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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 For example 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. A final thing: make it explicit when you're reporting your own view and when you're reporting the views of some philosopher you're discussing.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thomas Aquinas: Basic Philosophical Writing - Broadview Press

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.

How to write a good philosophy paper in this course.

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. Then ask yourself: Are X's arguments good ones?


Are his assumptions clearly stated? Are they plausible? 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.

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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. Use your imagination. 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. Say something like: 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. It is crucial that your opposition "have its day in court.

This defense might take the following form, "In response to my criticism of X's views on a. You might say, for example, "My critics will disagree with the argument I have just made. They will suggest that. You will be able to locate views of this imaginary opposition in notes from class discussion since it will always be our project in class to construct both "pro" and "con" views of an issue.

Thomas Aquinas: Basic Philosophical Writing

In this section, you construct a response to III in such a manner as to convince your reader of your own views represented in II. You may offer supplementary information that you initially withheld from your reader in II. Note: Some writers like to present "pro" and "con" sections as complete units. Other writers like to alternate sections.

They will present one "pro" point a single paragraph or a few pages and then they will present their opponent's response to that point. Then, they will present another point, which will be followed by their opponent's response to this point. Either approach is acceptable. This is your opportunity to lead the reader beyond the limits of your present paper. Ideally, your essay will keep your reader awake all night pondering what you have said!

The conclusion also provides an opportunity to raise questions for further reflection in future papers. 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. The evaluation part of the paper is your chance to do some philosophy of your own. You should engage with her reasoning.

Some questions you might consider: does her argument succeed in getting to the desired conclusion? Which premises are the weakest points of the argument? What objections might be raised to these premises? Are there any ways that her argument could be bolstered to defend against such objections? As you write, think about your intended audience. Instead, imagine your audience as someone who is intelligent and interested in the subject but has not studied it. Think of yourself, before taking this class, or perhaps of your roommate.

In general, a thesaurus is not the friend of a philosophy student. Do not be afraid to re-use the same terms over and over, especially when they are key terms in an argument. If you mean to talk about the same concept throughout, use the same term throughout. As a rule, you should not use quotes. A series of quotes strung together, even creatively strung together, is not a paper.

The main reason to quote a passage is to make it more convenient for you to talk about what the passage says and to make it more convenient for your reader as well. Thus, you should not rely on a quotation to answer a key part of the question. Answer in your own words instead.

You should, however, include textual references. Whenever you make a claim about what is said in the text, it is appropriate to provide a specific reference to back up your claim. For short papers using class texts, footnotes are not necessary; it is sufficient to make parenthetical references, such as Meno 77b. Write until you have said what you need to say, not until you hit the page limit.