How do you write a philosophy paper?
How do you write a philosophy paper?
First writing assignment: due Monday, Feb 5 [earlier typo fixed] in class and submitted via the system here: http://insite.turnitin2.thomson.com/
You need to BUY a card with account from the bookstore: this will give you your PIN to make an account and these are the class #'s:
12 - 12:50: 1762563
1 - 1:50: 1762573
No late papers will be accepted; you need to get the PIN card and do the paper before the due date. No excuses.
The assignment is this:
A friend knows that you are in a philosophy course. This friend asks you to come to her group to give a little presentation on what philosophy essays are like and how to effectively write them. Your job is to carefully read the readings below on how to write philosophy and then effectively summarize them for this person. Write up the text that you could read -- or pass out -- to this audience so that they can learn from you. Write so you teach them how to write a philosophical essay: pass on what you learn from Pryor, Weston and the other sources below! This assignment requires you to summarize advice from a number of different sources and explain this advice to other people in your own words.
There are a number of writings on how to write a philosophy paper that you need to read. Please read:
1. An online article by Jim Pryor called "Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper":
2. Some chapters on writing from A Rulebook for Arguments:
VII. Composing an Argumentative Essay3. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, the section III. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION:
A. Exploring the Issue
VIII. Composing an Argumentative Essay
B. Main Points of the Essay
IX. Composing an Argumentative Essay
I. Composing a Short Argument: Some General Rules
4. Some tips from me:
- The most common comments I write on papers are these: (1) What do you mean? and (2) Why think that? The first is in response to unclear claims: write clearly. The second is in response to claims that need defense: give reasons.
- Write in short sentences: if any longer sentence can be broken into two or more sentences, do it because it's easier to read then.
- Each paragraph should deal with one, and only one, topic. You should be able to say, "This paragraph is about this: _____."
- Omit all needless words and needless discussion. Your reader's time is valuable so don't waste it.
- Make sure everything is clear. Use simple words: no need for anything nebulous.
- Your papers should have a short introduction, culminating in a thesis, a main point, the point that your paper is supposed to defend. The most direct way of presenting this sort of thesis is this: "I will argue that _(short sentence here: 'all abortions are wrong', 'Dr. Doopy's argument against euthenasia is unsound,' etc.___."
- Your introductory paragraph, or a paragraph immediately after it, should give the reader an overview of what you will be doing in the paper. It should briefly explain the overall structure (e.g., "First I will ___ and then I will ____. Finally I will ______.")
- Omit anything totally obvious and uninformative (e.g., "This issue has been debated for hundreds of years."). Everyone already knows this, so don't waste time telling us what we already know.
- Don't write, "Well, _____." No "well's".
- Don't say, "'Mr. Bubbles feels that this is wrong." Say, he believes, or thinks, or (if he does) argues. His views are probably not his "feelings" or his emotional reactions.
- Also, no ' . . . ' unless you are shortening a quote. No "trailing off" in hopes that the reader will think what you are hoping they will think.
- Don't ask rhetorical questions. Make statements, don't ask questions. Your reader might answer your questions for you in ways you'd like. But if you do ask questions, make sure there is a question mark.
- It's OK to use "I". People use "I" to communicate clearly, so use it.
- "Arguments" are not people's conclusions. They are the conclusions and the reasons they give in favor of those conclusions.
- If I ask you to raise objections to a theory, argument, claim, or whatever, it's fine to raise objections that are discussed in our readings. What's not good, however, is to raise an objection that is discussed in the readings but the author responds to the objection and shows that it's not a good objection. If you raise this same objection, but do not discuss the author's response (and respond to that response), this suggests that you didn't do the reading very closely.
- If an author states a conclusion (or a main point) and gives reasons for it, then that author has given an argument. If an author has given an argument, do not say that the author has not given an argument: you might not have found the argument (yet), but the argument is still there! Keep looking!
- Keep focused and don't argue for more than you can give reasons for.
- You have succeeded in writing a paper if you can give that paper to a smart and critical someone who is not familiar with your topic and this person will understand the views and arguments you are discussing, as well as whatever criticisms you raise. You can do an empirical test to determine whether you are writing well, and it's basically just to see if others understand your writing! If not, you need to keep working at it.
- Finally, good writing, like many things, takes a lot of time. If you don't take the time to work at it, you probably won't do very well and you probably won't improve. I recommend writing something about double the length needed and then editing down and re-organizing and re-writing to remove the needless words, irrelevant distractions, and -- most importantly -- improve your statement of whatever argument you are trying to develop.
8 = good
7 = fair
6 = poor
5 or below = very poor
They will be graded on clarity, organization, thoroughness, grammar and spelling, and, most generally, whether your reader would get a good sense for what philosophical / argumentative essays are like and how to write them.
Although citations -- i.e., direct quotations -- are not needed for this paper, if you use them you should use an official citation method. Guidance on how to do so is found here, among other places: