Writing a Philosophical Essay. 1. Writing philosophical essays is not easy.

It requires both careful thought and constant attention to supporting your position. If you already knew how to do it well, then you would not be in this class. So consider this what it is: a learning experience. 2. A philosophical essay is not a book report; nor is it an opportunity to begin opining about whatever you wish. It is an argumentative essay that—in this case—engages the material we have covered in class. 3. Again, engage the material from class. In other words, do not just change the subject and start writing about something wholly unrelated to what we have been studying thus far regarding the question you are answering. 4. There is no single formula as to how a philosophical essay should be structured. If you wish to use the traditional formula that is taught in English Composition that is fine but not required. (Note: I strongly encourage you to avoid lengthy useless introductory paragraphs. Just get right to the point—no fluff.) 5. What is important is that you take a clear position on the question at hand and defend your answer with arguments. 6. Do not assume that the reader has prior knowledge of the material. Write as if you are speaking to an interested and intelligent person who is not part of our class. (Consider for example how you might explain this material to your mother. This would require carefully defining your terms, and explaining your position.) 7. You are not graded according to whether I agree or disagree with the point you argue for. You are, however, graded on the form and content of your argument and whether you motivate your position well. (I am perfectly capable of distinguishing between an argument whose conclusion I dissent from and an argument that is just plain fallacious.) 8. While outside sources are not prohibited, if you do choose to use them I strongly encourage you to make sure they do not distract you from addressing the question at hand. You have been given tools in class that are adequate to address the question. Make sure that you use them. Final comment: As is indicated on your syllabus, your first essay question is “Is cultural relativism philosophically defensible?” Recall that I have time and again distinguished between merely “descriptive cultural relativism” (DCR) and “normative cultural relativism” (NCR). DCR simply points out that there are differences between cultures regarding moral codes. NCR states that i) moral judgments are meaningful only when applied to a specific society, AND ii) what is morally right or wrong in a given society is determined completely by the traditions, customs, and beliefs of that society. (Recall, as Rachels pointed out, many people simply appeal to DCR to motivate the NCR thesis.) As you may have guessed, the distinction between DCR and NCR should be present in your essay, and you should especially address the defensibility of NCR.

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