This page provides you with some guidelines for writing a philosophy paper. These guideliens are intended to give you a general idea about what you are supposed to be doing in writing a paper in Phl 302. The Oregon State University Philosophy Department Manuel for Writing Philosophy Papers which is one of the required readings for this course is considerably more detailed than these guidelines. If you have no experience in writing a philosophy paper I strongly suggest that you consult it.
In this paper you are to do some philosophy, not simply research and report facts. Nor should you write a history paper or an art paper which is vaguely related to philosophy. Analytic philosophy requires critical thinking about philosophical theses. To write a good paper in the analytic style, your prose must be clear and direct. It should be characterized by plain statements rather than rhetorical embellishment. Consequently, I will pay particular attention to the form and mechanics of your paper. The main work of your paper will be to advance arguments in defense of your thesis. These arguments may be informal (introduced in ordinary prose style) or formal (with numbered premises and conclusions, set off and displayed separately).Your paper should have the following form:
The paper must have an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should interest the reader in the philosophical problem your paper is concerned with, announce your thesis and alert the reader to the plan of your paper. In introducing the problem you may want to make general points about a large philosophical problem and then steadily narrow the focus to the specific problem you are going to deal with in your paper. The thesis should be a specific, concrete, one-sentence formulation of your resolution to the philosophical problem you propose to deal with in your paper. In the body of the paper, organize your paragraphs so that they produce an overall argument for your basic thesis. Structure each paragraph so that the sentences are logically connected or related to the topic sentence of the paragraph. The conclusion should be a brief recapitulation of what you have accomplished. Here are some additional points to keep in mind:
1. Consider your audience to be an educated, interested, intelligent person familiar with philosophical ideas in general but perhaps not with the particular essays you cite. Do not write to your professors. This means, for example, that you should present a given argument, not merely refer to it by a name used in class, and that you should explain any special terms you use. In particular, it means that you should not leave out steps or assume that your reader will understand what you have in mind.
2. Your paper should be organized around a problem, philosophical or interpretative and some claim you are making and arguing for which is connected to the solution of that problem. What you say should be relevant to and support your claim. When you present your view, consider what might plausibly be said against it and respond to this. When you criticize someone else's view, consider how that person might reply to your objections.
3. Keep the paper simple, clear, direct, and precise. The material you are discussing is complicated and vague enough as it is. Be very careful in your use of technical terminology, words invented or used in non-standard ways by the authors whose views you are addressing. If your claim or argument depends in any way on technical terminology, you will need to explain the terms. Avoid telling the reader that something is merely your opinion or feeling. Instead, make a claim and defend it.
4. Whenever you give another person's position or argument, either by direct quotation or paraphrase, cite your source. If it's from a book used in class, you may put the name of the book and page number in a parenthetical remark immediately following the quotation or paraphrase. Quotation has the virtue that it adds other voices to your paper. It provides evidence that the authors you are discussing really have the views you are attributing to them. But you should quote no more than you need to make the point at hand. Paraphrase is more appropriate when you are giving a general account of a position. It has the virtue of demonstrating your grasp of the material. Outlining an author's argument is often useful both for your understanding of the argument and for pointing out to a reader how and where and argument fails. Remember, if you paraphrase closely or quote, provide a footnote documenting your source. When you are presenting an opposing view, the tone of your paper should never be sarcastic or derogatory. Presenting an opposing view or possible objections to your thesis in the most plausible way possible. It is easy to argue against an absurd view. Your own argument will be much stronger if you deal successfully with a worthy opponent.
5. It is not possible to write a decent paper in one draft. After writing a draft, set it aside for a while and then read it carefully. How would you criticize the paper if it were someone else's? Does the paper make a coherent whole? Making an outline would help determine this. The paper you turn in should not be a first draft. It should be your best effort at a polished paper. You will not get maximum benefit from your professor's comments otherwise, nor will you get a good a grade.
6. Proofread your final draft a couple of times! Proofread to make sure that your argument is coherent and complete, and that you have accurately described the views you discuss. Proofread to eliminate awkward phrasing and grammatical and spelling errors. Leaving grammatical and spelling mistakes in your paper indicates a lack of respect for your own work and may result in a lower grade. Papers should be typed or produced on a word processor (double-spaced) and have a 1" margin at the top and bottom of each page as well as at the left and right edges. Use ordinary typewriter font, even if you think your paper is too long or too short.
7. You are encouraged to consult me for help with writing your paper. I also very strongly recommend that you make use of the services of the University Writing Center in Waldo Hall.
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