Don't write using prose you wouldn't use in conversation. If you wouldn't say it, don't write it. If your paper sounds as if it were written a third-grade audience, then you've probably achieved the right sort of clarity. It's OK to show a draft of your paper to your friends and get their comments and advice. In fact, I encourage you to do this. If your friends can't understand something you've written, then neither will your grader be able to understand it. Read your paper out loud.
This is an excellent way to tell whether it's easy to read and understand. As you read your paper, keep saying to yourself: "Does this really make sense? Presenting and assessing the views of others If you plan to discuss the views of Philosopher X, begin by isolating his arguments or central assumptions. Then ask yourself: Are the arguments good ones? Are X's 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?
Keep in mind that 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. Hence, when you discuss the views or arguments of Philosopher X, it's important that you establish that X really does say what you think he says. 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 your misunderstanding or misinterpretation of X's views. At least half of the work in philosophy is making sure that you've got your opponent's position right.
Don't think of this as an annoying preliminary to doing the real philosophy. This is part of the real philosophical work. 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. When you do quote an author, always 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, give examples to illustrate the author's point, and, if necessary, distinguish the author's claim from other claims with which it might be confused.
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.
It is pointless to argue against a position so ridiculous that no one ever believed it in the first place, and that can be refuted effortlessly. 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 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 might have believed it, because Don't try to say everything you know about X's views.
You have to go on to offer your own philosophical contribution. Only summarize those parts of X's views that are directly relevant to what you're going to go on to do. Miscellaneous points Try to anticipate objections to your view and respond to them. Don't be afraid to bring up objections to your own thesis. It is better to bring up an objection yourself than to hope your reader won't think of it.
Of course, there's no way to deal with all the objections someone might raise; so choose the ones that seem strongest or most pressing, and say how you think they might be answered. 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 to a question. 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 easy answers to the question are too easy, that the arguments for these answers are unsuccessful.
Hence, if these papers are right, the question will be harder to answer than we might previously have thought. This is an important and philosophically valuable result. If the strengths and weaknesses of two competing positions seem to you to be roughly equally balanced, you should feel free to say so. 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. 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 though you should make it clear to the reader that you're leaving such questions unanswered on purpose. If you raise a question, though, you should at least begin to address it, or say how one might set about trying to answer it; and you must explain what makes the question interesting and relevant to the issue at hand.
Minor Guidelines Start Work Early Philosophical problems and philosophical writing require careful and extended reflection. Don't wait until the night before to start your paper.
This is very stupid. Writing a good philosophy paper takes a great deal of preparation. You should leave yourself enough time to think about your topic and write a detailed outline this will take several days. Then write a draft this will take one day. Set your draft aside for a day or two. If you can, show it to your friends and get their reactions to it. Do they understand your main point? Are parts of your draft unclear or confusing? Finally, sit down in front of the computer again and compose the final version this will take one day.
When you're writing the final version of your paper, it's much more important to work on the structure and overall clarity of your paper, than it is to clean up a word or a phrase here or there. See the tips on revising your paper below. If your paper is going to be late, check out our policy for late papers. Mechanics Please double-space your papers and include wide margins. Your papers should be less than or equal to the assigned word limit.
Your grade will suffer if your paper is too long. So it's important to ask yourself: What are the most important things you have to say?
What can be left out? Include your name on the paper, and number the pages. Don't turn in your only copy of your paper. Secondary sources For most classes, I will put some articles and books on reserve in Robbins Library for additional reading. These are optional, and are for your independent study. When you are writing your papers, I do not expect you to consult these or any other secondary sources we haven't discussed in class.
Beginning your paper Don't begin with a sentence like "Down through the ages, mankind has pondered the problem of You should get right to the point, with the first sentence. Grammar It's OK to end a sentence with a preposition. It's also OK to split an infinitive, if you need to. Sometimes the easiest way to say what you mean is by splitting an infinitive.
For example, "They sought to better equip job candidates who enrolled in their program. Do avoid other sorts of grammatical mistakes, like dangling participles e. You may use the word "I" freely, especially to tell the reader what you're up to e. Now I'm going to consider an argument that Don't worry about using the verb "is" or "to be" too much. In a philosophy paper, it's OK to use this verb as much as you need to. 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. 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. 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. Can you write your paper as a dialogue? Many students find the dialogue form attractive.
Done well, it can be very effective. But it's extremely difficult to do well. The form tempts the author to cuteness, needless metaphor, and imprecision. So you shouldn't try to write dialogues for this class. How You'll Be Graded When we grade your paper, we will be asking ourselves questions like these: Do you clearly state what you're trying to accomplish in your paper?
Is it obvious to the reader what your main thesis is? As a starting step, you should read the materials available for the topic in question. Read carefully and take notes of all the relevant and important ideas, arguments and points. This will be very helpful when discussing it with others.
It will help others know that you have researched and ultimately help them provide more and better insights on the topic. Further, when you start reading the good material as soon as you get the assignment, you have more points to think about.
It is essential to have a solid understanding of whatever you read in order to write an effective essay. It will help develop your ideas and arguments on the philosophical topic. Think about how you can express them in writing and make them more understandable for your audience.
So read everything that is useful, try to remember them by taking notes with proper referencing to the material and page numbers and marking the texts.
This will help you refer or read more about a point when you start writing the draft. Keep the audience in mind You are writing for an audience. Your audience will include the professors and the classmates.
So think about what they would expect from your paper. Consider that they have a good knowledge of philosophy and given topic. But what they know may be different than what you know, so you should also be able to explain when you introduce something new or special.
A good content always will be easy to understand for its readers. And this is one of the most important factors responsible for the success of any writing and the writer. Thus it will be easy for you to know what is next and the chances of missing anything will be very less. Further include the main points you are going to evaluate, explain and support with relevant evidence.
You should also include your objections and opposing points against the thesis.
You can leave some questions unanswered at the end of the paper though you should make it clear to the reader that you're leaving such questions unanswered on purpose. Evaluate the Epicurean view of the human mind. You don't need to explain general philosophical terms, like "valid argument" and "necessary truth.
We've just seen how X says that P. Are they reasonable starting-points for X's argument, or ought he have provided some independent argument for them? Is there an accepted definition for it?
Summary is not explanation. However, you should never make any use at all of student 'essay mills'--websites that offer students canned student essays for 'research' purposes: these essays are not research and do not meet the standards for scholarly sources; they have no place in the writing of your papers. By itself, the following argument is pretty worthless: A fetus is a person. Thus it will be easy for you to know what is next and the chances of missing anything will be very less.
Or something else of that sort. It's OK for you to show your drafts to your friends and get their comments and advice. These big questions are what excites and astounds philosophers. Conclusion You need to reiterate the purpose of the paper.