Strayer University Vegetarianism Controversial Issues Pros and Cons Paper
- The assignment is divided into two parts: the prewriting paper (Part 1) due this week, and the essay (Part 2) due in Week 5.OverviewWhen looking for information about a particular issue, how often do you try to resist biases toward your own point of view?This assignment asks you to engage in this aspect of critical thinking by playing the “Believing Game.” The Believing Game is about making the effort to “believe,” or at least consider, the reasons for an opposing view on an issue.InstructionsIn the Week 2 Discussion, you examined the biases discussed in Chapter 2 of the webtext and reviewed one of the topics from Pros & Cons of Controversial Issues. You may use the same topic from this discussion or find another:Select one of the topics from Pros & Cons of Controversial Issues, state your position on the issue, and identify three premises (reasons) listed under either the Pro or Con section—whichever section opposes your position.For the three premises (reasons) that oppose your position on the issue, answer these “believing” questions suggested by Elbow:What’s interesting or helpful in this view?What would I notice if I believed this view?In what sense or under what conditions might this idea be true?Read the excerpt about critical thinking processes: The Believing Game and How to Make Conflicting Opinions More Fruitful [PDF].Engage in prewriting to examine your thoughts.The paper should follow guidelines for clear and organized writing:Include an introductory paragraph and concluding paragraph.Address the main ideas in body paragraphs with a topic sentence and supporting sentences.Adhere to standard rules of English grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and spelling.This prewriting assignment has no page requirement.There is no requirement at this time to include references in the assignment.This course requires the use of Strayer Writing Standards. For assistance and information, please refer to the Strayer Writing Standards link in the left-hand menu of your course. Check with your professor for any additional instructions.The specific course learning outcome associated with this assignment:Discuss the premises related to a position on a given issue.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
From the SelectedWorks of Peter Elbow
January 1, 2006
“The Believing Game and How to Make
Conflicting Opinions More Fruitful”
Available at: https://works.bepress.com/peter_elbow/10/
The Believing Game and How to Make Conflicting Opinions More Fruitful
[A chapter in Nurturing the Peacemakers in Our Students: A Guide to Teaching Peace, Empathy, and
Understanding. Chris Weber, editor. Heinemann, 2006. The present version contains a few short
passages that had to be cut for space reasons in the published version.]
Don Quixote says he admires Sancho Panza because he doubts
everything and he believes everything.
In the chapter before this, Chris Weber suggests ways to help students speak
their minds, listen well, and engage in nonadversarial dialogue rather than debate. His
suggestions focus on outward behavior. In this essay, I will move inward to the
mysterious dimension of thinking and feeling. I’ll start by asking you to imagine that you
are looking at an inkblot (for examples, ask Google Images for “inkblots”).
Imagine that you see something in it that interests and pleases you—but your
colleagues or classmates don’t see what you see. In fact they think you are crazy or
disturbed for seeing it. What would you do if you wanted to convince them that your
interpretation makes sense?
If it were a matter of geometry, you could prove you are right (or wrong!). But
with inkblots, you don’t have logic’s leverage. Your only hope is to get them to enter
into your way of seeing—to have the experience you are having. You need to get them
to say the magic words: “Oh now I see what you see.”
This means getting them to exercise the ability to see something differently (i.e.,
seeing the same thing in multiple ways), and also the willingness to risk doing so (not
knowing where it will lead). In short, you need them to be flexible both cognitively
and emotionally. You can’t make people enter into a new way of seeing, even if they
are capable of it. Perhaps your colleagues or classmates are bothered by what you see
in the inkblot. Perhaps they think it’s aberrant or psychotic. If you want them to take
the risk, your only option is to set a good example and show that you are willing to
see it the way they see it.
From Inkblots to Arguments
Interpreting inkblots is highly subjective, but the process serves to highlight how
arguments also have a subjective dimension. Few arguments are settled by logic.
Should we invade countries that might attack us? Should we torture prisoners who
might know what we need to know? Should we drop a nuclear bomb on a country that
did attack us? And by the way, what grade is fair for this paper or this student? Should
we use grades at all?
I’m not denying the force of logic. Logic can uncover a genuine error in
someone’s argument. But logic cannot uncover an error in someone’s position. If we
could have proven that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, that wouldn’t have
proven that it was wrong to invade Iraq. “We should invade Iraq” is a claim that is
impossible to prove or disprove. We can use logic to strengthen arguments for or
against the claim, but we cannot prove or disprove it. Over and over we see illogical
arguments for good ideas and logical arguments for bad ideas. We can never prove
that an opinion or position is wrong—or right. No wonder people so seldom change
their minds when someone finds bad reasoning in their argument. (By the same
token—or at least a very similar token—it is impossible to prove or disprove the
interpretation of a text. For more on this, see my longer essays on the believing
This explains a lot about how most people deal with differences of opinion:
• Some people love to argue and disagree, and they do it for fun in a friendly way.
They enjoy the disagreement and the give-and-take and they let criticisms and even
attacks roll right off their backs. It’s good intellectual sport for them.
• Some people look like they enjoy the sport of argument. They stay friendly and
rational—they’re “cool”—because they’ve been trained well. “Don’t let your
feelings cloud your thinking.” But inside they feel hurt when others attack ideas they
care about. They hunker down into their ideas behind hidden walls.
• Some people actually get mad, raise their voices, dig in, stop listening, and even call
each other names. Perhaps they realize that language and logic have no power to
make their listeners change their minds—so they give in to shouting or anger.
• And some people—seeing that nothing can be proven with words—just give up on
argument. They retreat. “Let’s just not argue. You see it your way, I’ll see it my way.
That’s the end of it. There’s no use talking.” They sidestep arguments and take a
relativist position: any opinion is as good as any other opinion. (It’s worth pondering
why so many students fall into this attitude.)
But sometimes people actually listen to each other, come to really see the merit in
opinions they started off fighting. Through listening to someone else’s views, they do
something amazing: they actually change their thinking. Sometimes strong differences of
opinion are resolved—even heated arguments.
When this happens people demonstrate the two inkblot skills I just described: the
ability and the willingness to see something differently—or in this case to think or
understand something differently. (We often say “I see” when we “understand”
something differently). These are precious skills, cognitive and psychological. We won’t
have much luck encouraging them in other people unless we develop them in
With inkblots, the risk seems small. If we manage to see a blot the way a
classmate or colleague sees it, we don’t have to say, “Stupid me. I was wrong.” It’s “live
and let live” when we’re dealing with inkblots. With arguments, however, it feels like
win or lose. We often want people not just to understand our position; we often want
them to give up their (“wrong, stupid”) position.
I used inkblots earlier to look for the subjective dimension in most arguments
(given that logic cannot prove or destroy a position). Now inkblots can teach us
something else. They can teach us that there’s actually a “live-and-let-live” dimension in
many arguments—probably most. But we often feel arguments as win/lose situations
because we so naturally focus on how our side of an argument differs from the other
person’s side. We assume that one person has to say, “Stupid me. I was wrong.”
The believing game will help us understand ideas we disagree with, and thereby
help us see that one one needs to lose or give up their central idea. The believing game
can help us see that both sides in an argument are often right; or that both are right in
a sense; or that both positions are implicitly pointing to some larger, wiser position
that both arguers can agree on.
What is the Believing Game?
In a sense I’ve already explained it with my analogy between inkblots and
arguments. I can summarize it quickly now by contrasting it with the doubting game.
The doubting game represents the kind of thinking most widely honored and
taught. It’s the disciplined practice of trying to be as skeptical and analytic as possible
with every idea we encounter. By doubting well, we can discover hidden
contradictions, bad reasoning, or other weaknesses in ideas that look true or
attractive. We scrutinize with the tool of doubt. This is the tradition that Walter
The opposition is indispensable. A good statesman, like any other sensible
human being, always learns more from his opponents than from his fervent
supporters. For his supporters will push him to disaster unless his opponents
show him where the dangers are. So if he is wise he will often pray to be
delivered from his friends, because they will ruin him. But, though it hurts, he
ought . . . to pray never to be left without opponents; for they keep him on the
path of reason and good sense.
The widespread veneration of “critical thinking” illustrates how our intellectual
culture venerates skepticism and doubting. (“Critical thinking” is a fuzzy, fad term , but
its various meanings usually appeal to skepticism and analysis for the sake of uncovering
bad thinking. When people call a movement “critical linguistics” or “critical legal
studies,” they are saying that the old linguistics or legal studies are flawed by being
insufficiently skeptical or critical—too hospitable to something that’s wrong.)
The believing game is the mirror image of the doubting game or critical thinking.
It’s the disciplined practice of trying to be as welcoming as possible to every idea we
encounter: not just listening to views different from our own and holding back from
arguing with them, but actually trying to believe them. We can use the tool of believing
to scrutinize not for flaws but to find hidden virtues in ideas that are unfashionable or
repellent. Often we cannot see what’s good in someone else’s idea (or in our own!) till
we work at believing it. When an idea goes against current assumptions and beliefs–or seems alien, weird, dangerous—or if it’s poorly formulated—we often cannot see
any merit in it.
“Believing” is a Scary Word
Many people get nervous when I celebrate believing. They point to an asymmetry
between our sense of what “doubting” and “believing” mean. Believing seems to entail
commitment, where doubting does not. It commonly feels as though we can doubt
something without committing ourselves to rejecting it—but that we cannot believe
something without committing ourselves to accepting it and even living by it. Thus it
feels as though we can doubt and remain unscathed, but believing will scathe us.
Indeed believing can feel hopelessly bound up with religion. (“Do you BELIEVE? Yes,
Lord, I BELIEVE!”)
This contrast in meanings is a fairly valid picture of natural ,individual acts of
doubting and believing. (Though I wonder if doubting leaves us fully unchanged.) But it’s
not a picture of doubting and believing as methodological disciplines or unnatural
games. Let me explain the distinction.
Natural individual acts of doubting happen when someone tells us something that
seems dubious or hard to believe. (“You say the earth is spinning? I doubt it. I feel it
steady under my feet.”) But our culture has learned to go way beyond natural
individual acts of doubting. We humans had to struggle for a long time to learn how to
doubt unnaturally as a methodological discipline. We now know that for good thinking,
we must doubt everything, not just what’s dubious; indeed the whole point of critical
thinking is to try to doubt what we find most obvious or true or right (as Lippman
In order to develop systematic doubting, we had to overcome believing: the
natural pull to believe what’s easy to believe, what we want to believe, or what
powerful people tell us to believe. (It’s easy to believe that the earth is stationary.) As a
culture, we learned systematic doubting through the growth of philosophical thinking
(Greek thinkers developing logic, Renaissance thinkers developing science, and
Enlightenment thinkers pulling away from established religion). And we each had to
learn to be skeptical as individuals, too—for example learning not to believe that if we
are very very good, Santa Claus/God will bring us everything we want. As children, we
begin to notice that naïve belief leads us astray. As adults we begin to notice the
dreadful things that belief leads humans to do—like torturing alleged witches/prisoners
till they “confess.”
Now that we’ve finally learned systematic doubting with its tools of logic and
strict reasoning and its attitude of systematic skepticism—critical thinking—we are
likely to end up afraid of believing itself. We had to learn to distrust natural believing
(“My parents/country/God will take care of me whenever I am in need.”). So believing
can seem a scary word because our culture has not yet learned to go beyond natural
acts of naïve believing to develop unnatural believing as a methodological discipline. In
short, the believing game is not much honored or even known (though it’s not new).
The methodology of the doubting game gives us a model for the methodology of
the believing game. When the doubting game asks us to doubt an idea, it doesn’t ask
us to throw it away forever. We couldn’t do that because the game teaches us to
doubt all ideas, and we’ll learn to find weaknesses even in good ideas. We can’t throw
all ideas away. The scrutiny of doubt is methodological, provisional, conditional. So
when a good doubter finally decides what to believe or do, this involves an additional
act of judgment and commitment. The doubting game gives good evidence, but it
doesn’t do our judging and committing for us.
Similarly, when the believing game asks us to believe all ideas—especially those
that seem most wrong—it cannot ask us to marry them or commit ourselves to them.
Our believing is also methodological, conditional, provisional—unnatural. (It’s hard to
try to believe conflicting ideas all at once, but we can try to enter into them one after
another.) And so too, if we commit ourselves to accepting an idea because the
believing game helped us see virtues in it, this involves an additional act of judgment
and commitment. The believing game gives us good evidence, but it doesn’t do our
deciding for us.
In short, we must indeed continue to resist the pull to believe what’s easy to
believe. But believing what’s easy to believe is far different from using the disciplined
effort to believe as an intellectual methodological tool in order to find hidden strengths
in ideas that people want to ignore.
A Surprising Blind Spot for the Doubting Game
The doubting and believing games have symmetrical weaknesses: the doubting
game is poor at helping us find hidden virtues; the believing game is poor at helping us
find hidden flaws. But many people don’t realize that the doubting game is also poor at
reaching one of its main goals: helping us find hidden flaws in our own thinking.
The flaws in our own thinking usually come from our assumptions—our ways of
thinking that we accept without noticing. But it’s hard to doubt what we can’t see
because we unconsciously take it for granted. The believing game comes to the rescue
here. Our best hope for finding invisible flaws in what we can’t see in our own thinking
is to enter into different ideas or points of view—ideas that carry different
assumptions. Only after we’ve managed to inhabit a different way of thinking will our
currently invisible assumptions become visible to us.
This blind spot in the doubting game shows up frequently in classrooms and other
meetings. When smart people are trained only in critical thinking, they get better and
better at doubting and criticizing other people’s ideas. They use this skill particularly
well when they feel a threat to their own ideas or their unexamined assumptions. Yet
they feel justified in fending-off what they disagree with because they feel that this
doubting activity is “critical thinking.” They take refuge in the feeling that they would
be “unintellectual” if they said to an opponent what in fact they ought to say: “Wow,
your idea sounds really wrong to me. It must be alien to how I think. Let me try to
enter into it and see if there’s something important that I’m missing. Let me see if I
can get a better perspective on my own thinking.” In short, if we want to be good at
finding flaws in our own thinking (a goal that doubters constantly trumpet), we need
the believing game.
The Believing Game is Not Actually New
If we look closely at the behavior of genuinely smart and productive people, we
will see that many of them have exactly this skill of entering into views that conflict
with their own. John Stuart Mill is a philosopher associated with the doubting game,
but he also advises good thinkers to engage in the central act of the believing game:
[People who] have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those
who think differently from them . . . do not, in any proper sense of the word,
know the doctrine which they themselves profess. (129)
Yet this skill of sophisticated unnatural belief is not much understood or celebrated in
our culture—and almost never taught.
Imagine, for example, a seminar or a meeting where lots of ideas come up. One
person is quick to point out flaws in each idea as it is presented. A second person
mostly listens and gets intrigued with each idea–and tends to make comments like
these: “Oh I see” and “That’s interesting” and “Tell me more about such and such”
and “As I go with your thinking, I begin to see some things I never noticed before.”
This second person may be appreciated as a good listener, but the first person will
tend to be considered smarter and a better thinker because of that quick skill at finding
I used to feel that I was unintelligent because when one person gave an argument
I would feel, “Oh that’s a good idea,” but then when the other person argued the
other way, I found myself feeling, “Oh that sounds good, too.” I wondered what was
the matter with my loose, sloppy mind to let me agree with people and ideas that are
completely at odds with each other. The “smart people” tended to argue cleverly and
find flaws that I didn’t notice. But now I’m finally insisting that my instinctive ability to
play the believing game is not just “niceness” or sloppy thinking; it’s a crucial
intellectual strength rather than a weakness—a discipline that needs to be taught and
Let me emphasize that I’m not arguing against the doubting game. We need the
ability to be skeptical and find flaws. Indeed, the doubting game probably deserves the
last word in any valid process of trying to work out trustworthy thinking. For even
though the scrutiny of belief may lead us to choose a good idea that most people at
first wanted to throw away, nevertheless, we mustn’t commit ourselves to that idea
before applying the scrutiny of doubt to check for hidden problems.
My only argument is against the monopoly of the doubting game as the only kind
of good thinking. We need both disciplines. Some of our most needed insights come
from opinions that are easy to criticize or dismiss. But those insights are only available
if people work at entering into such opinions in search of unnoticed virtues.
Concrete Ways to Learn to Play the Believing Game
As teachers and students we are in a good position to learn the ability to see
things differently from how we usually see them, and the willingness to risk doing it. If
we want to learn those skills, it helps to notice the inner stances —the cognitive and
psychological dispositions—we need for doubting and believing:
• If we want to doubt or find flaws in ideas that we are tempted to accept or believe
(perhaps they are ideas that “everyone knows are true”), we need to work at
extricating or distancing ourselves from those ideas. There’s a kind of language that
helps here: clear, impersonal sentences that lay bare the logic or lack of logic in
• If, on the other hand, we want to believe ideas that we are tempted to reject
(“Anyone can see that’s a crazy idea”)—if we are trying to enter in or experience
or dwell in those ideas—we benefit from the language of imagination, narrative, and
the personal experience.
Here are some specific practices to help us experience things from someone
else’s point of view.
1. If people are stuck in a disagreement, we can invoke Carl Rogers’ application of
“active listening.” John must not try to argue his point till he has restated Mary’s point
to her satisfaction.
2. But what if John has trouble seeing things from Mary’s point of view? His lame
efforts to restate her view show that “he doesn’t get it.” He probably needs to stop
talking and listen; keep his mouth shut. Thus, in a discussion where someone is trying
to advance a view and everyone fights it, there is a simple rule of thumb: the doubters
need to stop talking and simply give extended floor time to the minority view. The
following three concrete activities give enormous help here:
• The three-minute or five-minute rule. Any participant who feels he or she is not
being heard can make a sign and invoke the rule: no one else can talk for three or
five minutes. This voice speaks, we listen; we cannot reply.
• Allies only—no objections. Others can speak—but only those who are having more
success believing or entering into or assenting to the minority view. No objections
allowed. (Most people are familiar with this “no-objections” rule from
• “Testimony session.” Participants having a hard time being heard or understood are
invited to tell stories of the experiences that led them to their point of view and to
describe what it’s like having or living with this view. Not only must the rest of us
not answer or argue or disagree while they are speaking; we must refrain, even
afterwards, from questioning their stories or experiences or feelings. We may speak
only to their ideas. (This process is particularly useful when issues of race, gender,
and sexual orientation are being discussed.)
The goal here is safety. Most speakers feel unsafe if they sense we are just waiting
to jump in with all our objections. But we listeners need safety, too. We are trying to
enter into a view we want to quarrel with or feel threatened by. We’re trying to learn
the difficult skill of in-dwelling. It’s safer for us if we have permission simply not to talk
about it any more for a while. We need time for the words we resist just to sink in for
a while with no comment.
3. The language of story and poetry helps us experience alien ideas. Stories, metaphors,
and images can often find a path around our resistance. When it’s hard to enter into a
new point of view, try telling a story of someone who believes it; imagine and describe
someone who sees things this way; tell the story of events that might have led people
to have this view of the world; what would it be like to be someone who sees things
this way? Write a story or poem about the world that this view implies.
4. Step out of language. Language itself can sometimes get in the way of trying to
experience or enter into a point of view different from our own. There are various
productive ways to set language aside. We can draw or sketch images (rough stick
figures are fine). What do you actually see when you take this position? It’s also
powerful to use movement, gesture, dance, sounds, and role-playing.
5. Silence. For centuries, people have made good use of silence for in-dwelling. If
we’re having trouble trying to believe someone’s idea, sometimes it’s helpful for no
one to say anything for a couple of minutes. That’s not much time out of a meeting or
conference or class hour, but it can be surprisingly fertile.
6. Private writing. There’s a kind of silence involved when everyone engages in private
writing. Stop talking and do 7-10 minutes of writing for no one else’s eyes. What’s
crucial is the invitation to language in conditions of privacy and safety.
7. Use the physical voice. When it’s hard to enter into a piece of writing that feels
difficult or distant, for example something written by someone very different from us–or an intricate work like a Shakespeare sonnet—it helps to try to read it aloud as well
and meaningfully as possible. (When I’m teaching a longer text, I choose crux passages
of a few paragraphs or a page.) The goal is not good acting; the goal is simply to say the
words so that we feel every meaning in them—so that we fully mean every meaning.
Get the words to “sound right” or to carry the meanings across—for example, to
listeners who don’t have a text. After we have three or four different readings of the
same passage, we can discuss which ones manage to “sound right”—and usually these
readings help us enter in or assent. (It’s not fair to put students on the spot by asking
them to read with no preparation time. I ask students to prepare these reading at
home or practice them briefly in class in pairs.)
This activity illustrates something interesting about language. It’s impossible simply
to say words so they “sound right” without dwelling in them and thus feeling their
meaning. So instead of asking students to “study carefully” this Shakespeare sonnet, I
say, “Practice reading it aloud till you can say every word with meaning.” This involves
giving a kind of bodily assent.
8. Nonadversarial argument. Finally, the classroom is an ideal place to practice
nonadversarial forms of argument. Our traditional model of argument is a zero-sum
game: “If I’m right, you must be wrong.” Essays and dissertations traditionally start off
by trying to demolish the views of opponents. “Unless I criticize every other idea,” the
assumption goes, “I won’t have a clear space for my idea.” But this approach is usually
counterproductive–except with readers who already agree with you and don’t need to
be persuaded. This traditional argument structure says to readers: “You cannot agree
with my ideas—or even hear them—until after you admit that you’ve been wrong or
The structure of nonadversarial argument is simple, but it takes practice and
discipline: argue only for your position, not against other positions. This is easy for me
here since I have no criticisms at all of the doubting game or critical thinking in itself.
It’s much harder if I really hate the idea I’m fighting. It’s particularly hard if my essential
argument is negative: “Don’t invade Iraq.” So yes, there are some situations in which
we cannot avoid arguing why an idea is wrong. Yet even in my position on Iraq, there
is, in fact, some space for nonadversarial argument. I can talk about the advantages of
not invading Iraq—and not try to refute for invasion. In this way, I would increase the
chances of my opponent actually hearing my arguments.
The general principle is this: If all I have to offer are negative reasons why the
other person’s idea is bad, I’ll probably make less progress than if I can give some
positive reasons for my alternative idea—and even acknowledge why the other person
might favor her idea. (For more on nonadversarial argument, see my “Introduction”
I can end by glancing back at the inkblots. Arguments that look conflicting might
both be somehow valid or right. They might need to be articulated better or seen
from a larger view—a view the disputants haven’t yet figured out. I may be convinced
that someone else’s idea is dead wrong, but if I’m willing to play the believing game
with it, I will not only set a good example, I may even be able to see how we are both
on the right track. Nonadversarial argument and the believing game help us work out
larger frames of reference and better ideas.
Elbow, Peter. “Appendix Essay. The Doubting Game and the Believing Game: An
Analysis of the Intellectual Process.” In Writing Without Teachers. Oxford
University Press, 1973. 147-91.
—. “Bringing the Rhetoric of Assent and The Believing Game Together–and into the
Classroom.” College English 67.4 (March 2005): 388-99.
—. Introduction. Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and
Teaching Writing. NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.
—. “Methodological Doubting and Believing: Contraries in Inquiry.” In Embracing
Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching. Oxford University Press, 1986.
Graff, Gerald. Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind. New
Haven: Yale UP, 2003.
Lippman, Walter. “The Indispensable Opposition.” Atlantic Monthly (August 1939). It’s
notable that this essay is canonized in many editions of The Norton Reader (e.g., in
the 6th edition, pages 850-55).
Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. London, Dent, 1951.
Rogers, Carl. “Communication: Its Blocking and Its Facilitation.” On Becoming a Person.
NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.
Tannen, Deborah. The Argument Culture: Moving From Debate to Dialogue. Random