How to Write an Essay in Vce Philosophy

Topics: Writing, Essay, Friedrich Nietzsche Pages: 5 (1553 words) Published: November 13, 2011
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.     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... 
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...
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