Make it as if your reader has not read the material you are discussing, and has not spent much time on the problem beforehand. This of course will not be true. But if you write as it were, it will compel you to explain any technical term, to illustrate obscure or strange distinctions, and to be as explicit as possible when you summarize what another philosopher has said.
– In fact, you can take more advantage of this step by going even further by making as if your reader is foolish, stupid, and malicious. He is lazy because he does not want to understand what your circumlocutions are supposed to mean, and he does not want to understand what your argument is, if it is not obvious. It’s silly, so you have to explain everything you say in simple and chewed parts. And he is malicious, so he will not read your essay charitably. (For example, if something you say admits more than one interpretation, it will assume that what you wanted to say is the most implausible of everything.) If you understand the material you write about, and if you direct your essay to that reader, Surely you will get an outstanding.
Put a lot of examples and definitions. It is very important to put examples in a philosophical essay. Many of the statements that philosophers make are very abstract and difficult to understand, and examples are the best way to clarify these claims.
The examples are also helpful in explaining the concepts that play a central role in your argument. You must always make clear how you understand these concepts, even if they are customary in ordinary discourse. As used in ordinary discourse, these concepts may not have a sufficiently clear and precise meaning. For example, suppose you are writing an essay on abortion, and you want to state that “A fetus is a person.” What do you mean by “a person”? Of this it will depend of important form that your hearing finds this acceptable premise. The persuasiveness of your argument will also depend on it. In itself, the following argument is quite useless:
A fetus is a person
It is wrong to kill a person
Therefore, it is wrong to kill a fetus
Because you do not know what the author means by calling a fetus “a person.” Under some interpretations of “person,” it might seem obvious that a fetus is a person; But it is controversial if it is always wrong to kill people, in this sense of “person.” Under other interpretations, it may be quite plausible that it is always wrong to kill people, but it is not so clear that a fetus counts as a “person.” So it all depends on what the author means by “person.” The author should be explicit about how he is using this concept.
In a philosophical essay, it is well to use words in ways different from the ways in which they are commonly used. You just have to make it clear that you’re doing it. For example, some philosophers use the word “person” to mean any being that is capable of rational thought and self-consciousness. Thus understood, animals such as whales or chimpanzees could count as “people.” That is not the way we habitually use “person”; We commonly only call a person a human being. But it’s okay to use “person” if you explicitly say what you mean by that. And the same for other words.
Do not change vocabulary simply for a change. If you call something “X” at the beginning of your essay, call it “X” all the time. So, for example, do not start talking about “Plato’s idea of the self”, and then change to “Plato’s idea of the soul”, and then change to “Plato’s idea of the mind.” If you want to talk about the same in all three cases, then call it by the same name. In philosophy, a slight change in vocabulary is generally indicative of trying to specify something new.
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