In a philosophy paper the author proposes and defends a thesis, that is, a cla

A philosophy paper

In a philosophy paper the author proposes and defends a thesis, that is, a claim, or a few interrelated claims: this is what you are supposed to do.

The topic

You can choose to work on any of the topics we have been dealing with. You are expected to make use of one or more of the mandatory readings of the course. You are also encouraged to use the additional resources that you can find on Canvas, in the Modules section; and if you’d like to, you are welcome to add more sources as well, like other books or articles that you read autonomously and that deal with the same topics. You need not concentrate on one single module, if the thesis you are arguing for is at the intersection of two or more of them.

What does it mean “to defend a thesis”?

“Defending a thesis” is not merely stating that you are inclined to think like a given author (or not), or that you think that it is good to interpret things in a certain way. I you want to argue, for instance, that author X is right or wrong regarding a specific problem, you must explain why you think so through a rational argumentation. You can also identify a problematic aspect in an author’s view and explain why the author is unable to account for it; or propose an alternative approach to an issue; or claim that a certain interpretation of an author is mistaken; or extend a given approach to another domain or issue; etc. In any case, you are expected to present an argumentation going from certain premises to a conclusion, and to defend it by offering reasons and possibly making use of existent literature.

It is a good idea to avoid claims that are too broad, and concentrate instead on a small point, identifying it clearly and explaining why it is significant. For example, instead of simply saying that skepticism is wrong, you should identify a small defect in one specific version of skepticism (say, skepticism about other minds), and explain why such defect is problematic.

Structure of the paper

The paper should be 5-6 pages long (double spaced, font size 12). It should consist of at least three sections: an introduction, the main body of your argumentation, and a conclusion.

The introduction gives some background concerning the theme of the paper, states clearly the specific claim that you are going to defend and explains why it is important. It also briefly outlines the argumentative strategy that you will follow. An appropriate length for the introduction is around 1 page.

The main body of the paper develops the argumentation through a series of steps. This part may also be organized in two or three sections, so that the steps are clearer. A few important aspects: 1. You are expected to provide reasons for your claim. Do not simply list these reasons, but write a few paragraphs to explain each of them, how they are connected, and how they contribute to the argumentation. 2. Make use of examples that illustrate your points. Examples are important because they help the reader understand, and because they show that you master the subject. 3. Include in the discussion one or more possible objections to your view. State what such objection(s) could be and provide replies.

The conclusion sums up your reasoning and re-states the principal outcome(s) of your thesis or claims. Around one page is an appropriate length.


You are encouraged to quote from or refer to specific passages in the texts that you studied during the course. You should also list these references (in alphabetic order by author) at the end of the paper, after the conclusion, under the title “Bibliography”. Since this is an introductory course, it is not important that you follow a particular reference style, as long as you include all relevant information, such as: author name, date of publication, title; journal for articles; publisher for books; publisher and editors for book chapters.

NB The bibliography is not included in the length limit (so, write 5 to 6 pages, + bibliography).

When quoting or referring to specific passages of a text, write the reference in parentheses. Examples: “According to Nagel (1985, p. 19), skepticism about other minds is a problem that persists even if you assume that the external world exist”; or “Nagel (1985, p. 19) affirms: ‘There is one special kind of skepticism which continues to be a problem…’”.


Remember to always credit the authors for their ideas, whether you are quoting their words, paraphrasing, or summarizing them. Using someone else’s words or presenting someone else’s ideas as they were yours is plagiarism: this is not permitted ( to an external site.). Your paper will be automatically checked for plagiarism.

Further information and tips

Professor Jim Pryor of New York University has developed and made available more extensive guidelines that you might find useful: (Links to an external site.). Very clear, with plenty of examples, they include helpful tips regarding the different stages of writing.

Tips for writing a good paper: At the beginning, 1. introduce your general topic and your specific claim. Then, 2. explain why you think that your claim is true and important. You might also highlight how this helped you challenge your own previous views or assumptions. After that, 3. develop an argument by offering reasons for your claim: I claim X, in virtue of reasons A, B, and C (two to four reasons are ok). Do not simply list them but write a few paragraphs to explain each of them, how they are connected (if they are), and how they contribute to the argument. Make use of examples, so that your readers can understand better what you have in mind. This is the most important part of your paper. Then, 4. present one or two possible objection(s) to your claim (for instance: someone might argue that your claim is false, or weak, because…), and 5. reply to it (them). At the end, 6. sum up your argument and conclude.

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