A philosophy paper consists of an argument for a thesis. The quality of your paper will be judged primarily on how well your argument supports your thesis. But what is a thesis? How specific should it be? How do we construct arguments, breaking them down into a series of premises and a conclusion? What makes an argument persuasive?
We laid out two criteria for a persuasive argument: that the conclusion follows from the premises, and that the premises are all true. But what does it mean for a conclusion to “follow from” the premises? In deductive inference, we want to know whether an argument is valid and whether it is sound. What do these terms mean and how are they used?
How can we read complex papers to extract the philosophical argument? What is the Principle of Charity? Reading philosophical texts can be challenging. Extracting the thesis and rendering the argument into premises-and-conclusion form is a great way to understanding the author’s reasoning.
Philosophers often draw distinctions, dividing things into categories. How do we evaluate distinctions? What is a ‘proper distinction’? What makes a distinction exhaustive or mutually exclusive? And what does this have to do with suckling pigs and mermaids?
Philosophers perform conceptual analysis to understanding the meaning of terms from ‘death’ to ‘love’, ‘good’ to ‘evil’ and ‘science’ to ‘art’. How do we evaluate conceptual analyses? What are necessary and sufficient conditions? What makes a conceptual analysis too strong or too weak?
Some of the most powerful philosophical criticisms provide a counterexample to a claim. But how do we formulate counterexamples? And if there is a counterexample to a claim you want to defend or an argument you want to make, how should you proceed? We’ll look at Gettier’s famous counterexamples to find out.
Formalising arguments allows us to look at the underlying logical form of the premises and conclusions. We can use this tool to determine the validity of the argument. How do we find the logical form of a proposition? This guide introduces the basics of propositional logic.
Can you tell a valid argument from an invalid one? This quiz will allow you to practice identifying valid arguments. If you struggle with the quiz, go back and check out the ‘Validity and Soundness’ guide article.