How to Write a Philosophy Paper
- Develop a Thesis
- Formulate an Argument
- Structure & Outline
- Grammar & Style
Developing Your Thesis
What is a Thesis?
The thesis is the most important part of your paper; it tells the reader what your stance is on a particular topic and offers reasons for that stance.
Since the rest of your paper will be spent defending your thesis--offering support for the thesis and reasons why criticism of the thesis may not be valid--it's crucial that you develop a strong thesis.
A strong thesis will:
- Answer a question;
- Be engaging; it can be challenged or opposed, thus also defended;
- Pass the "so what? why should I care?" test;
- Be supported by your paper;
- Not be too broad nor too vague.
Source: Writing Guide for Philosophy. George Mason University.
Image source: Sergui Bacioiu. Ripple effect on water. CC BY 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.
- Developing Your Thesis An overview of writing a thesis statement with guided questions for evaluating the quality of your statement. Everettcc.
- How to Write a Thesis Statement Emphasizes the characteristics of a well-developed thesis statement. Indiana University.
- Thesis Statements "...describes what a thesis statement is, how thesis statements work in your writing, and how you can discover or refine one..." University of North Carolina.
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Guide on How to Choose Philosophy Paper Topics
f you get lucky, you'll be able to choose philosophy paper topics instead of having to handle the complex prompts suggested by your tutors. At the same time, you need to pick topics very carefully to write a quality philosophy paper.
As an excellent philosophy essay is argumentative or persuasive in most cases, we recommend following these principles of topic choice from our custom term paper writing service .
How to Choose the Right Idea for a Philosophy Essay
The basic rule to follow when choosing philosophy essay topics is evaluating your knowledge about a discussed problem and the number of available sources to work with. We also recommend that you read definition essay topics .
Here is several more hint to make the right choice:
- Study classroom discussions and notes
Take notes during your classes. It helps to pick philosophy essay topics related to what you study.
- Come up with a list of options
Put down the best philosophy essay topics that you have to analyze on a separate sheet of paper. Look through them and decide which of the issues you can cover in-depth.
- Create content to persuade
The philosophy papers should explain why the prospected dispute is critical. Include some philosophical judgments to support your idea.
- Select something you have an opinion about
Your argument will sound bad in case you select the question you have no interest in.
- Choose a problem you can see both sides of
Do not be narrow-minded: it is up to you to pick a topic that has two sides, just like a coin. An opposite problem could be a good idea to discuss in a philosophical work. View the subject from multiple perspectives to have a stronger case while refuting the opposition.
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Good Philosophy Paper Topics
The tips above alone could be insufficient to understand how a great title for a philosophy essay should sound. Our write my dissertation service has listed philosophy paper topics to help students with their choices.
5 Easy Philosophy Research Paper Topics
If you are a freshman having no idea which theme to choose, we suggest that you take a look at these easy to write philosophy research paper topics.
- Reasons why animals inhabit this planet
- Missions that every man should accomplish during his life
- Are males and females that different as media present them?
- Causes and effects of living in a dream
- Why do I prefer blond hair?
Interesting Philosophy Paper Topics for Essay Writing
If you have a deep interest in studying philosophy, you may offer more unique issues to observe. Think about covering one of the following philosophy essay topics:
- Select a preferred account of specific particulars (e.g., alternative version or the Aristotelian theory) and interpret the concept of particular details that it endorses.
- Explain what the slingshot argument is and discuss its key assumptions
- What is the relation of exemplification?
- Offer and evaluate one of the claims adduced by Loux in support of Metaphysical realism
- Discuss Austere Nominalism with the help of a single argument of your choice
5 Political Philosophy Paper Topics
Most often, students will have to cover political philosophy paper topics in a thoughtful piece of writing. These topics might work:
- The pros & cons of violent and non-violent resistance/revolution
- Socialism VS Capitalism on unplanned and planned economics
- Locke VS Thoreau on the question of property
- Cultural unity VS multicultural plurality
- Bentham VS Mill on Utilitarianism
Easy Philosophy Paper Topics
There are some philosophy topics that are widespread and thus easy to write on:
- The Game Theory by J. von Neumann
- How does language influence people?
- Knowledge and imagination: what is prevalent?
- A prior and a posteriori
- The gens and how they influence people's behavior
Fun Philosophy Paper Topics
Sure thing, philosophy is a serious subject, but some topics may be funny to write essays on. Here are some examples.
- How do AI helpers like Siri or Alice affect our lives?
- Is there a human being without society? According to L.Tolstoi.
- The influence of comedies and dramas on human life perception.
- Does existentialism make sense in the 21 century?
- Extraterrestrial life: pieces of evidence and whether governments should reveal them to everyone.
Excellent Philosophy Essay Topics
- Is there a life after death? Discuss and prove with arguments.
- Family file traditions and principles.
- To Lie or not to lie? Discuss the cases when lying may be helpful.
- What is a perfect life?
- Is it possible to always be happy?
Interesting Philosophy Topics
- Ageism in 18 and 21 centuries.
- Feminism and religion.
- The use of genetic engineering research and how it affects our life
- How useful can preserving cultural heritage be?
- How important is achieving self-development?
After you choose the topic, do not forget to consult your tutor. Ask whether the issue is acceptable to discuss in your upcoming excellent philosophy essay. Now that we have an idea about how to select the right, we can move on to the next stage of crafting a good philosophy paper, which is writing a strong thesis statement.
If you want to pay someone to write your essay , contact us. Our professionals provide psychology, law, history essay help , or any other.
Discover How to Write a Thesis for a Philosophy Paper
If you wonder how to start a philosophy paper, think about a compelling thesis first. So, what is a thesis statement? A thesis is a central argument to defend. Compared to other types of essays, in a philosophy paper, a student often has to analyse the thesis offered by the distinguished author. Let's jump right to how to write a thesis statement for a philosophy paper.
When writing a thesis statement, you may decide which strategy to choose to support the claim of some philosopher:
- Interpret the thesis statement
- Propose an argument to support the thesis
- Come up with an objection
- Defend against a complaint to the thesis
- Assess points for and against the principal claim
- Think about the possible outcomes
- Define if some other argument commits one to the thesis
- Decide whether some different positions can be held consistently with the main argument
The last few options are more challenging than the first several, but such strategies make the paper much more interesting to read. It is more difficult to object one's opinion than defend it. A writer should find a defence versus the criticism of other sides, search for exact reasons to reject the theory of another person, include numerous counter-examples, and operate with credible data to object.
Anyway, here are some things to keep in mind that will help to support the thesis no matter which strategy you choose for your writing process:
- Add examples from both sources and real life;
- Compare & contrast the weak and strong points of the central argument;
- Make the thesis more plausible by offering alternative theories — show your objectivity;
- Imagine what would happen if the thesis - key arguments - were correct;
- Find out if some philosophers are committed to the argument by personal views;
- Proofread & edit the thesis several times to make sure it is specific, narrow, concise, compelling, reasonable, and has a hint concerning the rest of the paper.
Do you still wonder how to write a good thesis? How about the examples of thesis statements that could help you? Look at them to have an idea:
“I have to argue that Singer's thesis should be revised in light of Steve's criticism, but not entirely. I want to offer an improved version of Singer's central argument… And I should admit that this updated version avoids Steve's rejections. My final mission is to protect the updated thesis statement against other possible objections.”
“I should argue that if the fetus is an individual who possesses a right to live, abortion is moral even though it might not be viewed as an ethical activity. The fetus has no right to use the female's organism without her tacit consent. If the woman gets pregnant after a violent sexual act, she has all the moral rights to get rid of the fetus with the help of abortion.”
“I disagree with most of the positions that do not support the death penalty in this state. The one who took away the life of another one does not deserve to live. Murderers and papers should not be set free even after ages spent in jail as nothing can change a human being. By letting the serious criminals out, we put the lives of our children under threat!”
A Few Words About Evidence
Having proper evidence to support your claim is the critical success factor when it comes to writing a philosophy paper . Philosophers always find something to debate even when they leave empirical questions aside. On the one hand, what type of empirical evidence would be required to solve the problem might itself appear as a non-empirical issue that philosophers study. On the other hand, philosophers spend plenty of time discussing how various arguments are logically interconnected. An essential tool to use when rationalizing your statement is a reductio ad absurdum .
What Is Reductio ad Absurdum?
A reductio ad absurdum is an argument that aims to show how several views cannot be held consistently with each other. It may also point that even though a few ideas are consistent with each other, together, they entail an implausible final claim. Reductio allows having exact reasons to disagree with at least one of the offered premises.
Example of a Question-Begging
Another type of argument for your philosophical writing is a question-begging one . Here is how it looks like:
Keep in mind that ambitious terms like “religious experiences,” in our case, are a common issue, and can mask other pitfalls.
Another Way to Classify Arguments
It is possible to categorize arguments for the philosophy paper in a different way. The more popular division is deductive and non-deductive arguments.
A deductive argument is one that insists on the truth of the conclusion in case the premises are all true. An example could be, “They released 10,000 tickets for the Sweden Rock Festival. There will be no extra tickets, and the time is limited for all users to purchase them online. Thus, my chance of getting one ticket is 1 in 10,000.”
A non-deductive argument is one that states that there is just a high degree of probability for the conclusion. For instance, “All cats that I have ever met in my life will love playing with humans. Buffy is a cat. Therefore, Buffy will probably like playing with me.”
Checklist to Start a Philosophy Paper
- Study discussions and notes that you have made in a classroom
- Create a list of philosophy essay topics
- Explain why disputes are critical
- Select a topic you have an opinion about, and you can see both sides of its problem
- Choose a central argument to defend and write a thesis statement
- Find proper evidence to support your claim
Our readers find the Great Gatsby summary very interesting, we recommend you read this article from our authors.
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If you would like qualified assistance with your philosophy paper, then contact to our team.
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Tips for Writing about Philosophy
These are tips for writing a philosophy paper by Douglas W. Portmore. Select an option from the menu on the right to read more.
Copyright © 2001 (Revised 2012) by Douglas W. Portmore. Some Rights Reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Jim Pryor's Writing Guidelines
I cannot claim credit for many of the ideas contained within this guide. Many of them have come from the other guides that I've looked at—I've listed them below. I have also borrowed from handouts used by colleagues at both the University of California, Santa Barbara and the College of Charleston. I have tried to give credit where credit is due, but I may have left some people out. My sincere apologies to those individuals and my thanks to the authors of all those guides.
Other Guides to Writing Philosophy
- A. P. Martinich, Philosophical Writing, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996).
- Joel Feinberg and Russ Shafer-Landau, Doing Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2001).
- Stephen M. Garrison, Anthony J. Graybosch, and Gregory M. Scott, The Philosophy Student Writer's Manual (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997).
- P. Martinich, Philosophical Writing, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996). 4 Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achert, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 3rd ed. (New York, NY: The Modern Language Association, 1988), 21-25.
- Jay F. Rosenberg, The Practice of Philosophy: A Handbook for Beginners, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995).
- Zachery Seech, Writing Philosophy Papers, 3rd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1997).
- Barry Brown, "How to Write an Essay in Bioethics." http://www.chass.utoronto.ca:8080/philosophy/phlwrite/brown1.html.
- R. L. Franklin, "On Writing Philosophy Assignments."
- R. W. Hepburn, "Good and bad in philosophy essays." http://www.arts.ed.ac.uk/philosophy/study_html/vade-mecum/sections/section4/4-1.htm.
- James Pryor, "Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper." http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/guidelines/writing.html .
- Evan Thompson and Duff Waring, "Essay Writing Handbook for Philosophy Students." http://www.yorku.ca/hjackman/Teaching/handbook.pdf .
- Michael Tooley, "Writing a Good Ethics Essay." http://spot.colorado.edu/~tooley/WritingEssays.html .
- Adam Polak, "Essentials of Effective Persuasive Essays," at http://spot.colorado.edu/~tooley/WritingEssays.html .
- 2.6 Writing Philosophy Papers
- 1.1 What Is Philosophy?
- 1.2 How Do Philosophers Arrive at Truth?
- 1.3 Socrates as a Paradigmatic Historical Philosopher
- 1.4 An Overview of Contemporary Philosophy
- Review Questions
- Further Reading
- 2.1 The Brain Is an Inference Machine
- 2.2 Overcoming Cognitive Biases and Engaging in Critical Reflection
- 2.3 Developing Good Habits of Mind
- 2.4 Gathering Information, Evaluating Sources, and Understanding Evidence
- 2.5 Reading Philosophy
- 3.1 Indigenous Philosophy
- 3.2 Classical Indian Philosophy
- 3.3 Classical Chinese Philosophy
- 4.1 Historiography and the History of Philosophy
- 4.2 Classical Philosophy
- 4.3 Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Philosophy
- 5.1 Philosophical Methods for Discovering Truth
- 5.2 Logical Statements
- 5.3 Arguments
- 5.4 Types of Inferences
- 5.5 Informal Fallacies
- 6.1 Substance
- 6.2 Self and Identity
- 6.3 Cosmology and the Existence of God
- 6.4 Free Will
- 7.1 What Epistemology Studies
- 7.2 Knowledge
- 7.3 Justification
- 7.4 Skepticism
- 7.5 Applied Epistemology
- 8.1 The Fact-Value Distinction
- 8.2 Basic Questions about Values
- 8.3 Metaethics
- 8.4 Well-Being
- 8.5 Aesthetics
- 9.1 Requirements of a Normative Moral Theory
- 9.2 Consequentialism
- 9.3 Deontology
- 9.4 Virtue Ethics
- 9.6 Feminist Theories of Ethics
- 10.1 The Challenge of Bioethics
- 10.2 Environmental Ethics
- 10.3 Business Ethics and Emerging Technology
- 11.1 Historical Perspectives on Government
- 11.2 Forms of Government
- 11.3 Political Legitimacy and Duty
- 11.4 Political Ideologies
- 12.1 Enlightenment Social Theory
- 12.2 The Marxist Solution
- 12.3 Continental Philosophy’s Challenge to Enlightenment Theories
- 12.4 The Frankfurt School
- 12.5 Postmodernism
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Identify and characterize the format of a philosophy paper.
- Create thesis statements that are manageable and sufficiently specific.
- Collect evidence and formulate arguments.
- Organize ideas into a coherent written presentation.
This section will provide some practical advice on how to write philosophy papers. The format presented here focuses on the use of an argumentative structure in writing. Different philosophy professors may have different approaches to writing. The sections below are only intended to give some general guidelines that apply to most philosophy classes.
The key element in any argumentative paper is the claim you wish to make or the position you want to defend. Therefore, take your time identifying claims , which is also called the thesis statement. What do you want to say about the topic? What do you want the reader to understand or know after reading your piece? Remember that narrow, modest claims work best. Grand claims are difficult to defend, even for philosophy professors. A good thesis statement should go beyond the mere description of another person’s argument. It should say something about the topic, connect the topic to other issues, or develop an application of some theory or position advocated by someone else. Here are some ideas for creating claims that are perfectly acceptable and easy to develop:
- Compare two philosophical positions. What makes them similar? How are they different? What general lessons can you draw from these positions?
- Identify a piece of evidence or argument that you think is weak or may be subject to criticism. Why is it weak? How is your criticism a problem for the philosopher’s perspective?
- Apply a philosophical perspective to a contemporary case or issue. What makes this philosophical position applicable? How would it help us understand the case?
- Identify another argument or piece of evidence that might strengthen a philosophical position put forward by a philosopher. Why is this a good argument or piece of evidence? How does it fit with the philosopher’s other claims and arguments?
- Consider an implication (either positive or negative) that follows from a philosopher’s argument. How does this implication follow? Is it necessary or contingent? What lessons can you draw from this implication (if positive, it may provide additional reasons for the argument; if negative, it may provide reasons against the argument)?
Think Like a Philosopher
The following multiple-choice exercises will help you identify and write modest, clear philosophical thesis statements. A thesis statement is a declarative statement that puts forward a position or makes a claim about some topic.
- How does Aristotle think virtue is necessary for happiness?
- Is happiness the ultimate goal of human action?
- Whether or not virtue is necessary for happiness.
- Aristotle argues that happiness is the ultimate good of human action and virtue is necessary for happiness.
- René Descartes argues that the soul or mind is the essence of the human person.
- Descartes shows that all beliefs and memories about the external world could be false.
- Some people think that Descartes is a skeptic, but I will show that he goes beyond skepticism.
- In the meditations, Descartes claims that the mind and body are two different substances.
- Descartes says that the mind is a substance that is distinct from the body, but I disagree.
- Contemporary psychology has shown that Descartes is incorrect to think that human beings have free will and that the mind is something different from the brain.
- Thomas Hobbes’s view of the soul is materialistic, whereas Descartes’s view of the soul is nonphysical. In this paper, I will examine the differences between these two views.
- John Stuart Mill reasons that utilitarian judgments can be based on qualitative differences as well as the quantity of pleasure, but ultimately any qualitative difference must result in a difference in the quantity of pleasure.
- Mill’s approach to utilitarianism differs from Bentham’s by introducing qualitative distinctions among pleasures, where Bentham only considers the quantitative aspects of pleasure.
- J. S. Mill’s approach to utilitarianism aligns moral theory with the history of ethics because he allows qualitative differences in moral judgments.
- Rawls’s liberty principle ensures that all people have a basic set of freedoms that are important for living a full life.
- The US Bill of Rights is an example of Rawls’s liberty principle because it lists a set of basic freedoms that are guaranteed for all people.
- While many people may agree that Rawls’s liberty principle applies to all citizens of a particular country, it is much more controversial to extend those same basic freedoms to immigrants, including those classified by the government as permanent residents, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, and refugees.
[ANS: 1.d 2.c 3.c 4.a 5.c]
Write Like a Philosopher
Use the following templates to write your own thesis statement by inserting a philosopher, claim, or contemporary issue:
- [Name of philosopher] holds that [claim], but [name of another philosopher] holds that [another claim]. In this paper, I will identify reasons for thinking [name of philosopher]’s position is more likely to be true.
- [Name of philosopher] argues that [claim]. In this paper, I will show how this claim provides a helpful addition to [contemporary issue].
- When [name of philosopher] argues in favor of [claim], they rely on [another claim] that is undercut by contemporary science. I will show that if we modify this claim in light of contemporary science, we will strengthen or weaken [name of philosopher]’s argument.
Collect Evidence and Build Your Case
Once you have identified your thesis statement or primary claim, collect evidence (by returning to your readings) to compose the best possible argument. As you assemble the evidence, you can think like a detective or prosecutor building a case. However, you want a case that is true, not just one that supports your position. So you should stay open to modifying your claim if it does not fit the evidence . If you need to do additional research, follow the guidelines presented earlier to locate authoritative information.
If you cannot find evidence to support your claim but still feel strongly about it, you can try to do your own philosophical thinking using any of the methods discussed in this chapter or in Chapter 1. Imagine counterexamples and thought experiments that support your claim. Use your intuitions and common sense, but remember that these can sometimes lead you astray. In general, common sense, intuitions, thought experiments, and counterexamples should support one another and support the sources you have identified from other philosophers. Think of your case as a structure: you do not want too much of the weight to rest on a single intuition or thought experiment.
Philosophy papers differ from typical argumentative papers in that philosophy students must spend more time and effort anticipating and responding to counterarguments when constructing their own arguments. This has two important effects: first, by developing counterarguments, you demonstrate that you have sufficiently thought through your position to identify possible weaknesses; second, you make your case stronger by taking away a potential line of attack that an opponent might use. By including counterarguments in your paper, you engage in the kind of dialectical process that philosophers use to arrive at the truth.
Accurately Represent Source Material
It is important to represent primary and secondary source material as accurately as possible. This means that you should consider the context and read the arguments using the principle of charity. Make sure that you are not strawmanning an argument you disagree with or misrepresenting a quote or paraphrase just because you need some evidence to support your argument. As always, your goal should be to find the most rationally compelling argument, which is the one most likely to be true.
Organize Your Paper
Academic philosophy papers use the same simple structure as any other paper and one you likely learned in high school or your first-year composition class.
Introduce Your Thesis
The purpose of your introduction is to provide context for your thesis. Simply tell the reader what to expect in the paper. Describe your topic, why it is important, and how it arises within the works you have been reading. You may have to provide some historical context, but avoid both broad generalizations and long-winded historical retellings. Your context or background information should not be overly long and simply needs to provide the reader with the context and motivation for your thesis. Your thesis should appear at the end of the introduction, and the reader should clearly see how the thesis follows from the introductory material you have provided. If you are writing a long paper, you may need several sentences to express your thesis, in which you delineate in broad terms the parts of your argument.
Make a Logical and Compelling Case Using the Evidence
The paragraphs that follow the introduction lay out your argument. One strategy you can use to successfully build paragraphs is to think in terms of good argument structure. You should provide adequate evidence to support the claims you want to make. Your paragraphs will consist of quotations and paraphrases from primary and secondary sources, context and interpretation, novel thoughts and ideas, examples and analogies, counterarguments, and replies to the counterarguments. The evidence should both support the thesis and build toward the conclusion. It may help to think architecturally: lay down the foundation, insert the beams of your strongest support, and then put up the walls to complete the structure. Or you might think in terms of a narrative: tell a story in which the evidence leads to an inevitable conclusion.
See the chapter on logic and reasoning for a developed account of different types of philosophical arguments.
Summarize Your Argument in the Conclusion
Conclude your paper with a short summary that recapitulates the argument. Remind the reader of your thesis and revisit the evidence that supports your argument. You may feel that the argument as written should stand on its own. But it is helpful to the reader to reinforce the argument in your conclusion with a short summary. Do not introduce any new information in the conclusion; simply summarize what you have already said.
The purpose of this chapter has been to provide you with basic tools to become a successful philosophy student. We started by developing a sophisticated picture of how the brain works, using contemporary neuroscience. The brain represents and projects a picture of the world, full of emotional significance, but this image may contain distortions that amount to a kind of illusion. Cognitive illusions produce errors in reasoning, called cognitive biases. To guard against error, we need to engage in effortful, reflective thinking, where we become aware of our biases and use logical strategies to overcome them. You will do well in your philosophy class if you apply the good habits of mind discussed in this chapter and apply the practical advice that has been provided about how to read and write about philosophy.
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How to Write a Philosophy Paper
Professor amy kind.
Students often find philosophy papers difficult to write since the expectations are very different from those in other disciplines, even from those of other disciplines in the humanities. What follows is some general advice about how to go about writing short (4 - 5 page) philosophy papers on pre-assigned topics.
Before starting to write
Make sure that you have read all of the relevant texts very carefully. Even though you have probably read these texts previously, it is a good idea to reread them in light of the question you plan to answer.
Also make sure that you have spent some time thinking about the question itself. You want to make sure that everything you write is relevant to the question asked, and if you don’t understand the question, then you won’t be able to write an assignment that is to the point.
How to conceive of and write your paper
Answer the question, the whole question, and nothing but the question. First, address the question that is asked. (This again points to the need to understand what the question is asking.) Second, be sure that your answer is complete. If the question has different parts, be sure that you have addressed each part. Third, make sure that you do not pursue tangential issues. Your answer will be evaluated in connection with the question that was asked. Even a brilliant essay cannot get a good grade if it does not answer the question.
Philosophy papers usually involve both exposition and evaluation . In the expository part of the paper, your task is to explain the view or argument under consideration. Make sure that your explanation is as explicit as possible. The evaluation part of the paper is your chance to do some philosophy of your own. It is not enough merely to state whether you agree or disagree with the philosopher’s conclusion. You should engage with her reasoning. Some questions you might consider: does her argument succeed in getting to the desired conclusion? Which premises are the weakest points of the argument? What objections might be raised to these premises? Are there any ways that her argument could be bolstered to defend against such objections?
As you write, think about your intended audience. You should not write your paper as if it is a personal communiqué to me. Instead, imagine your audience as someone who is intelligent and interested in the subject but has not studied it. (Think of yourself, before taking this class, or perhaps of your roommate.)
When you use an unfamiliar or “technical” term (i.e. a term that we have given some specific meaning in this class) be sure to define it.
In general, a thesaurus is not the friend of a philosophy student. Do not be afraid to re-use the same terms over and over, especially when they are key terms in an argument. Do not use different terms just for variety’s sake; unfortunately, synonyms listed by a thesaurus often vary in connotation and meaning. If you mean to talk about the same concept throughout, use the same term throughout.
As a rule, you should not use quotes. A series of quotes strung together, even creatively strung together, is not a paper. The main reason to quote a passage is to make it more convenient for you to talk about what the passage says (and to make it more convenient for your reader as well). Thus, you should not rely on a quotation to answer a key part of the question. Answer in your own words instead.
You should, however, include textual references. Whenever you make a claim about what is said in the text, it is appropriate to provide a specific reference to back up your claim. Do not make claims like “Socrates believes that …” without supporting them. For short papers using class texts, footnotes are not necessary; it is sufficient to make parenthetical references, such as ( Meno 77b).
Write until you have said what you need to say, not until you hit the page limit. (Incidentally, if you find that you don’t have enough to say to reach the word limit, you’re probably missing something. The problem should be to confine your paper to the page limit, not to stretch out your paper to the minimum required.) You may end up with a first draft that is too long, but at a later stage you can go back through your work and see whether there are sentences or paragraphs that are not really necessary or that can be made more concise. The point is that you will be better able to evaluate what is truly important if you have included everything on your first draft.
Finally, do not try to compose your paper, from start to finish, in one session – especially not the night before it is due. Make sure that you have the chance to write a first draft and then let it percolate for awhile. Very few people are able to dash off a good paper in one sitting!
How to write an introduction
Don’t begin with a very general opening statement: “Plato was one of the world’s greatest philosophers…” or “The definition of virtue is something that philosophers have debated for centuries…”
Do briefly tell your reader what your paper is about and what your main thesis is. Notice that there is a difference between telling your reader what you are going to talk about and telling your reader what you will argue. Compare:
In the Meno , Meno presents Socrates with a paradox about inquiry. There is no way to inquire into something that you don’t know, since you don’t know how to begin, but there is also no way to inquire into something that you already know, since you already have the knowledge in question. Thus, we reach the paradoxical conclusion that inquiry is impossible. Socrates attempts to unravel Meno’s paradox by presenting his theory of recollection. In what follows, I will discuss Meno’s paradox and Socrates’ criticism of it.
In the Meno , Meno presents Socrates with a paradox about inquiry. There is no way to inquire into something that you don’t know, since you don’t know how to begin, but there is also no way to inquire into something that you already know, since you already have the knowledge in question. Thus, we reach the paradoxical conclusion that inquiry is impossible. Socrates attempts to unravel Meno’s paradox by presenting his theory of recollection. In what follows, I will argue that Socrates does not adequately defend his theory of recollection. However, I will also suggest that even if we were to accept the theory of recollection, this would not provide an adequate answer to Meno’s paradox.
The second of these introductions is superior to the first. Notice that only the second presents an actual thesis statement.
Sometimes you will be in a better position to write an introduction after you have written the main body of your paper, for you will then have a better idea of what your argument really is.
How to write a conclusion
Don’t feel as though you must summarize all of your results. You have written a short paper; the reader recalls your argument and will only be annoyed if you repeat yourself.
Don’t end with a hedged claim like “Though Socrates’ argument is strong, his opponents also have good points.” Also try to avoid the temptation to end with an empty prediction about continued debate: “Though Meno’s definition of virtue is a good one, the philosophical debate over what it means to be virtuous will no doubt continue.”
Do find some nice way of wrapping up your essay. This does not mean that you should claim that every facet of the issue has been addressed. Sometimes a conclusion sets out problems that still remain. There is nothing wrong with defending a qualified conclusion, such as “Socrates’ theory of recollection can be defended against this criticism,” rather than an unqualified conclusion, such as “Socrates’ theory of recollection is entirely correct.” In fact, you will probably not have argued for the latter conclusion in your paper, since it requires that you have shown not only that some criticisms fail, but also that there are not any other criticisms that might succeed against Socrates’ theory. Make sure that you do not claim that you have shown more than have actually shown in your paper. (It is especially tempting to exaggerate your accomplishments in a grand-finale-style concluding paragraph; resist this temptation.)
For example, here is a conclusion that avoids exaggeration:
As Socrates’ discussion with the slave suggests, it is plausible to suppose that someone can discover, without being taught, a geometrical claim that they did not already know. However, as I have argued, we cannot generalize from the case of geometrical knowledge to knowledge of other sorts of facts. Thus, Socrates fails to provide an adequate reason to believe his claim that all learning is recollection.
[Notice that the conclusion does not claim that Socrates’ claim is shown to be false, but only that Socrates has not adequately defended it.]
Once you have a draft
The principal virtue in philosophical writing is clarity. As you reread each sentence of your draft, ask yourself: “Is this point expressed clearly?” Your prose should be simple, direct, and to the point.
As you re-read your paper, think about whether it is organized in the best way. Would it be more effective if this paragraph went here, and that one went there? Very often, our first efforts need a rather serious structural overhaul. Also, look for opportunities to improve your paper, such as adding an example here, rewriting an awkward sentence there, and so on…
Proofread your paper carefully. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can distract a reader and divert her attention from your argument. It may also give her the impression – a false one, perhaps – that you simply don’t care enough about your work to run it through a spell-check program.
Very often, what distinguishes an excellent paper from a merely decent paper is the depth and quality of their explanations. The decent paper may not make any obvious mistakes or omit anything crucial; it often just does not communicate its message as clearly and effectively as the excellent paper does. Thus, always try to find ways of strengthening your explanations. Examples will help here. Almost all philosophy relies on the use of examples, both for illustrative and persuasive purposes.
As a professor of mine used to tell his classes, “There is, and can be, no direct correlation between the grade you receive on a paper and the amount of time or effort you have spent on the paper; which is not to say that hard work does not produce results, but only that some people can do with great ease what others cannot do at all or can only do with great effort. In an hour, Mozart could produce a piece of music that I would be unable to match even if I spent my whole life working at it.”
Also remember that the grade that you get on the paper represents my judgment of the quality of the results – not what you meant to say, but what you actually said.
Profitt Philosophy 100: How to Write a Philosophy Paper
- MLA Format and Choosing a Topic
- How to Write a Philosophy Paper
- Using Databases for Research
- Creating a Bibliography
Write the Thesis Statement
Always start with the thesis statement. A philosophy paper is a defense of a thesis. This makes the thesis statement for your paper very important. Remember, thesis statement tells the reader what your argument or point of view is going to be. This statement will help refine your topic. The thesis statement also focuses your research and paper. Don't write a weak thesis statement. Take a stand.
Step 1: Pick one of the topics that interests you.
Step 2: Ask yourself a yes or no question about this topic.
Step 3: That will become your thesis statement and your stand.
Step 4: Write the thesis statement.
Two examples of a philosophy thesis statements are the following:
- It is impossible for humans to determine the existence of God.
- God does exist.
Writing Philosophy Papers
- Brief Guide to Writing Philosophy Papers This is a brief guide that your professor has suggested that you review to improve your paper
- How to Write a Philosophy Paper This is a very general overview about how to construct a philosophy paper.
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