How to Write an Essay in Vce Philosophy
WRITING AN ESSAY IN VCE PHILOSOPHY Writing a philosophical essay is different from essay writing in many other disciplines. The aim of a philosophical essay is to defend a thesis, usually one which is fairly narrowly defined, through the presentation of reasons. A good philosophical essay will normally exhibit the following virtues: 1. Has a clear thesis 2. Has a clear argumentative structure 3. Presents reasons which support the thesis 4. Stays on topic 5. Examines and presents philosophical positions in a charitable and clear manner 6.
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Exhibits original thinking Below, I will examine each of these virtues in more detail, and then provide an example of a good introduction. 1. Has a clear thesis Good essays in philosophy normally have a thesis that can be stated in a very simple and straightforward manner, and the thesis should be obvious to the reader. One simple way of doing this is by saying something like ‘In this paper I will argue that …’ As this example suggests, it is perfectly acceptable, indeed it is perhaps standard practice, to use the first person in your paper.
In order to help the reader understand the paper, the thesis of the paper should be stated in the introduction. Indeed, it is often presented in the first sentence. There is no need to dazzle the reader with your ability to construct flowery sentences, or impress upon them the depth of your historical knowledge. It is far more important to be clear and concise. 2. Has a clear argumentative structure The aim of a philosophical essay is to provide a defence of a particular philosophical thesis.
One way in which this can differ from essays in other fields is that in philosophy there is a strong and explicit expectation that this defence will take a particular form, namely that it will be a reasoned defence. A reasoned defence is one that presents the reader with reasons to believe that the thesis is true (as opposed, for example, to attacking advocates of opposing views). It is not enough, however, that the essay provides reasons. These reasons must (i) actually support the thesis (this will be discussed below), and (ii) must occur within a clear argumentative structure.
A clear argumentative structure is one where it is made obvious to the reader how the points that are being made actually provide the reader with reasons to believe the thesis. In order to make the structure of the argument clear to the reader, it is advisable to use words that signpost particular parts of the argument. For example, when presenting the thesis of the paper, one might say ‘The thesis of this paper is that …’ When presenting the reasons that support the thesis, one might use phrases such as ‘There are three reasons to believe that [the thesis] is true.
First, … Second, … Third, …’ Within paragraphs, it is also important to show how the reasons that you are presenting are justified. Again, this should be clear to the reader. The following is a couple of examples of what a good structure might look like, and how one might make this structure clear to the reader1: Example A: … We’ve just seen how X says that P. I will now present two arguments that not-P. My first argument is… My second argument that not-P is… X might respond to my arguments in several ways. For instance, he could say that…
However this response fails, because… Another way that X might respond to my arguments is by claiming that… This response also fails, because… So we have seen that none of X’s replies to my argument that not-P succeed. Hence, we should reject X’s claim that P. Example B: I will argue for the view that Q. There are three reasons to believe Q. Firstly… Secondly… Thirdly… The strongest objection to Q says… However, this objection does not succeed, for the following reason… Example B provides a template for an essay structure.
Most essays in philosophy present both reasons that support the thesis as well as addressing what are seen to be the most pressing objections to the thesis. 3. Presents reasons which support the thesis A good essay in philosophy will not only present reasons, and do so within an argumentative structure, but will present reasons that strongly support the thesis. In general, the better the reasons, i. e. the more belief in the reasons ensures belief in the thesis, the better the essay. It is not enough, however to present good reasons. You must also show the reader why the reasons are good ones, i. e. hy he or she should believe that the reasons presented as evidence for the thesis are likely to be true. 4. Stays on Topic When writing a philosophical essay, the sole aim is to provide a persuasive case for the thesis. As such, anything that is unrelated to the thesis, however interesting it may be in its own right, should be eliminated. All that the reader will want to see is that you are able to construct an essay that provides appropriate support for the thesis, not that you are a well-bred and well-read young man or woman. Thus, it is important that when writing you stay on the topic at all times.
If you write something that is not a statement of the thesis, or a reason in support of a thesis, or evidence for such a reason, then it should be eliminated from the paper. 5. Examines and presents philosophical positions in a charitable and clear manner In VCE philosophy, you will normally be asked to defend a thesis related to one of the set texts. As such, you will need to present the arguments in the text within your paper. There are three points to make about this. First, you should aim to be charitable to the texts you are discussing.
This means that you should try to present the texts in the most plausible way consistent with the text. It is too easy to present a lazy interpretation of a text and then reject that version, and papers which do this are likely to be marked harshly. Second, your presentation of the position should aim to be as clear as possible. It should be obvious to the reader what you think the text in question is saying. This can be facilitated by using simple language and simple sentences, e. g. ‘Hume’s view is that … He presents us with two reasons to believe that his view is correct. The first is …’ etc. Finally, you should make your presentation of hilosophical positions, indeed your presentation of anything in the paper, as concise as possible consistent with the first two points above. It is a mark of understanding and of philosophical ability that one can present a view both clearly and concisely. 6. Exhibits original thinking Good philosophical essays show a degree of originality. The degree of originality expected, however, depends on the level in question. At VCE level, examiners do not expect that students will amaze them with points never made before, or present interpretations of the texts that are clearly superior to any that have come before.
What will distinguish the best philosophical essays is that they will show evidence that the student has thought clearly and deeply about the texts or questions, and has used the information in that text to come up with their own view. Sample Introduction 1. Nietzsche seeks to convince us that noble morality is superior to slave morality by showing us the genealogy of morality. Aristotle, on the other hand, seeks to convince us that we should be virtuous by showing us that virtue is necessary for happiness. Explain and evaluate each approach.
Which approach do you think is the most effective in terms of convincing people to act is the desired way? Justify your answer. Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics both aim to convince the reader that one particular conception of morality is preferable. The means which they use to persuade, however, are significantly different from each other. Whereas Aristotle seeks to demonstrate that being virtuous will normally lead to happiness, Nietzsche presents us with a genealogy of our current conception of morality.
In this paper, I will present both approaches in more detail and evaluate them in turn. I will argue that Aristotle’s approach is superior to Nietzsche’s for three reasons. First, the idea of happiness, of living and faring well, is something that is of immediate concern to all of us. Second, and relatedly, the idea of happiness is motivating in a way that history is not. Finally, that a particular conception of morality came about as a response to the conditions prevalent at the time does not, in itself, give us reason to believe that the conception is mistaken.
Other Sources Horban, Peter (1993). ‘Writing a Philosophy Paper. ’ http://www. sfu. ca/philosophy/writing. htm O’Keefe, Tim and Anne Farrell (2000). ‘Philosophy Paper Writing Guidelines. ’ http://www2. gsu. edu/~phltso/paperguide. html Pryor, Jim (2006). ‘Guidelines for Writing a Philosophy Paper. ’ http://www. jimpryor. net/teaching/guidelines/writing. html 1 These examples come from Jim Pryor, ‘Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper’, http://www. jimpryor. net/teaching/guidelines/writing. html