Notes on Writing Philosophy There are a few things that I’m looking for in the papers that you’re all working on these days. Here are some remarks about them, and about the business of writing philosophy in general. 1. I’m looking for contact with the readings and/or with some other literature. Philosophy is an ongoing conversation. To participate, you have to pick up a thread & show that you understand what it’s about. So don’t just seize on a question raised in one or another paper & go off in your own way. Show me that you understand what some other philosopher(s) has(ve) said about it; this can establish a starting point for your own remarks & help make them clearer by providing a context. 2. Clarity is very important. It’s easy to get caught up in your own ideas & lose track of how what you’ve written will strike the audience (me, for instance). Make sure you explain any new terms you introduce (and think carefully about how they relate to the vocabulary used in the paper(s) you’re responding to). Reading what you've written out loud can really help, too: It tends to make any really bad writing stand out... 3. Don’t just lay out your own position. Think about what someone who disagrees with you might say in response. This is a key point on which philosophy differs from (say) blogging or writing an opinion column. In philosophy we’re all responsible not just for expressing our own views, but for fairly & accurately contrasting them with the alternatives. No straw men allowed, no cosmetic arts to disguise the warts on your own position. Enthusiasm is fine, but honest, fairminded enthusiasm is really important. 4. On the other hand, don’t be shy or coy. If you have a strong criticism of another position, lay it out & draw your conclusion. (A prof of mine told me years ago, ‘Go for the jugular’… there is an element of blood sport in the business.) 5. Have some fun. Choose a topic that bothers you, or interests you, and think it through. Talk to yourself about it (I find it helps). Take time to write out some notes on the ideas and arguments that are the starting point for what you have to say, and allow yourself enough time to write a full rough & then think it through again. My ideas are almost always different by the time I’ve written something through once—so I need to go back and re-arrange and re-write to make it all fit together. This is healthy. The first idea that you have is usually a good starting point, but not a good ending point, for your views on an issue. Let your mind and your thinking change & grow here. It really is fun (as well as instructive). As for references: Do be sure to cite any quotations or ideas you draw from your readings. The form that I find easiest is to put side-remarks in as footnotes, and references in the text using (last name, year) format, with a bibliography (alphabetical by author’s name) at the end. If you’re just using the text, you can list the articles separately, as “Author, “….title…”, pp. xxx-yyy, in…”. But I’m not hugely fussy about the format here—the journals differ on the details, so there is no general standard for philosophy.