

For General Education 110


For General Education 111

Karl Marx, The Alienation of Labor



Complex Arguments   We have been dealing so far with fairly simple arguments, even though these arguments are often difficult and highly involved. Even the most complex argument that you've come to terms with has a simple structure: the author is making a single argument and employing subsidiary arguments to make that single argument. Complex arguments, on the other hand, make several related or parallel arguments in tandem. These arguments are hard to pin down as to a single line of development or a single, overarching thesis. Complex arguments are, you might say, subsidiary arguments that never coalesce into a single argument.
   Consider, for example, Karl Marx's discussion of the alienation of labor from the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 . While it seems that there is an overarching argument ("modern labor is alienated"), in fact Marx is making four parallel and related arguments about modern alienation. These four arguments never really coalesce into a single overarching argument and each of them deals with the issue from radically different perspectives. In order to understand this argument, then, you need to understand it as a complex argument, that is, as an argument that is proceeding along several related and sometimes intersecting paths. Think of it this way: up until now you've been trying to understand arguments as if they were a single thing, like understanding your cat while watching it closely. Complex arguments are like watching several cats at once each doing different things and sometimes doing similar things. You can only understand the cats as a group if you pay close attention to the way each individual behaves differently than the others. That's what complex arguments are like. You need to regard them as a single unit (like a society of cats) in which each subsidiary argument is independent (like individual cats) but related to the overall point of the argument.


The Assignment

For General Education 110

   

For General Education 111

   On this assignment, I want you to produce a one to two page summary of the argument in Karl Marx's, "The Alienation of Labor." Make sure that your summary distinguishes between the various parallel arguments and shows how each argument relates to other arguments. What four or five theses make up the main point of the essay? What are the central components of each thesis? How does each argument relate to one another?


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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 9-5-97