You will write a carefully constructed, thoughtful essay in response to one topic listed below.
- Explain and evaluate Descartes’s mind-body dualism.
Philosophy essays, particularly at the undergraduate level, often feature two main parts of roughly equal length: exposition and argumentation. In the first part (1), the writer offers a charitable explanation of a philosophical view; in the second part (2), the writer critically evaluates that view on its own terms. That is to ask, essentially, (1) “What is the view and how does the philosopher arrive at it?” and (2) “Does the view stand up to criticism, and does my view about it in turn stand up to criticism?” Like other academic writing, philosophy essays still have an introduction, body, and conclusion: the introduction opens up the topic and provides a summarized version of the ensuing discussion, including a thesis statement; the body develops the exposition and argumentation in full; the conclusion summarizes the main points of the preceding discussion, and brings the paper to a close.
In this assignment, you should only quote material from the course. Given that the topics concern two of the most influential philosophers of modernity, you should be very careful in your response: cite relevant passages from the readings; show that you have a keen understanding of any views or ideas you wish to criticize; provide strong reasons for your claims. It is also important to write clearly and concisely.
Here is a logical path you might take in an essay about a philosophical idea or argument. Although there is no set formula, this is a standard way to go about it and you should consider following this structure closely. Note that this doesn’t include the introduction or the conclusion, but your essay should have both.
- Present the argument or idea in detail.
- Show why it might be reasonable to agree with its conclusions.
- If you disagree with it, provide reasons why. If you agree with it, provide reasons why.
- Consider any possible objections to your view that your reader or opponent may have.
- Respond to the objections and try to refute them.
Steps 1-3 are necessary for a basic essay; steps 4-5 make your position stronger. You don’t need to fully disagree or fully agree with the view, but you should take care only to focus on two or three important considerations.
The following page contains more detailed information about the general rules and guidelines for writing philosophy essays: http://www.sfu.ca/