How to write a philosophy paper


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  • Sometimes when reading material in the spectrum of philosophy there is language used that may seem strange at first, but will become second nature with time. Philosophy uses some key terms that are present in almost all time periods of history (e.g. a priori, tautology) and becoming familiar with them will benefit you in all of your reading. Such terms also need to be used when writing about certain topics in order to be clearer about what it is you are talking about. (Refer to the workshop on abbreviations and terms for more information.)
  • Much of philosophy deals with analyzing a certain topic and trying to “break it down” into its most basic fundamental parts in order to better understand it. Basically, when writing a philosophy paper it will always be advantageous to not leave anything up to speculation whenever possible. If, when writing an idea or sentence, you surmise that the information you are trying to represent could be taken in several different ways, it will be advantageous to point out exactly what you mean and it what sense (which is a scary word for most philosophical topics and one that usually is to be avoided in any discourse) you mean it.
  • Philosophy is something that has been around for a very long time. In fact, all of the subjects we learn about were at one time theories set out by philosophers. The subject that that you are working on should have some kind of historical record of thought to go along with it, and this includes those philosophers that worked on those problems. If the thing which you are writing about has never been discussed philosophically, then you are already ahead of most people, and are continuing the long tradition of speculation and philosophical discourse, and for that, you should be commended. (There is also a workshop on paraphrasing and citation for a more in-depth look at the topic.)
  • Obviously, when writing a philosophy paper, you want to give reasons that support your central topic. This includes clearly stating each point that leads to your conclusion as well as giving reasons along the way for why your audience should agree with you. Any good philosopher will go one more step though before her/his paper ends: predicting objections to her/his own points and clearly stating why those objections do not hold any force against her/his affirmations. This will not only help the affirmations that have already been set out gain strength, but it will also show your instructor that the material that has been covered has been well understood by you.
  • Even if the paper you are writing is a historical perspective piece, this does not mean that your own thoughts should not be interjected. Merely working through and laying out the thought of another individual or group of philosophers is not enough, most of the time. Your goal should be to not only clearly set out arguments or ideas of philosophers, but you should also weigh in on the subject or argument yourself. Even if you are not a philosophy major, you still have opinions and ideas, and that makes you a philosopher, whether you like it or not (or else you would not wipe your feet before you went into your house or prefer one dish over the other when eating at a restaurant). This being said, if your teacher does assign a strict descriptive piece, the closing paragraph should include some of your own opinions on the subject. Just be sure to point to facts within your paper, and make arguments from them.
  • Philosophers sometimes get a bad reputation for being loners who sit in dark caves and write on scrolls and look constipated all the time. This is certainly true for some of them, but for many philosophers, there is no right or wrong way to do philosophy. Some like to write novels to make their point, some write journal articles, and still others like to write dreadfully mysterious and cryptic works which may not make sense at first or sometimes never at all. The point is, there is no wrong way to philosophize. Simply put, if you have a rational (or seemingly irrational at the time) idea that can be made provable by correctly constructed argument, then your philosophy should be given consideration.
  • How to write a philosophy paper

    1. 1. How to Write a Philosophy paper<br />By Hubble Stark<br />
    2. 2. Pre-writing<br />Familiarize yourself with the language used in the reading and in the prompt. <br />Some of the language of philosophy may at first seem foreign, but in time it becomes clearer. <br />Learning these terms and writing a paper for the subject also becomes easier. <br />
    3. 3. Writing for clarification<br />Much writing in philosophy deals with further clarification of the subject. <br />“Breaking down” the fundamental parts of an argument may be one goal for writing. <br />Try not to leave anything to speculation.<br />
    4. 4. Using other philosophers<br />Philosophy begat all other academic disciplines.<br />Citing (correctly) other philosophers will often be advantageous. <br />Most topics you will be assigned will have an historical background. <br />If your paper does not, trudge on fearless young philosopher for you are philosophizing. <br />
    5. 5. Support thesis, anticipate objections<br />Along the way provide reasons why your audience should agree with you. <br />Predict any objections that you can and show clearly why they hold no force against your affirmations. <br />This will show your instructor that you understand the topic/material well. <br />
    6. 6. Include argument/opinion<br />Interject your own thoughts alongside those coming from the topic and other philosophers. <br />Everyone has opinions and ideas. <br />Everyone is a philosopher, even you!<br />
    7. 7. Philosophy is fun <br />Philosophers don’t sit in caves all by themselves and dwell (not anymore anyway). They are people like you and me. <br />There is no right or wrong way to philosophize. <br />You may find yourself philosophizing about anything at all; this is what makes it so important and great. <br />
    8. 8. Writing Center tutors enjoy reading and discussing philosophy papers. Make an appointment to meet with one of them at any point in your writing process.<br />