Theories of Knowledge and Reality
Theories of Knowledge and Reality PHI 107
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Date Created: 10/21/15
PHI 107 INTRODUCTION TO THEORIES OF KNOWLEDGE AND REALITY Instructor Deke Gould Notes on Writing When looking at the logical structure of an argument we tend to use an approach that lists the premises of the argument rst and the conclusion of the argument last underneath the list of premises An argument of the form M odus Ponendo Ponens for example tends to be written If P then Q P Therefore Q We nd such a skeletal representation of arguments useful simply because we are familiar with this kind of structure At a young age we are typically taught arithmetic in this way stack some numbers draw a line and put the result underneath Logic especially symbolic propositional logic has many interesting connections to mathematics so this approach to representing a skeletal argument structure makes sense Writing philosophy papers however is a bit different You may have already noticed from your reading that professional philosophers don39t even present their views this way even though philosophy is in the business of evaluating arguments In some cases that is partly a matter of style since some thinkers could present at least some skeletal version of their argument though they prefer to not do so In other cases that is due to the nature of the subject matter A deductively valid argument as you may have noticed is an ideal to be strived for but is not always an easy goal to attain For your papers I will expect a level of clarity that you may not always find in the works of professionals philosophers This is not to say that I expect you to be better philosophers than the professionals that would be unreasonable and I do not have unreasonable standards I do however expect a level of clarity that may be lacking in some published works of professional philosophy Clarity is a large part of your task in addition to developing an argument for your claims I am looking for a clear presentation of your arguments The point of these notes is to help you achieve that clarity Here s my advice To start determine what your claim is for the purposes of the paper That claim will be the conclusion of your argument To illustrate suppose you are reading Swinburne and you find that you disagree with his claim that it is good that God granted us the capacity for genuine responsibility So you claim that Swinburne is wrong about the goodness of genuine responsibility That is your conclusion What you need next are your reasons ie your premises That will take some work to develop and make explicit even to yourself but you should write them out in skeletalstyle list form Eventually you should get a list of premises and a conclusionwrite that out Premise One Premise Two Premise Three Conclusion your claim Note you need not have three or more premisesithere s no set number that determines what makes a good argument good Use as many premises as it takes to make your case for the conclusion of your argument Your paper should be centered around this argument but the structure of your paper will not and should not resemble that structure line by line Instead as I have told you in class your paper should begin with the conclusion more like this Conclusion your claim Premise One Premise Two Premise Three In this class I am not interested in an introduction at least not in the sense you are used to I am looking for a clear statement of your claim right off For example quotSwinburne is wrong when he claims that it is good for us to have genuine responsibilityquot That is a great first sentence It is a waste of valuable space to start with something along the lines of quotFrom the beginning of time philosophers have debated about the existence of God given the presence of evilquot Yuk If your paper does not get straight to the point that is a aw in the presentation of your argument and the paper will be marked to re ect this imperfection After having made your claim you should explain some of the context and relevant crucial terminology That will mean typically that you should give a concise presentation of your opponent s argument By the way papers for this class will not be written ex nihilo without reference to someone else s work Your papers will always be written in response to an opponent39s arguments so you will always start quotSoandso is wrong when he says qquot or quotSoand so is right when she says xquot or In Paper SuchandSuch Soandso inadequately defends his claim that p Thus it makes sense to present that Soandso s argument for q or x or p in your first 1 J 39 39 when 1 quot your opponent s argument you should try to present the most objective charitable version that you can In philosophy we do not want to defeat strawmen we want to defeat the strongest opponent available For that reason grant your opponent the best premises you can think of even if he or she does not make use of them Don t attribute any obviously ridiculous premises to your opponent and even if your opponent makes explicit use of a premise you find ridiculous try to find the best interpretation of that premise or reject it in favor of better more palatable reasons The remainder of your paper except the end which we will address in a moment should state your reasons Let each of your premises from the argument you sketched earlier become topic sentences of the next few paragraphs with the body of each paragraph explaining each premise drawing the connections between your reasons and your conclusion Finally the end of each philosophy paper should raise at least one potential objection on behalf of your opponent For example if you argue that Swinbume s view of genuine responsibility is misguided you should consider what Swinburne would say in response to your argument Perhaps you might expect Swinburne to object to your claim that responsibility is not intrinsically valuable So you should write One might expect Swinburne to object to my claim that responsibility is not intrinsically valuable or more directly One might object that if responsibility were not intrinsically valuable blah blah blah or even more directly Swinburne might object x y z with an appropriate objection in for the blahs and xyzs Whatever objection you choose to consider it ought to be the best move you can expect from your opponent much like when you play a wellthoughtout move in a strategy game such as Chess or Goiassume your opponent is an intelligent person and expect that person to make the best move in response to your moves Again we do not want to defeat strawmen we want to defeat the strongest possible opponent position Thus you should not choose to address the worry that if you do not believe in God s existence then you are going to Hell or that all atheists smell funny or something along those lines To defeat such an objection would be too easy and pointless Also you do not want to consider an objection your opponent already explicitly addressed unless you think what you have to say is different from what he or she anticipated It is not enough of course to leave the matter there You must then respond to your opponent s potential objection The point is this after giving your argument you want to show that you thought about what they might say in response and that even their strongest possible response would not be successful in taking down your argument Of course it s not acceptable to simply say that You must show how that strongest possible objection cannot possibly succeed once you have done that you have successfully secured your claim Writing philosophy papers is not an easy task This handout was not designed to give you an easy method to writing a philosophy paperthere just is no such thing so don t expect to get one Summary Begin by developing a skeletal version of your main argument with premises and a conclusion Be sure that your premises adequately support your conclusion The skeletal form of your argument should look something like this 1 Premise One 2 Premise Two 3 Premise Three 4 5 Conclusion 39 Write up an outline of your paper detailing the overall structure of your paper Be sure to start with your claim a clear presentation of your opponent s arguments a clear presentation of your reasons premises and be sure to consider at least one possible objection on behalf of your opponent although be sure to give a decent response to the possible objection The overall structure of your outline should look like this using the argument you developed as described above in the first step of brainstorming a First Paragraph i First sentence Your claim conclusion ii Remainder Presentation of opponent s argumentexplanation of relevant terminology b Second Paragraph i First Sentence Premise One ii Remainder explanationdefense of premise one c Third Paragraph i First sentence Premise Two ii Remainder explanationdense of premise two drawing relevant logical connections to premise one d Fourth Paragraph i First sentence Premise Three ii Remainder eXplanation defense of premise three drawing relevant logical connections to premises one and two e f Nth Paragraph i First sentence Premise n ii Remainder eXplanation defense of premise n drawing relevant logical connections to premises one two three n1 and ultimately the conclusion g Paragraph Nl 1 First sentence Potential objection on behalf of opponent ii Remainder your response to the objection explaining how it couldn t possibly be right 39 After writing your paper take a break at least a few hours and later review to catch any typos grammatical or spelling errors or any ambiguities Frequently Given Answers Here are some answers I have given to frequently asked questions 39 For the first paper assignment I require that you argue against someone Of course it is possible to argue in defense of an already articulated philosophical account but that is an even trickier task for a beginner and the structure of such a paper will differ significantly from the sort of paper I outlined above For the later paper assignments I will give you the opportunity to defend a position that has already been argued in our assigned reading Let this suffice as a reason for not allowing you to do this early on often when students are defending a paper that we read for class they are tempted to rehearse the author s argument for five pages not adding any of their own unique philosophical work As you should be aware such a paper is unacceptable for the purposes of this class That is a book report not a philosophy paper To help you avoid this major pitfall should you decide to write your later papers in defense of an article I will post a codicil with suggestions on how to write a critical philosophical paper defending an existing philosophical theory You are not required to use any particular style for citation though I do require that you be consistent no matter which approach you use if you use in text parenthetical citations use that throughout if you use footnotes use that throughout You are not required to have a works cited page for the short papers although you are required to use a works cited page for the term paper
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