argument Mark McIntire

sbccPhilosophy-111 Critical Thinking And Writing:

Term Paper Writing Assignment







Term Paper Thesis Argumentation 200 Grade Points
Due As Assigned Via E-mail

Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper:

Start by reading the Notre Dame University Guidelines

By Professor Jim Pryor

and finally, Professor Peter Horban's "Writing a Philosophy Paper"

Then, follow these Ten Commandments and everalsting grade salvation shall be thine.

While the primary intent for publishing these 'commandments' is to aid your success in my Logic and Critical Thinking courses, anyone can use these steps to formulate a defensable term paper in philosophy. These are NOT mere guidelines for this Critical Thinking and Writing course, however. These are the NECESSARY AND SUFFICIENT CONDITIONS for writing a successful term paper in this course. Since satisfying these necessary and sufficient conditions entails demonstrating the skills of VALID and SOUND reasoning, then many students may well find these 'commandments' useful and productive in writing any paper assigned in your academic life. Be well and prosperous!


1. THOU SHALT STATE THY THESIS: A philosophy paper begins with the statement of a claim to be defended. This claim is a proposition and constitutes the THESIS of your term paper. The first paragraph of your paper should state clearly what 'thesis' proposition you intend to defend.

Example: "Political Science is an oxymoron"

Choose a topic from your major academic discipline of study. The example is suitable for a political science major. If you don’t have a major yet, then choose a claim you wish to defend in an area of study interesting to you and where you have sufficient general background knowledge.

Example: "There is a high degree of probability that intelligent life exists on other planets in the known universe."

Perhaps you want to challenge the views of another thinker. If so, then your thesis statement would read something like this.

Example: "I oppose the view held by Gilbert Ryle that states that the term ‘mind’ refers merely to the functions of the brain rather than to some being separate from the brain."

Your statement of the claim is your thesis. You will defend this view by advancing a series of reasons called arguments. You may need many sub-arguments in order to get to your main thesis argument.

Prepare a bulleted outline of what those arguments will entail. List the kinds of evidence or proof you will need for each argument. Is your argument purely analytical (a priori) like Anselm’s argument for the existence of God? Then you will have no soundness issues to deal with only issues of validity. Or, is your argument concerning some area of practical reasoning (a posteriori) as is in the first example stated above about political science? In that case you will have to deal with both issues of validity and soundness. This outline should be free from mere opinions, beliefs, feelings, hearsay or things you vaguely remember Monica Lewinsky saying in her interview with Barbara Walters on TV. Your outline should ONLY CONTAIN REASONS that support other statements in the outline by logical entailment.

2. THOU SHALT DEFINE ALL THY TERMS: Take each section of your outline and break it down into smaller sections containing premise statements (propositions) that lead to conclusions. List what kind of definitions you intend to employ for the terms in the premises you use for each sub-argument and your main argument. Are your definitions stipulative, lexical, functional, theoretical or some combination thereof? Make careful note of this in your outline. At this stage, be prepared to go through several drafts of your paper before you get to the final version. Three to four drafts are quite to be expected in writing a good philosophy paper, especially if this is your first attempt. Show your drafts to me or to a tutor for comment and suggestions.

3. THOU SHALT STATE THY ARGUMENT IN A VALID FORM: Choose a deductive method of reasoning to compose your arguments. This could be a series of standard form categorical syllogisms where each conclusion serves as the major premise for the succeeding argument until you arrive at the main argument also stated in standard form categorical syllogistic form. Choose one of the 15 Valid Forms.

4. THOU SHALT PROVE YOUR ARGUMENT(S) VALID: Once your argument is formulated using one of the known 15 valid standard form categorical syllogisms you must then prove validity of your argument. You do this by use of a VENN DIAGRAM and The 6 Rules for Validity in Standard Form Categorical Syllogisms. Embed the Venn Diagram for your thesis argument in the body of your text. Parse your argument through each of the 6 Rules. DO NOT FAIL TO DO THIS! If you have mastered these techniques you should have no trouble getting to this point. If you have trouble, see a tutor or bring your work to class for analysis. I’ll be happy to evaluate it with you.


5. THOU SHALT ANALYZE THE SOUNDNESS OF THY ARGUMENT: Once your argument is proven VALID then each of the premises for the main argument must be submitted to inductive analysis to determine their empirical probability. Here you need to state the empirical conditions under which they could be tested. Of course, if your argument contains terms and propositions about those terms that are beyond the realm of empirical proof then you must state why that is the case. Then you must present an 'analytical' proof for your premises. THIS IS A CRUCIAL STEP IN YOUR PAPER. Valid arguments are easy to construct since validity is purely a matter of correct form. Sound arguments, on the other hand, are valid arguments that have all factually true, empirically verifiable, scientifically demonstrable premises to a high degree of probability. If you find that the premises have scientifically weak evidence then you cannot claim soundness for your argument, just weak probability. Empirically weak arguments provide little reason to accept them as factually true. Don’t be shy to come to this conclusion if the evidence warrants it. That’s the point of doing the paper, i.e. to see if valid and sound reasoning can substantiate the truth-claim of your term paper thesis.

6. THOU SHALT SUMMARIZE THY FINDINGS: As a last step in your paper, review where you began, where your inquiry took you and where you concluded. If this process changed your views on the issue underlying your thesis then state the reasons why. If you discover that there is little or no empirical verification for the factual truth of your premises, then say so. If you have come to some original insights about this issue, then state what those insights are. Typically, your summary paragraph will be quite short.

7. THOU SHALT MAKE THY PAPERS printed 6-10 pages in length, double-spaced, spell-checked and grammar-checked documents. Make two copies of your final paper. Keep a backup copy in digital format.

8. THOU SHALT FOLLOW APA (American Psychological Association) style and format for printing your final paper. List all references and resources used according to the APA format.

9. THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBORS WORK. I define plagiarism as submitting the work of another as if it were your own.

10. REMEMBER TO READ THY PAPER ALOUD: Before you hand in your paper READ IT ALOUD to yourself and/or to a kind friend. You will catch last minute mistakes this way as well as enjoy a sense of confidence that your final paper actually makes well-reasoned sense.


Your papers will be graded according to the following criteria:
1. Is it clearly written, relatively free from careless errors in typing, spelling grammar and syntax? I stop reading papers that are syntactical train wrecks and do not grade them.
2. Is your thesis free from vague and ambiguous language?
3. Is there a logical flow to the structure of the paper?
4. Did you prove your argument valid by formal means?
5. Did you fairly represent the views of those you cite?
6. Did you consider counter arguments to your own?
7. Did you adequately examine the soundness of the premises you use?
8. Did you comprehend what you have been able to demonstrate?
9. Did you hand your paper in on time?
10. Did you do original work?

Excellent Internet resources for writing a philosophy paper:
APA Style and Format
Help with Writing

Here are some Valid Syllogisms from successful former student Term Papers. These thesis arguments were successful, not because of 'what' they argued, but rather by 'how' they were argued.

All individual passion is ruled by individual character. All individual destiny is ruled by individual passion. Therefore,All individual destiny is ruled by individual character.

No human fetus killing is a private matter. All human abortions are human fetus killings. Therefore, no human abortion is a private matter.
(NOTE: by converting the MAJOR premise, this argument could be formulated as a CESARE, EAE-2)

All perception states are real states. Some dream states are perception states. Therefore, some dreams states are real states.
(NOTE: by converting the MINOR premise, this argument could be formulated as a DATISI, AII-3)

All things in life that don’t kill you are things that can make your character stronger. Some things in life that don’t kill you are “bad choices” you make. Therefore some “bad choices” you make are things that can make your character stronger.
(NOTE: by converting the MINOR premise, this argument could be formulated as a DARII, AII-1)

EIO-1 FERIO (All EIO Mood arguments are valid regardless of Figure)
No inanimate three-dimensional objects are objects that can commit murder. Some things (i.e. guns) are inanimate three-dimensional objects. Therefore, some things (i.e. guns) are not objects that can commit murder.

All state sanctioned marriages are marriages wherein it is at least logically possible for human procreation to happen. No marriages between members of the same gender are marriages wherein it is at least logically possible for procreation to happen. Therefore, no marriages between members of the same gender are state sanctioned marriages.

No ‘entity’ is a thing that exists outside of sense perception. All ‘god’ things are entities that exist outside of sense perception. Therefore no ‘god’ thing is an ‘entity.’
(NOTE: by converting the MAJOR premise, this argument could be formulated as a CELERANT, EAE-1)

All 'gay' people are people that politicize their homosexuality. Some homosexual people are not people that politicize their homosexuality. Therefore, some homosexual people are not 'gay' people.

Some people that rely on ‘feelings’ in place of ‘reason’ are not ‘critical thinkers and writers’. All people that rely on ‘feelings; in place of ‘reason’ are political ‘liberals.’ Some political ‘liberals’ are not ‘critical thinkers and writers.’

No drugs are “recreational”. Some ‘high risk’ sports are “recreational.” Therefore, some “high risk” sports are not drugs.
(NOTE: by converting either the MAJOR or MINOR premise this argument could be formulated as a FERISON- EIO-3 or a FRESISON, EIO-4)

Many students have asked for a sample term paper that satisfies the necessary and sufficient conditions for formulating a successful term paper in this course. Here is just such an example as your guide. Click the link to access the PDF,

Sample Term Paper by Matthew Bixby class of 2007

Yet More resources on Writing a Philosophy Paper

Professor Douglas Portmore, Arizona State University has an excellent PDF that both parrallels these guidlines and provides an excellent bibliogrphy for successful writing of undergraduate philosophy papers. Here's the URL for his PDF


Professor Mark McIntire