Write an insightful defence of some position on an issue in a way that demonstra

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Jul 27, 2022


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Write an insightful defence of some position on an issue in a way that demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the course material.
Some advice:
Warning: I’m grading you on your ability to understand an issue and say something interesting about it; not on how well you can follow an outline. This advice is meant purely as a guide for the perplexed.
You are going to write an argumentative paper. An argumentative paper is a paper where you defend a position on an issue RELATED TO THE COURSE MATERIAL.
Here is what it looks like.
12-point standard (serif) font (serif, no serif)
No title page
Double spaced
5 to 7 pages (typical margins)
A bibliography
Here is the structure of a typical argumentative paper in case you are not familiar with the conventions.
Describe an Issue (here are some that I came up with off the top of my head)
What is play?
How is play related to games?
Must a game have a purpose?
Do professional athletes count as playing their sport?
What makes one kind of play different from another?
Do video games tell us anything about the society that makes and plays them.
Describe what others have said about it (i.e. what you learned).
Describe the argument they provide in support of their position. Include quotes as needed.
Notice the argument for a position is distinct from the position itself. You might for instance agree with someone on something but disagree with their reasoning.
Describe what is wrong with what they have said (either with their position or their argument or both).
Conclusions go wrong when they are false.
Arguments can go wrong in either of two ways:
One or more of their premises are false
or their premises even if true don’t support the conclusion.
Describe your position on this issue. How is it different from the one discussed?
Present an argument for it (Remember your position is distinct from the argument you use to support it).
Explain why it is better than the one you discussed earlier.
Anticipate the most obvious/pressing objections to your position.
Respond to this objection
Students often don’t spend enough time on this.
Summarize your paper
On the issue of X, S argues that p. But is S is mistaken about p for these reasons. I argue instead that q. q overcomes the problems of p in these ways. Of course, supporters of p may object that q has this problem. They, however, are mistaken. Here is why…
Now take this summary paragraph and put it at the very beginning!
You should include citations.
Citing sources is a good way to demonstrate your understanding of the material.
It is also how scholars situate themselves in the larger conversation in which they are participating.
It does not matter how you format your citations as long as you are clear and consistent.
Don’t cite me (my lectures, my slides). I’m almost always explaining the work of someone else. You should figure out who I was talking about and cite them.
You are welcome to find papers not discussed in class relevant to your case but you do not need to. This is not a research paper; it is an argumentative essay. It is acceptable for you to focus solely on the course material.
When to cite?
e.g. Socrates believes that writing is anathema to learning. “[and here is a quote from Socrates to prove that he does in fact believe what I just said he believes”] Now I’m restating the quote in my own words and explaining how this view is related to whatever case I’m making.
Men are more likely to develop brain tumors than women. (That is surprising! Cite the research that discovered this fact)
Smoking is bad for your health (Yes, this fact was discovered at some point but it has since become common knowledge and so no longer requires a citation)
a good rule of thumb is to provide a citation any time you attribute a view to someone or refer to a theory.
Also, cite when you state some empirical fact that isn’t obvious.
I’m grading you on…
Demonstrated understanding
I’m looking for an accurate representation of the concepts, arguments, and theories you write about. This understanding involves knowing what course material is relevant.
Don’t assume I understand what you are talking about. I do but your writing should be aimed at me. Instead, write to an educated though uninformed reader. Teach your reader the material. This is the best way to demonstrate understanding.
Feel free, to offer novel interpretations but it should not be based on a clearly mistaken or inconsistent reading of the material.
I am looking for a sophisticated critical analysis of the issues you write about. Your analysis shouldn’t be too superficial. Your point should not be too obvious. Your goal is to make an interesting contribution to a conversation.
Don’t worry about being original. What you already think is good enough; just try to articulate your ideas intelligently and clearly in terms of the relevant material.
I will not penalize you for grammar or spelling mistakes. It is, nevertheless, possible for your meaning to be lost, if there are too many of these kinds of errors.
Clarity is the master virtue of writing. You will not be able to demonstrate understanding or insightfulness unless your writing is clear. If nothing else, your writing should be easy to follow.
An average educated adult should be able to understand your paper.
Do not mimic the academese of our readings. The readings are intended for professional scholars and use different conventions than a term paper.
Writing Tips:
Don’t surprise your reader. Your reader should know exactly what you are doing at all times. One of your first paragraphs should be a “map” of your paper that tells your reader what you are arguing for and how you’ll argue for it.
You will only know how your argument works once you have already written it out. So write this part last.
You should not aim to say everything that can be said about an issue. Instead, you should thoroughly explore an issue that you find interesting and then say something philosophically interesting about it.
You should do more than merely summarize the lecture material related to your case. This is your chance to dive deeper into a topic/issue than we can in class.
If your conclusion is “it depends on the person”, or “it’s all very complicated”, or “there is no one answer”, or “It is impossible to know…” then you are on the wrong track. You can take for granted that these issues are complicated and difficult to settle. That is why we consider them. Your job is to make a case for a particular position.
Writing is exploratory. It is normal and expected to change your mind and become more sophisticated in your understanding as you proceed. Don’t resist it! Once you settle on your final assessment, write it out in the first paragraph and pretend you always knew that it would turn out this way.
No fluff, no filler.
Don’t waste time on unnecessary introductions and generalizations. e.g. “For centuries people have wondered…” “X is a very controversial issue”. Just get into it. To gain momentum we add all sorts of unnecessary background information and qualifications when we write. Cut that out in editing.
Make sure that every sentence is doing work. Often, we repeat ourselves. If two sentences essentially say the same thing, delete one of them. You’ll be surprised at how satisfying it is.
Don’t use unnecessary technical jargon. When you must use it, define it immediately.
If you say, “This point is best understood from a pluralist perspective.” you better tell me in the next sentence what a “pluralist perspective” is; and in the sentence after that why this point is best understood from that perspective.
Always use the simpler word. e.g.
Don’t say “endeavor”. Instead say, “try”.
Don’t say, “prior to”. Instead say, “before”.
Don’t say, “relinquish”. Instead say, “let go”.
Don’t say “multiple”. Instead say, “many”.
Use terminology consistently.
If you have figured out a pithy way to express some complex idea, you win! That is half the battle. Now say it in the exact same way throughout your paper. Don’t feel like you have to change your wording to make it more interesting. In philosophy words like truth, logic, justification, premise, conclusion, valid, etc. have precise meanings. By changing your wording you might inadvertently change your meaning. Besides, you want your prose to be clear; not flowery.
Avoid rhetorical questions.
Rhetorical questions are rhetorical, not argumentative, “You don’t want to manipulate your reader, do you?”
Also, because in philosophy everything is up for grabs, rhetorical questions often back-fire by revealing unsupported assumptions.
“Why would someone be against playing?”
“Good question. I can think of a few reasons.”
Don’t start a sentence with ‘This’ without a noun afterwards.
Bad: This raises another worry.
This what? This view? This person? This argument? This response?
Good: This objection raises another worry.
Edit your writing after it is written (not during).


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