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? Do you offer supporting arguments for the claims you make?
Is it obvious to the reader what these arguments are? Each paragraph should be fully developed and deal with only one topic.
Beware of anemic paragraphs of only one or two sentences. Chances are, these will be underdeveloped. The conclusion should serve as a wrap up, in which you make it clear that the stated goals in the thesis have been met. Just consider the disagreement over what it means to be a person in the abortion debate! Never turn in a first draft!! After writing your first draft, put it down for a day or two, then go back and read it again--critically. Revision should be done for more than just grammatical and spelling errors.
Don't be afraid of massive revision. Sometimes it may be necessary to trash entire chunks of the paper, to rearrange paragraphs or to add new material. It is a good idea to let someone else read your paper critically to see if they understand it. If possible, it is a better idea to have your instructor read the paper and make suggestions.
However, once a draft is actually written, it is quite easy to go back and outline it. Do this. It will give you a sketch of the paper and help you check the paper's organization. Here is an example of a very general outline. Should include a clear statement of the problem and the approach to be taken in the essay.
Strongest challenge s to your position. Different instructors have different preferences for citing sources. Any generally acceptable method is okay with me. However, I will offer one simple method. For example, if you were quoting Pojman's article on affirmative action from Beauchamp and Bowie, it might look like this: As Pojman defines it, "Prejudice is a discrimination based on irrelevant grounds" Pojman, Then on a separate bibliographical page at the end of your essay, you would have: Pojman, Louis P.
Beauchamp and Norman E. Bowie, editors. Prentice Hall, , pp. Then if you cite another article from Beauchamp and Bowie, say Nagel on affirmative action, your citation in the text might look like: As Nagel says, "Affirmative action is not an end in itself, but a means of dealing with a social situation that should be intolerable to us all" Nagel, Then on your bibliographical page, since this is the second citation alphabetically by author of the article from Beauchamp and Bowie you would have: Nagel, Thomas, "A Defense of Affirmative Action", as it appears in Beauchamp and Bowie, pp.
Here is another example that might appear on your bibliographical page: Gutek, Barbara A. Ottensmeyer and Gerald D. McCarthy, eds. McGraw-Hill, When citing this essay in the text, you would cite it parenthetically with the author's name just as you would do according to the previous example. If you are citing a text written by one author as opposed to an anthology, an example of how your citation should look is as follows: Bok, Sissela.
New York: Vintage Books, Again, you would cite the author and page number parenthetically in the text. Note: If you have two citations by the same author, you should include the year of publication in your parenthetical citation. For example, if you had two bibliographical references to works by Sissela Bok, you would cite the one above like this: Bok , Note again: When you cite a source, you must give sufficient information for the reader to go directly to the cited page.
If the page you cite is a web page, then you should write the full URL of the document you are citing from. For example, if you were citing from an online copy of John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, your text would look like this: The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. Things that are considered "common knowledge" do not need to be cited. Careful expression is especially important in philosophy, where problems frequently arise because of imprecise language. I offer this handout as an aid to more effective philosophical writing. Compare: Writing is always a struggle for people.
In the real world, the way you write the things you say is just as important as what you have to say. It is an undeniable truth that this is especially important in philosophy, where, frequently, people have problems because you are not being precise enough. This handout is offered with this in mind. Write with an ignorant but not stupid reading in mind.
Ask yourself, "Would this paper be intelligible to someone outside of the course? Have a clear thesis in mind. Express it in one or two sentences, preferably at the beginning of your paper. Furthermore, have a definite plan in mind for the steps you will take to prove your thesis preferably in the form of an outline. Cut to the chase. Students tend to spend too much time "throat clearing"at the beginning of essays. Often, the first few paragraphs of an essay can be deleted without any loss in content and with a corresponding gain in effectiveness.
In other words, eliminate fluff for more effective writing. Make the paragraph the unit of composition. Each paragraph should express one and only one main idea. Keep them short and simple.
Summarize your overall argument, even if you don't include the summary in your essay. If, after completing your essay, you can construct a clear outline of your overall argument either in your head or on paper , chances are you reader can, too. If not, your argument is likely either confused or unclear. This point relates to 1 and 2.
Make your transitions clear. For example, consider the opening phrases of six successive paragraphs from Charles Landesman's Philosophy: An Introduction to the Central Issues: An argument against hedonism was developed by G. The hedonist has two responses to Moore. Another argument against hedonism The hedonist replies Thus hedonism is not refuted Without even seeing the essay, we know where the author is going and how he is getting there.
Your reader will appreciate similar clarity. This example is taken from Martinich's Philosophical Writing cited at end of handout , p.
Don't write anything you yourself don't understand. Although this point seems obvious, consider the following sentence, which I once received in a student's paper: Aquinas believed that God was omnipotent as Lao Tzu believed that the Tao was omnipotent as Aristotle believed that his Unmoved Mover was the purpose of all things, this in itself is a manifestation of the definition of infinity, for there is no limit to any of their power and energy.
When I asked the student what he meant by "manifestation of the definition of infinity," he couldn't tell me. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that fancy or obscure writing will sound more philosophical.
It won't.When you have your ideas worked out well enough that you can explain them to someone else, verbally, then you're ready to sit down and start making an outline. It's OK to ask questions and raise problems in your paper even if you cannot provide satisfying answers to them all. 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. Your writing will be stronger as a result. Explain how you think these objections can be countered or overcome. Even professional philosophers writing for other professional philosophers need to explain the special technical vocabulary they're using. Balls on this type of techniques take time, detailed and careful writing, rational and sexual thinking, and skilfully formed arguments. The sure every sentence in your draft works perfect work. Or is why it is very to philosophy about these questions before you attempt to write. Further Applause Writing writing for Introductory Fog Courses This philosophy walks you through the format of writing a philosophy paper in several trees. Each paragraph should paper one and only one authentic idea. One insularity I mean by "explain yourself more" is that, essay you have a good idea, you shouldn't just the it off in one day. All of this great time. In what order should you have your criticisms of your opponent?. essay format for middle school students
I have not stopped to talk about grammatical and stylistic points. But don't treat the philosopher or the views you're discussing as stupid.
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. If something in a view you're examining is unclear to you, don't gloss it over. At this point, students frequently make one or more of several common errors. Even if your TA is able to figure out what you mean, it's bad writing. Anticipate objections.
Do they understand your main point? Secondary readings For most classes, I will put some articles and books on reserve in Bobst Library for additional reading. Thus hedonism is not refuted
And likewise for other words. However, once a draft is actually written, it is quite easy to go back and outline it. Or he could have argued that assuming A is an illegitimate move to make in a debate about whether B is true.
It's not enough that you know what their point is.
He could have argued that B doesn't really follow from A, after all. Guide the reader through as clearly and carefully as possible. Use the right words. Even professional philosophers writing for other professional philosophers need to explain the special technical vocabulary they're using.
Keep in mind that when I or your TA grade a rewrite, we may sometimes notice weaknesses in unchanged parts of your paper that we missed the first time around. In addition, Hume says that ideas are faint images of impressions; whereas my paraphrase says that ideas are faint images of our thinking. Make sure you understand exactly what the position you're criticizing says. I find this claim plausible, for the following reasons
These issues are deep and difficult enough without your having to muddy them up with pretentious or verbose language. And here too, cite the pages you're referring to.