He or she cannot tell what you meant to say but did not, and cannot read in what you would quickly point out if you were conversing face to face. For better or for worse, your paper is all that is available. It must stand on its own. The responsibility for ensuring the accurate communication of ideas falls on the writer's shoulders.
You must say exactly what you mean and in a way that minimizes the chances of being misunderstood. It is difficult to overemphasize this point. There is no such thing as a piece of good philosophical writing that is unclear, ungrammatical, or unintelligible.
Clarity and precision are essential elements here. A poor writing style militates against both of these. There is much more that could be said about clear writing. I have not stopped to talk about grammatical and stylistic points. For help in these matters and we all need reference works in these areas I recommend a few of the many helpful books available in the campus bookstore. Both of these books have gone through several editions.
More advanced students might do well to read Philosophical Writing: An Introduction , by A. Some final words should be added about proofreading. After that, have someone else read your paper. Is this person able to understand you completely? Can he or she read your entire paper through without getting stuck on a single sentence? If not, go back and smooth it out.
In general terms, do not be content simply to get your paper out of your hands. Take pride in it. Clear writing reflects clear thinking; and that, after all, is what you are really trying to show. Summer News August 13, DR. Dai Heide who is one of the recipients of this year's Lisa Shapiro who was awarded the first Ulrike Detmers Honorary degrees, news and appointments April 30, Congratulations to faculty, former faculty and alumni this month.
Professor Emeritus Steven Davis SFU Philosophy's collection of 'be employable, study philosophy' web content: Writing A Philosophy Paper. These are entirely unnecessary and of no interest to the informed reader. There is no need to point out that your topic is an important one, and one that has interested philosophers for hundreds of years.
Introductions should be as brief as possible. In fact, I recommend that you think of your paper as not having an introduction at all. Go directly to your topic. Inexperienced writers rely too heavily on quotations and paraphrases. Direct quotation is best restricted to those cases where it is essential to establish another writer's exact selection of words.
Even paraphrasing should be kept to a minimum. After all, it is your paper. It is your thoughts that your instructor is concerned with. Keep that in mind, especially when your essay topic requires you to critically assess someone else's views. Do not present a number of positions in your paper and then end by saying that you are not qualified to settle the matter. In particular, do not close by saying that philosophers have been divided over this issue for as long as humans have been keeping record and you cannot be expected to resolve the dispute in a few short pages.
Your instructor knows that. But you can be expected to take a clear stand based on an evaluation of the argument s presented. Go out on a limb. If you have argued well, it will support you. Good philosophical writing usually has an air of simple dignity about it. Your topic is no joke. No writers whose views you have been asked to read are idiots. If you think they are, then you have not understood them.
Name calling is inappropriate and could never substitute for careful argumentation anyway. You are guilty of begging the question or circular reasoning on a particular issue if you somehow presuppose the truth of whatever it is that you are trying to show in the course of arguing for it.
Here is a quick example. If Smith argues that abortion is morally wrong on the grounds that it amounts to murder, Smith begs the question. Smith presupposes a particular stand on the moral status of abortion - the stand represented by the conclusion of the argument.
To see that this is so, notice that the person who denies the conclusion - that abortion is morally wrong - will not accept Smith's premise that it amounts to murder, since murder is, by definition, morally wrong. When arguing against other positions, it is important to realize that you cannot show that your opponents are mistaken just by claiming that their overall conclusions are false.
Nor will it do simply to claim that at least one of their premises is false. You must demonstrate these sorts of things, and in a fashion that does not presuppose that your position is correct. Before you start to write make an outline of how you want to argue.
There should be a logical progression of ideas - one that will be easy for the reader to follow. If your paper is well organized, the reader will be led along in what seems a natural way. If you jump about in your essay, the reader will balk. It will take a real effort to follow you, and he or she may feel it not worthwhile.
It is a good idea to let your outline simmer for a few days before you write your first draft. Does it still seem to flow smoothly when you come back to it? If not, the best prose in the world will not be enough to make it work.
Use the right words. Once you have determined your outline, you must select the exact words that will convey your meaning to the reader. A dictionary is almost essential here. We'll make fun of you if you use big words where simple words will do. These issues are deep and difficult enough without your having to muddy them up with pretentious or verbose language. Don't write using prose you wouldn't use in conversation: 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.
I guarantee you that this will make your paper incomprehensible. If your paper sounds as if it were written for a third-grade audience, then you've probably achieved the right sort of clarity. In your philosophy classes, you will sometimes encounter philosophers whose writing is obscure and complicated. Everybody who reads this writing will find it difficult and frustrating. The authors in question are philosophically important despite their poor writing, not because of it.
So do not try to emulate their writing styles. Make the structure of your paper obvious You should make the structure of your paper obvious to the reader. Your reader shouldn't have to exert any effort to figure it out. Beat him over the head with it. How can you do this?
First of all, use connective words, like: Be sure you use these words correctly! If you say " P. You had better be right. If you aren't, we'll complain. Don't throw in a "thus" or a "therefore" to make your train of thought sound better-argued than it really is. 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.
You can say things like: I will begin by Before I say what is wrong with this argument, I want to These passages suggest that I will now defend this claim Further support for this claim comes from These signposts really make a big difference. Consider the following two paper fragments: We've just seen how X says that P. I will now present two arguments that not-P. My first argument is My second argument that not-P is X might respond to my arguments in several ways.
For instance, he could say that However this response fails, because Another way that X might respond to my arguments is by claiming that This response also fails, because So we have seen that none of X's replies to my argument that not-P succeed.
Hence, we should reject X's claim that P. I will argue for the view that Q. There are three reasons to believe Q. The strongest objection to Q says However, this objection does not succeed, for the following reason Isn't it easy to see what the structure of these papers is? You want it to be just as easy in your own papers. The reader should never be in doubt about whose claims you're presenting in a given paragraph.
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. That's why making an outline is so important. Be concise, but explain yourself fully To write a good philosophy paper, you need to be concise but at the same time explain yourself fully.
These demands might seem to pull in opposite directions. It's as if the first said "Don't talk too much," and the second said "Talk a lot. 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. Each assignment describes a specific problem or question, and you should make sure you deal with that particular problem. Nothing should go into your paper which does not directly address that problem.
Prune out everything else. It is always better to concentrate on one or two points and develop them in depth than to try to cram in too much. One or two well-mapped paths are better than an impenetrable jungle. Formulate the central problem or question you wish to address at the beginning of your paper, and keep it in mind at all times.
Make it clear what the problem is, and why it is a problem. Be sure that everything you write is relevant to that central problem. In addition, be sure to say in the paper how it is relevant. Don't make your reader guess. 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. 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.
This will of course not be true. 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. Use plenty of examples and definitions 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 " A fetus is 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: A fetus is a person.
It's wrong to kill a person. Therefore, it's wrong to kill a fetus. 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. And likewise for other words. 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. 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.
Don't use words that you don't fully understand. 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. Presenting and assessing the views of others If you plan to discuss the views of Philosopher X, begin by figuring out what his arguments or central assumptions are.
Are X's arguments good ones? Are his assumptions clearly stated? Are they reasonable starting-points for X's argument, or ought he have provided some independent argument for them? 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.
You have to get it exactly right. 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. Try harder to figure out what's motivating them. 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. Philosopher X doesn't explicitly say that P, but it seems to me that he's assuming it anyway, because Quotations 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.
Paraphrases 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 Treatise of Human Nature as follows: 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. Here's an example of how you don't want to paraphrase: 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. These are sensations, passions, and emotions. 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 of impressions ; whereas my paraphrase says that ideas are faint images of our thinking.
These are not the same. 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. He calls these impressions and ideas. 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. Anticipate objections Try to anticipate objections to your view and respond to them.
For instance, if you object to some philosopher's view, don't assume he would immediately admit defeat. Imagine what his comeback might be. How would you handle that comeback? Don't be afraid of mentioning objections to your own thesis. 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. What happens if you're stuck? 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.
Essays in Philosophy publishes philosophical papers of quality which the editors believe will make a contribution to the literature on a certain topic. The journal holds to no specific school of thought, mode of philosophizing, or style of writing. Each issue of the journal is devoted to a specific topic.
Database of FREE philosophy essays - We have thousands of free essays across a wide range of subject areas. Sample philosophy essays!
Writing in Philosophy - Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians once sang that "philosophy is a walk on the slippery rocks." While philosophy may be a tricky subject to grasp, full of seemingly unanswerable questions and paradoxes, writing in philosophy is pretty much the same as any other academic writing . Essays in Philosophy: Ancient Rosen, Stanley. The essays in these two books were selected from Stanley Rosen’s career as a philosopher, scholar, and teacher over the last half of a century.
Other articles where The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy is discussed: William James: Interest in religion: which the most notable is The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (). During this decade, which may be correctly described as James’s religious period, all of his studies were concerned with one aspect or another of the religious question. The philosophy of chemistry has emerged in recent years as a new and autonomous field within the Anglo-American philosophical tradition. With the development of this new discipline, Eric Scerri and Grant Fisher's Essays in the Philosophy of Chemistry is a timely and .