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author’s permission by Daniel Vine for use by students at Melbourne High School 1. Introduction
For many new students of philosophy, writing a philosophy essay will be something of a new experience, and no doubt many of you will be a little unsure of what to expect, or of what is expected of you. Most of you will have written essays in school for English, History, etc. A philosophy essay is something a little different again. However, it is not an unfathomable, mysterious affair, nor one where anything goes. This guide is intended to give you a few preliminary pieces of advice about writing essays in philosophy, as well as a few requirements. Just what a philosophy essay is will depend a lot, as you'd expect, on just what philosophy is. Defining philosophy is always a more or less controversial business, but one way to think of what is done in university philosophy departments is to think of the difference between having a philosophy and doing philosophy. Virtually everyone "has a philosophy" in the sense that we have many basic beliefs about the world and ourselves and use certain key concepts to articulate those beliefs. Many of us initially come to thus "have a philosophy" (or elements of several philosophies) often only unconsciously, or by following "what's obvious" or "what everybody knows", orby adopting a view because it sounds exciting or is intellectually fashionable. "Doing philosophy", on the other hand, is a self-conscious unearthing and rigorous examination of these basic beliefs and key concepts. In doing so, we try to clarify the meanings of those beliefs and concepts and to evaluate critically their rational grounds or justification. Thus, rather than having their heads in the clouds, philosophers are really more under the surface of our thinking, examining the structures that support -- or fail to support --those who trust that they have their feet on the ground. Such examination may even help to develop new and firmer ground. Doing philosophy, then, begins with asking questions about the fundamental ideas and concepts that inform our ways of looking at the world and ourselves, and proceeds by developing responses to those questions which seek to gain insight into those ideas and concepts -- and part of that development consists in asking further questions, giving further responses, and so on. This dialectic of question and response is part of a tradition of thinking – a great conversation -- that dates back to the Ancient Greeks and has been a fundamental influence in the development of the science, art, literature and politics of Western civilisation. In philosophy, a good essay is one that, amongst other things, displays a good sense of this dialectic of question and response by asking insightful, probing questions, and provides reasoned, well-argued responses. This means that you should not rest content with merely an unintegrated collection of assertions, but should instead work at establishing logical relations between your thoughts. You are assessed not on the basis of what you believe, but on how well you argue for the position you adopt in your essay, and on how interesting and insightful your discussion of the issues is. That is to say, you are assessed on how well you do philosophy, not on what philosophy you end up having. (Nonetheless, you ought to
Rather. a good paraphrase of their thinking. (E. it is important that you passthrough that which you seek to pass beyond. at least. Philosophy Essay Topics What do philosophy essays topics look like? There are. on the one hand. be clear in your essay which way you are taking it. it is likely that you will have a particular interest in -. where that statement is a "made up" or. at least. As you read.or problemfocused" topics. you will develop your own technique. (An example of the latter: "'All the ideas in our minds originate from either sense perception or our reflection upon sensory information. hopefully. As you practise your philosophical writing skills.) Should you take such topics as problemor text-focused? Rather unhelpfully. (E. any particular . It is hoped that you enjoy the activity of essay writing. your immediate goal in writing an academic philosophy essay ought not to be to write a personal testament.g: "'Without belief in God. the kind and degree of personal development one can gain from taking up the challenge to think and to write carefully. one which presents a statement and asks you to discuss it.' Discuss. are the most valuable ways to develop your essay writing skills. (E. confession or polemic. then that topic becomes more text-focused. the assessment that is set in philosophy courses is primarily an invitation to you to pursue what is already (or. soon to be) your own interest in writing to explore ideas. your philosophical thinking on the topic at hand.L. you should primarily aim at articulating. (You might ask your lecturer or tutor about it. Sec.g: "Discuss critically David Hume's account of causation in Part III of Book I of his A Treatise of Human Nature" or "Was Wittgenstein right to say that 'the meaning of a word is its use in the language'. people cannot be moral'.make sure that your essay's discussion is relevant to the topic.g: "Is voluntary euthanasia morally permissible?" or "What is scientific method?") There is another sort of topic. In addition to your own writing. The difference between text-focused and problem-focused essay topics is." -. your reading of other philosophers will help you to develop your sense of what constitutes good philosophical writing. If you have chosen to study Arts. Nonetheless. However.) Whichever way you do take it. a quote from a particular philosopher you've been studying. not very radical. two basic kinds of philosophy essay topics: "text-focused" topics and "issue. Discuss.in a course devoted to John Locke. So you may well come to "work around" many of these suggested guidelines. Problem-focused topics are more directly about a particular philosophical issue. but the statement is. I'll say only that it depends on the case. unattributed quote. clearly and thoroughly is certainly something to be greatly valued. The guidelines in this booklet are suggestions to help you get started in the business of writing philosophy essays. very roughly. Practice and studying good examples. though those words are not actually his. clearly and relatively dispassionately. (E. The argumentative or discursive formal academic essay is one such form. Mackie's Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong") Occasionally.43?"). Discuss with reference to J.even a passion for -ideas and the variety of forms and genres in which ideas are expressed and explored. without reference to any particular philosopher's text. Thus. or. whose views are summed up in the quoted statement. however. and learn what is appropriate in each particular case. Text-focused topics ask you to consider some particular philosopher's writing on some issue. in fact. a topic presents an unattributed statement. note the various styles and techniques that philosophical authors employ in their treatment of philosophical issues. then.g: "'Without belief in God. and one which can be a pleasure to read and to write. in his Philosophical Investigations. people cannot be moral'.") I shall regard these as variations of the problem-focused type of topic. 2. See Section 5(b) below on relevance). This is because. Nevertheless. Where you are asked to discuss some such statement "with reference to" some specified text or philosopher.
They are designed to invite you to "grapple with" with some particular philosophical problem or issue. (a) Exposition The expository ("setting forth") aspect of your essay is where you should make clear what the issue is and why it is an issue. This does not involve merely quoting or paraphrasing a text. but the task is not to pay homage to past masters. That is to say. but need not always. but many of you starting out in philosophy will find it helpful to do so -. make sure you attribute your sources in footnotes or endnotes. most philosophical problems (certainly virtually all those you will be given as essay topics at university) will have been written about by previous philosophers. on the other hand.) With regard to problem-focused topics. generally speaking. Where you do quote or paraphrase. to engage with them in thinking about the issue. even if homage is your thing. while. etc. in an essay on the topic "Is voluntary euthanasia morally permissible?" take it upon yourself to use. The chosen text will usually be one which has been (or deserves to be) influential or significant in the history of philosophy. These twin goals are usually best achieved by ensuring that your essay performs two basic functions (your understanding and your skills apply to both): • • an exposition of the problem or issue in question(often as it is posed in some particular text).philosopher's text is about some philosophical problem or question.) . (See Section 7 below. (Thus. On this see Section 4 below. you might set up your answer via a comparison of the two different accounts in Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery and Paul Feyerabend's Against Method. they are designed to offer you an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of a particular philosophical problem or issue. correspond to physically or structurally distinct sections of your essay. Ronald Dworkin's Life's Dominion and Peter Singer's Practical Ethics as reference points. 3. The essay topic will. in an essay on the topic "What is scientific method?". for example. occasional quotation and paraphrase may be appropriate -sometimes necessary -. See Section 5(a) below. you might.but these ought not to constitute the sole or major content of your exposition.) How will you know which texts to adopt as reference points or prompts.it can help you give focus to your response to the question. and critical discussion of the problem or text. (But. Another way is to do some of your own research. What do I do in a Philosophy Essay? Philosophy essay topics are not designed to provide an intellectual obstacle course that trips you up so as to delight a malicious marker. thereby. then. Or. These two functions can. Where you are dealing with an issue as it is presented in some particular text. be inviting you to do philosophy with that philosopher. you will often find your exploration of the problem aided by taking some text or texts which have dealt with it as reference points or prompts. if none is mentioned in the essay topic itself? The easiest (but not. what they see as the issue and why they see it as an issue. the best way to do that here is to engage with the master philosophically. argumentation. Of course. This is not always strictly necessary. your aim should be to make clear what it is that the author in question meant in their text. The basic way to approach text-focused topics. whether that engagement proves to be as an ally or an adversary. and to exhibit your own philosophical skills of analysis. is to treat the nominated text as an attempt by one philosopher to deal with a particular philosophical problem or issue. necessarily the less respectable) way is to consider what texts have already been mentioned with regard to the topic in your course reading guide and in classes.
usually the more effective the critique. the better the exposition in this regard. (E. This can be done by revealing its "hidden virtues" (that is. of course. issues. . ("Critical" is derived from the Classical Greek for "to decide. primarily a matter of developing in your own words what you think the issue is or what you think the text means. even when the exposition becomes more interpretive rather than simply descriptive. attempt to give a critical appraisal of the author's treatment of the issue. Malcolm fails to appreciate the subtlety of Descartes' . but his Being and Time can be read as developing a pragmatist account of human understanding. you can negatively criticise the author's arguments by pointing out questionable assumptions. relationships which make them "parts of the whole". invalid reasoning. and/or.g: "Norman Malcolm argues that Descartes is mistaken in assuming that dreams and waking episodes have the same content. you can also (when appropriate or relevant) show how a text or issue "connects up with" other texts. in the case of a discussion of some particular text. issue or problem into its constitutive elements by distinguishing its different parts. Your goal here should be to discuss what you have expounded so as to come to some conclusion or judgement about it. even if you intend later to criticise heavily the philosopher in question. of central importance. or "Kant's transcendental idealism can be seen as reconciling the preceding rationalist and empiricist accounts of knowledge".) An important part of exposition is your analysis of the text or issue.") A given text or issue may well be susceptible to a number of plausible or reasonable interpretations.) Critical discussion is thus not necessarily" destructive" or "negative".(E. or "Plato's tripartite theory of the soul bears interesting resemblances to Freud's analysis of the psyche". You ought to be patient and sympathetic in your exposition. etc. Your interpretation ought. giving another reading of the text. argumentation is.g: "Heidegger might deny it. As well as laying out these elements within a text or issue. In the case of a critical appraisal of a particular author's text.Exposition is. which can help to shed further light on the matter by giving it a broader context. again. . . Consider some of the various objections to and questions about your views that others might or have put forward. on the other hand. (b) Critical discussion This is where your thought gets more of the centre stage. In all expository work you should always try to give a fair and accurate account of a text or problem. and connect up your ideas so that they progress logically toward your conclusions.g: "There are two basic kinds of freedom in question when we speak of freedom of the will".. demonstrate that you understand how the author themself understands their work. back up your claims with reasons. An exposition should aim to be sensitive to such variety. (E. . you should defend your interpretations against rivals and objections. it can be quite constructive and positive. You should. (E. When appropriate. or "There are three elements in Plato's conception of the soul. Here you should attempt to develop a response to the issues which your exposition has made clear. or philosophical and/or historical developments. Here you should try to "break down" the text. .g: "Freedom of the will is importantly connected to the justification of punishment". He establishes these three elements by means of the following two arguments .However. but an exposition can sometimes go beyond this. namely . In developing a response to a philosophical problem. to judge".") This also involves showing the relationships between those elements. which should be left to your . Avoid making unsupported assertions. though. (Indeed. and try to respond to them in defence of your own line of thinking. then. by showing that there is more to the author's arguments and views than what lies on the surface) and/or by defending an author against possible and/or actual criticisms. to be aimed at elucidating the meaning or meanings of the text or issue and not serve merely as a "coathanger" for putting forth your own favoured views on the matter in question.) An exposition of a text need not always simply follow the author's own view of what it means. . then your critical discussion can be positive. If. you think that the text is good.
though. A better way to approach the issue. However. but it's highly likely that you will find your thinking much helped if you do some reading as well. (Everyone begins philosophy at the deep end -it's really the only kind there is!) Similarly with many books. (Actually. Most articles in the journals are written by professional philosophers for professional philosophers. More often than not.(E. after finding fault with some philosopher.g: "Simone de Beauvoir's analysis of women's oppression in The Second Sex suffers from serious weaknesses. of falling into the vice of looking for excuses not to read some philosopher or text. as I have shown above. though. There is. Some useful general reference works . which allows Descartes to claim . . your reading should be purposive and selective. I shall now argue. See Section 5 (b) below on relevance. In the case of essay questions that refer to a particular text. many books written for student audiences. (Be wary.) Whichever way you proceed.the latter being either in books that are edited anthologies or in philosophical journals. . you need to have a good grasp of the primary text in order to make sense of the secondary text. no simple rule for determining this optimal amount. that what you come up with is relevant to the topic.that is. is to . Independent research via catalogues and intelligent browsing of the relevant shelves can also uncover very useful sources. your critical discussion can be more focused on your own constructive response to the issue. (All courses provide reading guides. If someone wants a reason not to think. .) Your tutor and lecturer are also available for consultation on what readings you might begin with for any particular topic in that subject. of course.") Just to expound an author's arguments and then say "I disagree" or "That seems right" is not really enough -.) 4. you should not swamp yourself with vast slabs of text that you can't digest. but nor should you starve your mind of ideas to chew over. There are. How much to read? The amount of reading you do should be that which maximises the quality of your thinking -.where you now leave Dworkin behind as a source and move on to give your own account. such as Philosophical Quarterly or Australasian Journal of Philosophy. by all means go on.) Where you are not primarily concerned with evaluating or responding to a particular text.g: "Having used Dworkin's account to clarify the meanings of the concepts of 'the sanctity of life' and 'voluntariness'. (E. and can be helpful.) Most philosophical writings come in two forms: books or articles -. Of course. Researching Your Essay (a) Research To research for your philosophy essay you need to do only two things: read and think.". Texts on or about the primary text are called secondary texts. I shall now argue that voluntary euthanasia is morally permissible because its voluntariness respects what is of value in the notion of the sanctity of life" -.) What to read? It should be clear from your lectures and tutorials what some starting points for your reading might be. (Make sure. thinking is the only truly necessary bit.argument in the First Meditation. and evidence of this in your essay is a pleasing sign of intellectual independence. many also have booklets of reading material. for problem-focussed essays. . you should familiarise yourself thoroughly with this primary text. however. they'll soon come up with one. don't think you will only ever understand a primary text if you have a nice friendly secondary text to take you by the hand through the primary text.you need to "have something to say" about it. or "In X Department they laugh at you if you mention those authors in tutes". as in "Oh. to answer in your own way the questions tackled or raised by the author. that's boring old religious stuff" or "She's one of those obscure literary feminist types". but by no means let this put you off.
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. 1994) J. 5. whereby one writes one sentence. ed. Lacey.. (c) Libraries In the MHS Library. eds. These are located in the magazine racks near the front desk.include (and some of these would be prudent investments for beginners in philosophy): • • • • • • • Paul Edwards. but you should still start off by having a plan in mind. Poor essay structure is one of the most common weaknesses in student philosophy essays. then another one that seems to follow that one. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (8 vols) (New York: Macmillan. But between these two extremes it is up to you to find the mean that best helps you in getting your thoughts together. The Cambridge Dictionary Of Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ed. Planning your essay includes laying out a structure. that it is composed of parts and that these parts are logically connected. (Oxford: Oxford University Press.. so that you have an idea of what you are going to write before you start to write it. 1967) Robert Audi. i.. Urmson and Jonathan Ree. The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers. and so on until the requisite1500 words are up.1984) (b) Note taking Note taking. 1995) Simon Blackburn. Some useful works can also be found in the reference section of the library. This helps both you and your reader to be clear about how your discussion develops. ed. 3rd ed (London: Routledge. Nor is it generally helpful to read vast numbers of pages without making any note of what they contain for future reference. Of course.. stage by stage. (London: Unwin Hyman. A Dictionary of Philosophy (London: Pan. as you work through the issues at hand.e. MHS also subscribes to two fine popular philosophical journals: Philosophy Now and The Philosopher’s magazine. R. should not be random. though it is skills such as structuring your thoughts for presentation to others which should be amongst the more enduring things you learn in studying Arts. Writing Your Essay (a) Planning and structuring your essay It is very important that you plan your essay. then another one that seems to fit after that one. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press.1996) Antony Flew.. So. avoid the "domino" method of essay writing. 1995) Ted Honderich. but ought to be guided by the topic in question and by your particular lines of response to the issues involved. you will most likely alter things in later drafts. like your reading. which you develop as you progress. the philosophical books are located (mostly) between 100-199 in the Dewey decimal system. By and large it is not of much use to copy out reams of text as part of your researches. 1989) A. A Dictionary of Philosophy. .O. It is very important that your essay has some discernible structure. Note taking for philosophy is very much an individual art.
There will be three stages to this presentation. it is here that the main philosophical meat of your essay is to be found. Of course.g: "To ask 'What is scientific method?' presupposes that science follows one basic method. Nonetheless. In your Introduction. (You would be illadvised. Thus. In doing so. But what is a mind? In this essay. Here is where you should present your exposition(s) and your critical discussion(s). However. So you don't always have to have a grand summation and judgement at the end. (This also covers. even if you go on to argue that the question as posed is itself problematic. and gives them some idea of what to expect by giving them an idea of how you have decided to answer the question. try to state to yourself what it is your essay has achieved and see if it would be appropriate to say so explicitly. (b) Relevance What you write in your essay should always be relevant to the question posed. that you must come up with earthshattering conclusions.") Be wary. so that your reader can see clearly why you say what you say and can see clearly the development in your discussion. first introduce the issues the essay is concerned with. show clearly the logical relations between and the reasons for your points. Tell 'em. and much will depend on the particular topic at hand. make it clear whether you are presenting your own thoughts or are expounding someone else's. A good conclusion to a philosophy essay will usually combine a realistic assessment of the ambit and cogency of its claims with some plausible claim that those claims have some philosophical substance. if your Main Body has clearly "played out" your argument.g: "I shall now present Descartes' ontological argument for the existence of God. as it is presented in his Fifth Meditation. often for your own sake. and Conclusion. This is one way of showing your reader that you have a grasp (indeed. several different scientific methods and that these are neither consistent nor unified. Another key to structuring your essay can be found in the old adage "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Then tell 'em what you've told 'em". of your essay's structure. This is a common problem in student essays. it helps you get a grasp) of your essay as a structured and integrated whole. Again. issues covered in text-focused essay topics. it is a skill you develop through practice. Again.There are. (Of course. Still. You can be quite explicit about this. In this it will be important that you make clear who is putting forward which point. I shall argue that there are.) It can often help your structuring if you provide headings for different sections (possibly numbered or lettered). a "pre-capitulation". Main Body. try to state briefly just what the problem is and (if there is space) why it is a problem. this helps both your reader to follow your discussion and you to develop your thoughts. whatever the topic.") Don't think that such explicitness must be too bland or the sign of an unsophisticated thinker. this is a common problem-area.) Next. of twisting a topic too far out of shape in order to fit your favoured theme. But. utter banality or triviality are not good goals. (Again. of course. so to speak. to proceed thus: "What is scientific method? This is a question asked by many great minds. it might be helpful to begin by developing an essay structure around the basic distinction between your exposition and your critical discussion (as discussed above). but you must make sure that your essay responds to the question asked. This is usually done by giving a brief sketch or overview of the main points you will present. Don't feel. by the way. (E. do what you've said you'll do. however. either. A distinct Conclusion is perhaps not always necessary. which provides you with a ready-made structure: Introduction. for reasons of space. At each stage. no hard and fast rules about how to structure a philosophy essay. I shall discuss the views of Thomas Aquinas on the nature of mind. Of course. make clear at each stage just what it is you are doing. but something along these lines is likely to be useful. for example. that is. (E. what that meat is and how you will serve it will depend on the particular topic before you.") . of course. so continually ask yourself "Am I addressing the question here?" First-class answers to a question can vary greatly. tell the reader what it is that you are going to do about those problems in the Main Body. in fact. your Introduction might not be very long.) In your Main Body.
to use some concrete or specific examples in your discussion. . Bertrand Russell maintained that there are two kinds of knowledge of things (namely.") You may or may not want to endorse the idea whose good expression you have quoted. Nor do vagueness and obscurity automatically attend them. or bogged down in. current events. depend on the case. I shall adopt Russell's thesis that . First. That is to say. then we certainly encourage you to pursue them. knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description) in support of your claim that there are two such kinds of knowledge of things. but simply want to use the philosopher as a spokesperson for or example of that view. be careful that you appreciate in what exactly the authority lies -.) (d) Examples Philosophy is by its nature a relatively abstract and generalising business. every essay will have its enabling but unargued assumptions. Of course. what matters are his reasons for holding that view. Examples can be taken from history.) Again.which means that you should show that you appreciate why Russell maintained that thesis. a problem for a theory or viewpoint to be applied to. (It won't do all the work for you. (E. or can be entirely your own invention. . for the nature of philosophical authority is not so simple here. There are two basic reasons why you might want to do this..g: "For the purposes of this essay. literature. whether as its proponent. Some uses might be: illustration of a position. in writing . when quoting philosophers for this second reason.(Note that abstraction and generality are not the same thing. Brevity is usually best. However. perhaps even proof of.". amongst others). be very careful in doing this.g. Exactly what examples you employ and just how and why you use them will. your examples. But at least be clear about these.This requirement of relevance is not intended as an authoritarian constraint on your intellectual freedom. then you can't mean what you say". evidence for. critic. Be careful not to get distracted by. 'There are no moral phenomena at all. If you do have other philosophical interests that you want to pursue (such as Aquinas on mind. But be clear about what you think the quote means and be careful about what you are doing with the quote. in addition to writing your essay on the set topic. be clear about what the example is and how and why you use it. of course. and this very much applies to philosophical writing. and so on.) Sometimes a longish series of general ideas and abstract reasonings can become difficult for the reader (and often the writer) to follow.g: "As Nietzsche put it. problem or idea to help make it clearer. therefore.which is one of the most important skills you can develop at university. It is part of the skill of paying sustained and focused attention to something put before you -. It can often help. what really matters is not that Bertrand Russell the man held that view. (At no stage does the requirement of relevance prevent you from pursuing your other interests. Here you want to use the fact that. (e) English expression There's another old saying "If you can't say what you mean.(Note that there can be different levels of concreteness and specificity in examples. So. a counter-example. a case-study to be returned to at various points during the essay. or simply its chronicler. Thus.) The second reason you might want to quote a philosopher is because you think their words constitute an "authoritative statement" of a view.) (c) Citing philosophical "authorities" There might be occasions when you want to quote other philosophers and writers apart from when you are quoting a philosopher because they are the subject of your essay. (E. a proposition. only a moral interpretation of phenomena'. you can't provide long arguments for every claim you make or want to make use of. you might quote someone because their words constitute a good or exemplary expression or articulation of an idea you are dealing with. e.
be clear that and how a text or problem has such features. muddle or obscurity clearly. be consistent in your technical meanings. Nonetheless. try to convey such vagueness. being sensitive to the subtleties of their meaning. of inventing too many neologisms or being too idiosyncratic in your stipulations. straightforward way. Aim to hit the nail on the head rather than make a loud bang. is that a philosophy essay which really is clear and precise will have a large measure of grace and style in its very clarity and precision.though we hope some of the content of what you study will also stick!) So use your time at university to develop these skills further. and then perhaps do your best to make matters clearer.as a "technical term" -. not as some old-fashioned set of rules of linguistic etiquette. try to shorten and simplify sentences where you can do so without sacrificing the subtlety and inherent complexity of your thinking. however he is criticised by modern thinkers.philosophically. and being able to construct grammatically correct and properly punctuated sentences are essential to the clear articulation and development of your thoughts. in a phil. muddled. colloquialisms (which can really get up your reader's nose). (It's no good cementing your bricks together well if the bricks themselves crumble. this sort of skill will last longer than your memory of. but rather as the "internal logic" of a sentence. (E. for example. When reading philosophers. to each and every sentence you write so that its sense is clear and is the sense you intend it to have. writing whose syntax merely reflects the patterns of speech. i. Also.g. don't be afraid of sometime essaying things which happen to sound a little odd. Don't be fooled into thinking that obscurity is a sign of profundity. unnecessary abstractness or indirectness. then. I shall intend 'egoism' to mean . but also with some degree of grace and style (and we hope you are). . of what's req'd. What you are likely to find.be clear about it. it's still best to get the clarity and precision right first. This "intra-sentential logic" should work very closely with the "inter-sentential logic" of your essay. The need for clarity and precision in philosophical writing sometimes means that you need to stipulate your own meaning for a term. the three parts of the Platonic soul -. . unexplained jargon. ambiguity. But don't sacrifice clarity and precision for the sake of style and grace – be prepared to sacrifice that beautiful turn of phrase if its presence is going to send your discussion off down an awkward path of reasoning. (It will be assumed that you can spell --which is not a matter of pressing the "spell-check" key on a word-processor." and "Plato stands as a great philosopher. (See Section 9(c) below for advice for nonnative English speakers. and it's no good having solidly made bricks if your cement can't hold them together.) Having a mastery of a good range of terms. vagueness.) Attend closely. In expounding a text or problem that ultimately just is vague. in a plain.. or obscure. When you want to use a particular word in a particular way for the purposes of your essay -. with the logical relations between your sentences. That is. as the relationships between the words within a sentence which enable them to combine to make sense. if you think you have expressed your ideas just as they should be expressed. attend closely to their sentence construction so as to be alive to all the subtleties of the text. (Be wary. Think of grammar. Think carefully about what it is you want each particular sentence to do (in relation to both those sentences immediately surrounding it and the essay as a whole) and structure your sentence so that it does what you want it to do.g: "In this essay. However. This means that good philosophical writing requires a good grasp of the language in which it is written. (Indeed.") A high standard of writing skills is to be expected of Arts graduates. nonetheless. Good punctuation of a sentence should help to display its grammar. and then to polish things up afterwards to get the style and grace you want. you must write clearly and precisely. or else note when you are not. overly-rhetorical questions and other flourishes. If you are concerned to write not only clearly and precisely. rather than simply reproducing it in your own writing. (E. that is.)A good dictionary and a thesaurus should always be within reach as you write your essay. including its grammar and vocabulary. essay). though. he is criticised by modern thinkers.") Also. . abbreviations (this guide I'm writing isn't an e.) Things to avoid: waffle.e.g: think of the difference between "Plato stands as a great philosopher.
follows. "I wish". The New Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Oxford: Oxford University Press. ethnicity. (A philosophy essay is still something more intellectual and formal than a personal reminiscence. . an. . (New York: Harper Collins. Essay Writing for Students: A Guide for Arts and Social Science Students (Melbourne: Longman. 1995) S. 5th ed. Nonetheless. . well-read. every. . Ballard. 1994) W. are therefore. nor . ed. if and only if . or is curious about what you think about the issues. (Canberra: AGPS. race. "my". Martinich. We encourage you also to write using non-discriminatory language.. but either is not quite clear or decided on the matter. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 4th ed. thus. a. Such argumentation will. Editors and Printers. "Writing Philosophy". Appendix to his The Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy. Brace and Jovanovich. he. . . 1995) Robert Burchfield. or . or the scientific objectivity of a physics experimental report. Strunk and E. 2nd ed (Oxford: Blackwell. so. . it. hence. most. 1979) J. implies. " I suggest". Philosophical Writing. ."). "my definition". they if . consequence . perhaps knows something about what you're writing about. stick closer to "I argue". .1996) Robert Solomon. . open to discussion. . polemic. (Is it discriminatory to lump the categories together here by using the words "and soon"?) As you write. 1981) Australian Government Publishing Service. . The Cambridge Australian English Style Guide (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. Style Manual for Authors. is. sexuality. H. it's probably best to think of your reader as someone who is intelligent. 3rd ed. . Barton. then . 1990) (f) Vocabulary of logical argument Closely related to the above points about English expression is the importance of having a good grasp of what we can rather generally call "the vocabulary of logical argument".)rather than use the royal "we" (as in "we shall argue that . (San Diego: Harcourt. "me". 3rd ed. than to "I feel". . the that. or proclamation.. Williams. I have in mind terms such as these (grouped a little loosely): • • • • • • all.) In terms of audience. and so on. gender. . or the convoluted quasilegal indirect form ("It is submitted that . neither .").. Some further writing and style guides you might like to consult include: • • • • • • • J. 1996) Pam Peters. . These sorts of terms are crucial to articulating clearly and persuasively a logical line of argument. in whatever sphere of life that requires effective thinking and communication). . "I hate". etc. 1984) And especially for philosophy students: • • A. of course.M.With regard to what "authorial pronoun" to adopt in a philosophy essay. some. etc. . . then. it's standard to write plainly in the first person singular ("I". . . this. . you will be considering carefully your choice of words to express your thoughts. The Elements of Style. not. unless either . You will almost always find that there are alternative ways to put the same point by rephrasing your sentences. infer. she.B. Mastering English Grammar (London: Macmillan. Clanchy and B. (New York: Macmillan. or needs convincing of the view you want to put forward. language which does not involve or imply inequality of worth between people on the basis of sex. be of central importance in whatever discipline you are studying (indeed. that is. etc. reasonable. none. since. any. P. . . White. because.
probable. If you structure your essay clearly. ought. reasonable. irrational assumption. alter. Salmon. Why are word limits imposed? First. necessarily. or Antony Flew. reasoning. reason. supported logical. Most philosophers will agree that the greater part of the work in essay writing is in the writing. even. not in the preliminary researches and planning stages. to give the markers a fair basis for comparing student essays.• • • • • • • • moreover. (See Section 5(b) above. 10% of the limit. Moreover. which I can do the night before the essay's due". The sloppy use of these sorts of terms is another common weakness in students' philosophy essays. It is a rare philosopher indeed who can get things perfectly right on the first attempt. must. belief. invalid. might. notwithstanding. you'll probably find that your creativity is improved by working under a self-imposed discipline). Pay close and careful attention to how you employ them. because that's a crucial step. proof Most of these are quite simple terms. so I'll cut it down. illogical. false. and most essays that go well over the limit are not much stronger or the result of much harder work -. however. premise. Second. revise and re-develop what you write. Indeed. let's see: section 2 is much longer than section 4.) Outside your essay you are free to write without limit (but. 2nd ed(Englewood Cliffs. unsound. can. a branch of philosophy). despite. see the booklet Basic Philosophical Vocabulary. but is not as important. evidence. unreasonable. (Many are themselves the subject of study in logic. though. certain sound. most essays that fall well short of the word limit are weak or lazy attempts at the task. essay. say.50. even there. perhaps non-existent. (h) Word limit Stick to the word limit given for your essay (within. but they are crucial in argumentative or discursive writing of all kinds. valid. you'll find it easier to revise and edit. so be prepared to change. And I can shift that third paragraph in the Introduction to the Conclusion. 1973). may. And I should expand section 3. Give yourself time to revise by starting writing early on. So be wary of thinking "I've done all the work. (g) Revising your essay It is virtually essential that you write a first draft of your essay and then work on that draft to work towards your finished essay. nevertheless. rational. Again. several re-drafts may well be necessary in order to produce your best possible work. but. I only need to write up my notes. Thinking About Thinking (London: Fontana.") . As a general rule.the extra length is often due to unstructured waffle or padding which the writer hasn't thought enough about so as to edit judiciously. For further discussion of some of these terms and others. NJ: Prentice Hall. whether in order to contract or expand it. if it appears that it should be sacrificed in the revision process. either above or below). This is likely to lead to a sleepless night and a weak. Don't be too precious about what you have written. claim. ("Hmm. proposition argument. pay close and careful attention to how the authors you read use them. furthermore and. Logic. available from the Philosophy Department Office for $2. fallacious. should true. There is usually a very marked difference between essays which are basically first draft rush-jobs done the night before they are due and those which have been revised and polished. to give you the opportunity to practise the discipline of working creatively under constraints. still possibly. as well as such introductory texts on logic as Wesley C. 1985). Skill in this discipline will stand you in very good stead in any sphere where circumstances impose limitations. word limits are not constraints on your intellectual freedom.
always by awarding zero marks for a plagiarised piece and usually with some other disciplinary action. Endnotes. if that other philosopher's ideas have helped you to develop your ideas. 7. Plagiarism is the knowing but unacknowledged use of work by someone other than oneself (including work by another student) and which is being presented as one's own work. paraphrasing or summarising the work of a number of different people and piecing them together to produce one body of text. and as such it will not be tolerated. None of these practices is wrong in itself.you should feel vindicated to some extent that your thinking has been congruent with that of another (possibly great) philosopher.in both exposition and critical discussion. some quotation will usually be important and useful -sometimes essential -. Therefore. Footnotes. and arguing in way that you think is good. after developing your ideas. all sources must be adequately and accurately acknowledged in footnotes or endnotes. if not 2500 years ago. and is dealt with severely. Of course. There is no denying that truly original work in philosophy is well rewarded. you then discover that someone else has had the same idea. in a .(If you have not yet handed your essay in when you make this discovery. after arguing for what you believe is right.) (b) Originality Students sometimes worry about whether they will be able to develop "original ideas". Of course. Quotations. you must make them clearly distinct from your own text. and this must be adequately acknowledged. where the quoted passage is greater than 3 lines. & Bibliography (a) Quotations Quotations in your essay should be kept to a minimum. but your first aim should be to develop ideas that you think are good and not merely different. Plagiarism & Originality (a) Plagiarism Plagiarism is not tolerated. then that is an added bonus. don't throw you work away -. into thinking that plagiarism can be easily passed off as congruent thinking. If. using quotation marks. (See Section 7 below. however. you discover that they are original. The markers know the central texts pretty well already and so don't need to have pages thereof repeated in front of them. When you do make quotations. Plagiarism can take a number of forms. But remember that it is more important to be a good philosopher than an original one. or. If.6.) Don't be fooled. make an appropriately placed note to that effect. but when one or more is done without acknowledgment it constitutes plagiarism. especially in light of the fact that nearly every philosophical idea one comes up with seems to have been thought of before by someone from several centuries ago. then this is not a matter of congruent ideas but rather of derivative ideas. such as: • • • • copying: exactly reproducing another's words paraphrasing: expressing the meaning of another's words indifferent words summarising: reproducing the main points of another's argument cobbling: copying.
by the publishers McGraw-Hill. which was publishedin New York. The restis in the same style as note (1). but as a guide to how to provide the information needed for adequate referencing. This is your first reference to Philippa Foot's article.) Again. Peter Winch. Either method is acceptable. again clearly separated from the main body of text. 2nd ed. 1964 [first German ed. Leviathan. and cobblings must be similarly acknowledged as such. p.. In all cases. p.25. the title of which is put in "quotation marks".p. If you areunable to use italics. ENDNOTES 1. The title is given in full and in italics.51. "Moral Relativism". 1993).63. 1651]). "MoralRelativism". 5. then. p. clearly separated from the main body of the text.separate indented paragraph. . Notes explained: 1.212. The reason we provide this information is to enable our readers to find the sources we use in order to verify them and to allow them to pursue the material further if it interests them. (b) Footnotes and endnotes Footnotes appear at the foot of the page. it is this sort of research skill that an Arts graduate will be expected to have mastered. in 1993.65. 1785]). or simply go to some texts published by reputable publishers and see what formats they employ. summaries. I will explain them below. Ibid. Rachels. 2. and which was edited by Krausz and Meiland (names in full). TheMonist 49 (1965). The Elements of Moral Philosophy. James Rachels. The book'sauthor is James Rachels. p. This is not intended as an exercise in pedantry. Endnotes appear at the end of the essay. quotations must be given proper referencing in a footnote or endnote. There are a number of different conventions for writing up footnotes and endnotes. in Michael Krausz and Jack W.155. only that. but you should choose one and stick with it throughout the one essay. It's the 2nd edition of that book. Imagine. paraphrases. For other conventions see the style guides mentioned above. numbered and headed "Endnotes" or "Notes". 4. J. The page you have referredto in your main text is page 25. 2. each one clearly numbered.Paton (New York: Harper and Row. Below are some examples of how to put the relevant referencing information in footnotes and endnotes. H.. using footnotes or endnotes. 6. (London: Dent. The Elements. Relativism: Cognitive and Moral (Notre Dame. (In your own researches you will come to value good referencing in the texts you read as a helpful source of further references on a topic.. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.g. This is your first reference to a book called The Elements of MoralPhilosophy . "The Universalizability of Moral Judgements". Philippa Foot. that the following are endnotes at the end of your essay. The Philosophy Department does not require that any particular convention be followed. Ibid. This articleappeared in a book (title in italics) which is an anthology of differentarticles.. "Descartes says that it is wise not to trust something that has deceived us once before"). (New York:McGraw-Hill. p. Meiland. you be consistent in your use of the convention that you do choose. 7. 1982).160. Immanuel Kant. 1973 [first pub. 3. then you should underline the title. 8. p. Thomas Hobbes. Indiana: Universityof Notre Dame Press.eds. again. Indirect quotations (e. trans.
This is reference to a book by Kant. the subject.except that. typed or wordprocessed.51. 1785]). which means "in the same place" in Latin.Relativism: Cognitive and Moral (Notre Dame. the journal title is initalics. p.e: Rachels. 1964 [first German ed.160. Here we are referring to Rachel's book again. "Ibid. Hobbes. James. The format should be the same as for your notes. 4. 5.J. because this is a translation. (Plastic folders and suchlike presentational paraphernalia are not needed.) Yourreader then has to scan back over the notes to see what that "op. in English. except this time you referred to a different page in Foot'sarticle. The article's title is in "quotes". cit. plus page reference. the page referred to is p. Peter. (i.because it's an old book. if used) you should list in a bibliography all of the works referred to in your notes. the essay topic and your tutor's name.1651]). going by authors' surnames. Ditto. This is a book reference again. except that you drop the page references and should put surnames first.) .."." is short for "ibidem". Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.Use it on its own when you want to refer to exactly the same work andpage number as in the previous note. You should use the Cover Sheet provided to record your name. we can't use "ibid. • Winch. p. Kant.3. 1993). Philippa. Thomas. viz. but. we include the translator's name. as well as any other works you consulted in researching and writing your essay. "The Universalizability of Moral Judgements". So here the reference wasagain to Foot's article at p. The Monist49 (1965) 8. This is a reference to an article by Peter Winch in a journal called TheMonist. because we are not inthe very next note after a reference to it. only that it be legibly written. 1973 [first pub. 1982). Rachels." (which is short for "opere citato". whereby you give the surname. which is Latin for "in the workalready cited") and page reference. Presentation of Essays (a) Format The MHS Philosophy Faculty has few specific requirements about the format in which you present your essay. 6. "Moral Relativism". 2nd ed. cit. The volume of the journal is 49. Immanuel. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. The list should be in alphabetical order. Thereis also a common alternative to this. on one side of pieces of paper that are somewhere in the vicinity of A4 size and are fixed together. the year of publication is1965. Simply givethe author's surname and a short title of the book. 8." was exactly. Leviathan (London: Dent. (New York: McGraw-Hill. H. (c) Bibliography At the end of your essay (after your endnotes. we include the date of the original edition. 7. So the bibliography of our mock-essay above would look like this: • • • Foot. eds.The first (author plus short title) option is usually easier on the reader. in Michael Krausz and Jack Meiland.212.Paton(New York: Harper and Row. except that. op.. trans.155. and write"op. Same book details as per note (1). so it's the same as note (1)..
is not a good idea. also.) Avoid the trap of "borrowing time" from a later question in order to perfect your answer to an earlier question. 10. exams have time limits. time. these are not necessary -. use the time you've got so as to maximise your display of your philosophical understanding and skills in answering the set question.g: if you have a2-hour exam and have to answer 3 questions.) (b) Late essays Late essays may be penalised at your teacher’s discretion. each worth one-third of the exam mark.It is prudent for you to make a copy of your essay for yourself before handing your essay in. (Actually. but don't think that the more you scrawl across the page. etc. and then working faster on the later questions to catch up on lost time -.) It's best. This is because what you write in a philosophy exam is none other than a philosophy essay! The only basic difference is the matter of what constraints you're working under. A Bit on Philosophy Exams Essays of the sort discussed so far in this booklet are not the only form of assessment in the Philosophy Department -. . not about how many words to write on an exam essay topic.12)". Seeking Advice Teachers Philosophy staff are not there just to be listened to by you. . If you are properly prepared. Essays have word limits. to think. Meditation I. just put it briefly in the text of your exam essay. Note that various . Planning and structuring remain centrally important in exam essays.so don't waste time on these. then. stick to them. So don't hesitate to contact your teacher to discuss questions or problems you have concerning your work. Your research for the exam should have been done before entering the exam hall.) Bringing a text into the exam and reading it there for the first. but rather about how long to spend writing on it. Simple arithmetic will tell you how much time to spend on each exam question. the more marks you'll get. If you have the reference handy. . you will show your familiarity with any relevant texts by how you handle them in your discussion. do indicate this clearly as such. Again. if you quote or refer to aspecific passage from a text. 9. What is to be said about them? First. With regard to the niceties of footnotes. then spend 40 minutes on each question. (E. just in case your essay is lost. (c) Essays not handed in Essays not handed in get N/UG.) Generally speaking.exams are also set. Nonetheless. However. or even second. There are no word limits in philosophy exam essays.g: "As Descartes says in Meditation I (p.this is likely to get you in a tangle.12). you should not need to spend much time at all consulting texts or notes during the exam itself. (This is true for your non-exam essays. they are also there to listen to you. endnotes and bibliographies." or "'[I]t is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once' (Descartes. (E. not much that is different from what's been said above about philosophy essays. p. you'll be made to stick to them by the exam invigilators..
with reading time of 15 minutes. University of Melbourne (including Linda Burns. Don't wr. Tony Coady. Don't waste time with liquid paper or erasers. Kimon Lycos. • This third edition of "A Guide to Researching and Writing Philosophy Essays" was. mean.so get to the exam hall well before 2. Write legibly. If you do want to delete something. then the reading time starts at 2.00 pm. read the instructions at the beginning of the exam paper. Finally. punctuation and spelling correct? Have I said what I meant to say? Is my writing legible? Have I fully acknowledged all my sources in footnotes or endnotes? Are my quotations accurate? Have I included a bibliography? Do I need to revise any part of my essay again? Have I made a copy or photocopy of my essay for myself? Have I kept the receipt for my handed-in essay? . time. use incomp. like the previous two editions dating back to 1991. "pointform" sav.00 pm and the writing time starts at 2. (E. Marion Tapper. Use it to decide which questions you'll answer and to start planning your answers. (Check for each of your exams.) Note the (somewhat quaint) University policy of starting Reading Time some time before the stated time for the exam. © 1997 Steven Tudor. and Megan Laverty).Brendan Long.g: It's not a good look to answer two questions from Part A. written by Steven Tudor in consultation with interested members of the Philosophy Department. sent. Reading time is useful.15 pm.15pm-. Checklist of Questions • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Do I understand the essay question? Do I know when the essay is due? Do I know which texts to consult? Do I know where to find them? Have I made useful notes from my reading of the relevant texts? Have I made a plan of how I'll approach the question in my essay? Have I given myself enough time to draft and redraft my essay? Have I written a clearly structured essay? Is it clear what each stage is doing? Do I do what I say I'll do in my Introduction? Have I clearly distinguished exposition and critical discussion? Have I given a fair and accurate account of the author(s) in question? Is my response to the topic relevant? Do I answer the question? Have I kept my essay within the general bounds of the topic? Have I displayed a good grasp of the vocabulary of logical argument? Are my arguments logically valid and sound? Are my claims supported by reasons? Am I consistent within my essay? Is my English expression clear and precise? Are my grammar. Some use was also made of materials prepared by the Philosophy Departments of La Trobe University and the Australian National University. one from Part A and one from Part B. Jeremy Moss. Diff.) So. Philosophy exams usually have 15 minutes of reading time. if your exam timetable says the exam is at 2. just cross it out clearly.subjects have restrictions on what texts and other items can be brought into the exam hall. when the Instructions tell you to answer two questions. Brian Scarlett. Will Barrett. You won't have time for redrafting and revising your exam essay (which makes planning and structuring your answers before you start writing all the more important). They are important. kn.
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