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Nietzsche offers a critical work on ethics in The Genealogy of Morals. As a philologist, or someone who studies the origins of words and concepts, Nietzsche investigates the genesis of our notions “good” and “bad” and how these notions have transformed over time. Curiously, Nietzsche concludes, “How much blood and horror are behind all ‘good’ things?”
NO PLAGIARISM (Professor will run paper will be run through plagiarism tool*)
OUTLINES FOR DEVELOPING A PHILOSOPHY TERM PAPER
FROM YOUR SYLLABUS:
You are required to write a philosophical essay of 4-5 pages, doublespaced. Your essay may cover or extend any topic or reading in our
course. The following criteria will be used to evaluate your essay:
1. Does the paper present a focused topic—one narrow enough
to consider the central question or theme slowly and with care?
2. How carefully and rigorously does the student read the texts
they’ve chosen for consideration?
3. Does the paper exemplify the qualities of reflection, rigor,
organization, readable prose, and creativity?
4. Does the paper cite at least one outside source (other than
what we have read in class) that has strong intellectual merit?
WHAT IS A PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAY?
Your final paper is meant to be a reflection on our interesting work together this
semester. There are no strict rules for writing an essay in Philosophy, but some
of the best rules of thumb are the criteria listed above and below. Please use this
outline as your guide.
A philosophical essay is foremost a response to a primary text or work of
philosophy. Great philosophical texts are to Philosophy like elements are to
Chemistry or numbers are to Mathematics. The first indicator of a good
philosophical paper is often that it is in a serious, sustained conversation with a
In any case, your topic will need to be: (1) textual, or carefully based on the
readings in our course and/or outside readings related to philosophy and to your
topic; (2) rigorous; and (3) limited, so that the focus or scope of the topic is not
too broad and can be treated with care and rigor.
POSSIBLE PAPER TOPICS
(1) Textual Interpretation
Closely consider a passage or text that we have read in this course and offer a
scholarly interpretation of it.
(2) Write on a Question or Idea
Interrogate a philosophical theme or idea that you find fascinating and worthy of
reflection. Be sure to link this question or idea to passages in great philosophical
(3) Write on a Philosopher
Write about any one of the philosophers that we have read in this course, or write
about the major themes or philosophical motifs posed by a specific thinker. Once
again, be sure to link these ideas to passages in one or more of the philosopher’s
(4) The Relevance of Philosophy
Write about the relevance or importance of a philosophical text for a specific
social, historical, or political issue (i.e. How has Beauvoir’s Second Sex shaped
(5) A Critique of a Text
If you choose to focus on a critique of a text, it is helpful first to say yes to the
work at least three times! In other words, don’t give a hasty, simple critique of
their work. Find the reason why these authors are eternal; only then can you
begin to engage in an honest, critical dialogue with them.
CHOOSING INSPIRING TEXTS
You should note two things about writing an essay in the humanities. First, we
tend to place much greater emphasis on reading and interpreting primary texts
(i.e. Plato’s Republic) than on reading and interpreting a secondary source (i.e.
How to Read Plato’s Republic).
Second, if you choose to use secondary sources, no online sources other than
peer-reviewed academic articles should be cited unless otherwise noted or
approved in advance. At the beginning of your research, it may be helpful to use
the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://www.iep.utm.edu) or the Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://plato.stanford.edu/) for a basic overview or
summary of a book or topic. These sites have peer-reviewed, introductory, and
accessible essays on many philosophical topics. Notice that these articles also
have extensive bibliographies at the bottom of the page for further independent
In addition to these peer-reviewed websites and primary texts, it can
sometimes be helpful to use an online database for scholarly articles. The
most commonly used library database for philosophical journal articles is
JSTOR (Full Text). This database offers more specialized or focused
discussion on specific philosophical texts. It can also be help if you find
yourself worried about how to write a philosophy essay in general. You
can read many examples here of good philosophy essays that will give
you a template for how to write your own essay.
Always remember: It is best to stick to primary texts or “great books” as your
references. Read your primary texts the most carefully and thoughtfully and cite
Finally, remember that any ideas or quotations taken from sources beyond
yourself must be cited with a footnote and included in your bibliography.
Failure to cite references is a form of plagiarism and must be reported to
the Academic Judiciary Committee (see required “Academic Integrity”
Engaging and reflecting upon philosophical texts that have proven the test of
time, articles that have been peer-reviewed by academics, occasional newspaper
articles from so-called papers of record (Washington Post, New York Times), or
cherished works from other areas of humanities such as the arts (film, music,
visual art, literature, etc.), is a way of having a more thoughtful, more interesting,
and more thorough discussion. It democratizes the process since many of us
have access to these works. It avoids abstract philosophical or moral claims. And
it moves us away from personal opinions like “I feel” or “I believe” to things that
are regarded excellent both publicly and through the test of time. Such works are
not merely to be regarded as ultimate authorities, of course, but they are helpful,
often inspiring or even arresting bases for intelligent public discourse.
THINGS YOU WANT TO AVOID IN YOUR WRITING (IN GENERAL)
• Avoid empty, generic and generalizing introductory statements and
• Avoid dictionary definitions. Philosophy is more nuanced and less certain
about the definition of something. In many situations in Plato, for instance,
we have seen that an attempt to define something like justice or virtue
produces several competing definitions rather than one firm or fixed one.
Dictionaries are never authoritative because they lead us to the same
problem of many, competing definitions. However, if you are interested in
doing philosophical or etymological work on a specific term, we can work
together using the Oxford English Dictionary (our most philological English
dictionary) or various lexicons in other languages.
• Avoid personal language like “I feel” or “I believe.” Our “beliefs” are simply
things that were often given to us by someone else for a specific purpose.
We too often falsely think that they are unique to us or our own. Turn your
question toward what something is or the subject under discussion rather
than toward false individualism and deceptive egoism.
• Avoid writing a biography or history paper. A philosophy paper is not a
report about the life or biography of a philosopher. Some biographical and
historical details may be significant, but try to focus your attention on the
philosopher’s text(s) or philosophy.
• Avoid absolute certainty. Ask questions instead of repeating dogma. A
good philosophical essay rarely begins or concludes with absolute
certainty. Try beginning with uncertainty rather than false presumptions or
generalizing statements. Remember that philosophy is a method of
questioning and opening ourselves up to questions, not a method of
concluding and resolving and binding down (i.e. religion, law, etc.).
These are simply suggestions. The main goal now is for each of you to slow
down, reflect, limit your focus, and write about what you find most compelling,
pressing, or interesting among the work we’ve read and discussed. This “slowing
down” or “pause” is especially key to philosophical writing. Thinking, as
Descartes might have said, is what takes place while reflecting alone and
meditating in silence, or taking a walk in nature. Others think that philosophy
takes place in dialogue or serious conversation with another person about the
meaning of life.
Philosophical writing itself can also help us think. It moves us not from point A to
point B like in a scientific article or a how-to manual, but rather in a circular or
downward path where your question will likely not lead to a simple answer but
rather only to more questions. You’ll get easily overwhelmed, misguided, or even
make a false choice if you try to do too much. It bears repeating: Don’t take on
The important thing is to write about something interesting, even urgent, either
for you or for us as a society, perhaps something that’s come up over the course
of the semester. Anything that relates to the class is very welcome, as long as it’s
limited enough (not too broad) to be rigorous, and is textual (is in serious dialog
with one or more of the texts we have read).
Right now the task is to reflect, perhaps look over your notes, listen to a moving
piece of music, or even read a (good) newspaper, and find a topic interesting to
you. I think it’s very important to first give you an open space to do that, lest we
become unreflective, rule-following cogs in the machine of the university.
And finally, don’t stress out. Remember that this is not your thesis or major life’s
work; this is a term paper meant to be an interesting and hopefully enjoyable way
to respond to the course. Take meaningful writing breaks, get plenty of rest,
including short naps, and turn off your internet and your cell phone.
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