Philosophy Classes

Professor Gale Justin



These guidelines are a condensed form of the guidelines found at

Overall Objective

One main aim of an assigned philosophy paper is for you to show that you understand the material, and that you’re able to think critically about it. Before you begin writing a draft of your paper, you need to look carefully at the question that you are being asked to answer.  Answer only that question and every part of that question. When you think about the question that you are being asked to answer, ask yourself what exactly is the argument, position, view that I am being asked to explain? In what order should I explain the various aspects of what I am being asked to discuss? At what point should I present my own observations or opinions about the material that I am discussing? Have I been asked to present my own ideas or only to state the ideas of a particular philosopher and, then, to critically evaluate those ideas?  These are some of the questions that you need to ask yourself before you begin writing.  Having gotten very clear on precisely what the question is (and what its various parts are, you need to think about the parts of your answer.  In what order should I address each part of the question.  Usually, it is best to answer the parts of the question in exactly the same order in which they are asked.

Make the Structure of Your Paper Obvious

Having thought about the material that you will be discussing and the order in which you will discuss its various aspects, you should write the paper so as to make the structure of your paper obvious to the reader. To do this, begin by telling the reader what you are going to do in the paper, and the order in which you will do what you plan to do. Usually, it is best to simply restate the question.  You can say things like:

You can also use these connective phrases in the body of your paper. For example, after explaining a philosopher’s position, you can say:

These signposts are really helpful to your reader.

Be Concise and Explain yourself Fully:

To write a good philosophy paper you need to be concise but at the same to explain yourself fully. To be concise, remember that each assignment describes a specific problem or question, and you should make sure that you deal with that particular problem and NOTHING ELSE. To explain yourself fully, develop the particular problem, position that you are asked to discuss. Part of fully developing a problem or a position is to give examples of it, and to say how it fits into the philosopher’s overall view or how it contributes to a broader philosophic problem or theme that other philosophers have also addressed. Don’t tell the reader everything you know about the broader problem/theme. And don't even tell the reader everything you know about the author’s contribution to that problem/theme. Only summarize those parts of the particular philosopher’s views that are directly relevant to what you are asked about.

Grammar - Style

Use Quotations

When a passage or line from the text is particularly useful in supporting your interpretation of some philosopher’s position, you should quote the relevant portions of the passage and be sure to specify where in the text the passage can be found. Note that it is not necessary to quote the entire passage. Quote only that portion of the passage that is relevant to the interpretation of the philosopher that you want to support. Your aim here is to show that the philosopher does indeed make statements that amount to the view that you are attributing to him/her.

In addition to offering in summary form an interpretation of the philosopher’s position and then supporting that interpretation with a quote, you may want to:

    1. Reconstruct the argument that the philosopher uses to support his/her position, and/or
    2. You may want to give some examples to illustrate the author’s position.


When you interpret an author’s position or reconstruct an author’s argument, you will be paraphrasing what the author is saying. When you do this (i.e. paraphrase what the author is saying), don’t change the meaning of the text. Say in different words exactly what the author is saying in the original passage. Secondary sources can be helpful in showing you how to paraphrase, for a secondary source attempts to present the author’s views in a more straightforward fashion. If you consult secondary sources in order to help you paraphrase the author’s position be sure to cite the author of the secondary source, the title of the source, the place and date of publication, and the page numbers of your paraphrase source.

Your paper should do some philosophical work

Most assigned philosophy papers require that you present your own observations or opinions about the material that you are discussing. For instance, you might be asked to offer criticisms of or support for a philosopher’s position that you have explained or you might be asked whether the philosopher’s view is more/less plausible than a rival view of some other philosopher. When you offer your own opinion as an answer to a question of the just mentioned kind, you need to give the reader some reason to believe that your opinion is correct or that it has some consideration in its favor. To support your opinion, you can appeal to examples from your experience or to your own reflections on the material at hand or to points made by other philosophers or to observations made in class. I do not judge your paper by whether I agree with your opinion. But you will be judged partly on how well you argue for your opinion.


Please double-space and number your pages, and include 1 inch margins. I prefer papers to be simply stapled: no plastic binders or anything like that. With regard to the length of the paper, I give you the number of pages that I think it will take to answer the question (and each part of the question). But don’t pad your answer in order to reach the suggested number of pages. Don’t be repetitious or digress but also don’t cut off your answer too abruptly. Focus on addressing the question fully and thoughtfully.

Rough Drafts or Outlines

I am happy to look at rough drafts or outlines.