Introduction to Philosophy College

Argumentative-What is an argument? In academic writing, an argument is usually a main idea, often called a “claim” or “thesis statement,” backed up with evidence that supports the idea.
When beginning to write a paper, ask yourself, “What is my point?” (you should do this with any paper that you write). If your papers do not have a main point, they cannot be arguing for anything. Asking yourself what your point is can help you avoid a mere “information dump.” Consider this: your instructors probably know a lot more than you do about your subject matter. Why, then, would you want to provide them with material they already know? Instructors are usually looking for two things:

  1. Proof that you understand the material, AND
  2. A demonstration of your ability to use or apply the material in ways that go beyond what you have read or heard.
    This second part can be done in many ways: you can critique the material, apply it to something else, or even just explain it in a different way. In order to succeed at this second step, though, you must have a particular point to argue.
    Arguments in academic writing are usually complex and take time to develop. Your argument will need to be more than a simple or obvious statement such as “Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect.” Such a statement might capture your initial impressions of Wright as you have studied him in class; however, you need to look deeper and express specifically what caused that “greatness.” Your instructor will probably expect something more complicated, such as “Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture combines elements of European modernism, Asian aesthetic form, and locally found materials to create a unique new style,” or “There are many strong similarities between Wright’s building designs and those of his mother, which suggests that he may have borrowed some of her ideas.” To develop your argument, you would then define your terms and prove your claim with evidence from Wright’s drawings and buildings and those of the other architects you mentioned.
    What is the purpose of a philosophy paper?
    • To do philosophy! Examine, clarify, articulate and justify YOUR reasons for or against some philosophical idea(s). For this specific assignment you will argue for or against a specific point of view on a philosophical issue based on a philosophers work.

Does this mean that all I have to do is summarize the author’s position on the issue?
• NO! A good philosophy paper does not just provide a summary of the author’s argument, nor is it a summary of class lecture (I am very familiar with my own work). A philosophy paper should argue in support of or against a specific thesis with proper evidence.

If I am not just summarizing the author’s position than what should I do to write a good philosophy paper?
• Choose a topic that is interesting to you! You have been provided with a list of acceptable issues and philosophers but you will notice that there are many choices. Think about the issues, think about the philosophers and determine what would interest you the most. (note: picking a topic because you think it is easy is not always in your best interest)
• Once you have your topic start thinking about questions that you want to solve in your paper-the big question. For example: You have decided to write your paper on the issue of free will, some questions you might ask could be—when I decide what to eat for breakfast am I really making a decision? How can I know that my choices are really free? Are you a passive spectator in life? Do external constraints limit my freedom?
• Next you will want to determine which readings are relevant to your topic. Remember that you have access to full readings on the internet. Take detailed notes: what is the author saying? Do you understand all the key terms the author is using (if not look them up but not in Webster’s)? What points does the author make?
• Once you have taken detailed notes you should be able to state in one sentence what point the author is making—this is the author’s conclusion.
• Next point out the author’s evidence, or the premises of the argument that allow the author to reach the stated conclusion.
• At this point you should now have a concise outline of the author’s argument and can finally start to look at any problems that have emerged in the argument. It is the examination of these problems that is critical to doing philosophy. At this stage in your philosophical quest you may not fully recognize the problems or you may fully agree with the author’s argument so you will be required to research and find outside help. (Please see the section on Research)
o Problems that you might want to consider (This list is not exhaustive)
 What does the author mean by certain key terms? Are the terms defined or is it assumed the reader understands the terms? If the terms aren’t defined where does this lead the reader?
 Are there unstated assumptions? Is the reader left to fill in missing information?
 Can you provide examples of what the author is talking about? If you can’t than you probably don’t really understand the author’s argument.
 Is the author’s argument consistent with your experiences? Or is it farfetched?
 Is the author consistent? Or does the author jump around and change his/her assumptions?

What do I do once I have completed the above steps?
• You are now ready for the outline. In your submitted outline you must include the following:
o The question (this should be a statement addressing the thesis of your paper)
o The author’s argument (how does the author make his/her argument-this can be accomplished by bullets but you will want to include detailed statements both quotes and your own explanation of the argument)
o Criticisms of the author’s argument (what problems did you find with the author’s work, what criticisms have you researched through others?)
o Your position (do you agree, disagree and what evidence supports your position?)
o Your evidence (who did you use to help you? Names, positions, why should their work be trusted?)

If you have made it this far you are almost through!! The final step is to use your outline to “write” your paper in an understandable way.

What if the suggested path to writing a philosophy paper doesn’t work for me?
• We all write differently and each of us has our own way of researching and understanding information, however, keep in mind that what you are being asked to do can be accomplished in many different ways. In the end you will need to examine, clarify, articulate, and justify no matter what path you take.

Paper Topics

  1. Communism v Capitalism- If you pick this topic you will want to use Karl Marx and John Locke to back your argument. You should have a thesis statement explaining what you are going to argue. For example “Capitalism is a stronger form of government because Communism removes personal property rights, creates all as equals and has yet been shown to be viable.” If this were your thesis statement you would back it up with the 3 reasons you gave in the thesis. This is not the only way you can approach this topic, however you will need to be sure that you have a clear thesis with 3 reasons so you can use those reasons in detail to support your thesis.
  2. Rationalism v Empiricism- If you pick this topic you have a number of philosophers to choose from, look over the course schedule and pick from the philosopher that we are discussing. You should have a thesis statement explaining what you will argue. For example, “Knowledge is best obtained through rationalism because humans have innate ideas, reason is stronger than sense experience and we are capable of deduction.
  3. Argument from design v Ontological argument-If you pick this topic you will want to look at William Paley and St. Anslem. (perhaps others)
  4. Pick a philosopher we have discussed in class. If you decide to take this route in your paper you will still need to make an argument. For example I may think that Plato is awesome and allegory of the cave sums up a great deal of my personal thought, however I know that there are plenty of arguments against the allegory of the cave and what it really may mean. So I could explain the allegory and what it means according to Plato and use counter examples to show what is wrong with it. In using the counter examples I would refute them to show that the allegory of the cave is what Plato claims.
    Hint: Do Not make this paper harder than it has to be. Don’t take on a topic or philosopher we haven’t discussed or won’t discuss. Stick with the main ideas & create an outline.

 The minimum amount of sources required is 6 scholarly works however you may use as many as needed to write the paper.
 You may use internet sites for sources but you ARE REQUIRED to use at least use ONE book (excluding the text book) and TWO journal articles.

 This is a college course, you need to use proper grammar in your paper!
 Most common mistakes that SHOULD NOT show up in your paper include, but are not limited to, the following:
The correct usage of
• There/Their
• Then/Than
• Write/Right
• Past tense/present tense
• Verb agreement
• Do not use contractions.
• Do not start sentences with And or But!

YOU NEED TO PROOFREAD YOUR PAPER BEFORE YOU TURN IT IN! **Hint on proofreading—it is always best to give your paper to someone else (friend, fellow classmate, success center, professor, parent etc) to proofread, they are likely to catch mistakes that you may miss. We will do peer review so this will catch some, however you will still want someone to proofread your final draft.

 Do not quote excessively; it is hard to integrate numerous long quotations into your own paper. Therefore, keep the quotes at a minimum.

• According to Council of Writing Program Administrators plagiarism is defined as, “In an instructional setting, plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its source.” (
 You are required to document your information not only with a bibliography page but also within the body of the paper through the use of endnotes.
 For more information on plagiarism and how to avoid it see resources on the angel site

Guidelines for the appearance of your paper

 You will be using Chicago style for your paper.
 The paper MUST be 5-7 pages long. The title page, bibliography, end notes page, etc DO NOT count as one of the 5-7 pages! The 5-7 pages should only include the body of the paper.
 The paper must be double spaced with page numbers
 You MUST USE the following font: Times New Roman. Size 12 ONLY!

Chicago Style
We will cover Chicago Style during class time. In the meantime you should look over the resources provided on angel detailing the use of Chicago style. Our library website also links to information on using Chicago style. Please note that Chicago style is a preferred method for humanities courses and may again show up in your college endeavors.

What is a Scholarly Source?
When I use the term “scholarly source”, I mean a source that is peer reviewed or published in a recognized scholarly source, like a journal or a university publisher.

  1. Is the journal published by a scholarly association or society, or a university, or a recognized scholarly publisher? If it is not one of these, then it may not be a scholarly journal. Now, you might not know all of the scholarly associations or publishers, so you might have to apply some other criteria…
  2. Are the articles reviewed in some way? You may well find a statement in the masthead about reviewing policy. If the articles are sent out to “peers”, or other members in a field, for anonymous review, that’s a good indication that the journal is scholarly.
  3. What are the articles like? Are they written for an academic audience, or for a popular audience? How do they use evidence or support? Are the citations clear and abundant (in general – not every article will necessarily be like this).
  4. What if it is a book you are looking at? Well, same thing about the publishers – there are some recognized academic publishers that regularly send work to peer reviewers before it is published. Some of these are university presses, others (e.g., Routledge, Blackwell, Peter Lang, etc.) are not associated with universities, but are still excellent academic publishers.
  5. Is a course text a scholarly source? If it is a textbook written for classroom use, probably not. It is intended as a teaching tool. It should not be used in a paper, although you can use the references in the textbook to look in more scholarly sources. However, sometimes professors assign classic works as classroom reading. These are works not originally written for classroom use, and can be used in a paper. When in doubt, ask the professor.

The key in looking for a scholarly source is to identify the mechanisms used to ensure that the article is of a high standard. Sometimes we just trust the reputation of a journal or publisher, and sometimes we actually look for a statement about the review process. Magazines, in general, do not have a review process, and their material is meant for a wider audience. It may be valuable, but it is not scholarly.
Are internet sources scholarly?
Now, what about sources from the internet? These can be harder to deal with. First, the easy ones. There are some scholarly journals that publish a web version, and in some cases they only publish a web version. The fact that the journal is on the web should not necessarily detract from using it. The real issue is still the scholarly process it has gone through. Most journals now provide on-line versions, and these are as reliable and acceptable as their hard-copy equivalents.

How about reference works like Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica? Let’s take Wikipedia first. A wiki is a community-edited document, one which anyone can add to or change. That’s not exactly peer review, because the reviewers aren’t necessarily people who have studied an area. Wikipedia might, though, give you ideas to follow up elsewhere, and that’s fine. But I wouldn’t use it as a scholarly source. Encyclopedia Britannica: It has a real editorial staff, and high quality articles. It is, however, a general encyclopedia, and so its purpose is to meet the needs of a general audience, not a specialist audience. For philosophy, for instance, it is a better idea to use either the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or one of the two major on-line encyclopedias of philosophy (which are, by the way, reviewed), the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

You should be quite suspicious of other works on the web. Just typing something into Google will not give you reliable results. You might, though, look for portal pages for particular topics or issues. Sometimes academics will make pages of the best resources on the web. These can be useful, but even many of these resources are not likely peer reviewed, and so would probably not be up to the level required for your papers.

Many students are tempted to do all their work with web-based sources. This is a mistake. Even with a lot of work being put on the web, there is no substitute for the library. Make sure to use it. (
Please refer to angel for further resources on research.
Final Draft of your paper
 Title page (Name of college; the full title of your paper; course information (class, time, days); your name and date)
 Page numbers
 Body of the paper (5-7 pages)
 Endnotes
 Bibliography

Below is a checklist you can use to determine if your final draft will be acceptable. You will want to go through the checklist and be sure that you have included all of the necessary information.

__ A Title page with required information

____Page numbers on each page starting on page 2 with the number 2

____An endnotes page correctly documented in Chicago style

____A bibliography page correctly documented in Chicago style and in alphabetical order

____The body of the paper is 5 full pages

____The paper has been proofread by others

____The paper has a thesis statement

____The paper has an introduction and a conclusion

*If your paper is lacking either an endnotes page or a bibliography page or both pages it will be returned to you with the grade of F. You will have an opportunity to re-submit the paper with the required information within 2 days of it being returned to you, however, you will lose a full letter grade on the resubmission.

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