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: