the most straightforward paper often looks like this (but of course doesn’t have to)
exposition (what is the author saying)
your critique (aka what you think)
counter (anticipate and address– it’ll make your argument stronger)
critically and philosophically engage all of the week’s readings. Pick a point and argue using both authors. It can be negative or positive. Below is the guideline on how the paper should be written
philosophical critiques. Your project is to exercise the principle of charity and read the author in the best possible light. That’s going to mean overlooking aesthetic objections and engaging with the argument itself. (The exception to this occurs when you think a particular author’s aesthetic failings render the philosophical argument invalid or unsound. But, I’d caution you that this is a hard case to make, most of the time.)
5. The Principle of Charity
You should work to be as charitable to your interlocutor as possible. Try to understand and represent their argument in the best light that you can. Anyone can knock down a straw argument. Your task is to critically engage the toughest version of their position that you can.
Never raise an ad hominem objection against your interlocutor. Calling them names, becoming angry with their view, suggesting that they made a stupid mistake . . . all of these things weaken your objection. If they are wrong, demonstrate that they are wrong!
6. Be Creative and Tenacious
A huge part of being a good philosopher is creativity. Equally important is tenacity. If you think your interlocutor is mistaken about something but can’t find a way to say why, keep at it! Keep trying different ways to express your objection, refining the example or the principle you are using to show why, until you’ve got it just right. This part of philosophy – the fine-tuning stage – can be really frustrating, but it’s often what separates good arguments from bad arguments.
7. Polish your Paper
You do not need grand opening sentences like, “Since the beginning of time . . .” Just get right to it. For your long papers you might start with a thesis statement like, “In this paper I will argue that X is wrong about Y.” For your short papers, since you’re writing about multiple texts, you can simply start critiquing author X and then go on to
critique author Y; you don’t have to give me a thesis for the whole paper (although if you are synthesizing a view you’re welcome to do so).
You are welcome to write in the first person.
Contractions are fine.
Use direct, clear language and don’t try to impress me with your vocabulary. Impress me with how well you support your conclusion. For analytic philosophers, clarity and precision are very important.
Proofread your paper. You can start to do this by reading through it several times to make sure that the sentences sound right. Try reading it out loud so you can hearShort Paper Assignment
The 10 short papers should be roughly three pages in length. Your job in each will be to critically and philosophically engage all of the week’s readings. There are 14 eligible weeks in the semester, so you should pick and choose which papers or weeks you want to take off. You may write more than 10 short papers and I will count the 10 best grades towards your final grade. They are due in Classroom each Saturday by 5 p.m.
You should keep track of your grades over the course of the semester. You should also hold on to your short papers to be able to double-check grades with me at the end of the semester should there be a discrepancy between your records and mine.
Here’s how I’ll grade your papers:
2 points for critically engaging all of the week’s assigned texts (Have you said something interesting about all of the readings?) This includes quoting the texts and citing them properly.
1 point for arguing effectively (Have you made your case or do big holes remain?)
1 point for writing with a cohesive voice (Is your paper internally consistent? Do you say one thing on the first page and contradict it on the second?)
1 point for polish (How well do you present your position? How clearly is it written? Is it grammatically correct? Are your sentences or paragraphs awkward?)
You will lose a point for:
– misspelling an author’s name
1. Critical Philosophical Engagement
In each of the 10 short papers that you write this semester your task is to critically engage all of the authors or positions we are covering that week. This can be done in lots of different ways. What your papers should demonstrate is that you have read and thought about the readings and that you have something interesting to say about them. So, good critical philosophical engagement is about lending your voice – your perspective and insight –
to the conversation in a way that helps to move it forward.
The vitally important thing that you must do in order to get a good grade is to give reasons for your view. It is not enough simply to believe that an author is mistaken about something, or that another doesn’t go far enough on something else. You have to give your reader reason for thinking the same thing. You do that by supporting your conclusion with:
– examples
– thought experiments
– analogies
– principles that you think underlie your conclusion and that you think your reader ought to accept 2. Positive v. Negative Critique
The most straightforward type of critique you might raise against an interlocutor is a negative objection in which you disagree with their view (or part of their view).
– If you choose to develop this type of critique, you should ask yourself whether you are you raising a good objection to the author’s view. To do so, you must say something that could actually challenge the author’s position. Think about whether you’re saying something that the author could easily refute. If so, you aren’t raising a good objection.
You might also want to further develop the author’s view. You might think, for instance, that the author does not go far enough in applying their view. Or, you might think that the author simply never considers a particular and important scenario and choose to further develop their view to address it. You can think of this approach as a friendly critique in which you show yourself to be an ally of the author and work to further develop their view.
– If you choose to develop this type of critique, you should ask yourself whether what you are saying actually contributes something new to the conversation. Are you saying something that the author hasn’t already said and that isn’t obvious?
For both types of critiques, quantity does not equal quality. It is almost always better to pick one or two objections or positive contributions and develop them fully, rather than giving a number of underdeveloped objections or contributions.
3. Validity and Soundness
An argument is valid if its conclusion follows logically from its premises. Validity is about argumentative structure. An argument is sound if it is both valid and true. Soundness is about both structure and content.
4. The Difference Between the Aesthetic and the Philosophical
There is an important difference between an aesthetic critique of a text and a philosophical critique of an argument. You might find a particular text difficult to read or understand. You might not like the examples that an author uses. You might think the author could have made their argument more persuasive. Those are fine as aesthetic critiques, but tend to be lacking as phi how it sounds. I will take off points for an obvious lack of editing on your part.
Ask yourself: Are you leaving out any important parts of the author’s position? Does your argument have any holes in it? Are you successfully making your case?
Have you clearly defined your terms? If you are using terms in a way that might render your argument ambiguous, explain what you mean by them.
Do not plagiarize. That means you should cite the text that you’re using by putting quoted sentences in quotation marks, or by footnoting major ideas that you’re explaining. If you’re quoting the assigned texts, it is sufficient for you to simply give the author’s last name and the page number from which you’re quoting – you do not need a works cited page.
You should not need to do any outside research for these papers. If you do use outside sources, give a complete bibliographical reference for them.

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