Working in Philosophy

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Working in Philosophy

Paul Brownsey

Guidance for Level 1 and 2 students on:

(1) Producing an essay in philosophy;

(2) Answering gobbet questions;

(3) Originality and regurgitation;

(4) The importance of correct spelling, correct punctuation, correct grammar and correct understanding of the meanings of words.


(I) The reading and how to use it

1. Don’t assume that the subject-matter of the essay must have been covered in the lectures. Sometimes we deliberately set essay topics that are not, or at least have not yet been, covered in lectures.

2. Don’t expect to be able to write your essay out of what was said in lectures and out of the lecturer’s handout. Do some reading.

3. Look on the reading as a stimulus to your thinking, not as the source of a ready-made answer.

4. Don’t try to read everything you can get your hands on: a few items carefully read and though about are better than a lot of items skimmed.

5. Remember that books usually have indices: you may not have to read the whole of a book that is listed. (But do read enough to make sure you understand the relevant bits in their context.)

6. Don’t try to write an essay on a particular text without reading the text: reading commentaries or cutting and pasting bits from the web is not an adequate substitute.

7. Don’t produce an essay that is merely a series of summaries or paraphrases of items read: anything taken from the reading must plainly contribute to an overall position or thesis which (whether or not original) is genuinely yours. Writing a university essay should not be regarded as a matter of plundering and putting together bits from books or websites.

8. Don’t use material from the reading (whether or not it is directly quoted) without giving a full and accurate reference (including the edition and page number): otherwise the marker may think you are trying to pass of someone else’s product as your own and you may be disciplined for plagiarism. Each and every quotation, paraphrase, or use of an idea from a source must be given separate acknowledgement: it is not adequate just to list your source in a general bibliography of works consulted. For more information, see the section on plagiarism earlier in this handbook.

9. Be careful how you use quotations: you cannot prove a point by quoting someone who expressed it, no matter how eminent that person. If you try to prove something by quoting someone who said it, you invite the response, “So what? Maybe he was mistaken.”

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