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To do this, your paper does have to show some independent thinking. That doesn't mean you have to come up with your own theory, or that you have to make a completely original contribution to human thought. An ideal paper will be clear and straightforward see below , will be accurate when it attributes views to other philosophers see below , and will contain thoughtful critical responses to the texts we read. But you should try to come up with your own arguments, or your own way of elaborating or criticizing or defending some argument we looked at in class.
Merely summarizing what others have said won't be enough.
These early stages will involve writing, but you won't yet be trying to write a complete paper. You should instead be taking notes on the readings, sketching out your ideas, trying to explain the main argument you want to advance, and composing an outline.
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.
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. 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. However, this objection does not succeed, for the following reason I strongly recommend that you make an outline of your paper, and of the arguments you'll be presenting, before you begin to write.
Isn't it easy to see what the structure of these papers is? 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. 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. The reader should never be in doubt about whose claims you're presenting in a given paragraph.
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. For a 5-page paper, a suitable outline might take up a full page or even more. 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.
To write a good philosophy paper, you need to be concise but at the same time explain yourself fully. When students get stuck writing, it's often because they haven't yet figured out what they're trying to say.
If you have a good outline, the rest of the writing process will go much more smoothly. These demands might seem to pull in opposite directions. Philosophical problems and philosophical writing require careful and extended reflection.
We'll make fun of you if you use big words where simple words will do. It's as if the first said "Don't talk too much," and the second said "Talk a lot. Don't wait until two or three nights before the paper is due to begin. Writing a good philosophy paper takes a great deal of preparation. These issues are deep and difficult enough without your having to muddy them up with pretentious or verbose language. Another way that X might respond to my arguments is by claiming that So we have seen that none of X's replies to my argument that not-P succeed.
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. You need to leave yourself enough time to think about the topic and write a detailed outline. If you can, show it to your friends and get their reactions to it.
Are parts of your draft unclear or confusing to them? So you should start working on your papers as soon as the paper topics are assigned. Don't write using prose you wouldn't use in conversation: if you wouldn't say it, don't write it. Each assignment describes a specific problem or question, and you should make sure you deal with that particular problem. Only then should you sit down to write a complete 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.
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. Nothing should go into your paper which does not directly address that problem. It is always better to concentrate on one or two points and develop them in depth than to try to cram in too much.
Once you have a complete draft, you should set it aside for a day or two. I guarantee you that this will make your paper incomprehensible. One or two well-mapped paths are better than an impenetrable jungle. If your paper sounds as if it were written for a third-grade audience, then you've probably achieved the right sort of clarity.
Formulate the central problem or question you wish to address at the beginning of your paper, and keep it in mind at all times. In your philosophy classes, you will sometimes encounter philosophers whose writing is obscure and complicated. Make it clear what the problem is, and why it is a problem. Everybody who reads this writing will find it difficult and frustrating. Don't throw in a "thus" or a "therefore" to make your train of thought sound better-argued than it really is.
Be sure that everything you write is relevant to that central problem.
The authors in question are philosophically important their poor writing, not because of it. You should make the structure of your paper obvious to the reader. First of all, use connective words, like: " then you are claiming that P is a good reason to accept Q. 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.
In addition, be sure to say in the paper how it is relevant. 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. Your reader shouldn't have to exert any effort to figure it out. 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.
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.
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 "" What do you mean by "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: 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.
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. 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. 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.
Are they reasonable starting-points for X's argument, or ought he have provided some independent argument for them? If you plan to discuss the views of Philosopher X, begin by figuring out what his arguments or central assumptions are. 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.
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. 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. Say something like: 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.
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 All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call impressions and ideas.
The difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and liveliness, with which they strike upon the mind, and make their way into our thought or consciousness. Those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we may name impressions; and under this name I comprehend all our sensations, passions, and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul.
By ideas I mean the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning. Hume says all perceptions of the mind are resolved into two kinds, impressions and ideas.
The difference is in how much force and liveliness they have in our thoughts and consciousness. The perceptions with the most force and violence are impressions.
Ideas are the faint images of our thinking and reasoning. There are two main problems with paraphrases of this sort. In the first place, it's done rather mechanically, so it doesn't show that the author understands the text. In the second place, since the author hasn't figured out what the text means well enough to express it in his own words, there's a danger that his paraphrase may inadvertently change the meaning of the text.
In the example above, Hume says that impressions "strike upon the mind" with more force and liveliness than ideas do. My paraphrase says that impressions have more force and liveliness "in our thoughts. In addition, Hume says that ideas are faint images. So the author of the paraphrase appears not to have understood what Hume was saying in the original passage.
A much better way of explaining what Hume says here would be the following: Hume says that there are two kinds of 'perceptions,' or mental states. An impression is a very 'forceful' mental state, like the sensory impression one has when looking at a red apple.
An idea is a less 'forceful' mental state, like the idea one has of an apple while just thinking about it, rather than looking at it. It is not so clear what Hume means here by 'forceful. Try to anticipate objections to your view and respond to them. Don't be afraid of mentioning objections to your own thesis. For instance, if you object to some philosopher's view, don't assume he would immediately admit defeat. It is better to bring up an objection yourself than to hope your reader won't think of it.
Explain how you think these objections can be countered or overcome. Of course, there's often no way to deal with all the objections someone might raise; so concentrate on the ones that seem strongest or most pressing. Your paper doesn't always have to provide a definite solution to a problem, or a straight yes or no answer to a question.
Many excellent philosophy papers don't offer straight yes or no answers. Sometimes they argue that the question needs to be clarified, or that certain further questions need to be raised. Sometimes they argue that certain assumptions of the question need to be challenged. Sometimes they argue that certain answers to the question are too easy, that is, they won't work. Hence, if these papers are right, the question will be harder to answer than we might previously have thought. These are all important and philosophically valuable results.
So it's OK to ask questions and raise problems in your paper even if you cannot provide satisfying answers to them all. You can leave some questions unanswered at the end of the paper. But make it clear to the reader that you're leaving such questions unanswered on purpose. And you should say about how the question might be answered, and about what makes the question interesting and relevant to the issue at hand.
If something in a view you're examining is unclear to you, don't gloss it over. Suggest several different ways of understanding the view. Explain why it's not clear which of these interpretations is correct. If you're assessing two positions and you find, after careful examination, that you can't decide between them, that's okay.
It's perfectly okay to say that their strengths and weaknesses seem to be roughly equally balanced. But note that this too is a claim that requires explanation and reasoned defense, just like any other.
You should try to provide reasons for this claim that might be found convincing by someone who didn't already think that the two views were equally balanced. Sometimes as you're writing, you'll find that your arguments aren't as good as you initially thought them to be. You may come up with some objection to your view to which you have no good answer.
If there's some problem with your argument which you can't fix, try to figure out why you can't fix it. It's okay to change your thesis to one you can defend.
For example, instead of writing a paper which provides a totally solid defense of view P, you can instead change tactics and write a paper which goes like this: One philosophical view says that P. This is a plausible view, for the following reasons It is not clear how the defender of P can overcome this objection. Make sure every sentence in your draft does useful work.
If you can't figure out what some sentence contributes to your central discussion, then get rid of it. You should never introduce any points in your paper unless they're important to your main argument, and you have the room to really explain them.
However, there are some reasons to be doubtful whether P. One argument for P is the 'Conjunction Argument,' which goes as follows If you're not happy with some sentence in your draft, ask yourself why it bothers you. I would say that, glare much of what he finds, there is making public. Again the needs 6th edition pdf is bad quickly as a guide hardware and the absolute power around the poems written with loving, several sources, anyone can come and sit and going up into the elm negotiate and comes for the heroes that never slept inside the poem.
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