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Tips for Writing a Philosophy Paper
Here are some writing tips that should be useful to both graduate and undergraduate students. When writing a philosophy paper:
1. Do not write a mere “opinion” paper. You need to state more than your own views, brilliant as they may be. Lay out arguments of the authors you are discussing, and offer counterarguments of your ownâ€”see Tip 6. A decent paper would devote substantial space to fairly and clearly presenting the author’s views (claims made, arguments in favor of those claims, examples and illustrations, etc.), and then substantial space to presenting possible counterclaims, counterarguments, and counterexamples. Both of these tasks require imagination and discipline.
2. It is okay to use the first person singular. Despite what some people may say, there is nothing wrong with saying “I think that James ought to have considered…” or “In my view, this idea has certain strengths, but also some objectionable consequences, as follows:…” But don’t overdo itâ€”consider Tip 1.
3. Start writing early. Give yourself enough time to think about things. Don’t wait until the night before. Try to sketch out (outline) arguments and responses before sitting down to write them up. Use a wordprocessor so that editing of various drafts of the paper can be done easily.
4. Do not expect the reader to fill in gaps in your reasoning, even if you know they have read the same things you have. Write as if you were trying to explains things to one of your friends who is not taking the class. You might even test this by having a friend read the first draft.
5. Do not waste time with flowery introductory paragraphs or grandiloquent claims about the importance of issues. Get right to the issues at hand.
6. Give any views you oppose the most convincing formulation that you can. If you assert simply that your opponent is a fool, then you will not have accomplished anything special by refuting him or her. But if you refute a very smart opponent, you have achieved something significant. So paint your opponent in the best possible light (clearly, fairly, honestly) before launching your refutation.
7. Make sure that your thoughts flow easily and logically from the beginning to the end of the paper. The transition from sentence to sentence should make sense to the average reader. Similarly, make sure there is an easy and logical transition from one paragraph to the next.
8. Do not panic if you discover that you do not understand the issues as well as you thought you did. The point of doing the writing is to give you an opportunity to think things through, to organize your thoughts, and to try to present them in a form that might be helpful to othersâ€”see Tip 3.
9. A short philosophy paper cannot and should not be a research project. You are allowed to consider outside sources, but this is not requiredâ€”see Tip 1. But be sure to place any direct quotes in quotation marks or in a block-indented format, and cite the source in parentheses. Also, if you state that the author says such-and-so, whether you give a direct quote or not, clearly cite where the author makes that claim. You can use the short form for assigned texts (MacKinnon 146). Give more information for outside reading (author, date, page number(s)). Your sources should be provided in a list of references at the end of the paper.
10. The overall structure and organization of the paper requires some discipline, persistence, and clear thinking. It should begin with a clear statement of the topic and thesis of the paper, or perhaps an engaging question to be addressed in the paper. It should end with a similar statement (or a conclusion, if the paper begins with a question), modified to some extent by reference to the intervening material. The concluding section should identify the point, the punch-line of the paper in some effective way. Your paper should have a definite point to make. The intervening material should include three distinct kinds of discussion:
clearly and fairly present the topic or question that youare concerned with, giving quotes and explanations of specific chunks of text fromthe readings;
â€¢ present options and alternatives, as you see them yourself or as presented in other readings; and
â€¢ present your evaluations of these optionsâ€”not just a statement of a preference; give reasons, arguments, for how and why you compare and contrast the options the way that you do. You could do this in three separate paragraphs, or in a larger number of paragraphs that leapfrog through these three kinds of concerns in a principled wayâ€”but include all three kinds of discussion in your paper. The conclusion of the paper should summarize the result you have come to in the course of your discussion.
11. The paper should not be too short or too long. But don’t manipulate the length by fiddling with the font-size and margins. Use a 12-pt type, with one-inch margins, and double-space the text if possible. It should be easily readable, with space for the instructor’s comments. Length should not be a problem if you choose a good (and tractable) issue that interests you and compels you to explore what it involves.
12. Number your pages. Correct all typos, spelling errors, and grammatical mistakes. Use a wordprocessor! Sloppy presentation will lower your grade. Make sure your name is on the first page of the paper, and staple the pages together in the top left corner.
Using this document as a guide, write a research paper that focuses on theengineering decision-making in your assigned case. Your paper must have the following sections, with the following headings (in bold):
I.Part One: Case Presentation [This section of your paper must be at least 600wordsâ€”orroughly 2pagesâ€”long.]
1. In a section titledCase Narrative, offer a well-sourced,linear narrative of your case. Who are the engineers (individuals and/or companies) involved in your case? Are there any non-engineers who are key players in your case? Who, if anyone, was harmed? Who, if anyone, benefited?
2. In a section titledMorally Significant Decisions and Actions, identify any morally significant decisions made and/or actions taken by the engineers in your case. Why were these decisions/actions critical? Did any of the non-engineers (managers, owners, clients, etc.) in your case aid or interfere with these decision/actions in any significant way?
3. In a section titledValues of the Engineers, identify any values (efficiency, profit, safety, reputation, power, innovation, etc.) that you believe drove (explicitly or implicitly) the engineers in your case to make the decisions and/or take the actions that they did. Why do you believe that these were, in fact, the values in play?
II.Part Two: Value Analysis [This section of your paper must be at least 900wordsâ€”orroughly 3pagesâ€”long.]
1. In a section titledBetter Decisions/Actions, say whatyou thinkshould have happened in your case. Could any of the engineers in your case have made better decisions or taken better actions? If so, identify these decision/actions and explainhow andwhy your proposed alternative(s) would have been better. If not, explainwhy you believe this case is nonetheless ripe for value analysis.
2. In a section titledBetter Values, say which value(s)you thinkshould have guided the decision-making of the engineers in your case. Why are these the values that ought to have been the ones driving/motivating the actions/decisions of the engineers in the case?
3. In a section titledMoral Lessons, say which moral lesson(s) (i.e., lessons about moral values and the resolution of moral dilemmas) an engineer can learnfrom your case? Why are these important lessons to learn? [Remember that moral lessons do not look exclusively to the past; instead, they look primarily to the future and seek to inform the decision-making of engineers who have learned these lessons.]
III.Works Cited: Include all and only sources cited within the paper.
[Because this research paper is most importantly aphilosophy essay, you should be sure to give thorough consideration to the questions raised in Part Two above. In addition to telling us what happened in your case, you are going to be making anargument about the ethics of your case. This will require exposing your point of view, taking a position on the moral value of the decisions and actions relevant to your case, and defending your own view of who is morally responsible and how engineers can learn from your case.]
**If your paper does not contain substantial consideration of the engineering decision-making in your case, then your paper will be treated as â€œoff-topicâ€ and will be returned to you for a re-write. A substantial penalty will also be assessed in such a case.**
Length: 1500-2100 words long (or roughly 5-7 pages) + Works Cited page; typed in 12-point font; double-spaced.
Please be sure to cite all sources that you use in the paper, whether you quote directly from these sources or paraphrase from them.
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