Figuring Out the "Parties to the Case" in a Complex Situation: the Pig and the Chicken

        Writing academic analysis often requires us to study the "who" of a case as well as the "what," "where," "when," "why," and "how" of the old news reporter's investigative mantra.  Following a legal custom, I have taken to calling our English 104 case participants the "parties to the case."  You can assume anyone named in a news story (including the reporter and the paper, itself) is a party to the case.  Others who are never mentioned, but whose presence a reasonable scholar can infer, also will be parties to the case.  In fact, you should assume that any case involves far more people, and far more kinds of people, than most non-scholars would expect.  That's what happens when you think more methodically, longer, about what you study.  

        As you identify parties to the case, quickly identify, if you can, what their main interests will be and what they are likely to think about the most important aspects of the case, from their point of view.  This exercise is one of the most important acts you can undertake as a student of the liberal arts.  It practices the systematic expression of empathy for our fellow human beings, learning to see the world as they see it, and to care about what they care about.  You may not always agree with them, but having tried, you will know better why they think as they do, which will help you to persuade them if you disagree.  You also will learn more about yourself and your own grounds for belief.  That brings the analytic process full circle, to the fifth stage of epistemological understanding: how do we know what we know?

        When classifying parties to the case, try to distinguish those who are "involved" from those who are "committed."  The distinction is based on an old business joke used to illustrate two levels of risk to which various employees might be exposed in a given business venture.  In the preparation of breakfast, the chicken was said to be "involved" but the pig was "committed."  (If you were raised a vegetarian, it helps to know that a common American breakfast of the late twentieth century was eggs and bacon.) Generally speaking, of course, the greater your degree of commitment to a project in time, reputation, and skills, the higher your reward if the venture succeeds, and the greater your loss if it fails.  A paper's best readers' level of committment in the case becomes extremely important to writers' strategies of analysis and/or persuasion. 

        In the case of the article titled "Brain-absent Newborn Donated Heart," the doctors, the lawyers, the hospital administrators, and the legislators are involved parties.  Both Baby Gabrielle and Paul Holc, and to a lesser extent their parents, were committed parties.  The difference between the perspectives of the involved and the perspectives of the committed establish significant ethical evidence which your argument almost certainly will have to keep in mind, even if you do not use it explicitly.  For instance, a thesis that argued for something which was good for the lawyers but fatal for the two children would almost certainly fail to persuade even the lawyers.  A thesis that cost the lawyers something they could afford to lose/pay, and preserved the life of even one of the children, would be more likely to succeed with an audience of lawyers and parents.  Of all the empathic gestures your analysis must make before it is complete, the distinction of the committed from the involved and the weighing of the various kinds of commitment and involvement is perhaps the most important.