A. What is the question that the philosopher is trying to answer? How does the philosopher answer the question? Why should we care?
B. Identify and explain every part of the philosopher’s argument, including their reasons or evidence (premises) and the conclusion they draw from these reasons or evidence. This argument should reveal the philosopher’s proposed answer to the question in b. References and quotations: Don’t just quote – put it in your own words (and cite passage page or reference numbers), and explain why you are including them and what you think it means. Then the reader can compare the quote with your interpretation of it, and measure it against their own. (See the Analytic Questions below)
C. Concede something, but then point out a problem: Tell them what they did right: good definition, true premises, valid conclusion? Say so. Then point out one of three things: a key definition is unclear or unacceptable (circular, too narrow, to broad, etc.), the conclusion does not follow (the argument is invalid or weak), or one or more of their premises (their reasons or evidence) is unclear or false (the argument is unsound or uncogent). (See the Critical Questions below)
D. Give a possible response to the problem– It is easy to point out a problem, but more challenging to come up with a response. Suggest a way for the philosopher to improve their argument? How can they improve their key definition? What other conclusion might they draw to make the argument valid or stronger? What premises are truer but still achieve the desired conclusion? Or do you concede their whole argument? If so, then explain why there is no way to improve on the philosopher’s argument. You had better be right!
Read analytically and sympathetically. ANALYTIC Questions that you can ask and answer as you read.
1. What is the thesis (the central idea or main point?)
2. What are the major points made in developing and supporting the thesis?
3. How are key terms defined?
Definitions. A good definition should be:
Clear and precise
Stated in a positive form
Broad enough to include all cases designated by actual usage
Narrow enough to exclude cases beyond range of actual usage
4. What are the basic assumptions made by the author?
5. What are the important implications of the author’s position?
6. “I-don’t-understand…” list (brainstorm)
Read Critically. CRITICAL Questions
1. Is what is said clear? How is it unclear?
2. Are adequate definitions given for important concepts? Can you think of counterexamples?
3. Are the arguments adequate to support the claims? Are the premises true? The assumptions dubious?
4. Do the implications of the text lead to absurd or false consequences?
5. Are important aspects of the issue overlooked?
6. How well did the author accomplish her or his goal?
7. “I-don’t-agree-and-here’s-why…” list (brainstorm)
Make sure to identify and explain:
The key issues that are related to the topic and discussed in the passage.
The fundamental philosophical terms and concepts associated with your topic and are discussed.
The key teachings and methods of the philosophical figure and tradition you read about in the passage and discuss.
Be clear, careful, and correct –Your audience is your roommate. Assume your roommate has never taken a philosophy class before; can they follow along in the paper and know what is happening? Think it through. In general, avoid technical terms and jargon, or explain what they mean if you must.
Use analytic and critical questions on your own essay to check it
For more information on The Philosophical Figure read this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy
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