Discuss the issues with others As I said above, your papers are supposed to demonstrate that you understand and can think critically about the material we discuss in class. One of the best ways to check how well you understand that material is to try to explain it to someone who isn't already familiar with it. I've discovered time and again while teaching philosophy that I couldn't really explain properly some article or argument I thought I understood.
This was because it was really more problematic or complicated than I had realized. You will have this same experience. So it's good to discuss the issues we raise in class with each other, and with friends who aren't taking the class. This will help you understand the issues better, and it will make you recognize what things you still don't fully understand. It's even more valuable to talk to each other about what you want to argue in your paper. When you have your ideas worked out well enough that you can explain them to someone else, verbally, then you're ready to sit down and start making an outline.
Make an outline Before you begin writing any drafts, you need to think about the questions: In what order should you explain the various terms and positions you'll be discussing? At what point should you present your opponent's position or argument? In what order should you offer your criticisms of your opponent? Do any of the points you're making presuppose that you've already discussed some other point, first?
The overall clarity of your paper will greatly depend on its structure. That is why it is important to think about these questions before you begin to write. I strongly recommend that you make an outline of your paper, and of the arguments you'll be presenting, before you begin to write.
This lets you organize the points you want to make in your paper and get a sense for how they are going to fit together. It also helps ensure that you're in a position to say what your main argument or criticism is, before you sit down to write a full draft of your paper. When students get stuck writing, it's often because they haven't yet figured out what they're trying to say. Give your outline your full attention. It should be fairly detailed. For a 5-page paper, a suitable outline might take up a full page or even more.
If you have a good outline, the rest of the writing process will go much more smoothly. Start Work Early Philosophical problems and philosophical writing require careful and extended reflection.
Don't wait until two or three nights before the paper is due to begin. That is very stupid. Writing a good philosophy paper takes a great deal of preparation. You need to leave yourself enough time to think about the topic and write a detailed outline. Only then should you sit down to write a complete draft. Once you have a complete draft, you should set it aside for a day or two. Then you should come back to it and rewrite it.
At least 3 or 4. If you can, show it to your friends and get their reactions to it. Do they understand your main point? Are parts of your draft unclear or confusing to them? All of this takes time. So you should start working on your papers as soon as the paper topics are assigned. Write a Draft Once you've thought about your argument, and written an outline for your paper, then you're ready to sit down and compose a complete draft.
Use simple prose Don't shoot for literary elegance. Use simple, straightforward prose. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. We'll make fun of you if you use big words where simple words will do. These issues are deep and difficult enough without your having to muddy them up with pretentious or verbose language. Don't write using prose you wouldn't use in conversation: You may think that since your TA and I already know a lot about this subject, you can leave out a lot of basic explanation and write in a super-sophisticated manner, like one expert talking to another.
I guarantee you that this will make your paper incomprehensible. If your paper sounds as if it were written for a third-grade audience, then you've probably achieved the right sort of clarity.
In your philosophy classes, you will sometimes encounter philosophers whose writing is obscure and complicated. Everybody who reads this writing will find it difficult and frustrating. The authors in question are philosophically important despite their poor writing, not because of it. So do not try to emulate their writing styles. Make the structure of your paper obvious You should make the structure of your paper obvious to the reader. Your reader shouldn't have to exert any effort to figure it out.
Beat him over the head with it. How can you do this? First of all, use connective words, like: Be sure you use these words correctly! If you say " P. You had better be right. If you aren't, we'll complain. Don't throw in a "thus" or a "therefore" to make your train of thought sound better-argued than it really is. Another way you can help make the structure of your paper obvious is by telling the reader what you've done so far and what you're going to do next.
You can say things like: I will begin by Before I say what is wrong with this argument, I want to These passages suggest that I will now defend this claim Further support for this claim comes from These signposts really make a big difference. Consider the following two paper fragments: We've just seen how X says that P. I will now present two arguments that not-P. My first argument is My second argument that not-P is X might respond to my arguments in several ways.
For instance, he could say that However this response fails, because Another way that X might respond to my arguments is by claiming that This response also fails, because So we have seen that none of X's replies to my argument that not-P succeed. Hence, we should reject X's claim that P. I will argue for the view that Q. There are three reasons to believe Q. The strongest objection to Q says However, this objection does not succeed, for the following reason Isn't it easy to see what the structure of these papers is?
You want it to be just as easy in your own papers. The reader should never be in doubt about whose claims you're presenting in a given paragraph.
You can't make the structure of your paper obvious if you don't know what the structure of your paper is, or if your paper has no structure.
That's why making an outline is so important. Be concise, but explain yourself fully To write a good philosophy paper, you need to be concise but at the same time explain yourself fully. These demands might seem to pull in opposite directions. It's as if the first said "Don't talk too much," and the second said "Talk a lot.
We tell you to be concise because we don't want you to ramble on about everything you know about a given topic, trying to show how learned and intelligent you are. Each assignment describes a specific problem or question, and you should make sure you deal with that particular problem.
Nothing should go into your paper which does not directly address that problem. Prune out everything else.
It is always better to concentrate on one or two points and develop them in depth than to try to cram in too much. One or two well-mapped paths are better than an impenetrable jungle. Formulate the central problem or question you wish to address at the beginning of your paper, and keep it in mind at all times. Make it clear what the problem is, and why it is a problem. Be sure that everything you write is relevant to that central problem.
In addition, be sure to say in the paper how it is relevant. Don't make your reader guess. One thing I mean by "explain yourself fully" is that, when you have a good point, you shouldn't just toss it off in one sentence.
Explain it; give an example; make it clear how the point helps your argument. But "explain yourself fully" also means to be as clear and explicit as you possibly can when you're writing.
It's no good to protest, after we've graded your paper, "I know I said this, but what I meant was Part of what you're being graded on is how well you can do that. Pretend that your reader has not read the material you're discussing, and has not given the topic much thought in advance. This will of course not be true. But if you write as if it were true, it will force you to explain any technical terms, to illustrate strange or obscure distinctions, and to be as explicit as possible when you summarize what some other philosopher said.
In fact, you can profitably take this one step further and pretend that your reader is lazy, stupid, and mean. He's lazy in that he doesn't want to figure out what your convoluted sentences are supposed to mean, and he doesn't want to figure out what your argument is, if it's not already obvious. He's stupid, so you have to explain everything you say to him in simple, bite-sized pieces. And he's mean, so he's not going to read your paper charitably.
For example, if something you say admits of more than one interpretation, he's going to assume you meant the less plausible thing. If you understand the material you're writing about, and if you aim your paper at such a reader, you'll probably get an A.
Use plenty of examples and definitions It is very important to use examples in a philosophy paper. Many of the claims philosophers make are very abstract and hard to understand, and examples are the best way to make those claims clearer. Examples are also useful for explaining the notions that play a central role in your argument. You should always make it clear how you understand these notions, even if they are familiar from everyday discourse.
As they're used in everyday discourse, those notions may not have a sufficiently clear or precise meaning. For instance, suppose you're writing a paper about abortion, and you want to assert the claim " A fetus is a person. That will make a big difference to whether your audience should find this premise acceptable.
It will also make a big difference to how persuasive the rest of your argument is. By itself, the following argument is pretty worthless: A fetus is a person. It's wrong to kill a person. Therefore, it's wrong to kill a fetus. For we don't know what the author means by calling a fetus "a person. In a philosophy paper, it's okay to use words in ways that are somewhat different from the ways they're ordinarily used. You just have to make it clear that you're doing this. For instance, some philosophers use the word "person" to mean any being which is capable of rational thought and self-awareness.
Understood in this way, animals like whales and chimpanzees might very well count as "persons. But it's okay to use "person" in this way if you explicitly say what you mean by it. And likewise for other words. Don't vary your vocabulary just for the sake of variety If you call something "X" at the start of your paper, call it "X" all the way through. So, for instance, don't start talking about "Plato's view of the self, " and then switch to talking about "Plato's view of the soul, " and then switch to talking about "Plato's view of the mind.
In philosophy, a slight change in vocabulary usually signals that you intend to be speaking about something new. Using words with precise philosophical meanings Philosophers give many ordinary-sounding words precise technical meanings. Consult the handouts on Philosophical Terms and Methods to make sure you're using these words correctly.
Don't use words that you don't fully understand. Use technical philosophical terms only where you need them. You don't need to explain general philosophical terms, like "valid argument" and "necessary truth. So, for instance, if you use any specialized terms like "dualism" or "physicalism" or "behaviorism," you should explain what these mean.
Likewise if you use technical terms like "supervenience" and the like. Even professional philosophers writing for other professional philosophers need to explain the special technical vocabulary they're using. Different people sometimes use this special vocabulary in different ways, so it's important to make sure that you and your readers are all giving these words the same meaning. Pretend that your readers have never heard them before.
Presenting and assessing the views of others If you plan to discuss the views of Philosopher X, begin by figuring out what his arguments or central assumptions are. Are X's arguments good ones? Are his assumptions clearly stated? Are they reasonable starting-points for X's argument, or ought he have provided some independent argument for them?
Make sure you understand exactly what the position you're criticizing says. Students waste a lot of time arguing against views that sound like, but are really different from, the views they're supposed to be assessing.
Remember, philosophy demands a high level of precision. It's not good enough for you merely to get the general idea of somebody else's position or argument. You have to get it exactly right. In this respect, philosophy is more like a science than the other humanities. A lot of the work in philosophy is making sure that you've got your opponent's position right. You can assume that your reader is stupid see above.
But don't treat the philosopher or the views you're discussing as stupid. If they were stupid, we wouldn't be looking at them. If you can't see anything the view has going for it, maybe that's because you don't have much experience thinking and arguing about the view, and so you haven't yet fully understood why the view's proponents are attracted to it.
Try harder to figure out what's motivating them. Philosophers sometimes do say outrageous things, but if the view you're attributing to a philosopher seems to be obviously crazy, then you should think hard about whether he really does say what you think he says. Try to figure out what reasonable position the philosopher could have had in mind, and direct your arguments against that.
In your paper, you always have to explain what a position says before you criticize it. If you don't explain what you take Philosopher X's view to be, your reader cannot judge whether the criticism you offer of X is a good criticism, or whether it is simply based on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of X's views.
So tell the reader what it is you think X is saying. Don't try to tell the reader everything you know about X's views, though. You have to go on to offer your own philosophical contribution, too. Only summarize those parts of X's views that are directly relevant to what you're going to go on to do.
Sometimes you'll need to argue for your interpretation of X's view, by citing passages which support your interpretation. It is permissible for you to discuss a view you think a philosopher might have held, or should have held, though you can't find any direct evidence of that view in the text. When you do this, though, you should explicitly say so. Philosopher X doesn't explicitly say that P, but it seems to me that he's assuming it anyway, because Quotations When a passage from a text is particularly useful in supporting your interpretation of some philosopher's views, it may be helpful to quote the passage directly.
Be sure to specify where the passage can be found. However, direct quotations should be used sparingly. It is seldom necessary to quote more than a few sentences. Often it will be more appropriate to paraphrase what X says, rather than to quote him directly. When you are paraphrasing what somebody else said, be sure to say so. And here too, cite the pages you're referring to. Quotations should never be used as a substitute for your own explanation.
And when you do quote an author, you still have to explain what the quotation says in your own words. If the quoted passage contains an argument, reconstruct the argument in more explicit, straightforward terms. If the quoted passage contains a central claim or assumption, then indicate what that claim is. You may want to give some examples to illustrate the author's point.
If necessary, you may want to distinguish the author's claim from other claims with which it might be confused. Paraphrases Sometimes when students are trying to explain a philosopher's view, they'll do it by giving very close paraphrases of the philosopher's own words. They'll change some words, omit others, but generally stay very close to the original text. For instance, Hume begins his Treatise of Human Nature as follows: In two words, your method must be that of rational persuasion.
You will present arguments. At this point, students frequently make one or more of several common errors. Sometimes they feel that since it is clear to them that their thesis is true, it does not need much argumentation.
It is common to overestimate the strength of your own position. That is because you already accept that point of view. But how will your opponent respond? It is safest to assume that your reader is intelligent and knows a lot about your subject, but disagrees with you. Another common mistake is to think that your case will be stronger if you mention, even if briefly, virtually every argument that you have come across in support of your position. Sometimes this is called the "fortress approach.
There are several reasons for this. First, your reader is likely to find it difficult to keep track of so many different arguments, especially if these arguments approach the topic from different directions. Second, the ones that will stand out will be the very best ones and the very worst ones. It is important to show some discrimination here. Only the most compelling one or two arguments should be developed.
Including weaker ones only gives the impression that you are unable to tell the difference between the two.
Third, including many different arguments will result in spreading yourself too thinly. It is far better to cover less ground in greater depth than to range further afield in a superficial manner.
It will also help to give your paper focus. In order to produce a good philosophy paper, it is first necessary to think very carefully and clearly about your topic. Unfortunately, your reader likely your marker or instructor has no access to those thoughts except by way of what actually ends up on the page.
He or she cannot tell what you meant to say but did not, and cannot read in what you would quickly point out if you were conversing face to face. For better or for worse, your paper is all that is available. It must stand on its own.
The responsibility for ensuring the accurate communication of ideas falls on the writer's shoulders. You must say exactly what you mean and in a way that minimizes the chances of being misunderstood. It is difficult to overemphasize this point. There is no such thing as a piece of good philosophical writing that is unclear, ungrammatical, or unintelligible.
Clarity and precision are essential elements here. A poor writing style militates against both of these. There is much more that could be said about clear writing. I have not stopped to talk about grammatical and stylistic points. For help in these matters and we all need reference works in these areas I recommend a few of the many helpful books available in the campus bookstore.
Both of these books have gone through several editions. More advanced students might do well to read Philosophical Writing: An Introduction , by A. Some final words should be added about proofreading. After that, have someone else read your paper. Is this person able to understand you completely? Can he or she read your entire paper through without getting stuck on a single sentence? If not, go back and smooth it out. In general terms, do not be content simply to get your paper out of your hands.
Take pride in it. Clear writing reflects clear thinking; and that, after all, is what you are really trying to show. Summer News August 13, DR.
Dai Heide who is one of the recipients of this year's Lisa Shapiro who was awarded the first Ulrike Detmers Honorary degrees, news and appointments April 30, Congratulations to faculty, former faculty and alumni this month.
Professor Emeritus Steven Davis SFU Philosophy's collection of 'be employable, study philosophy' web content: Writing A Philosophy Paper. These are entirely unnecessary and of no interest to the informed reader. There is no need to point out that your topic is an important one, and one that has interested philosophers for hundreds of years.
Introductions should be as brief as possible. In fact, I recommend that you think of your paper as not having an introduction at all.
Go directly to your topic. Inexperienced writers rely too heavily on quotations and paraphrases. Direct quotation is best restricted to those cases where it is essential to establish another writer's exact selection of words. Even paraphrasing should be kept to a minimum. After all, it is your paper. It is your thoughts that your instructor is concerned with. Keep that in mind, especially when your essay topic requires you to critically assess someone else's views.
Do not present a number of positions in your paper and then end by saying that you are not qualified to settle the matter. In particular, do not close by saying that philosophers have been divided over this issue for as long as humans have been keeping record and you cannot be expected to resolve the dispute in a few short pages.
Your instructor knows that. But you can be expected to take a clear stand based on an evaluation of the argument s presented.
Go out on a limb. If you have argued well, it will support you. Good philosophical writing usually has an air of simple dignity about it. Your topic is no joke. No writers whose views you have been asked to read are idiots.
A Sample Philosophy Paper annotated This contains all the required information. If your prof likes to grade anonymously, make sure not to include your name. An introduction: Again, nothing fancy. Tell the reader what the paper is about. Provide a roadmap. And..a statement of your thesis. Some background: This can be hard.
PhilPapers is a comprehensive index and bibliography of philosophy maintained by the community of philosophers. We monitor all sources of research content in philosophy, including journals, books, open access archives, .
Philosophy papers usually involve both exposition and evaluation. In the expository part of the paper, your task is to explain the view or argument under consideration. Make sure that your explanation is as explicit as possible. In a philosophy paper, it's okay to use words in ways that are somewhat different from the ways they're ordinarily used. You just have to make it clear that you're doing this. For instance, some philosophers use the word "person" to mean any being which is capable of rational thought and self-awareness.
- Philosophy Paper #1: Personal Identity What is personal identity. This question has been asked and debated by philosophers for centuries. The problem of personal identity is determining what conditions and qualities are necessary and sufficient for a person to exist as the same being at one time as another. Structuring a Philosophy Paper Philosophy assignments generally ask you to consider some thesis or argument, often a thesis or argument that has been presented by another philosopher (a thesis is argument, you may be asked to do one or more of the following: explain it, offer an argument in support of.