Philosophical Argument

Final Course Essay Guidelines
The purpose of a philosophy essay is to pick up a philosophical argument or concept that interests you, and to explore, analyze and evaluate it in greater depth. However, writing an essay in philosophy is somewhat different from writing in other disciplines, even in the humanities. This document is intended to provide you with a clear idea of what I will be looking for, so you can do your very best.

What Makes a Philosophy Essay Different
THE RANGE and NATURE of the QUESTIONS: The philosophical terrain covers a lot of territory, ranging from questions about the nature of reality, to what constitutes true knowledge, to ethics in an unethical world, to proofs of the existence of God, and much more. Today philosophers dig into all kinds of subject areas. They focus on analyzing a specific problem, constructing an argument that supports a specific conclusion, identifying reasonable objections to that conclusion, and providing responses to those objections. For the most part they do not advocate for a particular plan of action, which is one reason why philosophy differs from ideology. Instead, they explore some aspect of the ideas, values, beliefs and hidden assumptions that drive our decision-making in the first place.
ARGUMENT PLUS EXPLANATION: As a result, an essay in philosophy blends elements of both an argumentative essay and an expository essay. A good philosophy essay provides an explanation of the context of an argument, a careful analysis of the argument itself along with its strengths and weaknesses, and a final evaluation. It may well be persuasive, but its persuasive power comes from the strength of the argument presented, not from rhetorical flourish or an appeal to emotion.
OBJECTIVE and EVEN-HANDED: Clearly philosophers write from a given perspective (all humans do!), but philosophy essays are not opinion editorials. Every attempt is made to not only present the argument but to also give serious and balanced consideration to its potential weaknesses, and if possible, to offer rebuttals to likely objections. That said, you are still free to sprinkle in first-person perspectives.

SUMMARY of What I Will Be Looking For
TOTAL PAGES: At least 4 pages, double-spaced, roughly 1,000 words (~250 words per page). The Works Cited page is separate, and please DO NOT use a cover sheet.
FORMATTING: In this course we will use MLA formatting because it’s widely used in the humanities. Some philosophers do use APA, and historians of philosophy commonly use Chicago /Turabian.
A WELL-COMPOSED TITLE: Provide your reader with an insight into the essay contents.
A SUCCINCT BUT INFORMATIVE INTRODUCTION: Include a well-constructed thesis statement and “road map” to the argument/organization of the essay itself.
MULTIPLE BODY PARAGRAPHS: Find more on what to include here under The Process of Writing.
A SUCCINCT CONCLUSION: Re-affirm your conclusion, but in a fresh way; don’t just repeat yourself.
A WORKS CITED PAGE: In MLA the page where you provide your references is always called Works Cited, whether you actually cited them or just used them for background information.

The Process of Writing the FINAL Essay
I strongly recommend revisiting the WK01: START HERE / #2 – Doing Well in This Course section for additional guides for writing in philosophy: devising a good thesis statement and “road map,” finding good source material, deciding when to paraphrase and when to quote, and how to cite using MLA formatting.

1) Think Ahead
Be kind to yourself! Give yourself enough time to pull together an essay you can be proud of. Overcome the temptation to procrastinate by keeping an informal notepad of ideas that come to mind as you work through the course. You will not remember them under the pressure of a deadline!

PHIL 1301 Instructor: Britt Michelsen

2) Select a Topic
It’s always best to write about something that interests you personally, so I leave the choice of a topic to you. Each week we will address a different general topic area as well as several sub-topics. For instance, under the general topic of free will, we will consider different positions as subtopics: Determinism, Libertarianism, and Compatibilism. Within those we will explore the reasoning presented by several philosophers. Be sure to zero in on a subtopic, since it would be impossible to write anything meaningful about the general problem of free will in a 4 to 5 page essay.
Feel free to rework and build on something you submitted for one of the mini-essays. It’s not uncommon for writers in any discipline to build and expand on earlier work, though the fact that you are doing so should be mentioned in the revised and updated version.

3) Read the Materials Carefully; do Additional Research Only If You Wish
This is an introductory course, so I do not expect you to do extensive outside research. Feel free to stick to the materials and the supplemental videos and documents included in the course. Feel free to contact me if you need clarification of anything.
This is also an online course, so I expect that any research you do will be online. You are not restricted to scholarly articles (which can be very challenging for beginners) but be sure to use reputable sources. I do NOT want to see any sources.

4) Devise a (Working) Thesis Statement and “Road Map”
Your thesis should be a clear statement of exactly what you want to demonstrate to your reader—the conclusion you wish to draw. Your “road map” provides your readers with a succinct preview of your line of reasoning, including a reasonable objection and your response. You may find yourself revising both as you work through your analysis and evaluation.
The thesis is important because it provides you with a focus and helps you create the organizational structure of the essay itself, since each paragraph provides a step in the structure of your argument. This provides you with the material you need for the “road map.”
• I offer 5 extra credit points if you send me your proposed thesis statement so I can work with you to narrow it down to something doable and not too broad or vague.

5) Construct a Draft Outline (the Organizational Structure)
If you have a good thesis statement and “road map” for your readers (a preview of your line of reasoning and the conclusion you will draw), you should be able to lay out a good working organizational structure. At a minimum, your essay will require an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Creating a rough outline now will give you an immediate sense of which sections need development, and which will need to be pruned back for a well-balanced essay. Once you have an outline and have begun to flesh out each paragraph, you can let your essay rest for a day or two as you reflect on it, and you can pick up exactly where you left off.

6) First, Write the Body of the Essay (Multiple Paragraphs)
This is the core of the essay—where you present and analyze the argument you will be addressing, as well as its strengths and weaknesses. The first sentence of each paragraph is often called the
“topic sentence,” because it identifies the function of the paragraph by clearly stating the main idea. The rest of the paragraph should flesh out this idea by means of explanation, evidence or examples, including relevant philosophical theories or concepts.

  1. Sometimes a fuller discussion of the CONTEXT for your thesis is useful; why was this question of concern for this philosopher? How is it relevant today? Sometimes a brief discussion of KEY TERMS would be beneficial; philosophers often use terms in very specific ways, so feel free to say something like: “By , philosopher X means .”

PHIL 1301 Instructor: Britt Michelsen

  1. ANALYSIS: A clear presentation of your understanding of the ARGUMENT itself, as seen in its best light. It should be in terms that any reasonably bright person can understand.
  2. REASONABLE OBJECTION and RESPONSE: Every argument has strengths and weaknesses, so here is where you objectively and fairly present a reasonable objection to the argument (aka “counterargument”). If you are discussing a classic argument with known objections, present one of those. If you like, try your hand at constructing an objection of your own. No fair setting up a “straw man” objection to make it easy to demolish.
    Ideally you would also present a reasonable response to that objection (aka “rebuttal”). If you choose a well-known objection, there are probably already well-known rebuttals, or you could come up with an objection of your own or identify a problem you believe has been overlooked.

7) When to Quote, When to Paraphrase, and In-Text Citations
The essay should reflect YOUR thinking, so be sure to have a specific reason for using source materials. Emphasize paraphrasing and use short quotations sparingly and judiciously. In both cases, be sure to provide in-text citations and a reference on a Works Cited page.
When you do decide to quote, identify the source, present the quote, and provide an in-text citation. Then explain the function of the quote in your essay: did you use it because of the precise language? Does it raise a point you want to criticize? Does it confirm the point you want to make?
Even when you paraphrase someone else’s idea, you still need to identify the source using essentially the same rules as for quotes.

8) Then Write the Conclusion
This is NOT the place to introduce new ideas; this is where you will summarize the main points you’ve already discussed and explain how they support your thesis. You could also offer your own evaluation of the argument:
• Despite the objection raised, the argument is still a sturdy one (and explain why)
• The objection raised significantly weakens the argument, so more work needs to be undertaken (ideally provide a suggestion)

9) Then Write the Introduction
You often don’t know what you want to say until you have completed the body and the conclusion. At this point your job is first to pique your reader’s interest in the problem you plan to discuss, and then to clearly state your (revised) thesis and road map.
• Did you capture your reader’s interest? Did you give your reader an indication of what you found to be especially interesting or important about the philosophical question you will be discussing?
• Did you clearly state the thesis of your essay and briefly mention the context for it? (Leave the details for a later paragraph).
• Did you briefly identify the main points you will be making as a kind of roadmap for your reader?
o For example: “First I will , then I will , in order to demonstrate that .” Exactly how you phrase it is up to you.

10) Last But Not Least: Create A Title
Often the last task is that of composing a well-written title, one that provides your reader with a sense of what the essay is all about. This is the first thing your readers will read, and it should set the tone for the reading experience. Learning how to write good titles will make you more aware of the titles of everything you read, whether it’s subject headings in emails or articles online or books.

PHIL 1301 Instructor: Britt Michelsen

Essay Coherence, Writing Style, Editing, Proofreading and Citations
Aim for Coherence and a Smooth Flow
Step back to look at the essay as a whole. A well-organized essay should flow from paragraph to paragraph. Your readers should even be able to read the introduction and conclusion and skim the first sentence of each paragraph to get a sense of what the essay is all about and how it is organized.
You may find that some revision is in order; a reorganization of your content might help you make your points more effectively. Each paragraph should have a specific purpose, and every sentence in that paragraph should support that purpose. If it doesn’t, move it elsewhere or delete it altogether.

Think About your Writing Style, and Edit for Crystal Clarity
When you edit your essay, you drill down to sentence structure and flow, you eliminate unnecessary verbiage, dial back on language that sounds academic for the sake of sounding academic, and explain terms that might not be entirely clear.
Write for a general audience and be as clear and straightforward as possible. Your paper should be clear enough for any reasonably intelligent person to grasp, even with no background in philosophy.
Emphasize using ordinary language. Avoid trying to sound academic; using words most readers are unlikely to understand takes away from your reader’s ability to follow your line of reasoning. If you are uncertain about the meaning of a word or how to use it in a sentence, look it up and consider explaining it to your readers. But be very careful about using a thesaurus; only use words whose meaning you fully understand, or you risk sounding foolish rather than intelligent.
Be concise. Explain things in your own words but edit out conversational “filler” words. It the sentence still makes sense without it, it’s a “filler” word. Avoid vague generalities like “from the dawn of time.”
Provide concrete examples and illustrations wherever it would be useful. Ground your essay by explaining what the implications of your claims might be in a specific situation. This is where analogies, examples and thought experiments can be handy. Philosophy can easily become very abstract, which can make it hard for others to see the point you want to make.
The overall tone should be objective, but feel free to occasionally use the first-person tense. You will be presenting your own understanding of an argument or issue, and you will be providing your own justification for the point you wish to make. So feel free to say “I will be demonstrating how
” or “As I understand it, this means that ,” or even “It’s not clear to me that .”

Be Sure to Proofread
When you proofread your essay, you examine it line by line. Believe me when I tell you it helps to read the essay out loud because instead of reading for content you will find yourself focusing on the words and sentence structure, which helps you catch missing words, duplicate words, misspellings, typos, grammatical errors and the like. Submitting essays that contain errors like these is sloppy, and it puts even otherwise excellent essays in a bad light.

Provide Citations
This is not a research essay, but I do expect to see both in-text citations and at least two but no more than four items on a Works Cited page. Even PowerPoints, videos and the course textbook can be properly formatted in MLA.
As a rule it’s not a good idea to use any encyclopedia as a reference in a college essay, but the exception is philosophy encyclopedias.
It’s also not a good idea to use SparkNotes or the like as a reference, unless you say something in the body of your essay to the effect that a specific concept is so difficult to understand that any help is appreciated, even if it’s from SparkNotes. That lets your reader know that you know that you are not using it seriously as a recommended source.

PHIL 1301 Instructor: Britt Michelsen

MLA Formatting: Packaging and Presentation Matter
MARGINS: 1 inch on all sides FONT: nothing larger than 12 point DOUBLE-SPACED
INDENT THE FIRST LINE of every paragraph in the essay by a half inch
USE LEFT-ALIGNMENT, which leaves the right margin ragged

HEADING: top left-hand corner of first page ONLY (see the example below)

Do you need urgent help with this or a similar assignment? We got you. Simply place your order and leave the rest to our experts.

Order Now

Quality Guaranteed!

Written From Scratch.

We Keep Time!

Scroll to Top