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?
Where to start? Writing an introduction or abstract for your philosophy paper can be daunting – and with good reason. The first paragraph of your paper is also the most important. But how do you write a good introduction? What should you include and what must you leave out? And how can writing an introduction help you to structure your paper?
It sounds odd to say that you don’t know how to read academic papers. You start at the beginning, keep reading until the end—right? But the problem of being unable to cope with academic reading is probably the most common complaint amongst students at all levels. The truth is that reading for academic purposes is just not the same as other kinds of reading. You have to read actively, selectively and purposefully.
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.
How many sources should a philosophy paper use? How do you cite these works and avoid accusations of plagiarism? How do you present other philosophers’ ideas and arguments in your paper? Should you include quotations? These are very common questions which students face. Let’s look at the ways you should and should not use literature in your essays.
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?
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?
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.
A fallacy is a mistake or error in reasoning. Fallacies can be accidental errors, or can be deliberately crafted to be misleading. Many different types of fallacy have been described across many fields. Understanding fallacies is useful for philosophers to identify fallacious reasoning in arguments which we are criticising, and to avoid committing them in our own work.