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This Is Water a speech by David Foster Wallace

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In David Foster Wallace’s graduation speech, This Is Water, he uses logical and emotional appeals to discuss the importance of critical thinking. Wallace uses the term “conscious” to signal critical thinkers, while those who do not think critically are referred to as “unconscious.” Wallace’s main argument is that a person has the choice to think critically and should do so every day. Wallace’s analysis of consciousness and unconsciousness focusses too heavily on the logical and emotional appeals and ignores the possible ethical arguments that support the development of conscious societies, such as activism. In doing so, Wallace favours the self-interested members of the audience and alienates those who favour altruism, limiting the scope of his argument.

In This is Water, Wallace effectively uses logical reasoning and the parable of the religious man and the atheist man to explain how consciousness is a choice, not an unalterable state. To do this, Wallace states that in many cases, “A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.” Using logical reasoning, Wallace’s own admission reminds his audience that they are also often wrong, as, logically, humans are not perfect and make periodic mistakes. Once he establishes that people can be wrong, he returns to the parable of the two men and claims “…the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience.” This idea is familiar to his educated audience, as he claims it is one of the primary foundations of a liberal arts education. Thus, Wallace uses his audienc...


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... pedagogical arguments, such as teaching a person how to critically think, to ignore the ethics of their dogma and focus on superficial emotional appeals and easily understood logical appeals. By ignoring ethics in pedagogical arguments, the argument becomes less about teaching and more about explaining a certain viewpoint, focussing less on whether this is the right viewpoint and more on the author’s personal reasons supporting it. Second, in This is Water specifically, analysing this speech causes the writer to not only become a critical thinker like Wallace wanted, but also extend Wallace’s arguments in directions that he failed to properly explore, like activism.



Works Cited

Foster Wallace, David. "Plain old untrendy troubles and emotions.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 20 Sept. 2008. Web. 6 Feb. 2014. .


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