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How to Write a Philosophy Paper: Recommendations, Topics, and Free Examples

What is a Philosophy Paper?

❶Beware of any topic that seems too easy:

How to Write a Thesis for a Paper to Grab Reader’s Attention?


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. 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 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.

Even paraphrasing should be kept to a minimum. After all, it is your paper. It is your thoughts that your instructor is concerned with.

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.

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. Do not settle for a word that you think comes close to capturing the sense you have in mind. Notice that "infer" does not mean "imply"; "disinterested" does not mean "uninterested"; and "reference" does not mean either "illusion" or "allusion.

Notice that certain words such as "therefore," "hence," "since," and "follows from" are strong logical connectives.

When you use such expressions you are asserting that certain tight logical relations hold between the claims in question. You had better be right. Finally, check the spelling of any word you are not sure of.

There is no excuse for "existance" appearing in any philosophy essay. Assume that your reader is constantly asking such questions as "Why should I accept that?

Most first attempts at writing philosophy essays fall down on this point. Substantiate your claims whenever there is reason to think that your critics would not grant them. When quoting or paraphrasing, always give some citation. Indicate your indebtedness, whether it is for specific words, general ideas, or a particular line of argument.

Plagiarism is against the rules of academic institutions and is dishonest. It can jeopardize or even terminate your academic career. Why run that risk when your paper is improved it appears stronger not weaker if you give credit where credit is due?

That is because appropriately citing the works of others indicates an awareness of some of the relevant literature on the subject. If your position is worth arguing for, there are going to be reasons which have led some people to reject it.

Such reasons will amount to criticisms of your stand. A good way to demonstrate the strength of your position is to consider one or two of the best of these objections and show how they can be overcome.

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: 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 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 You want it to be just as easy in your own papers. 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. 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. Explain it; give an example; make it clear how the point helps your argument. 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. 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. 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. 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.

And likewise for other words. 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. Use technical philosophical terms only where you need them. 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. 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 his assumptions clearly stated? Remember, philosophy demands a high level of precision. You have to get it exactly right. In this respect, philosophy is more like a science than the other humanities. You can assume that your reader is stupid see above. 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.

So tell the reader what it is you think X is saying. You have to go on to offer your own philosophical contribution, too. When you do this, though, you should explicitly say so.

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. 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.

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.

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 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: He calls these impressions and ideas. Anticipate objections Try to anticipate objections to your view and respond to them. Imagine what his comeback might be. How would you handle that comeback?

Explain how you think these objections can be countered or overcome. 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. 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. You can leave some questions unanswered at the end of the paper.

And you should say something about how the question might be answered, and about what makes the question interesting and relevant to the issue at hand. Call attention to the unclarity. Suggest several different ways of understanding the view. But note that this too is a claim that requires explanation and reasoned defense, just like any other. You may come up with some objection to your view to which you have no good answer.

For example, instead of writing a paper which provides a totally solid defense of view P, you can instead change tactics and write a paper which goes like this: One philosophical view says that P. This is a plausible view, for the following reasons However, there are some reasons to be doubtful whether P. One of these reasons is X. X poses a problem for the view that P because It is not clear how the defender of P can overcome this objection. Or you can write a paper which goes: At first glance, this is a very appealing argument.

However, this argument is faulty, for the following reasons One might try to repair the argument, by But these repairs will not work, because I conclude that the Conjunction Argument does not in fact succeed in establishing P.

After all, neither of these papers commits you to the view that not-P. P might still be true, for all that. Set the draft aside for a day or two. Then come back to the draft and re-read it.

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Structuring a Philosophy Paper Philosophy assignments generally ask you to consider some thesis or argument, often a thesis or argument that has been presented by another philosopher (a thesis is argument, you may be asked to do one or more of the following: explain it, offer an argument in support of.

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Philosophy paper. Help. anncou. Main. Similar Questions. Field: Reading homework help. Report Issue. Address the following in your paper: Mind/Body Dualism: Compare/contrast Cartesian rationalism and at least one version of empiricism. You may draw upon your analysis of the Cartesian Method in this week’s discussion assignment. Remember to.

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It will also help to give your paper focus. In order to produce a good philosophy paper, it is first necessary to think very carefully and clearly about your topic. Unfortunately, your reader (likely your marker or instructor) has no access to those thoughts except by way of what actually ends up on the page. A philosophy paper consists of the reasoned defense of some claim Your paper must offer an argument. It can't consist in the mere report of your opinions, nor in .

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Avoid getting off on tangents that are not crucial to your topic, and avoid sweeping generalizations you can't support in the paper. In addition to the quality of exposition, one of the central things we look for in a philosophy paper is how well the thesis in question is supported. An essay on philosophy begins with a thesis statement which can be an introduction to a wider topic or can be a simple argument that you wish to elaborate in the essay. A thesis statement is essential in all kinds of custom essay papers because it is the starting point to your essay therefore it needs to be impressive enough to catch attention.