PAPER GUIDELINES

 

            These guidelines were developed for term papers, but with appropriate qualifications, they apply to all written work in this course. 

 

            1. INTRODUCTION.  Begin by stating the issue that you will discuss and explain why the issue is important.  The issue should be one that arises out of the course readings and will require you to discuss and criticize the views of at least one of the authors in the course readings.

 

            2. CRITICAL SUMMARY.  Summarize the relevant views and the arguments in the course readings or in other readings that you believe are of importance.  Usually in a critical discussion of a philosophical view it is not sufficient to merely summarize the view.  Your attention should be focused on the author's development of the view--that is, on his/her arguments, in the broadest sense of the word.  In most cases, an author will begin from statements that s/he expects the audience to agree with, and will use them to support conclusions that s/he expects to be more controversial.  The argument need not be a purely deductive one, though it may be.  In critically evaluating the author's view, you must reconstruct how the author reaches the conclusions s/he does and must evaluate whether the considerations that s/he takes to support her conclusions do in fact support them.

 

            3. CARE IN CITATIONS.  Make sure you accurately state the position of any author you discuss and always include page references for each quotation or attribution.

 

            4. USE CARE IN INTERPRETING AN AUTHOR, PARTICULARLY SOMEONE YOU DISAGREE WITH.  If on your interpretation of an author, the author either is inconsistent or has made an obvious error of reasoning, begin by assuming that you have misinterpreted the author.  Reread the relevant passages carefully to see if you can put together a consistent position that is not obviously erroneous.  If you cannot do so, make an appointment to talk to me so that I can make some suggestions. 

 

            5. USE LABELS.  In your paper, you will typically have to distinguish between a number of different theses or positions.  It is often useful to give names or labels to the various theses or positions, for ease of reference.  For example, if you wish to distinguish different versions of epistemological internalism or externalism, give them easy to remember names. 

 

            6.  USE EXAMPLES.  In philosophy, it is easy to get lost in a discussion of abstract ideas. You should not feel that you understand an author's view unless you can explain how it applies to relevant examples.  In your paper, you should not deal entirely in abstractions.  You should try to develop one or two or more examples which (perhaps with some variations) can be used to illustrate the differences between the views of the authors you discuss, and perhaps can be used to explain why you favor the views of one of the authors over the other.

 

            7.  CRITICAL EVALUATION.  A purely expository paper is not acceptable in this course.  Your exposition--even a critical exposition--of an author's views should NEVER take up more than half of your paper.  At least half of your paper must be devoted to a critical evaluation of the views of the authors you are discussing.  A satisfactory critical evaluation will require you to raise objections to the views of the authors you are discussing and to critically discuss them.

 

            8.  WHENEVER YOU CRITICIZE AN AUTHOR'S ARGUMENT OR POSITION, BEGIN WITH INTERNAL CRITICISMS (IF YOU HAVE ANY) AND THEN PROCEED TO EXTERNAL CRITICISMS.  An internal criticism is a criticism that uses only premises and evidence that the author accepts or is committed to accepting.  An external criticism is a criticism that employs premises or evidence that the author is not committed to.  External criticisms of an author are not complete unless you provide arguments for all premises or evidence that go beyond the premises or evidence that the author you are criticizing accepts or is committed to accepting.

 

            9. CONSIDER POSSIBLE RESPONSES TO YOUR OBJECTIONS.  Whenever you offer an objection to an author's position, explicitly consider whether the author has said anything that might indicate how s/he would respond to the objection.  If so, develop and evaluate the author's response.  If not, you should take the author's side and formulate the best response that you can to the objection.  If you cannot think of any good responses to the objection, make an appointment to talk to me so that I can make some suggestions.  Your grade will be based not only on the quality of the objections you raise but also on the quality of the responses that you make to your objections.

 

            10. REPLY TO THE RELEVANT RESPONSES.  After you have formulated the best response(s) that you can to your objection(s) (8 above), reply to the response.

 

            11. CONCLUSION.  Conclude by summarizing the results of your argument and their significance for the relevant issues.

 

            12.  GRAMMAR, SPELLING, AND DICTION.  Although papers are evaluated chiefly on their philosophical merits, grammar, spelling, and diction will also be evaluated.  You are expected to express your thoughts in clear, grammatical, English sentences.

 

            13.  ALL PAPERS SHOULD BE SUBMITTED AS EMAIL ATTACHMENTS.  I will return your paper with my comments as an email attachment. 

 

            14. AVOID PLAGIARISM.  Whenever you turn in any assignment in this course, the understanding is that what you are turning in is your own original work, except to the extent that you explicitly credit others for their contributions. You have an obligation to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, by always attributing any argument or idea that you have borrowed, even if you have modified it, to its source.  The source may be written or oral.  For example, if an argument was suggested by a fellow student, include that information in a footnote.

 

 

MISCELLANEOUS SUGGESTIONS

(including some adopted from Professor BonJour)

 

            1. Make sure that you express yourself in complete sentences.  Each sentence must contain, at a minimum, a subject and a predicate in grammatical agreement that make sense together.

 

            2.  A common mistake is sentences that run on too long.  Two or more grammatically complete sentences should be separated by a period, not a comma.  If you want to link them more closely, you can use a semi-colon, or a comma and a conjunction (e.g., "and" or "but).  Other things being equal, two short sentences are better than one longer sentence.

 

            3.  Check the meanings and spellings of all words that you are not sure of.  It is recommended that you use a computer spelling checker before printing your final draft.

 

            4.  Some people believe that really good philosophy must be very deep, and thus hard to understand.  You will not be rewarded for such writing in this course.  Your goal should be to make your papers as clear, as unambiguous, and as easy to understand as the subject matter allows.  A good way to test for awkward constructions as well as for sense is to read your paper aloud to someone else, or even just to yourself.  You may also have it read by one of the tutors in the Philosophy Writing Center.  Your paper should make sense to most reasonably intelligent people (even someone not taking this course), though, of course, they need not be persuaded by your arguments.  You are encouraged to discuss the paper topic with other students in the course, but you are responsible for making your paper your own original work, except for the sources that you explicitly acknowledge and cite in the paper itself.