Why Writing Matters

Why Writing Matters in Philosophy

"Philosophy is a kind of dialogue, carried on--sometimes over the course of centuries--between people who are trying to arrive at answers to fundamental questions about the human enterprise." 

~Judith Hill, Professor of Philosophy

 

Why Writing Matters in Philosophy

Because Philosophy is a kind of dialogue between people seeking answers to fundamental questions about the human enterprise, writing is one way to participate in this dialogue. It helps us to frame the issues that we want to discuss, to organize and articulate our thoughts on these issues, and to present them to other participants in the dialogue. Often we do not know what we believe on any given issue until we work on writing it out.

Typical Writing Assignments

Most Philosophy classes involve extensive writing assignments. These may be in the form of essay exams, where students are given an article to summarize and critique, or a case study to analyze and comment on. In other Philosophy classes, research papers are required. For the purpose of research papers, students will be given a particular topic, or allowed to choose a topic, and asked to submit various preparatory pieces during the course of the semester--an issue statement, a position statement, an annotated bibliography, an outline, a rough draft -before the final, polished version is due.

Qualities of Good Writing

A good essay should focus on what it is important in a topic and not get lost in minor details.  It should

  • Be organized in such a way that the reader can follow the writer's thoughts.
  • Make its point clearly and offer convinving arguments in defense of its point.
  • Consider arguments on the opposing side, presenting them as sympathetically as possible, and offering reasons why the reader should not find them persuasive.
  • Be honest, acknowledging any weaknesses in the author's position as well as strengths in the opposing position.
  • Carefully observe conventions of spelling, grammar, punctuation.

Appropriate Types of Evidence & Support

Philosophy is not an empirical discipline. However, it is very much concerned with offering reasons in defense of a position. What sort of reasons are required depends to a great extent on which branch of Philosophy one is working in. 

In Ethics, for example, factual data about existing conditions and about the consequences of alternative courses of action are frequently relevant to arguments concerning what one ought to do.

In Political Philosophy,  psychological theories about what kinds of things people want and need, and about how people tend to respond to opportunities and restrictions, are relevant to arguments about the feasibility, and the justice, of various political systems. 

In most branches of Philosophy, there are some questions that are strictly conceptual, and the arguments concern how best to analyze core ideas. For example, what is knowledge? What is causality? What is a mind? Logic, coherence, and elegance are more important than empirical data in such inquiries.

Citation Conventions

Generally, we ask our students to choose one style, APA or MLA, and to follow it consistently.

Faculty Perspectives 
on Writing:

Jeff Koperski

Why Writing Matters