Philosophy Takes Time:
The Final Project
Two Required Components:
1. Final Paper:
One 1,500-2,000 word paper on a topic of your choice
2. Stages of Philosophical Writing Series:
Three short scaffolding assignments designed to ensure timely progress and exposure to peer feedback
1. Research Proposal Snapshot｜ Due by December 2nd
2. One Minute Pitch Meeting ｜ To be held the week of December 2nd
3. Draft Exchange｜Due December 9th
4. Final Paper ｜Deadline December 17th
I. Final Paper
Each student will write one final paper on a topic of personal interest that engages with at least one historical figure from the course. You have full autonomy in conceiving the purpose of your paper, with the following two provisos:
1. Your discussion must incorporate at least one non-philosophical exhibit source:
e.g. Film, Literature, Historical events, Photography, Sculpture, Empirical Studies, Personal Anecdote, etc.
2. You paper must engage with at least one historical figure and at least one contemporary figure
II. Stages of Philosophical Writing (Ungraded)
Philosophy takes time, and is best approached in a way that allows for false starts and late-game changes of plans. To this end, we will replace our weekly blog papers with a series of ungraded interactive assignments designed to streamline your workload and help you along the way in conceiving, planning, and executing your final paper. This will include the following three components:
1. Research Proposal "Snapshot" (Dec 2nd): Submit a post to the DIGITAL FORUM in which you do the following
1. Articulate one potential guiding question that you intend to address in your final paper (you are not bound to this). What are the stakes of this issue and why is it important?
2. Share 1-2 non-philosophical exhibit sources that help to motivate the significance of this question (e.g. Film, Literature, Historical events, Photography, Sculpture, Empirical Studies, Personal Anecdote, etc.)
In sum, the idea is to give all of us an engaging snapshot into your early stages of research, and to get the ball rolling sooner than later.
2. One Minute Pitch Meeting (sometime during the week of Dec 2nd): In the spirit of the 3-minute dissertation, everyone will meet with classmates to give a one minute oral pitch of the basic argumentative claim of their paper, followed by constructive feedback from peers.
Hold the meeting at some point during week of December 4th. You may either (a) meet with your Discord Group as a whole or (b) meet in smaller groups as schedules permit. The idea is to expose your thinking to another at least one other person in the process.
3. Draft Exchange (Due Dec 9th): Each student will share and give feedback on a short summary draft (~750 words) that gives a comprehensive outline of the yet-to-be-finished paper (a complete rough draft is also acceptable). The idea is to share a piece of writing that gives your classmates an idea of what the finished paper will accomplish.
1. Submit a summary draft to the Peer Review thread on the DIGITAL FORUM by December 9th
2. Leave a meaningful, constructive comment on a peer's summary by December 13th.
NOTE: While everyone will give feedback, not everyone will receive feedback from a peer. However, the primary value of the exercise is for you as a reviewer.
Stumped? Some Suggested Paper Types
You have full autonomy in conceiving the purpose of your paper. That being said, if you need suggestions in thinking about how to frame your guiding question, keep in mind that most successful papers will accomplish at least some combination of the following argument types from the Midterm project:
1. Critical Engagement: Engage critically with a philosopher's work by generating original objections or challenges to their position
Example Topic: How might Hume's argument against rationalism be undercut by evidence of "amoralism"?
Example Topic: Is Bentham's psychological hedonism consistent with our best evidence of human behavior?
Example Topic: Does Mackie's queerness argument rest on an excessively narrow conception of the nature of reality?
2. Reconstructive Effort: Try to defend a philosopher’s view from some classic objections or problems by
reconstructing a fortified or amended version of their position
Example Topic: How might Bentham respond to the "Doctrine of Swine Objection" without conceding a qualitative difference in pleasures?
Example Topic: How might the non-cognitivist respond to the charge that our moral discourse appears to carry 'objective purport' - e.g. we take ourselves to be 'in the right' in our political and moral discourse?
3. Trans-Historical Topical Debate: Show how an issue in contemporary debate is illuminated or problematized by a historical figure. Or show how an historical philosopher’s view might be illuminated or problematized by contemporary philosophical debate.
Example Topic: How might our contemporary moral crises underscore the challenges of taking moral relativism seriously?
Example Topic: How might recent empirical psychology support/challenge Humean Sentimentalism/Psychological Hedonism/etc.?
4. Interpretive Dispute: Engage in an existing scholarly debate between differing interpretations of a philosopher.
Example Topic: Is Hume a moral anti-realist, as traditionally thought?
Example Topic: Is Montaigne really a moral relativist after all?
Example Topic: What does Wittgenstein mean by the suggestion that 'ethics can be no science' yet the world is a 'miracle'?
Some Basic Guidelines for Writing Philosophy Papers, for First Time Philosophy Students:
I. SHOW DIALECTICAL SENSITIVITY Compelling arguments require compelling interlocutors! In philosophical writing, if you do not consider an opposing view, or if you present the other side in a way that makes their position seem weak or underdeveloped, your argument will appear undermotivated in turn.
II. TREAT YOUR PAPER AS AN ACT OF COMMUNICATION, NOT AN OBJECT: Philosophical writing is best seen as an act of communication between inquiring persons. You should get out of the headspace of seeing your writing as the production of a textual object that satisfies a set of formulaic rules, and into the headspace of seeing your writing from the standpoint of a human reader. At each stage in your paper, anticipate how your reader will be reacting to your argument.
III. SOMETIMES, LOSING IS WINNING - AIM FOR INTELLECTUAL DISCOVERY, NOT “WINNING” While it is critical to consider opposing perspectives, this doesn’t mean that you have to defeat the objections you raise. In fact, it is an intellectual achievement to show just how difficult an issue really is, and some of the most important contributions to philosophy, and indeed some of the best student papers I have read, have concluded without a resolution to the problems that were raised.
IV. AIM FOR ORIGINALITY, IRRESPECTIVE OF NOVELTY: Your paper should demonstrate independent thinking and original synthesis of ideas. However, this doesn’t mean that your ideas have never been expressed by anyone in the literature. The idea is rather to aim for philosophical growth on your own merits, relative to your encounter with the primary sources.
Guidelines for Philosophical Writing: Philosophy comes in many different forms, and I would hate to give you the impression that there is a one size fits all approach to philosophical discourse. There isn’t one. That being said, Jim Pryor’s guidelines is a fair place to start if you’ve never written a philosophy paper or an argumentative paper before. Pryor gives a helpful overview of some of the basic conventions of philosophy. Keep in mind that this is just one approach to philosophical writing:
Where to Find Papers in Philosophy: PHILPAPERS.ORG: The best way to get a sense of the philosophical writing is to see what it looks like in the wild. The following website is an excellent database of philosophical research that will give you a sense of what philosophy looks like today: