Philosophy Paper Guide

Over break, I did some work: I wrote a one-page guide for introductory philosophy students writing term papers. Feedback and criticism is welcome!

The goal in a philosophy paper is to give a good argument for your thesis. It is a stellar idea in making an argument outline to put your argument in one of the argument forms like we use in class. This format does not need to appear in your actual paper, but it can.

Giving a good argument for a philosophical thesis usually involves related tasks, like:

  • formulating and choosing a thesis that seems plausible and defensible in a term paper
  • clarifying what the issue is and bracketing other tangential issues
  • researching data and evidence to see if your premises and thesis are plausible
  • making your premises and methods clear and explicit
  • defending the premises that are used in your argument for your thesis
  • fairly presenting and critically discussing alternative theses
  • considering and critically replying to objections and implications of your thesis

In doing the above, you may find, as I often have, that a given thesis is not plausible and should be rejected. This—being wrong—is part of philosophizing, just as it is part of any scientic inquiry. As such, your paper may end with a devastating objection to your thesis or premises: it is perfectly acceptable to end your paper by rejecting your thesis with which you began. What I want to see, ultimately, is you critically arguing well.

Here are some further suggestions as to what a good philosophy paper does:

  1. Thesis Thesis is clear, concise, and at the beginning, perhaps after a brief introduction. The thesis is not trivial, like puppies are cute is. It is also defensible in a term paper.
  2. Issue The main issue is explicitly explained, perhaps by connecting it to the course content. No filler or bullshit is used. Why we should care about the issue is also explained.
  3. Premises The premises are clearly and explicitly stated, along with some basis for accepting them. The premises are first-blush plausible or well-supported by research.
  4. Clarification The thesis and premises, and the main issue, are claried with examples and explanations of key philosophical terms. Your non-philosopher friend should understand your thesis, premises, and the issue. Do not write as if I am the audience.
  5. Argument The thesis is cogently argued for using the premises. The argument for the thesis is persuasive to anyone who accepts your premises and methods.
  6. Alternatives Alternatives to your thesis or view on the main issue are fairly presented. Present them even better than their advocates do. Then critically discuss them. You might object to consequences of them, or agree with them to the extent that you do.
  7. Objections You fairly present and critically discuss concerns with your thesis and premises.
  8. Research Your sources and data are documented in a bibliography, and are acceptable in academic, scientic contexts wherein getting the facts right is the first, foremost goal.

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