Wednesday, February 17, 2010
How to Write your Philosophy Paper
DUE: March 10, 2o10 1:00 pm
LENGTH: 5-6 pages, not including title and bibiliography pages
SOURCES: must use at least 3; two of which must be print
Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper by Jim Pryor
Tips on Writing a Philosophy Paper by Douglas W. Portmore
How to Write a Philosophy Paper by Amy Kind
How to Write a Philosophy Paper by Ashley McDowell
I. Decide on a question you want to wonder about.
A. Please limit your questions to metaphysical or epistemological ones; DO NOT consider ethical questions, as those will be dealt with next quarter in a separate class. DO NOT write about free will or determinism issues; we've already done those in debate. (However, for the purposes of explaining this paper, I will use that topic.)
B. Example: “I wonder whether human beings are free or not.”
C. A good resource to help you: Invitation to Philosophy, Issues and Options, by Honer, Hunt and Ockholm, or any other introduction to philosophy in the library. Ask Priscilla for help.
II. If necessary, do some research to get an idea of some ways that question might be answered.
A. Warning: remember that philosophy papers are not research papers, but are more properly persuasive or argumentative papers
1. The research is not an end in itself; rather, it is a launching pad to discover various positions on the problem.
2. Research can help to clarify concepts that are integral to a position.
3. Use at least 3 sources, two of which must be print.
B. Again, Priscilla can be a tremendous help here, or ask me for resources.
1. You discover that there are several answers/positions on the problem of free will: various deterministic positions, compatibilism, and libertarianism.
2. You discover that there are different ways of referring to the same position: i.e., “soft determinism” and “compatibilism” mean the same thing.
III. Narrow your answers down to the two strongest contenders (in your opinion) and write as many reasons/arguments as you can that would support each position.
A. For position A:
1. Some of those reasons/arguments will be positive ones showing why position A is correct.
2. Others will be negative reasons/arguments, showing why position B is wrong.
B. For position B:
1. Some of those reasons/arguments will be positive ones showing why position B is correct.
2. Others will be negative reasons/arguments, showing why position A is wrong.
C. Explain the reasons/arguments in detail for each position.
1. Settle on what vocabulary/concepts you want to use and don’t vary them.
2. Lay out the arguments clearly, concisely. Try putting them in “standard” form, with premises and conclusions. That guarantees clarity!
IV. Evaluate those positions.
A. Which position do you think has the best (cogent or sound) arguments?
1. What makes them good? (cogent or sound)
2. Explain how those arguments overcome the other position.
B. Which position do you think has the worst (uncogent or unsound) arguments?
1. What makes them bad? (uncogent or unsound)
2. Explain those arguments are “knocked over” by other position.
V. Write your concluding paragraph, including any further observations or connections you want to make.
VI. LAST OF ALL: Write your thesis statement and opening introductory paragraph
A. Your first sentence should plunge the reader into the debate by clearly stating your position on the problem: Hit the ground running!
B. This is not a lit paper. Spare, clean and clear are better than rhetorical and verbose.
1. Avoid use of the second person.
2. DO NOT say "I feel that..." instead say, "I think" or "I hold" or "I maintain" or "I conclude" or ANYTHING that demonstrates that you are reasoning, rather than emoting.
2. Theron Schlabach offers the following wise advice:
Avoid self-conscious discussion of your intended purposes, your strategy, your sources, and your research methodology.
Draw your reader's attention to the points you are making, not to yourself and all the misery and sweat of your process of research and writing. Keep the focus on what you have to say, not on the question of how you hope to develop and say it. Do not parade around in your mental underwear. Show only the well-pressed and well-shined final product.