Friday, February 29, 2008

Argumentative Paper 2 – Homosexuality

Due Wednesday March 19 (note correction!) in class and through the turnitin system.
4-5 pages, double-spaced, typed, 12 pt. font, stapled, with your name, email, class time. No cover pages.

Your must get a peer review (from a peer in this class) and revise and improve your paper in light of that review. The peer review of your paper should be stapled to your paper. The review sheet is here:

In this paper I want you to consider the issue of homosexuality and argue for one of these conclusions: homosexuality is wrong (i.e., impermissible), or homosexuality is not wrong (i.e., morally permissible). Do not consider the question of whether homosexuality is “right,” because that sounds like you are asking if homosexuality is morally obligatory, which isn’t the issue. Also, do not discuss homosexual marriage as that too is not the issue.

You should explain what you mean when you morally evaluate homosexuality: are you speaking of actions, or feelings, lifestyles, relationships, or all (or some of the above)? This needs to be carefully explained so we understand the arguments’ conclusions.

Your paper should have a short introductory paragraph, culminating in a thesis which should either be this (or something close to it):
"I will argue that homosexuality is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible."
"I will argue that homosexuality is not wrong, i.e., morally permissible."

You need to give reasons in favor of your conclusion, consider objections to your reasons and respond to these objections.

You might then structure your paper in either of these ways:
1. You could present at least five of what you think are of the most important or strongest arguments from the books to think that homosexuality is wrong, and then critique these arguments, i.e., argue that some or all of them are not sound because they have some premises that you will argue are false. (You will also need to present an argument[s] for the view that homosexuality is morally permissible).
2. You could present at least five of what you think are the most important or common or influential arguments from the books to think that homosexuality is not wrong, and then critique these arguments, i.e., argue that some or all of them are not sound because they have some premises that you will argue are false. (You will also need to present an argument[s] for the view that homosexuality is not morally permissible).

At least one of the arguments you discuss must be arguments from the Bible and/or God’s commands (see EMP Ch. 4 on the divine command theory).

If you’d like, you can do some independent research to find additional arguments for the wrongness of homosexuality beyond the 40+ from the handout. But, you must apply the logical skills we have developed to these arguments. And you must defend your view from the best objection(s) you can think of. To do this, you must think of the objections and respond to its. DO NOT IGNORE DISCUSSION FROM THE BOOK; IF THE BOOK DISCUSSES AN OBJECTION OR RESPONSE AND YOU IGNORE THIS, THEN THAT’S A PROBLEM BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT ENGAGING THE CRITICAL DISCUSSION: YOU ARE IGNORING IT.

Your paper must have a short concluding paragraph also.

While you might want to refer to something discussed in the readings; you can do this, and you don't need to use some kind of fancy citation system. Just put the author and page number after the quote: e.g., (Rachels, p. 58), (Leiser, p. 34). All previous advice on writing and rules on doing your own thinking and writing apply. See previous assignments on writing and the syllabus for reminders.

Your intended audience has not read the readings or discussed these issues so you must explain things so that they understand. Put yourself in their shoes and make everything clear and well-organized for them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A few announcements:

1. If you did not submit your paper 1 to Turnitin, you may do so until Friday, but there will be a significant grade penalty. Remember, your paper will get a a grade only if you (a) turn in a hardcopy and (b) submit it to Turnitin.

2. As I have said many times, students need to be familiar with the policies outlined in the syllabus. It is here:

3. A number of submitted papers are plagiarized. Here is some of what the syllabus says about that:
  • If you submit a plagiarized paper (e.g., a paper you took in whole or in part from the internet or some other illegitimate source, such as a peer who has had this course before), the instructor (with the help of will notice this and you will then fail this course immediately. Although we will discuss this, it is your responsibility to know what plagiarism is.
  • Here are some suggestions to avoid plagiarism: do not check the internet for anything related to your papers: instead use the texts required for the course and think for yourself; do not take phrases from the texts; put all of your writings in your own words; do not cut and paste anything from the internet into your paper; do not visit Wikipedia, an extremely unreliable source for academic philosophy; do not take articles from online encyclopedias; do not visit online dictionaries
4. The syllabus also has this helpful information:

Technical support:

Unfortunately some of the pin codes for the Turnitin are invalid. If you find that your pin code is not registering properly (the password is ethics and the course codes are above), they should contact Thompson. They should go to the following web site and choose to Chat or send an e-mail to amy.stanton@cengagecom


OPS Writing Assignment:

EMP: Ch. 3, pp/ 45-51, AND
RTD: Ch. 13. “Is Homosexuality Unnatural?” Burton Leiser

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gregory Pence's Ethics Program Lecture, "Why Not Enhance Humans?" has been rescheduled for Monday, March 10, at 7:30 p.m. on the Agnes Scott College campus in Evans Hall, rooms ABC. The talk is free and open to the public. See below for more information about this event, as well as the Roberta Berry talk on April 7. Thanks.

March 10, 2008 7:30 p.m., Evans Hall, ABC
"Why Not Enhance Humans?" Evolution has selected parents who want the best for their children. Liberal democracies also allow parents to make choices for and about their children that shape future traits of children. Despite fears of alarmists and concerns based on religion, biological choices that enhance exist on the present continuum of choice and already operate in medicine. The challenge for ethics is not to ban choices about enhancement but to insure they are made in the best interest of the child. Gregory Pence is Course Director for Medical Ethics at the University of Alabama medical school for 30 years. His research focuses on emerging ethical issues in medicine, including cloning, genetics, and issues at both ends of life. He has written Re-Creating Medicine: Ethical Issues at the Frontiers of Medicine (2000) and Classic Cases in Medical Ethics (fifth edition, 2007), and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and Journal of Medical Ethics.

Monday, April 7, 2008 7:30 p.m., Evans Hall, ABC
"Should We Engineer the Genomes of Our Children? Navigational Policymaking in the New Genetic Era"
Would it be right to engineer the genomes of our future children-to influence the development of their temperament, their physical features, and their abilities-if advances in bioscience and biotechnology make this possible? Roberta Berry explains why this question poses a difficult challenge for policymaking in modern, pluralistic, democratic societies and proposes how we might best respond to the challenge: by what she calls a "navigational approach" to policymaking.
Roberta M. Berry is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Law, Science & Technology Program at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She has published a number of essays on bioethics, health care, and the legal, ethical, and policy implications of bioscience research and biotechnologies. Her forthcoming book, The Ethics of Genetic Engineering, compares the adequacy of utilitarian, deontological, and virtue-based ethical and political theories in addressing the issues posed by the possible advent of genetic engineering of human beings.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New schedule

Friday: no test; it's postponed until Monday.

Video on homosexuality.


Test 1.

Study guide at blog:

Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism won't be on the test.


OPS Writing Assignment:

EMP: Ch. 3, pp/ 45-51, AND
RTD: Ch. 13. “Is Homosexuality Unnatural?” Burton Leiser

Common Arguments on Homosexuality “Mad Libs” Worksheet, available here:

Paper 2 on homosexuality. Assignment coming soon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Today, Monday:

Finish FGM

Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism (today or Wed)


Paper 1 (and peer review) due in hardcopy in class and on Turnitin

If you don’t have your Turnitin account complete, you will get a zero on the paper.

Submitting a plagiarized paper will result in an F for the course: see the syl.

Read EMP Ch. 3, pp. 35- 43


Test 1.

Study guide at blog:


Video on homosexuality.


OPS Writing Assignment:

EMP: Ch. 3, pp/ 45-51, AND
RTD: Ch. 13. “Is Homosexuality Unnatural?” Burton Leiser

Paper 2 on homosexuality. Assignment coming soon.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Southeast Philosophy Conference at Clayton State University



Saturday, February 16, 2008

8.30 am to 9.30am


University Center 2nd Floor

9.30 am-10.45 am

UC 420

Robert Case (Clayton State University, GA) On the Nature of God

Ryan Larosa (Clayton State University, GA) On American Foreign Policy: Non-Intervention, an American Tradition

UC 424

Charles Bauch (University of West Georgia) Virtue Ethics and Capitalist Power

Ben Hole (Lewis and Clark College, OR) Aristotle on MEGALOPSUCHIA

10.50 am to 12.05 pm

UC 420

George Allen (Clark University, MA) In Defense of the Circular and Contradictory Nature of Descartes’ Meditations

Timothy James Wright (University of West Georgia) The Sacred Whore

UC 424

Michael Uhall (University of Georgia) 'Talking Wolves' in Sheep's Clothing: Biletzki, Hobbes, and the Primacy of Rhetoric

Jay Mikelman (Tulane University, LA) Thomas Hobbes and the Problem of Suicide Bombers

12.10pm to 1.25 pm Lunch University Center Foyer

1.30 pm to 2.45 pm

UC 420

Jason Shepard (University of South Alabama) Qualia – or Something More Relevant – Regained

Chelsea Ruxer (University of Evansville, IN) Falsity in Physicalism

UC 424

Laura Delgado (University of St. Andrews, UK) Two Problems with Spinoza's Argument for Substance Monism

Geoffrey James (Morehouse College, GA) Why Utilitarianism Does Not Justify Vegetarianism

2.50 pm to 4.15 pm

UC 420

Taurean Webb (Morehouse College, GA) The Importance of Deliberation

Jacob Britten (Grand Valley State University, MI) Implications of Evolution in Epistemology

UC 424

Richard Marrero (University of Alabama Huntsville) Rawls’ Original Position

Michael Hobgood (Clayton State University, GA) Boots on the (Philosophical) Ground: Human Nature According to a Soldier

4.20pm to 5.00pm

UC 420

Jonathan Langlinais (Loyola University, LA) Hegel’s Concept of Virtue as Ethical Phronesis

UC 424

Anna King (Clayton State University, GA) Problems with Secured Boundaries for Women in Book V of Plato’s Republic

Monday, February 11, 2008

An article of interest:

Life support: Courts left to decide who holds patient's fate
Families chafe at physicians' power to give up

Test 1 Study Guide

Philosophy 302 Study guide for 1st Test on Friday, Feb. 22.

Topics and reading covered: everything from Day 1 through and including EMP Ch. 3 on simple subjectivism and emotivism (but not homosexuality). The test format is mostly short answer and short essay, which require you to genuinely understand the material.

This study guide is available at

It is better to download it from here so you can use the file to type up all the answers.

If you miss the exam without an approved excuse, you will not be able to make it up.

If you must miss it, you must plan to take it early.

You should be able to answer all these questions and explain the various concepts and arguments below. Anything in the readings, handouts or class discussion is eligible test material; there might . Study groups are highly encouraged!!

RTD, Ch.2. Logic & Arguments

· What is an argument?

· What is a conclusion?

· What are premises?

· What is a logically valid argument? Define ‘validity’ or ‘a valid argument’.

· Give an example of a valid argument.

· Know what the modus ponens, modus tollens and universal generalization valid argument forms are.

· Why is it important for an argument to be valid?

· Can a valid argument have true premises and a false conclusion?

· What is a sound argument? Define 'a sound argument'.

· Can a sound argument be an invalid argument?

· Can a sound argument have false premises?

· Can a sound argument have a false conclusion?

· How, in general, do you show that a conditional, an if-then statement (‘if p is true, then q is true’) is false?

· Identify and give an example of these logically invalid argument forms:
Affirming the consequent
Denying the antecedent

RTD Ch. 1: A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy

· What is moral relativism? What are the arguments against it?

· Be able to explain the basic ideas of moral theories based in impartiality, utilitarianism, and Kant’s ethics.

Explain how the term ‘morally right’ is ambiguous between "morally permissible" and "morally obligatory." To explain this distinction, give an example of an action that is ‘right’ in one sense of the term, and another action that is ‘right’ in the other sense of the term.

EMP Ch. 1:

· Explain, in detail, Rachel’s “minimum conception of morality,” especially his claims that "moral judgments must be backed by good reasons" and "that morality requires the impartial consideration of each individual's interests." (p. 11)

· Explain Rachels’ argument that Baby Theresa cannot be “used as a means.”

· Explain why some people might think that Baby Theresa is already dead. Explain why some people might think that she is not dead yet. (This suggests an ambiguity in ‘being alive’).

· Be familiar with the Jodie and Mary case. What was the hospital’s argument?

· Explain what a “slippery slope” argument or response is; explain how some people gave this response about the case of Tracy Latimer.

RTD, Ch. 12. Will Cloning Harm People?

· Be able to explain the arguments against cloning the Pence discusses and explain whether they are sound or not and why.

EMP Ch. 2: CR & FGM

· State and fully explain the idea of cultural relativism. If someone accepts CR, what theory does she believe? Be able to explain which of the 5 claims really is cultural relativism (not all of them are cultural relativism), which are logical consequences of it, and which are premises that might be given in arguments for it.

· State a valid argument for cultural relativism from moral disagreements between cultures (“cultural differences”). (Note: Rachels gives a version of this argument that is not clearly valid because it is missing a premise; we discussed, however, a valid version). State whether you think the argument is sound or not; if you think it is not sound, explain which premise(s) is false. If you think it is sound, explain why all the premises are true.

· Be able to give at least 3 valid arguments against CR; be able to explain each premise – that is, explain why someone might think the premises are true (this will often involve explaining why something is a logical consequence of cultural relativism. Explain whether you think the arguments are sound or not and why.

· If you think we should be “tolerant” of everything, should you think that cultural relativism is true? That is, if cultural relativism is true, is it true that we should be tolerant? (You might want to think about these questions also: should we always be tolerant, of everything? If we should just sometimes be tolerant, when should we be tolerant?)

· Rachels argues that, sometimes, there is less moral disagreement than we might think because some moral disagreements are superficial: we accept the same moral principles, but differ in our beliefs about the facts. Explain this idea with an example.

· Some people say that different cultures “disagree about everything, morally.” Explain Rachels’ argument that this is not true, that is his reasons to think that all cultures will share some moral values. What are some of these values that he thinks we all hold in common?

· Female circumcision / female genital mutilation: what do its “advocates” say in favor of the practice, i.e, for why it is not wrong to have it? What do the critics (e.g., the editors at the Harvard Law Review) say against these advocates, and what are their arguments that it’s wrong? Whose arguments are sound, in your view?

· Rachels presents a culture neutral standard of right and wrong. What is it? Explain his idea.

· Even if cultural relativism is false, its advocates might teach us something useful. What are these things, according to Rachels?

EMP Ch. 3: Simple Subjectivism & Emotivism

· State and fully explain the idea of simple subjectivism. If someone accepts simple subjectivism, how does he or she "translate" moral judgments (i.e., what does someone say when he or she says that something is wrong, or says that something is not wrong?

· Be able to give at least 2 valid arguments against simple subjectivism; be able to explain each premise – that is, explain why someone might think the premises are true (this will often involve explaining why something is a logical consequence of simple subjectivism). Explain whether you think the arguments are sound or not and why.

· What is emotivism? Be able to present an argument against it.

· Explain what Rachels thinks the general nature of “moral truths” or “truths of ethics” are.

· Rachels thinks he can “prove” that some ethical judgments are true. What are the examples of his proofs? (What does he mean by a "proof" anyway?) Is he correct? Why or why not?

There can be questions on any of the assigned readings and discussions, so you need to be deeply familiar with everything and be able to show that you understand the material. Check the blog for any handouts you missed.

Here's a worksheet on arguments about cloning, in response to the Pence article from last week:

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Monday & Wed.:

Re-Read: Rachels, Ch. 2, on Cultural Relativism and, especially. sections on Female Genital Mutilation.

Read: online: "What's Culture Got to Do with it? Excising the Harmful Tradition of Female Circumcision"
Print out, read and bring to class for discussion.

Friday, February 08, 2008

EMP Ch. 2 Cultural Relativism:
A “Midas Touch” Morality

We want to:

  1. Understand what Cultural Relativism is. If you accept CR, then what exactly do you believe?
  2. Identify and evaluate some reasons that people might give in favor of CR: why might they accept CR?
  3. Identify and evaluate some arguments against CR.
  4. On the basis of 1-3, decide whether there are better reasons to accept CR or reject it.

The take home message:

To respond to a moral issue, “That’s ‘their culture’, so you can’t criticize them!” seems to be based on poor reasoning. So, if anyone says this, we will say, “So what? Yes, that's what their (or our culture) accepts, but they might be mistaken. So what are their moral reasons in favor of this practice? Are these reasons part of sound arguments or not”

1. A general truth: “Believing something don’t make it so!”

In general, there’s a difference between:

· someone’s believing something to be the case, and

· something being the case.

There’s a difference between believing a claim to be true and that claim being true. (Examples?)

Also, there’s a difference between:

· the majority of people in a culture believing something to be the case (or some claim true), and

· that thing being the case (or that claim being true).

2. Cultural relativists deny this general principle:

They think that a cultural majority’s believing something to be morally permissible [MP] (or impermissible) makes it MP or not MP.

CR’s think this:

An action is morally permissible if, and only if, the majority of a culture approves of that act, i.e., believes it to be morally permissible.

· If the majority of a society approves of an action, then it’s MP (group approval is a sufficient condition for MP).

· An action is MP only if the majority approves of it (group approval is a necessary condition for MP).

This definition of CR clearly implies Rachels’ claims (2), (3), & (4), but the core idea is (2): (3) and (4) are implications or consequences of (2). (EMP, p. 18-19). Whether it supports (5), the claim that we should be tolerant, is something that needs to be discussed. And (1) – since everyone accepts it – is not part of CR. Indeed it seems to be a premise in an argument for CR.

3. In light of the logical implications of CR, why would someone accept CR? What might their argument(s) be?

1. An argument from disagreement

2. An argument from the idea that we should be “tolerant”

3. …. What else?

4. What are some arguments against CR? (see also the discussion in RTD)

The argument from error:

1. If CR is true, then if someone’s moral views are in the majority, then they cannot be mistaken.

2. But someone’s moral views can be mistaken, even if they are in the majority.

3. So CR is false.

The argument from moral progress:

1. If CR is true, then the majority’s moral views must always right (no matter what!).

2. If the majority’s moral views must always right, then “reformers” – who are in the minority – cannot be right.

3. If “reformers” cannot be right, then moral progress – widespread changes for the better, the majority coming to adopt the (formerly) minority view – is impossible.

4. But moral progress is possible.

5. So “reformers” can be right.

6. So the majority isn’t necessarily right.

7. So CR is false. (multiple modus tollens)

The argument from moral methodology:

1. If CR is true, then the way to find out what’s really MP (not just what people believe to be MP) is to do a survey.

2. But surveys will not reveal what’s really MP (they only show what people believe to be MP).

3. So CR is false. (MT)

The argument from the ability to evaluate cultures:

1. If CR is true, then we can never truthfully say that a majority-approved of practice in another culture is wrong.

2. But we can truthfully say that a practice in another culture is wrong, even if the majority approves of it.

3. Therefore, CR is not true.

Other arguments?

4. So what are the arguments for CR?

1. Cultures disagree on the morality of some actions. (What if the premise said all actions)?

2. Therefore, an action is morally permissible if, and only if, the majority of a culture approves of that act, i.e., believes it to be morally permissible.

3. Therefore, Rachels’ claims (2), (3), & (4) are true (EMP, p. 18-19), including “there is no universal truth in ethics,” i.e., there are no true moral principles that everyone should follow, wherever they are.

Rachels calls this argument unsound (p. 21); we first can be nice and add the missing premise to make it logically valid:

1. Cultures disagree on the morality of some actions. (T? F?)

2. For any topic, if there is disagreement on it, then there are no universal truths about it. (T? F?)

3. Therefore, there are no universal truths in ethics.

Another argument (it needs to be expanded to understand it, but are these expansions sound?):

1. We should be tolerant. (Of what? Everything, all actions? Some actions? Which things?)

2. Therefore, we should accept CR.

Some thoughts about (1): If (1) is true and so we should be tolerant of all actions, then there is a universally true moral principle. But if there is a universally true moral principle, then CR is false!

If CR is true, we should be tolerant of a wide variety of actions (even those that harm others) if and only if the majority of people in our society are tolerant of a wide variety of actions (even those that harm others). But our society is not tolerant in this way, so if CR is true, then we should not be tolerant either. And if there are some things that should not be tolerated in any society, then CR is false.

So what should we “tolerate”? What kind of diversity should we be respectful towards?

Rachels’ proposal for a universal moral principle: Actions that promote the welfare of people affected by it are morally permissible; actions that hinder the welfare of those affected are morally wrong.

Important points that CR can help us see: many! See Rachels’ discussion!

Some cultural differences do not matter morally. Others do matter: we can morally evaluate them.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008



DUE Monday Feb 18 IN CLASS and submitted through

4 – 5 pages, 12 pt font, double spaced, pages numbered and stapled. Put your name, email and class time at the top of the 1st page, and give your paper a “real” title (not “paper 1”).

Your paper should be well organized, grammatically correct, and carefully written: you should follow all the advice you developed for yourself in your OPS writing assignment on how to write a philosophy paper. You should write to an audience who has *not* read the readings or is familiar with these issues, so you need to explain things so that they will understand. And you should try to explain everything in your own words.

First, re-read your paper on how to write a philosophy paper, as well as the relevant Vaughn chapters on writing.

For this assignment, you must argue for – that is, to give and defend reasons to believe –one of these conclusions:

(a) that female genital mutilation is morally wrong, i.e., morally impermissible, or

(b) that female genital mutilation not morally wrong, i.e., it is morally permissible.

To do this, you must explain the nature of this practice, i.e., briefly give the essential factual information about what’s involved in the practice. This should be no more than ½ a page. Your information should come from the Rachels’ text and/or the “What’s culture got to do with it?” article. Do not seek outside sources: this is not a research paper, it is an argumentative essay in moral philosophy.

You must present at least three reasons that are given in its favor, including an argument from moral relativism, i.e., what cultural relativists might say in defense of female genital mutilation. (You must carefully explain in your own words what the moral theory of “cultural relativism” is [note: it is not the list of 5 claims from Rachels, especially the claim that there are cultural differences: CR is not all those claims, it is only a few of them [which ones?]).

You must state and explain whether these reasons are good reasons in favor of female circumcision or female genital mutilation. So, to explain whether the argument defending FGM from cultural relativism is sound, so you must explain whether the moral theory of cultural relativism is true or not and why. You must give reasons and defend your reasons.

You must state and explain some of the best objections to circumcision / female genital mutilation, i.e., the reasons to think it’s wrong. You must explain whether these objections are good or not, i.e., whether they provide good reason to think that female genital mutilation is wrong or not.

In conclusion, you must explain whether you think the arguments for, or against, female genital mutilation are strongest and defend your views.

If you use quotations, you must use an official citation method. See Vaughn.

You should make an outline to make sure you address everything needed and in an organization that makes sense.

Finally, you must get a rigorous peer review from at least one of your classmates, submitted with your paper using this form here and

Some writing tips from Professor Nobis:

  • 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.
  • Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is excellent, the section III. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION is especially good: