GUIDELINES FOR PHILOSOPHY PAPERS

 

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

 

            1.  PHILOSOPHICAL WRITING.  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 and for sense is to read your paper aloud to someone else, or even just to yourself.  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. 

 

            2.  FORMAT.  PAPERS SHOULD BE PREPARED AS WORD DOCUMENTS (OR IN RTF FORMAT).  THEY SHOULD BE SUBMITTED TO ME (wtalbott@u.washington.edu) AS EMAIL ATTACHMENTS.  PLEASE MAKE SURE THE FILENAME BEGINS WITH YOUR LAST NAME.  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.

 

            3.  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.

 

            4.  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.

 

            5.  CITE FULLY AND ACCURATELY.  Make sure you accurately state the position of any author you discuss.  Any time you quote an author or attribute a proposition to an author, the quotation or attribution must be supported by a citation to the text, with page numbers.  YOU MAY NOT CITE ME AS AN AUTHORITY ON WHAT AN AUTHOR SAYS (UNLESS I AM THE AUTHOR!).  YOU MUST CITE THE AUTHOR HIM/HERSELF.  Where the reference is to a text in the assigned readings, it is sufficient to provide page references in parentheses immediately after the quotation or attribution.  In all other cases, provide a full bibliographic reference in a footnote or endnote. 

 

            6.  TO SHOW THAT YOU UNDERSTAND AN AUTHOR'S POSITION, IT IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO SIMPLY PARROT THE AUTHOR.  Where you quote the author, make sure you explain in your own words the significance of the quoted material.  It is often helpful to use your own examples to clarify the views of the author you are discussing.

 

            7. 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, or come to my office hours or make an appointment to discuss it with me.

 

            8.  CAREFULLY DISTINGUISH VIEWS THAT YOU CLAIM AN AUTHOR HOLDS FROM VIEWS THAT YOU CLAIM THE AUTHOR SHOULD HOLD OR IS COMMITTED TO HOLDING.  Claims that an author holds a particular view must be supported with cites to the text.  But claims that an author should hold or is committed to holding a particular view must be supported with relevant arguments, in addition to cites to the text.

 

            9. 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.  Whenever you use a label, always clearly state what the label refers to. 

 

            10.  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 main issues in the paper. 

 

            11.  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.  Then you must take your own stand on which side is, on balance, the most reasonable position to take, and explain why you think so.

 

            12.  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 the author you are criticizing accepts or is committed to accepting.

 

            13.  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.

 

            14.  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.

 

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

 

            16.  REVIEW THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR PAPER  Some people can sit down and write an outline of a paper before they write it.  Others have to write the paper first.  But everyone should be able to make an outline of the paper after writing it.  This is a useful way to discover logical gaps or other gaps in the discussion.

 

            17.  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.