MORE Philosophy Paper Writing Guidelines

1. Avoid circularity! Consider the following circular explanation, circular argument, and circular definition:
  • Circular Explanation: Bob needs a job so that he can pay for his car; he needs a car so that he can get to his job.
  • Circular Argument: The Bible says that God exists, God wrote the Bible and wouldn't lie, therefore God exists.
  • Circular Definition: Freedom means having the liberty to do what I want; having the liberty to do what I want means having the freedom to do as I please.
All three of these examples use the very thing they are trying to explain, prove, or define in the explanation, argument, or definition itself. This is BAD!

2. SUPPORT YOUR CLAIMS!!! (I know this is on the first set of guidelines, but it is so important that it deserves repeating.)

3. Make sure that your paper is composed of both quality exegesis and some of your own (supported) ideas. I need to see that you've understood the class material, so a nice summary of the course material and relevant arguments we've discussed in class is necessary. However, I also need to see that you've thought about some of this material on your own, and that you have something original to contribute. So your grade will take into consideration both (i) how will you can summarize the course material and (ii) your ability to assimilate the material and come up with some of your own ideas in response. Doing only one of these things well will not be enough to get you an A.

4. Quotes, like drinks, are fine in moderation. Too many, however, and it will be impossible for me to tell if you really understand the material. Also, I've already read the material many times. I don't need to see it again in your papers. So please summarize the material in your own words, using quotes sparingly.

5. Beware of Ad Hominems. Anytime you find yourself attacking the author, or any particular person who is giving an argument, rather than the argument itself, this is called an ad hominem fallacy. For example, imagine that Bill Clinton gave a stellar, valid argument on the merits of fidelity. In response, someone points to his less-than-saintly personal life as a way of refuting Clinton's argument. Attacking the person giving the argument rather than the argument itself--while often rhetorically effective--is irrational. Stick to evaluating the form of the argument, or the truth of it's premises, but never attack the person giving the argument.

6. PLEASE read the paper assignment instructions carefully.

7. Double-space, normal margins, 12-point font, PLEASE! Look. I know that using Courier New and messing with the margins will turn 2 pages into 5. But I'm not fooled. Besides, I am more concerned with content than paper length anyhow. Yet varying the font and format (and ink color!), while fun for you, can be annoying to me. I would like to be able to read your paper clearly, with plenty of space to write comments. So stick to the standard paper format.

Page Last Updated: Oct. 27, 2006
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