Writing introductions for philosophy essays

As you write, think about your intended audience. Instead, imagine your audience as someone who is intelligent and interested in the subject but has not studied it.

Writing a Philosophy Essay

Think of yourself, before taking this class, or perhaps of your roommate. In general, a thesaurus is not the friend of a philosophy student. Do not be afraid to re-use the same terms over and over, especially when they are key terms in an argument. If you mean to talk about the same concept throughout, use the same term throughout. As a rule, you should not use quotes. A series of quotes strung together, even creatively strung together, is not a paper. The main reason to quote a passage is to make it more convenient for you to talk about what the passage says and to make it more convenient for your reader as well.

Angela Mendelovici

Thus, you should not rely on a quotation to answer a key part of the question. Answer in your own words instead. You should, however, include textual references.


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Whenever you make a claim about what is said in the text, it is appropriate to provide a specific reference to back up your claim. For short papers using class texts, footnotes are not necessary; it is sufficient to make parenthetical references, such as Meno 77b.


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Write until you have said what you need to say, not until you hit the page limit. The problem should be to confine your paper to the page limit, not to stretch out your paper to the minimum required.

SAMPLE SHORT PHILOSOPHY PAPER: For Illustrative purposes only

You may end up with a first draft that is too long, but at a later stage you can go back through your work and see whether there are sentences or paragraphs that are not really necessary or that can be made more concise. The point is that you will be better able to evaluate what is truly important if you have included everything on your first draft. Finally, do not try to compose your paper, from start to finish, in one session — especially not the night before it is due. Make sure that you have the chance to write a first draft and then let it percolate for awhile. Very few people are able to dash off a good paper in one sitting!

Do briefly tell your reader what your paper is about and what your main thesis is. Notice that there is a difference between telling your reader what you are going to talk about and telling your reader what you will argue. In the Meno , Meno presents Socrates with a paradox about inquiry. Thus, we reach the paradoxical conclusion that inquiry is impossible.

In what follows, I will argue that Socrates does not adequately defend his theory of recollection.

The second of these introductions is superior to the first. Notice that only the second presents an actual thesis statement. Sometimes you will be in a better position to write an introduction after you have written the main body of your paper, for you will then have a better idea of what your argument really is. You have written a short paper; the reader recalls your argument and will only be annoyed if you repeat yourself. Do find some nice way of wrapping up your essay.

This does not mean that you should claim that every facet of the issue has been addressed. Sometimes a conclusion sets out problems that still remain. Make sure that you do not claim that you have shown more than have actually shown in your paper. It is especially tempting to exaggerate your accomplishments in a grand-finale-style concluding paragraph; resist this temptation. For example, here is a conclusion that avoids exaggeration:. However, as I have argued, we cannot generalize from the case of geometrical knowledge to knowledge of other sorts of facts. My argument appeals to set theory.

I will begin by explaining something about set theory. Set theory is a branch of mathematics used to reason rigorously about abstract collections of objects. A set is a collection of objects. For any object, and for any set, the object is either in the set, or it is not. Sets can be objects in other sets, and sets can even be members of themselves.

So you can have a set of sets, and so on. This is all one needs to know about set theory for my argument, which I will now turn to. This argument is deductively valid. Presumably this is uncontroversial.

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Philosophy Example Essays

Premise 2 translates the notion of omnipresence into set theoretic terms. It is based on the idea that an omnipresent being is everywhere, and so it is in every set. Premise 3 is clearly true, because no one claims that every object is God. So, it makes sense to refer to these non-God objects collectively as a set. Premise 5 follows from the definition of the set S, as the collection of those things that are not God. So, if God is in S, then God is not God. Thus, premise 6, God is excluded from S. The conclusion follows logically from the argument.

I turn now to a potential objection one might make. Many students fail to present an objection to their argument, and instead present an objection to their conclusion. For example, it would be a common mistake for a student to now present a reason to believe tha t God exists, and call that an objection. But this is not what your philosophy teacher is looking for.

He or she wants an objection to your argument; a reason to think one of your premises is false. It makes thinking of objection targets way easier. For my argument, really the only possible premise that one could object to is 2, or equivalently, 6. It is really important that you come up with a relatively solid objection, because this is what philosophical thinking is all about.

I consider the following objection to premise 2. Premise 2 interprets set membership as a kind of physical location, in order to translate omnipresence into set theoretic terms. However, belonging to a set in set theory is not about physical location. Set theory is an abstract way of grouping things together based on relevant properties, not a physical way of grouping objects together.

How to write a philosophy essay: the steps

The objects in a set need not be physical at all, nor do they need to be physically inside a set. So, the objection goes, premise 2 is false because set membership is not about being physically located inside a set. The objection is correct that set membership is not about being physically located inside a set. However, I am not convinced that omnipresence is about being physically located somewhere, either. The notion that God is omnipresent usually refers to some more metaphysical plane of existence, beyond the merely physical. In my view, it is reasonable to consider the existence of sets as likewise being on some higher, more abstract plane.

Thus, arguing that set membership is not physical does not falsify premise 2.

IB Philosophy: How to write an essay - Introduction