Definition/Categorical Argument

How Can a Definition Be an Argument?

Your first Short Argument, due before class WED MAR 11, will make a definition or categorical argument essential to your Research Position Paper, which itself will be due before you know it. You’ll write three short papers in preparation for that longer assignment, each one proving something essential about your Research Argument.

This first of these, the Definition or Categorical Argument, will define a term essential to proving your thesis. Understandably, you may still be refining your thesis and gathering valuable sources, still determining the exact parameters of your argument. That is understood. It is also understood that not everything can wait until the end of the semester, and that writing and refining a research paper is shooting at a moving target. What you’ll do in your short arguments may be more or less relevant to your final argument depending on how little or how much your thesis changes between now and the end of April. What you’ll aim at in your short paper is today’s target, however shaped, wherever placed (and since it’s moving, you’ll have to aim a bit ahead of it).

You’ll need to cite two sources for this first formal argument, which you may or may not already have described in your Proposal+5. You’ll produce a References section for those named sources. Check the links you provide to be sure they lead back to a page we can all access (even if it’s the page in the databases that “launches” the actual document).

I’ve posted a Model References List for your assistance.

How Can A Definition Be An Argument?
Good question. Let’s say we’re reading an essay by a columnist who has just had to have her apartment wired for internet service for the first time, after years of casually, almost thoughtlessly, logging on to the non-password-protected networks of subscribers in neighboring apartments. She’s never thought of herself as a thief. She’s never thought much about her actions at all; as long as service was available, and free, and she could access it without paying a service provider, she did so, perhaps with gratitude, perhaps with a sense of entitlement.

Full Text of “Won’t You Be My Wireless Neighbor?”


Won’t You Be My Wireless Neighbor?


Jan 13, 2011

FOR a long time, I relied on my Brooklyn neighbors’ generosity — that is, their unsecured wireless networks — every time I connected to the Web.

So, to linksys of Park Slope, in 2005, for allowing me to do my first freelance work from home; to Netgear 1 and Netgear 2 of the same neighborhood, in 2006, for supporting my electronic application to several graduate schools; to DHoffma, from 2007 to 2008, for letting me pay my taxes online and stream new episodes of “Friday Night Lights” each evening for a whole winter; to belkin54g, Cooley and, above all, to the blessed Belkin_G-Plus_MIMO of Ditmas Park, from 2009 to 2010, for the ability to speedily reply to student e-mails, video-chat with my sister, keep abreast of the latest literary hoo-ha, “like” as many of my friends’ Facebook posts as I liked and learn all about lentil-sprouting or Prometheus whenever the mood struck: Thank you. And may you rest in peace.

A few months ago, the Belkin_G-Plus_MIMO network changed its name and gained a padlock icon in my computer’s list of available connections. Then — crickets. The era of unintentional, unasked-for or simply unacknowledged Internet sharing, it seemed, had come to an end.

Suddenly disconnected, I realized how lucky I’d been all those years, having that tremendous body of information and awesome communication technology at my fingertips, all basically free. It may have been unfair, but I don’t believe I was stealing: the owners’ leaving their networks password-free was essentially a gift, an ethereal gesture of kindness. Sometimes I’d imagine my anonymous benefactors, those people behind Netgear 1 or belkin54g, thinking, “Well, I have Internet to spare.”

And, really, who doesn’t? Home wireless networks can usually support five or more computers, yet there are only about 1.4 computers per American household.

For a few blindered weeks, I debated whether or not to finally “buy” the Internet. The whole system, though, seemed wasteful: paying a company to come wire my apartment, then paying a monthly fee so that I could maintain my own private territory within the cloud of 20 or so wireless networks that were already humming around my apartment. It would be all the more wasteful given the likelihood that, just as cellphones made landlines optional, smartphones and tablets will soon replace the need for home networks at all.

Why couldn’t I instead shell out a nominal fee — to someone, anyone — to partake of the riches that were all around me in abundance?

Paying for Internet access, after all, isn’t like paying for cable TV, where cable providers pay cable networks in turn. My establishing a new network instead of sharing with neighbors does nothing to benefit the Web sites whose content benefits me and whose value to advertisers is based on views and visits.

Nor is it like paying for phone service, where the physical object that makes and receives calls is inseparable from your unique number. My e-mail address is utterly portable: it’s not bound to an I.P. address or one computer — and, like the vast majority of the Internet’s services and information, it’s free.

Which is part of why getting online free felt so natural. During my Internet-less weeks, in desperate moments, I checked e-mail on my Kindle’s wireless connection, which is complimentary (to encourage e-book purchases). But that was a painfully slow experience akin to surfing the Web on an Etch a Sketch.

In an ideal world, the Internet would be universally available to anyone able to receive it. Promisingly, the Federal Communications Commission in September announced that it would open up unused analog airwaves for high-speed public wireless use, which could lead to gratis hotspots spreading across cities and through many rural areas.

But an Internet as freely obtainable as broadcast TV hasn’t yet arrived. And so I recently found myself watching as a technician strung a wire from a tall pole in the backyard to my third-floor apartment so I could have my own connection (wired, to ease myself into the world of paid Internet). It was a process that took nearly three hours, and meant the addition of another long cable to the fistful already circling the building.

When he finished, I had to ask: “Shouldn’t this all be wireless? Wouldn’t that be much easier?” “Too much interference,” he said. “Too many networks affect the signal.” I thought again about all the people close by with all their overlapping networks.

Perhaps the solution is a simple, old-fashioned gesture. Just knock on a neighbor’s door, and ask if she might be able to spare some wireless.

Helen Rubinstein teaches writing at Brooklyn College.

When the day came that her neighbors locked her out with passwords or moved or migrated to smart phones and unplugged themselves from their own networks, this columnist reports, she awakened from her mindlessness and faced a new reality: the internet isn’t free in the way she’d grown accustomed to thinking of it. It’s a valuable service that costs billions to the providers who expect to be paid for it. She hadn’t been merely sharing what was offered out of generosity to the world. She’d been stealing. She had to re-define what “theft” meant and what “free internet” meant. The internet is a commercial service that somebody is buying (in this case her neighbors) and sharing with others. If they’re sharing willingly, the service is a gift or an inducement. If they’re sharing unwillingly, or without knowing they’re sharing, it’s theft of service.

Define “Free Internet”
A one-sentence definition of “free internet” from the author’s new perspective is a tiny little definition essay all by itself: The internet is free to anybody whose conscience doesn’t prohibit her from stealing service from somebody who’s paying for it.

We could argue about her definition. And that’s the point. Definition is argument. Your definition essay will argue for a particular definition and establish the terms under which the rest of your proof will be conducted.

Relevance to Your Work
As you work on your own research projects, stay alert to the terms you think are perfectly understood, but which in fact require your readers’ cooperation. For further clarification, here’s an example of how short arguments must be proved before long arguments can be considered complete.

Was Nelson Mandela a Freedom Fighter or a Terrorist?
By now, history has determined that the brutal system of racial segregation known in South Africa as apartheid was an immoral policy that depersonalized the majority of the nation’s citizens. But that didn’t stop the country’s leaders from imprisoning Nelson Mandela for 26 years on charges of domestic terrorism.

The brief video, “Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter or Terrorist?” examines the Definition/Categorical question: Under what circumstances does resistance to lawful government policy qualify as resistance and under what circumstances as terror?Your categorical questions may not be as morally vexing, but they may be just as essential to making your argument persuasive. 


  • Write your first Shorter Argument paper.
  • The paper will take the form of a Definition (or Category) Argument, as described above.
  • For example, define a term such as stem cell not just biologically, but also politically, since people use the term for advance particular social agendas.
  • Or, for example, define a concept such as the perfect study to prove that violent game play causes players to act violently, since only when the perfect study is defined can the author test existing studies for compliance.
  • Define your term(s) or concept(s) thoroughly but concisely in 1,000 words. Padding with wasted words is prohibited.
  • Include References.
  • Title your post Definition—Username.
  • Publish your definition essay in the Definition Argument category.


  • Due WED MAR 11 (11:59PM TUE MAR 10)
  • Customary late penalties. (0-24 hours 10%) (24-48 hours 20%) (48+ hours, 0 grade)
  • This is Portfolio Material