I was very torn about sharing this article on the site. For one thing, it treads near to treacherous political grounds, which I mostly try to avoid, and for another thing, it really wasn’t all that insightful. The latter point, though, is ultimately why I decided to share it, since I think this makes for a useful example of how not to write philosophical and persuasive pieces.

Here’s the summary: “The authors set forth a new framework to revitalize the governance of economic policy based on our nation’s foundational system of natural liberty. If we choose to liberate the power of the individual, encourage the promulgation and dissemination of new ideas, and ensure the fidelity of institutions to their mission, then the United States should significantly improve its economic performance and serve as a more formidable force in the world.” You can read the full text here: Reinvigorating Economic Governance.

To me, the problem with this essay is not in the content. What it includes seems rigorous, well-reasoned, and thoughtful, and overall manages to present a cogent argument. Where I think the problem lies in this particular piece, and many similar pieces (especially in the realm of political thought) is what is not included. There are assumptions galore in a piece like this, which should either be made explicit, or should be justified and explicated.

This might be, in part, the engineer in me talking, but glossing over or ignoring assumptions fundamentally weakens an essay or argument for me. Assumptions themselves are not a negative, for they are essential to everything we do – even the most precise of engineering efforts must make certain assumptions. Defining what those assumptions are, though, and justifying them so that we can all be certain that they are valid, or at least assess to what extent they can be accepted, is an essential part of crafting a defendable argument, whether that is an argument for how to build a bridge or how to build a government. Nowhere in this essay to the authors make clear their driving assumptions or attempt to explain their justification for making those assumptions. Nor is this a result of them not making assumptions: the assumptions they make are implicit in the arguments that they make explicitly.

I share this with you, therefore, not because of its political nature, or even its philosophical background, but as an object lesson in writing – more for persuasive, nonfiction, and philosophical writings than fiction, but there are lessons to be drawn for the latter, as well – from which I hope that we can all learn. Even if you’re not looking to write your own epistemic or persuasive pieces, reading a piece like this in light of its flaws will help us to become more critical consumers of information.

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