Philosophy classes are often among the most intellectually challenging courses offered at the college level and writing a philosophy paper can be extraordinarily difficult for a student who’s never before written this style of academic paper. So how does a student write a good philosophy paper? These tips will help students pass that philosophy course with flying colors! Step 1: Read the Philosopher’s Writings and Select Key Phrases The basis of any traditional philosophy paper is the philosopher’s argument. Once the philosophy paper topic is selected, students should read and re-read the philosopher’s works and during this process, select a handful of significant passages that clearly illustrate the philosopher’s view. Step 2A: Write the Body of the Philosophy Paper (Analytical) Jump right in and begin summarizing the philosopher’s argument for the body of the philosophy paper; it’s best to leave the introduction and conclusion until later. For an analytical philosophy paper, use the philosopher’s own words (in the form of quotes) as the basis for the philosophy paper. Some students find it easiest to start by typing up a handful of significant quotes from the philosopher’s writings. The student can then “write around” the quotations, filling in the gaps and providing additional insight into the philosopher’s argument or claims. When writing the body of the philosophy paper, the student should be providing an overview of his/her own interpretation of the philosopher’s words. A summary is not sufficient; the philosophy paper must include interpretation and analysis. Also look for any contradictions or weaknesses in the philosopher’s argument, and be sure to note any implications of the philosopher’s claims. In other words, what is the philosopher implying? What is he suggesting but not actually “saying?” When possible, draw parallels to the philosopher’s other works, or the works of different philosophers. Step 2B: Write the Body of the Philosophy Paper (Compare and Contrast) Instead of an analytical philosophy paper, philosophy students may be assigned to write a comparative essay, also known as a “compare and contrast” paper. This style of paper is commonly assigned at the college level, particularly in philosophy classes. The basic process for writing the body of a compare and contrast philosophy paper is the same – select significant passages and write around them, providing insight along the way. But instead of just analyzing the philosopher’s writings, the student will also be comparing and contrasting with earlier or later works by the same philosopher or the work of an entirely different philosopher. Many philosophy students prefer to outline one argument first. Then, the second argument is presented and similarities and differences in the arguments are highlighted as the second argument is summarized and interpreted. Other philosophy students prefer to perform a point-by-point comparison of the two writings (i.e. On topic X, Kant says this and Descartes says that; On topic Y, Kant says this and Descartes says that). A third compare and contrast method for philosophy papers involves presenting each argument independently. Then, in a third section, the two philosophical arguments are compared and analyzed point-by-point. Step 3: The Introduction and Conclusion of the College Level Philosophy Paper The final step involves writing the introduction and conclusion of the philosophy paper. Both the summary and conclusion should be written after the body of the philosophy paper is complete; it is easier to summarize the paper’s main points after the body has been written. The introduction should provide an overview of the philosophical arguments that will be discussed, analyzed or compared and contrasted. The conclusion should again summarize the philosophical writing(s) in the paper, though the conclusion should include a brief analysis of the “bottom line” or main implications of the argument(s). Papers at the college level – philosophy papers especially – are all about analysis and interpretation of an argument or claim. The biggest mistake that many philosophy students make is attempting to rush through the readings, which often leads to misinterpretations that fundamentally flaw the student’s philosophy paper. So before starting that philosophy paper, consider reading the philosopher’s writings one additional time to ensure a firm understanding and a great grade on the philosophy writing assignment. Visit the Resources for Writers Page for more tips on college-level writing, including Philosophy and Ethics Paper Topics, along with tips on how to write essays, newspaper articles, for radio and more!
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