Good and Bad in Philosophy Essays

Satisfactory Essays

Much of the philosophy you are being introduced to is argument-cases

for and against philosophical positions, theories, points of view. You

are required, in writing philosophy, to take part in that argument-not

merely to recount the arguments you find in texts and hear in

lectures. Of course, you will use some of the arguments you find there

(with acknowledgement), but you must critically examine them-rejecting

them or making them your own, and giving your reasons. Your essay,

then, has to be not a piece of history of ideas, but a piece of

reasoned, argued discourse.


The really vital thing here is that your essay must have some

structure, not be a series of unrelated thoughts. For example: "I

shall first state the problem of the essay, and outline the main

alternative theories that attempt to deal with it. I shall go into

some detail with theory A-which is initially plausible: then consider

certain counter-arguments, X, Y and Z. In the light of these, a

modified version of A is proposed. This is tested against likely


You can helpfully start your essay with a very brief advance-summary

on those lines (or at least include brief sub-headings to indicate

where your argument is going).

Philosophical style

Among the marks of a good style are these: clarity, directness of

approach to problems, a strong sense of relevance, reliance on the

simplest language that will make your point. If you need technical

terms, be sure to introduce them to your reader, and then be faithful

to your own definitions!

Though good philosophy can be difficult, difficult or obscure

philosophy is by no means always good. An honest, serious philosopher

(i.e. one who really wants to get to the truth and is not just

pretending to) tries to make the structure of his/her arguments as

lucid as possible-in order to help, not hinder, their critical

appraisal. That sometimes can take a little courage.

With short essays (as in Philosophy 1st and 2nd level classes), it is
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