Philosophical writings are very difficult and vary greatly from writing exercises in other disciplines. Writing a good philosophical paper is both a challenge and a treat, and is perhaps the greatest test of one’s logical reasoning skills and articulation skills. Here are some key points to remember while writing a philosophical paper.
The approach to philosophical writing is quite different from writing in most other subjects. That is because it is neither a research paper based on empirical analysis nor an exercise in literary self-expression which can be an articulation of subjective expressions. It is also not a simple literature review of what various scholars have had to say on a particular topic. Most importantly, it is not to present your personal feelings or impressions.
However, at the same time, philosophical writing is about defending a thesis or hypothesis. Thus, it needs the same rigor in establishing an argument, developing a hypothesis, and then logically defending one’s hypothesis. Arguments lie at the core of philosophical writing, and they are rarely simple arguments. Instead, they often are large, complicated, and sophisticated treatments of fundamental problems or abstract questions in which logical reasoning must be the guiding principle to arrive at logically sound conclusions.
The main trick to writing a good philosophical paper is maintaining focus, being consistent, and clarity in thought and articulation. Philosophy papers usually involve both ‘exposition’ and ‘evaluation’. In course of exposition, you explain the view or argument under consideration and the views of other thinkers who have worked on this subject. The evaluation part of the paper is your chance to do some ‘philosophy’ of your own, where you engage with the central question with ‘rational persuasion’.
The key to a well-articulated paper is a logical organization. Logical organization refers not only to one’s arguments but also for planning out the paper. An effective structure requires carefully developed paragraphs and sections, where every paragraph or section must be self-explanatory, continuing a strand of discussion from the previous one and logically leading to the next. The style must be precise, consistent, and focussed. It is suggested to break down sentences that are excessively long and convoluted or paragraph too packed with details and rapid turns of thought, as it creates challenges for readers to digest complex information.
It is critical to have the consistency of terminologies, especially technical ones. Using synonyms is a slippery slope as each has different connotations. Use specialize terminologies used by philosophers whose arguments you are considering, define each one extremely carefully, use it with consistency in your own arguments, providing explanations of even subtle differences in the ways in which different philosophers use it, and more importantly how you interpret it.
Lastly, do not fall prey to the temptation of name dropping or lengthy quotes. Even if you find a heavyweight philosopher who is a kindred soul, your paper should rely on your arguments and not what your fellow thinker has said! Formulate your arguments and articulate them well to establish your credentials as an expert in philosophical writing.