Outline for a Philosophical Essay
on a Philosopher’s Position
Introduce two things:
the philosopher’s position–by putting it in the context of the problem to which it is
your thesis concerning the philosopher’s position.
I. Explain the philosopher’s argument for his or her position.
II. Formulate an objection to the philosopher’s argument. Explain which kind of objection you are raising: are you showing that a premise is false, or that the premises don’t
guarantee the truth of the conclusion?
III. Formulate the philosopher’s response to this objection. (That is, give the philosopher an opportunity to defend his or her argument.)
IF YOU AGREE WITH THE PHILOSOPHER’S POSITION, THIS IS YOUR
THESIS DEFENSE. You may now skip step IV and proceed to the conclusion.
IV. Show how the philosopher’s response fails to defeat the objection, and thus that the
philosopher has not succeeded in proving his or her position.
IF YOU DISAGREE WITH THE PHILOSOPHER’S POSITION, THIS IS YOUR
Review your thesis and how you proved it in this paper.
Remind the reader why it is important: connect it with the philosophical problem to which the
philosopher’s argument was addressed.
Write your essay for an audience of people like yourselves before you began this course.
Anything you would not have understood before beginning this course is something which you need to explain to your reader. Remember that clarity is the most important virtue a philosophical essay can exhibit.
You are presenting a new argument in each of steps I through IV. Make the strongest case possible for the argument at each step, including the argument you will go on to disagree with in your thesis defense. You are not ready to criticize an argument until you can see why someone else might be convinced by it. Oversimplifying the arguments and issues will not result in a better essay.
If you need to lengthen your essay, you can repeat steps II through IV; this will enable you to consider and respond to more than one objection. If you need to shorten your essay, narrow your focus and consider only a single objection. But in that case make sure it is the strongest objection you can think of.