Analogy As Logical Reasoning and Starting Notes for Personal Position/Op-Ed Writing

Section I: Exploring Analogy

The Classical Greek philosopher, Plato, [428/427 BC – 348/347 BC] helped to lay the philosophical foundations of Western culture and logic.  He also contributed The Allegory of the Cave to our body of western thought. It is his way of illustrating his ideas about our human understanding of reality. This explanation compares prisoners in a cave to ordinary people who can know only a "shadow" of the real world. His choice of a cave and the people held inside has been the subject of discussion for almost 2,500 years. Virtually all wisdom traditions, religions and cultures are full of analogical stories and symbolic comparisons that help people understand abstract ideas and arguments about life.

Personal "position writing" using analogy is an example of communication we use every day, in conversation, in work situations and in various kinds of semi-personal writing. Most everything we want to convey, has an aspect of personal "position," perspective or opinion. Most experts agree that we can not be purely objective, but we can be aware of our biases and be fair by presenting various facets of the topic.  As people have done for thousands of years, often we use an illustration, an example or "what if" to get an idea across. Those kinds of comparisons, especially those stemming from personal understanding have "worked," because they are experience-able by most everyone. First-hand experience, or referring to something commonly known can make the task of creating understanding much more effective--as in the short writing Likenesses.

 Stories (fiction or nonfiction...) on TV, in movies, video games, books, photos, etc. all present information within an illustrative situation or context. The more abstract kinds of reasoning, which depend on pure, almost mathematical logic, often have little to do with everyday experience. Analogy is, however, one kind of logic because it argues--claims something--adds reasons/supports and evidence to complete--and prove--the comparison.

Since literature is made of comparisons (even language is a system of symbols, comparing things to words...) the term analogy may most often be connected to that realm. However, a closer look at the word and the meaning of its parts will help to show how analogies function. A deep history of the word (from several sources) reveals that in classical Greek/Latin it comes from:  ..."L. analogia , from Gk. analogia "proportion," from ana- "upon, according to" + logos, i.e. "ratio," also "word, speech, reckoning" (dictionary.com). So proportion implies a relationship of things to one another--a connection, commonality, etc. In cultural context , The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, defines "analogy" as: "A comparison of two different things that are alike in some way."

Analogies, similes, metaphors and other language figures are often taught together in literature, as they are technically ways of comparing things. Metaphor, however, actually equates one thing to another in a kind of magical transformation of one thing (or more) becoming another--as mathematically, logically, 2+2 becomes, or equals 4).  One example, is a literary statement such as, The pond was a mirror. Analogy would draw the comparison by noting that the pond and a mirror share some qualities--the pond was similar to a mirror...the pond was like a mirror. We use analogies and similes all the time in casual speech, "like, you know...." Or something like, apples are to oranges like carrots are to potatoes. For a more comprehensive look at analogies as a measure of mind flexibility see: Millers Analogies, a "test" often required in education.

 Analogy is, in fact, a logical argument--a claim (thesis) supported by reasons and evidence, which might be information from an authority, or more often in the case of analogy, from first hand experience that proves the claim. In this kind of writing, the claim/thesis is usually less direct than in more formal argument essays, so the title is a primary clue to the thread of meaning and claim. As in other writing, everything in the essay should link to that idea/image and the various implications, shades of possibility that the title suggests.

The Logic (or syllogism) of an Analogy:

A syllogism likens or equates A to B, B to C, and thus A to C (Clear Writing). Analogies and syllogisms can make a topic more understandable. In the following sample analogy, Wetlands (A) function like water purification filters (B),  and pure water is essential (C), Therefore: Wetlands (A) are essential (C) and should be preserved.

    In virtually all professions and fields of study the conversational devices whether words or numbers, may be viewed as figures of speech: comparisons. They are all metaphors, analogies, ironies, similarities. Figures of speech are not mere frills. They help us think. Someone in the study of economics, who thinks of a market as an "invisible hand" and the organization of work as a "production function" and coefficients as being "significant," is not helping to communicate. It seems a good idea to look hard at this language. If communication is the goal of language, the pictures or other five-sense images called up by analogies are full of understandable real-world information that can truly convey essential ideas no matter the obscurity of various technical terminology.

This analogical linkage process may be like a puzzle or following clues in a mystery to discover the full meaning. Arguing by analogy can teach us lots about the value of making sure the body of information adds up to the writer's main idea, and the hazards of not stating things clearly, even by implication...like the essay Lenses shows.

Analogies are key to many other fields of study in addition to the arts and literature, including math, computers, "hard" science, social sciences, learning methodology-- just about everything we study. These links offer more examples to consider:

Explaining Computers by Analogy | Millers Analogies | Analogy play


SECTION II: Analogy Into Practice Even in an Op-Ed

The personal position/argument/op-ed essay might start with:

  1. brain-storming  (as needed) to produce a working topic or at least a place to start, a loop exploration, to expand and shape as needed.
  2. then make a working claim (or thesis) that:
    •  is only ONE correct, declarative sentence (not a question) that can stand alone,
    • does not use I or you and
    • does not use pronouns for key words or ideas.
    • if an analogous essay it should include both the focus/topic and the correlative idea or concrete comparison.
  3. add a brief definition and/or personal explanation of key term or idea

  4. These essays work best as an op-ed:  op-ed how to | sample OpEd--843wds | OpEds on Immigration e.g.> [published sample-JT ], but as usual, avoid direct address of reader (i.e. via "you" or instruction/directives of reader).

  5. OpEd writing does NOT use conventional parenthetical citation, but includes enough factual information from authoritative sources as part of the sentence. Signal phrases are crucial for crediting sources and should include: title of article of source, author and place it can be found, as part of a sentence. No credit  at the end of the sentence is needed. 

  6. Titles can be "catchy" and ironic as best fits the ideas. ENJOY this kind of writing--sound off...

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