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Writing a philosophical essay requires practice. In this first essay, you are going to submit a 500-word paper where you explain, in your own words, one philosophical argument that you have found engaging so far. Giving an overview of the text is not what this essay is about. You need to reconstruct an argument and the main philosophical claims that sustain such argument. In other words, you are going to answer: what does the author think and why do they think it?
Identifying and reconstructing a philosophical argument is a skill that you will be practicing in this first paper. What you need to do is 1) identify and 2) explain one philosophical argument that you have found interesting thus far.
Here are some questions and answers that may help you write this paper:
1. Q- How to identify a philosophical argument? • Philosophical arguments are statements or theses that can be argued for or against. Most of the time, they are the central position that the author is defending in their work. A very straightforward way to recognize a thesis/argument/central position is to identifying phrases such as: “In this book/paper/essay/chapter, I will argue that…” Sometimes there are several theses in an author’s essay. If that is the case, concentrate on one! Do not try to reconstruct all of the arguments. Pick one that you find most interesting and focus on that.
2. Q-How do I explain someone else’s philosophical argument? • What we want to see you do in this essay is to try to explain someone else’s argument IN YOUR OWN WORDS and according to your understanding of the steps involved in such argument. You need to be very clear on the central position of the author (you can and should use quotes but do not let them do the explaining for you, instead always follow the quotes with something like: “In other words what X suggests is that…”) • A very famous contemporary philosopher, Shelly Kegan, wrote that “sometimes people think that profound topics need to be discussed in a language that looks profound. But that’s just a mistake. There is no reason why you can’t express your thoughts in simple, straightforward English.” https://oyc.yale.edu/sites/default/files/philosophy-paper.pdf) So, write in simple English. Do not try to mask what you do or don’t understand by using complicated vocabulary. If there’s any questions about the reading, please, come to office hours and we can talk things through. Think that anybody who is outside of this class should be able to understand what exactly you are trying to convey. 3. Q-How do I start this essay? • This particular essay is NOT concerned with knowing the details of the author’s life. A critical piece of advice is: do NOT start your essay by saying something like: “Socrates was a classic philosopher that tried to understand an array of issues…” or “Since the beginning of time humankind has been wondering…” Rather, go straight to the point. Start your essay by saying something like: “The purpose of this essay is to reconstruct and explain X’s argument on what Art is. To do so, I will start by considering X’s central thesis, which is…” • Outside sources are NOT necessary. We want to see YOU reconstruct someone else’s argument without anybody else’s words. Please make sure that you cite properly!! Remember that any plagiarized work will result in a failing grade for this course.
4. Q- How is this essay going to be graded? • There’s no magic recipe to write a philosophical paper or to grade one! But here are some things that the TA’s will be looking for: 1. Reconstruction and not a summary of the text. It is important that you don’t summarize the entire text. Rather focus on one argument that you found engaging and try to explain it in your own words. 2. Good citation. This means not abusing quotes, citing properly (choose whatever format you like, just stick to it throughout your paper) and ALWAYS explaining quotes. Don’t let the quote do the explaining for you, always accompany the quote with something like: “In other words…” “What X argues here is that…”. 3. Good and original examples are always welcomed and appreciated. It reflects that you understood the reading and can apply your knowledge to concrete and particular circumstances.