Hints for Philosophy Essay-Writing

Dr. Harry P. Reeder



What is it that we look for in a philosophy paper? We want you to show that you have "thought out" a certain problem, that you have done your best to sift through SEVERAL possible points of view of a certain issue, and have decided that one is better than the others. We want you to show WHY it is that you think one point of view is preferable to others, through some form of ARGUMENT. This argument must be RATIONAL in structure. (For example, 'I think X rather than Y, because X is prettier than Y' is not an acceptable philosophical answer--although it may be an acceptable artistic answer.) The reasons you give must be both relevant and sufficient (to a certain degree, of course) to establish your position. How can you do this? Following are some useful hints for writing a good philosophy paper:

  1. An ARGUMENT is a claim or view (called the CONCLUSION) that is supported logically through a series of other claims (called the PREMISES). This argument must be RATIONAL in structure. (For example, 'I think X rather than Y, because X is prettier than Y' is not an acceptable philosophical answer--although it may be an acceptable artistic answer.) The reasons you give must be both relevant and sufficient to establish your position. A SUMMARY of an author's view (or argument) is NOT an argument either for or against that view or argument. A series of QUESTIONS (often called rhetorical questions, because they imply, but do not state, an answer) is NOT an argument.

  2. Limit your claims. (If you make too broad a claim, or too many claims, you'll not be able to back them up. Keep in mind the LENGTH of the essay assignment!)

  3. Make your claims clear. (Be careful! Many an essay is ruined because the student does not pay sufficient attention to their step!)

  4. Give the strongest rational support you can for your claim. (Show how your claim solves a particular problem, through SEVERAL STAGES of dialectical inquiry. Again, keep the essay length in mind.)

  5. Show that you have seriously considered the possibility that your claim might be wrong. (Remember: philosophy is a dialectical process, in which one position is clarified through confrontation with other positions. It is a useful tactic actually to mention possible objections to one's own position, and then to reply to these objections; or else give another possible position--often one which is popular or which seems obvious on the surface--and show WHY your position is more acceptable.)

  6. Show that you understand the LIMITATIONS of your claim. (Make sure that you show what your claim does NOT, as well as what it DOES, involve and entail.)

  7. The essay must STAND ON ITS OWN: do NOT rely upon the fact that we've discussed something in class, and expect the reader to "fill in the gaps" in what you say.

  8. DO NOT HAND IN A FIRST DRAFT! Philosophy requires the careful use of words, and a high degree of clarity. This requires RE-WRITING. (Believe it or not, professors can spot a rough draft from ten paces.) It is also a very good idea to read your paper aloud to a friend, as many a mistake and lack of clarity can be caught in this way.

  9. Each student is required to know what PLAGIARISM is. Essays containing suspected plagiarism will be turned into university authorities for disciplinary action, which may include expulsion from the university. THIS IS A SERIOUS OFFENSE. The UTA library has a web-based tutorial on plagiarism Consult this tutorial at the following link:

    UTA Library Plagiarism Tutorial

  10. All quotations from printed material (course texts, other books, articles, internet, etc.) MUST be accompanied by full citations. The above library tutorial provides full information on the types of information that MUST be included in all citations.


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