Writing a philosophy paper

Arguably one of the hardest challenges students face, writing a philosophy paper is dreaded. It’s because the purpose of writing a philosophy paper is to construct a reasoned defence of your own personal claim or opinion. It’s even harder because the writing tips that you have been taught do not always apply when writing a philosophy paper. Again, your aim in writing a philosophy paper is to defend your claim, which means you have to express and explain your argument. You can’t simply state your opinion and stop. You have to have reason behind your claim. In the same way, even if your claim is similar to those of philosophers, you still have to expound on your argument. You can’t simply echo what was said before. You have to justify it yourself to make it believable. Extremely helpful will be your command of the language, logic, and clarity.  

Preparation

A straightforward introduction is important. There is no need for a grand introduction because you have to get to your claim as quickly as possible. Read these examples: Introduction:

  • Wrong start:
    My claim is there is no God.
  • Correct start 1:
    My claim is that there is no God. Here are the reasons …
  • Correct start 2:
    Due to the validity of the following arguments… I claim that God does not exist.   Expressing the thesis statement:
  • When supporting the claim of a philosopher, don’t just write:
    Friedrich Nietzsche expresses that existence is pointless.
  • If you agree, write:
    I find Friedrich Nietzsche’s claim of the meaninglessness of life as valid because of the following evidences and supporting arguments…
  • If you disagree, write:
    Friedrich Nietzsche claims that existence is meaningless; however, the following evidences prove otherwise…  

Knowledge and Understanding

Unlike in other fields of humanities, writing a philosophy paper is much more difficult because of its nature and premise. Philosophy asks questions and offers arguments, which in turn, poses even more new questions. While there can be incorrect answers, in many cases they are just either logical fallacies or irrelevant ones. A philosophy paper does not recognize any “correct” or “incorrect” answers, but rather, the validity of the answers just comes down to how they are expressed. Due to this element, knowledge and understanding of the topic is of topmost importance. You should always be aware of the questions you will be asked and pay attention to all sides of the argument, all surrounding theories, and all the possible counter-claims. A philosophy paper requires that you show a deep understanding of the topic, no matter what your claim is.  

The Argument

When trying to prove your thesis statement (claim), please remember to do the following:

  • You yourself accept the validity of your claim. Thus, when you write, pretend that your audience disagrees with you. That will give you the motivation to boost your claim.
  • Compare and contrast your thesis against the perceived strongest counter-thesis.
  • You must criticize existing counter-arguments. Present evidence that those arguments are invalid.
  • Discuss further why your thesis is valid.
  • Remember to provide examples to back your thesis. This will strengthen your claim.
  • Illustrate to the reader in the conclusion if the repercussions if your thesis is indeed true.
  • Be ready for objections. State that you can compromise if need be.

 

Strengthen your philosophy paper's argument.

The writing part

You may use this structure for your philosophy paper: 

  1. Introduction
  2. Claim
  3. Criticize counter arguments and present evidence why they’re invalid 
  4. Compare and contrast your thesis with the strongest counter thesis
  5. Discuss further the validity of your thesis 
  6. Evidence example 1 
  7. Evidence example 2 
  8. Conclusion 
  9. Be ready for objections!


Important considerations

Be straightforward. There is absolutely no need for the following: eloquent language, dictionary, and thesaurus. A philosophy paper should be written in everyday language. The simpler, the better.
Do not be ambitious. Remember that most of the time, you are bound by a word count requirement. If you make this mistake, the result could be a poorly-constructed paper with a very deep argument that needs the support of countless of arguments. If your paper is only 2-3 pages, do not attempt to go very deep. When a question is asked clearly and correctly, the claim is clear and correct as well. Remember, philosophy is a slow, careful approach.
Critical thinking. The most important element. A philosophy paper demonstrates your critical thinking ability. While it is likely that you support claims made by past philosophers, it’s best if you can formulate your own claim. Critical thinking is the mother of originality. Famous philosophers are noted not only because of their critical thinking skills but because of the originality of their arguments that sprung from critical thinking.