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Hilosophical Essays Represent Your Chance to Do Philosophy in Its Purest Form. All Too Often We'll Be Working So Hard Just to Understand What Other Philosophers Have Said That We Won't Have as Much Time to Construct Our Own Thought and Arguments

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hilosophical essays represent your chance to DO philosophy in its purest form. All too often we'll be working so hard just to understand what other philosophers have said that we won't have as much time to construct our own thought and arguments about the questions we'll consider. The papers are the exception to this rule, because in those papers, you will be encouraged to not only tell me what philosopher X said about issue S, but also to tell me what you think is true about issue S offering your own support for your claims. Although I'll seek this same kind of critical insight from you during class discussions and on essay portions of the exam, you will be able to best accomplish it in the papers, because you'll have time to really think about and wrestle with the issues. But at the same time that we acknowledge that papers are the best medium for DOING philosophy, we should also note that learning to write good critical philosophy papers is every bit as difficult as learning to read for understanding [reading2]. This brief essay is intended to help you make some inroads on the task of becoming a good philosophical writer.

It shouldn't be any surprise to you to find that good philosophical writing goes hand in hand with good philosophical reading. We said previously that a good reader will do two primary readings: one to gain understanding and one to offer criticism. Since most of the papers that will be assigned in this class will require that you respond to some philosophical view that we've read, the structure of your paper will parallel the structure of your reading. First, after you've read an article to gain understanding, you should seek to demonstrate the understanding of the material that you have gained from your reading when writing your papers. For example, in this section of your paper, you would offer an account of the overall conclusion of the article, offer your interpretations of the most important words or terms, sentences or propositions, and paragraphs or arguments, and so on. Basically all the understanding that you've gain from your careful reading of some text should be translated into a concise record of that understanding in your papers. Second, after you've read the article again, this time to offer criticism, you should seek to carefully explain and argue for those criticisms in your papers. In this section of your paper, you would highlight those places where you think that the author either made a mistake or needs to sure up his or her view.

In what follows, you'll find some helpful and practical hints to make your writing excellent:

* Organize your paper carefully, and make certain that ALL aspects of the assigned topic have been addressed. Making and working from an outline allows you to remain organized and address all the required aspects of the topic.

* If you use any terms which have been defined in a special way in class or in the readings, [e.g., in the Arthur piece, "conscience" or in the Kant piece, "maxim"], then you must explain how you are using those terms in your paper. Note the link here between reading philosophy well and writing philosophy well. One of the rules dealing with the interpretive reading is to discover and interpret the most important words or terms. In philosophical papers, those important terms need to be explained completely.

* When reconstructing an author's argument, the key to success is to balance completeness with conciseness. You must discuss and explain all the relevant aspects of an argument, but do not go on for pages and pages. If you have to err, however, err on the side of too much explanation. Do not leave your statements or assertions unsupported. If you are giving someone else's argument for a position, explain each part of the argument carefully and fully. Do not sketchily breeze past important argumentative points.

* If you use examples to support your points of criticism or explanation, make sure the reader knows how the example supports your point. Don't expect the example to stand on its own to do the work. Often a reader will misinterpret an example that is given without an explanation.

* Avoid lengthy introductions and conclusions [but do not omit them as you will be instructed to do in the in class essay portions of the exams]. The first paragraph should quickly set up the topic and present your intended conclusions [your paper must have a thesis which it defends], and the final paragraph should offer a summation or draw your points together into a coherent conclusion. Both should be extremely brief and to the point. General statements like "Since the dawn of time, philosophers have argued over whether or not God exists" that don't really offer any information about your specific paper should be omitted.

* Whenever you use the words or ideas of others, you must cite the source. In particular, if you quote from

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