How to Write a Philosophy Paper
Philosophical writing is very different from both creative writing and scientific writing. It’s not like fiction, where you can make up characters, plot twists, and dialogue. It’s also not like science, where you can make up hypotheses and then test them.
Philosophical writing is more like history with the caveat that your “characters” are real people, and you’re not just describing their actions but analyzing them. You must tap into your argumentative power to compose a great philosophical essay.
What is a Philosophy Paper?
A philosophy paper is your interpretation of something important to the field. It could be an interpretation of what someone else said, or it could be your own original idea. Most Philosophy essays do not have yes or no answers but rather thoughtful critical responses to arguments.
The Step-by-step Philosophy Paper Writing Process:
Choose a topic
First, you need an idea. This is the most important part of writing a philosophy paper because it will be your argument. You need a meaty idea, rather than starting with a topic like “the death penalty” or “abortion,” which have been thoroughly debated. Less debated topics still have plenty of untouched areas hence making a great argumentative idea.
Characteristics of a good philosophy topic:
- It should be relevant to your target audience.
- A good philosophy essay topic should have a reasonable scope, not too broad or too narrow.
- It should be debatable. Avoid shallow topics that only have one side to them.
Do your research
Research forms a massive part of your philosophy paper writing process. You have to show that you know what you’re discussing. Find the relevant articles and scholarly books, read them, and take notes.
To present a strong argument, you need proper backup from reliable sources. If your paper interprets someone else’s work, read their article or book carefully and take notes. If the paper is about your idea, write down what you plan to say before reading other materials.
Analyze your topic
Next, you need to break your topic into its parts. What are the arguments that someone might make for or against it? This analysis helps you to organize your thoughts and present a strong argument.
In your analysis, you might find that the topic is too big to cover in one essay. If so, break it down into smaller parts and narrow your focus.
Analyze the possible arguments
Next, you need to break each argument down. This is where your research skills come in. Ask yourself these questions:
- What are the different points of view on this issue?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?
- Which gaps can you fill with your knowledge?
- How does each argument connect to your topic?
- What are the implications of each argument?
Pick a side
Once you’ve done that, pick aside. Which argument do you find most convincing? Why? For you to write good philosophical prose, you need a convincing argument.
Picking a side challenges you to understand what you know and how you came to those conclusions. It also helps your reader to see why they should believe it too. A fence-sitter cannot write a successful philosophical essay.
Create an outline
Now that you have your idea and argument, it’s time to write an outline. Take each of your components and expand it into ideas that go with them. An outline makes the actual writing process much easier since it acts as a guideline.
Ensure that your outline flows and that it is coherent. This is one way to demonstrate that you understand each part of your argument.
Write a draft
It’s okay not to have a perfect paper at first. Writing a draft helps you to put your thoughts and arguments together when they’re still fresh. Start with an introduction that tells the reader what your topic is and why it’s important. Next, go through each component of your argument in order.
Use the outline you just wrote as a guide. Each time you go through your components, expand them into an idea or two that flows naturally from the previous one.
Edit and proofread
After putting together all the ideas, it’s time to work on your prose. Check it for any grammatical and spelling mistakes. Analyze your sentence structures to ensure that they’re accurate.
Also, consider the flow of your argument and make any necessary corrections. If your paper sounds dull to you, your audience will most likely not like it. You can read it out loud to a third party and get their objective feedback.
The Structure of a Philosophy Paper
A philosophy paper consists of the following parts:
1) Introduction or separate section for argument explanation
The introduction is where you tell the reader what your topic is and why it’s important. You also need to explain your argument in this section.
A good philosophy essay introduction should:
|• Present the main idea of your paper as briefly and concisely as possible|
• Hook the reader to your argument and whet their appetite to read more
• Be interesting to read
2) Thesis or main claim
Your thesis is your argument; it’s what your paper is trying to prove. In this section, you should have a sentence that sums up your argument.
Examples of philosophical thesis sentences:
|“Utilitarianism is the soundest moral theory because it emphasizes happiness.”|
“Meditations on First Philosophy is not a coherent text.”
“Free will is an illusion.”
Note that the thesis does not need to be in academic language, but it should still be strong.
A great thesis statement should be:
|• Convincing and factually accurate, even if it’s a controversial or debatable claim|
• Clear and well-worded
• Directly relevant to your paper topic
3) Preview of the argument
This section handles each component of your argument, what it is and how you plan to argue for or against it.
For example, if your argument is: “Free will is an illusion.”
Then the preview of the argument could be: “There are three main arguments for free will: hard determinism, libertarianism, and compatibility.”
In this section, you also include the background information you need to use. This includes everything that provides reasoning for each component of your argument. It could be what you’re using as evidence or just mentioning in passing.
4) Argument section
In this section, you explain why the components of your argument are true and what the opposing arguments are. Present a careful and extended reflection of each component and what it means to you. Assuming the reader has not read the materials you studied, you’ll need to explain any strange or obscure distinctions between characters.
For example, continuing the free will argument:
“Compatibilism argues that free will is possible because we have control over our decisions, even if our decisions are determined. The problem with compatibilism is that control doesn’t mean anything if everything was determined beforehand.”
“Hard determinism argues that free will is an illusion because every decision we make results from previous causes. However, the problem with hard determinism is that it doesn’t account for the experience of conscious choice.”
“Libertarianism argues that free will is possible because we have a soul that is not bound by the laws of nature. However, this assumes that souls exist, which is something that science has not proved one way or another.”
The conclusion is where you sum up your argument. It’s also where you ask any significant questions about your topic, which your argument begs.
Conclusion questions examples:
|• What more significant conclusions can we draw from this argument?|
• Is the thesis itself now open for debate? If so, why?
• Does this argument shed any light on other related questions? If so, what are they?
• How does this change things for the reader?
6) Works cited
Make sure to cite your sources properly, following any disciplines’ specific formatting guidelines. Citing a philosophy paper is the same as citing any other source, with a few exceptions:
|• The introduction and conclusion do not need works cited. Instead, they should be in your own words.|
• Books and articles should include the author’s name, the title of work, place of publication, publisher and date.
• Websites should include the author’s name (if possible), the title of work, the date the site was created (usually given in copyright), and the webpage or webpage section (if relevant).
• Each entry in the works cited list should be followed by a period.
Characteristics of a Good Philosophy Paper
- It has well-defined terms with proper explanations
- A good philosophy paper has a convincing argument that is well supported by research.
- It answers the question that is asked
- A great philosophy essay does not contain irrelevant information. If some information doesn’t support or explain your argument somehow, it shouldn’t be in there.
- It provides a solid point of view. In philosophy, you need to back up your argument with research and support. It’s not enough to state a point of view and hope that it will be convincing.
- A good philosophy essay follows the standard format for a philosophy paper.
- It flows well. Readers should be able to follow through with your paper’s development of ideas easily.
- A good philosophy paper is well-written. If your reader gets lost in unclear sentences and disorganized paragraphs, they won’t be convinced of anything.
- A good philosophy essay is unique and doesn’t just rehash old arguments. It presents a new perspective on an old argument.
- It has a good sense of appeal. A great philosophy essay is not too specific or too broad. It should catch the interest of someone who knows nothing about the subject. Also, the paper should provide enough background information for someone more familiar with the subject to understand.
- It’s well-sourced and documented in proper APA/MLA format. The writer makes sure to cite all of its sources on the works cited page.
- A good philosophy essay is not only logical and well-supported, but it’s also interesting. The paper makes you think and entertains at the same time.
Tips for Writing Excellent Philosophy Papers
- Make it precise: Your argument should be precise and well-defined. What is your perspective on this topic? Why is it the most compelling perspective? How is it better than alternative perspectives? The more precise and well-defined your argument is, the clearer it will be to the reader.
- Present a valid argument: You should have a strong command of the research on this topic. Familiarize yourself with the main arguments made by other philosophers and know their strengths and weaknesses.
- Do your research: A good philosophy essay has a lot of content backed up by credible sources. You should provide examples that are relevant to your argument.
- Use cogent prose: Your essay must be logical, persuasive, and well-organized.
- The conclusion: The conclusion should recapitulate your argument and provide a sense of where you would go from there. It should be a natural outgrowth of your points.
- Have a consistent tone: Your essay should have a consistent tone throughout. This means being fair to other perspectives and using objective language.
- Be careful with your word choice: Use words that are accurate and precise. The more technical your essay, the more important it is to use accurate language.
- Do not plagiarize: Don’t copy content from other sources word for word. It’s not acceptable in any discipline, but especially not in philosophy. If you use another philosopher’s ideas, make sure you use them correctly and give them proper credit. Philosophy demands the originality of ideas and respect for other people’s work.
- Use simple sentences: In philosophical writing, convoluted sentences make your work less effective, just like in any other writing. Readers should grasp what you mean without reading a sentence more than once.
- Be ready for objections: If you anticipate objections right from the start, you will work hard to present a strong argument. Knowing how to address someone else’s criticism beforehand gives you the confidence to face them.
- Use adequate examples: Illustrations help your audience connect better with your argument. Plain ideas can be dull and ineffective, so back yours with relevant examples.
- Prepare supporting arguments: You need sub-arguments to back up the central claim. Having an independent argument without adequate support exposes your philosophy to more threats.
- Use direct quotations appropriately: If you’re representing other philosophers’ views, direct quoting is the most accurate way to do so.
- Start writing early: You need enough time to ponder over your claims and prepare a convincing argument. Start working on your paper early enough to get all the details right. In case you you couldn’t afford to start early, you can always ask for help from our urgent essay writing service!
Mistakes to Avoid when Writing a Philosophy Paper
• Over-emphasis on theory
• Inappropriate examples
• Too much jargon
• Conflicting claims
• Tone problems
- Indecisiveness: Fence-sitting will invalidate your essay and any arguments you present. Picking a side, and strongly so, is the first step to a winning philosophy paper.
- Overemphasis on theory: In philosophy, you need to combine aspects of theory with events from real life.
- Inappropriate examples: Don’t bring in examples that have nothing to do with the topic when trying to prove a point. They could weaken your argument by undermining its logical power.
- Too much jargon: There is a time and place for technical language, but overusing it makes you look like you’re trying to pretend to be an expert. It could also make you look like you’re trying too hard to impress the reader.
- Conflicting claims: Make sure that before you publish your philosophy paper, you know and are clear about your view.
- Tone problems: This is key for any writing but particularly in philosophy papers. Your tone should be consistent throughout your essay.
Factors to Consider before Writing a Philosophy Paper
Your philosophy essay must be written for your audience. If you write for yourself, then this audience is just one person: you. Focus on writing for people who are not experts in your topic. Your audience could be the general public or readers at other colleges. Make sure you explain all the terms and ideas used in your philosophy paper.
The topic of your philosophy paper
The success of any essay largely depends on the choice of topic. Philosophy papers can be long and complicated, so you need to pick a topic that people will find interesting. Also, ask yourself what you know about the topic. Gauge your authority on the subject before writing.
Consider how much information is available on your topic. If there is a lot, then you will need to narrow it down. If the information is scarce, however, this allows you to use all the details you want.
Note: Your philosophy paper should be in your own words so take these background materials into account when citation your work.
The purpose of your essay
Understanding what you’d like to achieve before you even start enables you to stick to the course. Ask yourself what you have to gain from writing a philosophy paper.
- Do you need to pass an exam?
- Do you just want to improve your argumentation skills?
- Is your aim to change the thinking of a particular group of people?
Understanding your purpose will make you more focused and help you write a better philosophy paper.
Your limitations as a writer
Whatever else you do, it’s always important, to be honest with yourself. Think about your strengths and weaknesses when writing a philosophy paper. Decide whether you should seek professional help at certain stages of your writing process. Some common limitations include:
- Lack of confidence
- Time constraints
- Poor writing skills
- Language barriers
Understanding how limited you are will enable you to seek the necessary help before you embark on the writing process.
The time available
Time is one of the factors to consider before you start writing a philosophy paper. Knowing how long you have will determine your plan so that you don’t compromise on quality.
If the time is adequate, you’ll do all the preparations you need before writing. You can research extensively and take all the time to develop your argument. However, if you have a short deadline, you may need help with a few things to manage a high-quality paper.
Who Needs a Philosophy Paper?
In general, students from various disciplines need to write philosophy papers. These disciplines include:
The Purpose of a Philosophy Paper
The benefits of philosophy papers include:
- Enhanced analytical abilities
- In-depth research skills
- Improved communication and argumentation skills
- Ability to explain sophisticated concepts in simple terms
- Knowledge of the impact of one’s ideas on society
- Improved academic writing skills
- Ability to express debatable ideas effectively
In philosophy papers, you must not attempt to convince the reader that they are wrong. Your audience can be your peers, an instructor or anyone with a general interest in your topic.
Sometimes, your readers are people who have not yet formed an opinion on your topic. Thus, they are open to being convinced one way or the other.
When writing for an audience that holds a different perspective, you need to anchor your position well. Your reader expects a well-thought justification of your claims.
To get this right, ensure you research well and present a well-informed argument. The tips provided here will help you craft a winning philosophy essay.
I‘m a freelance content and SEO writer with a passion for finding the perfect combination of words to capture attention and express a message. I create catchy, SEO-friendly content for websites, blogs, articles, and social media. My experience spans many industries, including health and wellness, technology, education, business, and lifestyle. My clients appreciate my ability to craft compelling stories that engage their target audience, but also help to improve their website’s search engine rankings. I’m also an avid learner and stay up to date on the latest SEO trends. I enjoy exploring new places and reading up on the latest marketing and SEO strategies in my free time.