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John Duffy’s “Virtuous Arguments”: An Academic Summary

By Garett Unger | Academic Summary

In his 2012 essay “Virtuous Arguments,” John Duffy, Associate Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, describes modern public discourse as “a form of entertainment, and a corporate product.” Duffy claims that rather than engaging in refined dialogue, modern figures, such as political pundits and politicians, are endorsing a form of rhetoric that is “toxic.” He believes, however, that there already exists an effort to reverse this reality and promote a more ethical public discussion in first-year composition courses in colleges and universities across the United States.

Duffy claims the overarching goal of first-year writing courses is to teach students how to properly compose an argument. By learning this, students are exposed to “questions of ethics, values, and virtues” (Duffy). Duffy believes, rather than merely learning remedial details of grammar and syntax, students are implementing various virtuous elements to communicate effectively. According to Duffy, when crafting claims, students exhibit “honesty”; when citing evidence to support their claims, students demonstrate “accountability”; and when addressing counter-arguments to their position, students exercise “tolerance.” Duffy claims that, through the medium of first-year writing courses, students are exposed to an array of tools that encourage them to engage in ethical public discourse.

Although many first-year writing courses tend to be viewed superficially by students and the faculty who do not teach the courses as a mandatory stepping-stone in higher education, Duffy believes those courses possess much more substance than initially perceived. Through such courses, students attain the skills needed to engage in public discourse in a manner that is both tactful and respectful. Duffy concludes his essay by envisioning a world in which students use the skills they have attained in first-year writing courses to demonstrate how engaging in civic public discourse is advantageous. In doing so, students will ensure a future in which civic public discourse is not only practiced, but valued.


Works Cited

Duffy, John. “Essay on the Value of First-Year Writing Courses.” Inside Higher Ed, 16 Mar. 2012,