How to write a philosophy paper

How to write a philosophy paper

Steps to writing a philosophy paper

1) write a thesis

2) write an outline

3) write a rough draft

4) restructure, delete whole paragraphs, add whole paragraphs, think of entire objections you may have missed

5) final draft

Guide to writing a philosophy paper writing.html

Step one: Thesis Topic

Thesis topics

The narrower the better.

Narrow it as you write.

The more specific/modest a thesis is the easier it is to defend.

Pick a thesis

A) I will prove that Gender is natural.

B) I will argue that there are limits to empirically testing whether gender is biological or socially constructed.

Pick a Thesis

I will argue that abortion is morally permissible.

I will argue that the right to life argument has a flaw in it.

Step two: Write an outline


Each paragraph should have a point and only one point

Each paragraph should have a signpost

A signpost is a sentence that tells me what the point of this paragraph is

Ex: “In this paragraph I will explain what Kant means by the Categorical Imperative.”

“Next, I will lay out Kant’s Humanity Formulation.”

…“I will next explain a common objection that Kant’s Humanity Formulation is too strong. That is, that it counts some cases as wrong that we do not think are wrong.”

Did I mention you can use the word “I”?

How to write a good outline

Good outline = clear paper

You want me thinking “is this a good argument,” NOT!! “what the heck is your argument here?”

Writing an outline

Write down you thesis

Write down each of your signpost sentences

Then when you go to write you already have the first sentence of each paragraph written


Thesis statement

In this paragraph I will explain what Kant means by the Categorical Imperative. Distinguish Hypothetical vs. Categorical.

Next, I will lay out Kant’s Humanity Formulation. Explain respect and autonomy

Writing your introduction


Start directly with your thesis:

“In this paper, I will argue…”


Give a preview of what is to come

Give an overview of what you are going to argue and how you are going to do it

Introduction as a roadmap

It should be a roadmap of your paper.

Remember signpost paragraphs?

An intro paragraph is like your printed google maps directions

Basically a quick outline of the paper.

I this paper I will argue for A. First I will lay out B theory. Next, I will lay out C common objection. I will next explain D possible reply. Last, I will explain why this reply is not adequate, and so why this objection really is problematic for the theory.


What not to do:

“Since the beginning of time philosophers have looked at the important issue of how morality and religion connect.”

Don’t worry about trying to lay out the whole issue in one paragraph, you can do that in the first part of your paper

Step 3: write a rough draft


First sentence in each paragraph should be a signpost

What are you explaining/defending/arguing in this paragraph?

Last sentence in the paragraph should tie your smaller point (paragraph point) back to your larger point (thesis)


Reader: assume an intelligent reader who has never taken a philosophy class

Assume the reader has no idea what Kant’s moral theory is, and has never heard the word utilitarianism

Take your time laying out whatever theory you are going to defend or challenge

What kind of examples to use

Limit personal narrative- unless you are using it as an example.

Limit it to the info absolutely needed for the example

Even if you are using it as an example to illustrate a point but be extremely cautious

Historical examples or hypothetical examples are going to be stronger in many cases

What kind of language to use

Use simple, clear prose

Don’t use synonyms

Person, Human, and agent do not mean the same thing

Sex and gender do not mean the same thing

Language, cont.



“will argue,” “explain,” “lay out,” “defend”

“Supports,” “gives reason to believe,”


“Proved” – don’t use

Clarity above all else!

Good structure =good clarity

Good clarity = good paper

Good paper = good grade!

What makes a good argument

Objective not subjective

A good argument is non-emotional

A good argument is objectively good.

Not subjectively good.

It should be able to be used to convince anybody of your thesis/conclusion

Be professional

Use your C-number

12 pt

Double spaced times new roman

Staple your paper

Normal margins

Staple your paper

Also, staple your paper

Outline example

In this paper, I will argue that it is not necessary for a person to believe in God or be religious in order to be motivated to act morally.

First, I will explain why one might think that moral motivation is linked to a belief in God or religion.

Next, I will explain why an atheist can still be motivated to act morally, and why this is a counterexample to the argument above.

Next, I will explain the argument that religious motivation may not even be a morally good motivation.

This is the argument that if one is doing the morally right thing just to get into heaven, then this is not even a morally good reason for action.

Drowning child example

I will then go over an objection one might make to this argument.

A religious person might say that religion is a good way to provide an extra incentive for people to act morally.

I will then give my first reply to this objection.

My thesis said that religious motivation is not necessary for moral motivation. I can concede that it may be an extra incentive without my thesis being wrong.

Next, I will provide a second reply to this objection.

Although it is true that religion can provide an extra incentive to be moral, sometimes people act quite immorally in the name of religion.

Religious crusades example

As such, it is not clear whether religion is an overall increase for moral motivation or not.

I want to point out a second objection to my argument.

Religions do provide a social community, and having a caring social community helps in moral education.

Last, I will provide a partial reply to this objection.

This is not about moral motivation, but moral education.

I want to point out that my reply is not a full reply. Religion may be helpful community tool for providing people with a venue to learn about morality.

In conclusion, I have argued that a belief in God or religion is not necessary for one to be motivated to act morally.

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