A Tip for Students

The laziest way to attack an argument is to claim that the argument missed this or that nuance or that the argument generalizes too broadly.

It’s lazy because there is *always* some additional nuance that an author has to exclude in his argument/essay/book since any such work is ultimately finite. Similarly, all arguments generalize, again, because in a finite essay, you have to gloss over details that do not matter to the validity of the argument at hand. In fact, in some work, the act of generalization is a crucial piece of the argument itself, basically telling readers: “A, B, C, and D may look like disparate issues, but they are really just instances of one general underlying issue, etc.”

Obviously, if an argument really does get all its traction by ignoring key nuances or it really does generalize in a careless way that matters to the logical validity of the argument, then that should be pointed out. BUT just making hand-waving remarks about lack of nuance is simply a lazy rhetorical tactic used by people who want to sound like they know what they’re talking about without having to wrestle with the meat of the arguments they’re dismissing.

From my experience as well as the experience of some of my close friends studying and teaching at universities, academics are notorious for this kind of shallow critique. It is used so much that I think it is more of a way to maintain social hierarchies. We have this impression that academia is all about merit, i.e., whomever has the best ideas and the most well-researched positions is going to rise to the top. But, in reality, academia is highly stratified and political. If you step out of line by writing something above your level or worse, writing something that contradicts the position of a superior, it doesn’t matter how strong of an argument you make or how much research you have done. No one is going to outright say, “Know your role, plebe!” The ax is going to fall in the form of cheap “lack of nuance” dismissals.