2. Appropriate Structure and Style for a Philosophy Paper

Few students enjoy writing papers. Indeed, one might argue, causingsuffering intentionally is wrong, and I certainly will cause much sufferingin assigning papers in this course. My response to this argumentis that there is a long-term good which will arise out of this suffering--students will be better able to formulate, express, andargue their views. Successful communication requires that one haveclear views and that one be able to clearly state them to others. Of course, communication may take many forms. One particularly perverseform (in my opinion) is present-day media advertising. A philosophypaper is the antithesis of such communication. Rather than attemptingto seduce their audience, the authors of philosophy papers seek to provide which will clearly characterize the important aspects ofthe view under discussion, indicate its underlying rationale or justification,and critically compare it to alternative views. In short, such apaper is an argument--a collection of statements which clarify, ground,justify, and substantiate a given view or position.

The following sites offer excellent further advice on writing good philosophy papers:

Philosophy Papers available in the Final Honour Schools of PPE; Literae Humaniores (Classics); Philosophy and Modern Languages; Philosophy and Theology; Physics and Philosophy; Mathematics and Philosophy; Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics; Computer Science and Philosophy.

Click below Philosophy paper to enlarge.

Click below Philosophy paper to enlarge. Another kind of narrow focus paper concerns philosophical definitions. One of the principal projects of canonical philosophy, since Plato, has been the attempt to define philosophically important concepts, such as TRUTH, JUSTICE, and KNOWLEDGE. This has given rise to an important kind of philosophical debate. Philosophical definitions provide necessary and sufficient conditions for something to count as an example of some concept. For example, one classical definition of knowledge states that for a person to know some claim, the person must believe the claim; she must have good reasons for believing it, and the claim must be true. This definition claims that belief, truth and justification are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for knowledge. However, one of the classic papers of Twentieth Century philosophy raises a counterexample to this definition: an example of a justified true belief that, intuitively, should not count as knowledge. This counterexample shows that belief, truth and justification are not sufficient for knowledge, contrary to the classical definition. This has spawned a cottage industry, involving attempts to modify the definition of knowledge to accommodate the counterexample, followed by new counterexamples to these new definitions. Such give-and-take about the meanings of important philosophical concepts is typical of much academic philosophy. It also constitutes a great strategy for composing a narrow focus, undergraduate philosophy paper: identify some classic philosophical definition of a philosophically important concept, raise a counter-example to the definition, and then consider ways the definition might be modified to accommodate the counter-example. This cycle can be repeated through numerous iterations, including new counter-examples to new definitions, followed by newer definitions accommodating these counter-examples, etc.

Click below Philosophy paper to enlarge.

The narrow focus strategy is perhaps the most straightforward strategy for composing a philosophy paper. The point of such a paper is to focus as much as possible on a specific argument by a specific philosopher and to discuss the strengths and weakness of this specific argument. One begins by correctly explaining the target argument. Then one raises objections, either by showing that one or more of the premises is false or implausible, or by showing that the premises, even if true, fail to support the conclusion. One then considers how the author of argument might respond to these criticisms, and ends by replying to these responses. In the course of writing such a focused, critical analysis, the student should include a survey of other criticisms that have been raised, and make clear how her criticism is unique.

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