In approaching the task of writing a philosophy paper, it is important to keep in mind that what is involved in writing a paper in philosophy is different from writing a paper in another discipline, even when it is in one of the other humanities. Philosophical writing is a practice that has its own standards and conventions. Some of these standards will be consistent with general academic paper writing standards. Many others are more specific to philosophy. It is therefore especially important to have a clear idea of what it takes to write a philosophy paper that will receive a good grade.

THE GOAL IN WRITING A PHILOSOPHY PAPER

Defending a claim
The concept of defending a claim is central to the activity of writing a philosophy paper. In fact, it would not be wrong to understand the whole point of a philosophy paper as the attempt to first put forth a philosophical claim that one believes and to then attempt to secure its position. A philosophical claim is generally some statement or thesis whose truth is something that is not taken to be uncontroversial in philosophy.

To merely state a claim is not the same thing as defending a claim.

It is not okay to just provide your personal opinion on some issue and to then be done with it. Your philosophy instructors are not interested in your opinions, unless you also give them some good reasons to believe what you believe. On the same note, it is also not ok to simply write down the opinion of some philosopher whose work you read without at the same time also providing their reasons for believing it.

As a word of caution, make sure that the claim that you choose to defend isn’t too strong or ambitious to defend within the limited pages that you are allotted for your philosophy paper. It is far better to give good reasons for believing a less ambitious claim than to give bad reasons for believing a more ambitious claim.

Providing an argument

The way in which one defends a claim that one has put forth in a philosophical paper is by way of offering a convincing argument. In giving an argument, one is providing reasons as to why the readers should come to believe what you believe. To put it in more concrete terms, it is not simply enough to write: “I believe that such and such is the case” or “John Stuart Mill believed that such and such is the case”. One must, in addition, provide reasons for holding that belief. For example: “I believe that such and such is the case because of reason X” or “John Stuart Mill believed that such and such is the case because of reason Y”.

Given that your aim is to try to give reasons to believe some controversial philosophical claim or other, the assumptions that you make when providing your reasons should be, as a matter of course, less controversial than your main claim. Otherwise, you will not be providing convincing reasons to accept your claim since the assumptions you are making are themselves controversial and, by definition, not argued for. You should also make sure that assumptions you take to be uncontroversial are in fact so.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the argument of a good philosophy paper will usually possess something novel about it. This means either writing an original argument or writing an unoriginal argument in an original way.

Possible kinds of arguments

There are many different kinds of arguments that one can make in a philosophical paper depending on what one chooses as one’s main claim. They include the following:

1. Arguing that the argument some author provides in defense of the claim does not work
2. Showing that the main claim is false by giving a counter example to it
3. Providing your own argument for the main claim
4. Defending your main claim against some objection
5. Showing that the main claim is false but that it can be modified in such a way as to be made true and still be relevant
6. Discussing the various other beliefs that one must also hold if one believes the main claim

WHAT YOUR PAPER WILL BE GRADED ON

In writing your philosophy paper, it is important to keep in mind the aspects you will be graded on. In evaluating a philosophy paper, your instructor will attempt to determine whether you satisfy the following conditions:

Evaluation Standards

a. You adequately understand the philosophical import of the topic you are addressing.
b. You provide a good argument or good reasons to believe your main claim.
c. Your paper is written in a lucid and structured way.

THE STEPS TO WRITING A PHILOSOPHY PAPER

STEP I: READING A PHILOSOPHY PAPER

Read the relevant passages several times
Philosophical works are usually very dense. Before starting to write, try to spell out what the author is saying in your own words.

Be charitable in your interpretation of the author
Do not interpret a philosophical work in an absurd or uncharitable way just to make things easy for yourself. Give the text you are considering the best possible interpretation.

STEP II: WRITING A PHILOSOPHY PAPER

Your Introduction

In writing the introduction to your philosophy paper, make sure to introduce the main claim of your paper as well as provide the structure of the argument that you will be deploying in the body of your paper. Basically, your aim in the introduction is to tell us what you are going to be up to in the rest of your paper.

Use simple language

Ornate language is not a virtue in philosophical writing. Avoid it. A rule of thumb to remember is: if you wouldn’t say something when speaking, don’t say it in your paper.

Be concise in your writing

Your philosophy paper should be as concise as possible. Make sure each one of your sentences is doing some important work.

Avoid long quotations

In writing philosophy paper, you should generally avoid long quotations. Instead, paraphrase an author’s point in order to demonstrate that you understand it.

Don’t make appeals to the dictionary
Students are often tempted to consult dictionaries in defining key philosophical terms and concepts. Dictionaries, however, are not good sources of authority for philosophical concepts. Philosophical terms and concepts often have specialized meanings that are not captured by dictionary entries.

Don’t discuss the historical importance of your topic

Another temptation that students of often have is to introduce the topic of their paper by discussing its historical development into a philosophical problem or by mentioning how it is an issue that has gripped human beings for countless generations. Avoid this temptation. Introduce your topic directly (e.g. “According to Kant, we have good reason to believe the following claim…).

It is acceptable to use ‘I’

In writing a philosophy paper, the use of the first person singular pronoun ‘I’ is acceptable when used to refer to the author and is even encouraged. Using other locutions such as ‘this author’ should be avoided as it is apt to create awkwardness in the flow of language.

Use terms correctly

Make sure that you have a solid grasp on philosophical terms before using them in your own papers. Don’t just assume you know what a word means just because you are familiar with it from other contexts.

Repetition is acceptable

In writing a philosophy paper, you will often find yourself repeating certain terms over and over until you are sick of them. This might tempt you to replace the term with synonyms. Avoid doing so. You should consistently use the same terms for the same concepts throughout your paper. Repetition is OK in a philosophy paper and is even the norm.

Use many examples
In writing a philosophy paper, one of the best ways to show you understand some issue or concept is by providing some concrete example of it. In giving examples, may sure they are relevant to the point you are trying to make.

Anticipate possible objections to your argument

In writing your paper, imagine how somebody might provide a strong objection to your position. Include the objection in your paper and figure out a way to respond to it in a convincing way. Doing this will make your argument that much stronger.

You do not need a conclusion

Unless your philosophy paper is very long or you are specifically asked to do so by your philosophy instructor, you will typically not need to write a conclusion to your philosophy paper. It is enough to tell the reader what you are up to in your introductory paragraph. You can just end your paper once you have completed your argument (and considered potential objections).

STEP III: REVISING A PHILOSOPHY PAPER

Make sure every sentence expresses exactly what you mean to say
In writing a philosophy paper, it is not enough to gesture towards a thought. In revising, make sure that the words you used to express your thoughts do an adequate job of it and are not ambiguous.

Get a friend to read your draft or read your own draft out loud
Given a student’s deep involvement in her own paper, she will often be unable to notice the presence of glaring holes in her argument or a lack of clarity to her sentences. For this reason, it is a good idea to get some distance in the revision process, either by having a friend or classmate read your draft or to read it out loud. This way, it will be far easier to detect awkward-sounding sentences as well as hazy thinking.

THE GOAL IN WRITING A PHILOSOPHY PAPER

a. Defending a claim
The point of a philosophy paper is to put forth a philosophical claim one believes and to attempt to defend it. A philosophical claim is generally some statement or whose truth is not taken to be uncontroversial in philosophy.

b. Providing an argument

The way in which one defends a claim that one has put forth in a philosophical paper is by way of offering a convincing argument.

In giving an argument, one is providing reasons as to why the readers should come to believe what you believe.

-Possible kinds of arguments

-Arguing argument author provides does not work
-Showing main claim is false by providing counterexample.
-Providing own argument the main claim
-Defending main claim against some objection

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List of Philosophers & Thinkers We’ve Written On

Below is a list of some of the common philosophers/thinkers we have written on. Please note that this is a limited list and does not include every thinker or subject area we’ve written on.

Listed by last name in alphabetical order:

A

Peter Abelard
Jane Addams
Alfred Adler
Theodor Adorno
Albert the Great
Samuel Alexander
Louis Althusser
Anaxagoras
Anaximander
Anaximenes
G.E.M. Anscombe
Anselm
Susan B. Anthony
Antisthenes
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Archimedes
Hannah Arendt
Aristippus
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
D.M. Armstrong
Antoine Arnauld
Kenneth Arrow
Augustine
John Austin
A. J. Ayer

B

Charles Babbage
Gaston Bachelard
Francis Bacon
Roger Bacon
Annette Baier
Kurt Baier
Mikhail Bakunin
Thomas Bayes
Pierre Bayle
Jeremy Bentham
Simone de Beauvoir
Nicolai Berdyaev
Gustav Bergmann
Henri Bergson
George Berkeley
Isaiah Berlin
Brand Blanshard
Boethius
Boetius of Dacia
Niels Bohr
Bernard Bolzano
Bonaventure
George Boole
Susan Bordo
Bernard Bosanquet
Robert Boyle
F. H. Bradley
Franz Brentano
C. D. Broad
Giordano Bruno
Martin Buber
Jean Buridan
Edmund Burke
Joseph Butler

C

Edward Caird
Albert Camus
Georg Cantor
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Lewis Carroll
Ernst Cassirer
Margaret Cavendish
Pierre Charron
Roderick Chisholm
Noam Chomsky
Chrysippus
Alonzo Church
Cicero
Hélène Cixous
Samuel Clarke
W. K. Clifford
Catherine Cockburn
R.G. Collingwood
Auguste Comte
Étienne de Condillac
Anne Conway
Nicolas Copernicus
Géraud de Cordemoy
Hasdai Crescas
Benedetto Croce
Ralph Cudworth
Richard Cumberland
Nicolas of Cusa

D

Charles Darwin
Donald Davidson
Dorothy Day
Richard Dedekind
Gilles Deleuze
Democritus
Augustus DeMorgan
Daniel Dennett
Rene Descartes
Jacques Derrida
John Dewey
Baron d’Holbach
Denis Diderot
Wilhelm Dilthey
Diogenes
W.E.B. Dubois
Pierre Duhem
Michael Dummett
Émile Durkheim
Ronald Dworkin

E

Meister Eckhart
Umberto Eco
Albert Einstein
Elizabeth of Bohemia
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Empedocles
Friedrich Engels
Epictetus
Epicurus
Desiderius Erasmus
Eratosthenes
John Scotus Erigena
Euclid
Leonhard Euler

F

al-Farabi
Herbert Feigl
Pierre de Fermat
Ludwig Feuerbach
Paul Feyerabend
Richard Feynman
Fibonacci
Johann Fichte
Marsillio Ficino
Robert Filmer
Michel Foucault
Simon Foucher
Joseph Fourier
Gottlob Frege
Sigmund Freud
Margaret Fuller

G

H.-G. Gadamer
Galileo Galilei
Mahatma Gandhi
Pierre Gassendi
C. F. Gauss
John Gay
Gersonides
Edmund Gettier
Arnold Geulincx
al-Ghazali
Carol Gilligan
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Joseph Glanvill
Kurt Gödel
William Godwin
Emma Goldman
Nelson Goodman
Antonio Gramsci
T.H. Green
Paul Grice
Robert Grosseteste
Hugo Grotius

H

Jürgen Habermas
William Hamilton
Stuart Hampshire
Donna Haraway
Sandra Harding
R.M. Hare
H.L.A. Hart
David Hartley
Nicolai Hartmann
Friedrich Hayek
Georg W. F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Werner Heisenberg
Virginia Held
Helvetius
Carl Hempel
Heraclitus
Herbert of Cherbury
David Hilbert
Hippias
Sarah Lucia Hoagland
Thomas Hobbes
Douglas Hofstadter
Grace Hopper
Max Horkheimer
Karen Horney
David Hume
Edmund Husserl
Francis Hutcheson
Hypatia

I

Ibn Daud
Ibn Gabirol
Ibn Rushd
Ibn Sina
Roman Ingarden
Luce Irigaray

J

William James
Karl Jaspers
Thomas Jefferson
C. G. Jung

K

Immanuel Kant
Hans Kelsen
Garth Kemerling
Johannes Kepler
John Maynard Keynes
Soren Kierkegaard
Jaegwon Kim
al-Kindi
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Saul Kripke
Julia Kristeva
Queen Kristina
Thomas Kuhn

L

Jacques Lacan
Imre Lakatos
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
Julien La Mettrie
Susanne Langer
P. S. de Laplace
Michèle Le Dœuff
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried W. Leibniz
V. I. Lenin
G. E. Lessing
Leucippus
C. I. Lewis
N.I. Lobachevsky
John Locke
Peter Lombard
Konrad Lorenz
Rudolf Hermann Lotze
A.O. Lovejoy
Lucretius
Gyorgy Lukacs
Jan Lukasiewicz
Rosa Luxemburg
J.-F. Lyotard

M

Ernst Mach
J.M.E. McTaggart
Niccolo Machiavelli
Catharine MacKinnon
Moses Maimonides
Nicolas Malebranche
Thomas Malthus
Benoit Mandelbrot
Bernard Mandeville
Mao Zedong
Gabriel Marcel
Marcus Aurelius
Herbert Marcuse
Jacques Maritain
Karl Marx
Marsilius of Padua
Damaris Masham
George Herbert Mead
Alexius Meinong
Gregor Mendel
Moses Mendelssohn
Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Marin Mersenne
Mary Midgley
James Mill
John Stuart Mill
Marvin Minsky
Michel de Montaigne
Baron de la Montesquieu
G. E. Moore
Henry More
Thomas More

N

Ernest Nagel
Thomas Nagel
Otto Neurath
Isaac Newton
Pierre Nicole
Friedrich Nietzsche
Nel Noddings
John Norris
Robert Nozick
Martha Nussbaum

O

William of Ockham
José Ortega y Gasset
Rudolf Otto

P

Thomas Paine
William Paley
Paracelsus
Vilfredo Pareto
Parmenides
Blaise Pascal
Giuseppe Peano
Charles Sanders Peirce
Ralph Barton Perry
Philo Judaeus
Pico della Mirandola
Max Planck
Plato
Plotinus
Jules Henri Poincare
George Polya
Karl Popper
Porphyry
H.H. Price
Richard Price
H.A. Prichard
Protagoras
P.-J. Proudhon
Samuel Pufendorf
Hilary Putnam
Pyrrho of Elis
Pythagoras

R

Frank Ramsey
Petrus Ramus
Ayn Rand
John Rawls
Tom Regan
Pierre Régis
Hans Reichenbach
Thomas Reid
Paul Ricouer
Bernhard Riemann
David George Ritchie
Jacques Rohault
Richard Rorty
W.D. Ross
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Josiah Royce
Sara Ruddick
Betrand Russell
Gilbert Ryle

S

Gaon Saadiah
Jean-Paul Sartre
Comte de Saint-Simon
George Santayana
Ferdinand de Saussure
F.W.J. von Schelling
Friedrich Schiller
Friedrich Schleiermacher
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
Erwin Schrödinger
John Duns Scotus
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Seneca
Seth Pringle-Pattison
Sextus Empiricus
Shaftesbury
Henry Sidgwick
Siger of Brabant
Peter Singer
B.F. Skinner
J.J.C. Smart
Adam Smith
Socrates
Madeleine de Souvré
Herbert Spencer
Baruch Spinoza
Madame de Staël
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
C.L. Stevenson
Dugald Stewart
P.F. Strawson
Francisco Suarez

T

Alfred Tarski
Harriet Taylor
Teresa of Avila
Thales
Judith Jarvis Thomson
H.D. Thoreau
Paul Tillich
Timon of Philius
John Toland
Leon Trotsky
Sojourner Truth
Alan Turing

U

Miguel de Unamuno

V

Hans Vaihinger
Lorenzo Valla
Thorsten Veblen
John Venn
Giambattista Vico
Voltaire
John von Neumann

W

Friedrich Waismann
J. B. Watson
Max Weber
Simone Weil
Cornel West
Richard Whately
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
Edward O. Wilson
John Cook Wilson
John Wisdom
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Christian Wolff
Mary Wollstoncraft

X

Xenocrates
Xenophanes
Xenophon

Z

Zeno of Citium
Zeno of Elea
Ernest Zermelo