Writing Philosophy Papers Dr. Adam Auch, Dalhousie Writing Centre
What Makes PhilosophicalWriting Different?o The focus on reasoned argument distinguishes philosophical writing from other types of academic writing.o Philosophy is all about thinking.o And philosophical writing is all about putting thoughts on the page.
What does Philosophical WritingLook Like?o Philosophers throughout history have expressed their thoughts in a number of different ways: o Prayers (Augustine/Anselm) o Aphorisms (Nietzsche) o Dialogues (Plato) o Numbered Propositions (Wittgenstein)o But for most modern philosophers (and students of philosophy), the genre of choice is the formal essay.
The Form of a PhilosophicalEssayo The form of a philosophical essay is dictated by its argument.o But generally, a philosophical essay must have a beginning, middle and end. o Beginning: An introduction- What you intend to do o Body: Your fully fleshed-out argument o Conclusion: A recap of what you have done/argued
Varieties of PhilosophicalEssayso Argumentative essay o The author argues for a particular claim or opiniono Exegetical essay o The author summarizes or reconstructs another writer‟s argument.o Response essay o The author evaluates and responds to another writer‟s argumentso Some essays involve doing some or all of these.
Argumentative Essayso Here, the key is to establish a particular claim or opinion.o The essay takes the form of an argument with this claim as its conclusion.o As the writer of this essay, your job is to provide reasons why we should accept this claim.o For example: “Canadian drug laws should be amended to allow the legalization of marijuana because…”o Be as specific as possible in your reasons and your examples.
Getting Started- Reading theAssignmento Before beginning to write, be sure to read over the assignment carefully. o Are you being asked to answer a specific question? o What kind of essay are you supposed to write? o How long is your essay supposed to be? o Are there any special requirements you need to fulfill?
Getting Started- Developing aThesiso Think about the questions being asked. How would you answer them?o What arguments do you need to show that they are true?o Write out your answers in a couple of sentences.o This will be your provisional thesis statement. Keep it in mind as you write.
Getting Started- AnotherMethodo For 10-15 minutes, try to write out everything you know about the topic in question. DO NOT EDIT.o Once you‟ve finished, read over what you‟ve written. o Are there any recurring themes/concepts? o What would you say is the most important claim you make?o This will be your provisional thesis statement.
Getting Ready to Writeo Look at your provisional thesis statement: o Is it one big claim? Or a claim with a number of sub- claims? o Does it contain any terms that you need to define? o Does your thesis rely on other claims? o What are they? How would you go about establishing them? o What is your argument? Does it have a number of stages to it? What are they?
Developing Your Argumento For each sub-claim or argument- stage, write a paragraph that covers everything you want your reader to know about it.o Think about how these paragraphs fit together: o Which paragraph should go first. Which should go second? o How do the discussions in these paragraphs relate to your overall argument?
Objections and Replieso Philosophical writing is a kind of conversation. o The issues you are considering are complex.o Try to anticipate what people who disagree with your position might say. o Might they disagree with your thesis? Or one of your premises? Both? o Does your conclusion have troubling implications? o What reasons might they have for their position?
Example of an Objection:It might be objected that my argument forlegalizing marijuana in Canada could be appliedto other currently illegal drugs. While the effectsof marijuana on health are relativelyinnocuous, the objection goes, those of harderdrugs such as heroin are not. As such, thebenefits of a less stringent drug law enforcementprogram would be undercut by the public healthcosts generated by the increased use of theseharder drugs...
Objections and Replieso Try to develop the objection in as much detail as possible (dont just write a sentence about it and move on). o Be fair! (Is this a position someone would plausibly take? Dont use “straw-people”)o Think about this as a way of using a contrary position to explain a premise of your own argument. o By replying to the objection, you are spelling out exactly why you think your position is the correct one.
Example of RepliesFirst of all, while I agree that there is a difference in thehealth of those who use marijuana and those who useharder drugs, there is no reason to believe that theliberalization of drug laws would lead to an increaseduse in hard drugs...Secondly, and more importantly, I think it is possible toamend my proposal to allow the legalization ofmarijuana while maintaining the prohibition on harderdrugs (such as heroin)...
Revising- Generalo Once you‟ve organized your paragraphs, read over the entire essay.o Have you said everything you wanted to say?o Is your argument complete? Or do you need to add some premises?o Is the argument you make in your paper the same as the one laid out in your provisional thesis statement? o If not, then you should revise your thesis to fit your argument.
Revising- Paragraphso Now do the same thing for each paragraph. o What is the single claim („Bumper Sticker‟, „T-shirt slogan‟) that you want to establish. o Read each sentence: Does it help to establish the claim? Or could it be removed without damaging your argument. o Is your argument complete? Or do you need to add something else? o Are you making specific claims? Or are you using purely general language (“there are a number of factors involved in this issue”).
A Few Words of Style Adviceo Watch out for technical philosophical language. o For example: „logical‟, „valid‟, „sound‟, „begs the question‟o Use gender neutral language.o Don‟t be afraid to use the First Person (I) when making your argument. o You are expressing your opinions. Don‟t be afraid to take ownership.o Use sign-posting language to let your reader know where you are in your argument: o For example, “First of all..”; “My first claim is that..”; “My reply to the first objection is...”
Style Advice- Continuedo Avoid using rhetorical questions. o You are usually working under a word limit. Such questions take up valuable space!o Whenever possible, use plain, easy to understand language. o Remember, you are trying to be as clear as possible
Citationso Citations play two different roles in philosophical essays:o 1) They help one demonstrate intellectual honesty;o 2) They provide a bridge between one‟s paper and other papers written on the subject.
Citations- Continuedo Cite all direct quotes and all paraphrases.o Cite in-text by indicating the author, date and page # in round brackets immediately after the sentence containing the passage or paraphrase. In APA style, this citation would appear as follows: The author argues that….(Williams,1985, p. 45).o Use direct quotes sparingly (or don‟t use them at all)-- Only use them in cases when the exact wording of a sentence is important, or when the author you are citing has put things especially well.
Citationso Different professors have different preferred citation styles. Be sure to ask if you are unsure.o Be aware that the APA and MLA have updated their style guides. Be sure to ask which edition the prof wants.o When in doubt: BE AS CONSISTENT AS POSSIBLE.
Online Citation Guideso Citation style guides are available for free on the library websiteo APA: http://www.library.dal.ca/Files/How_do_I/pdf/apa_style6.pdfo MLA: http://www.library.dal.ca/Files/How_do_I/pdf/mla_style7.pdf
Other Citation Resourceso The English Department @ Purdue has put together a very detailed guide to formatting and citations:o http://owl.english.purdue.edu/o You can also ask detailed questions about proper citation at the Dalhousie Writing Centre or refer to the Dal LibGuide at http://dal.ca.libguides.com/writingcentre
Seeking Helpo If you have questions about the assignment, the material, or the writing process do not be afraid to ask for help. o From the Professor o From the TA o From the Writing Centre oKillam Library-- Learning Commons o494-1963 oEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org oLibGuide: http://dal.ca.libguides.com/writingcentre oWebsite: http://writingcentre.dal.ca