Basic Instructions & Guidelines
(For in-depth writing guidelines and tips, see the final section of this document and the Essay
Writing Primer I’ll upload to D2L.)
This essay is worth 40% of your final grade.
Your essay must have a thesis statement, which is the main claim your essay seeks to
establish. See the Essay Writing Primer for more about this.
Assume the reader is smart but new to the material. Fully explain all technical terms,
ideas, and arguments. Don’t assume background knowledge about course material.
This is a short essay: roughly 1200 words. This isn’t a strict limit; it’s a guideline.
It’s possible to write a clear, concise, and engaging 1000-word paper. But with shorter
papers, there’s a danger that some parts of your essay will be underdeveloped (e.g. terms
not defined, ideas not unpacked).
On the other hand, a 1500-word paper is more likely to exhibit wordiness and lack of
organization. You’re not being asked to write as concisely as humanly possible. But if
you’re using many words when few would do, or if there are redundancies, your grade
will suffer. If you’re discussing material that’s not directly relevant to the topic, this will
make your paper longer than necessary and will hurt your grade.
You should cite any sources you use. You’re not required to consult sources outside the
readings and lectures. If you do, you’ll be relying on your own understanding of these sources,
since we didn’t go over them in class. If you do use outside sources, be sure to cite them
properly. If you’re using lecture material (e.g. slides), cite the lecture title and date. If you’re
not sure whether you need to cite something, cite it.
You need a Works Cited section at the end of your term paper. It doesn’t need
to be on a separate page. It can come right after your conclusion.
Any standard citation method is acceptable (APA, MLA, Chicago Manual of Style).
Philosophy instructors tend to be less picky about format, so long as they can understand
the citation. Just be consistent with whatever method you choose. It’s also entirely up to
you whether to write in single-spaced or double-spaced format.
You should be indicating, through your citations, where the relevant passages are in the
readings. This is the case whether or not you quote directly from the text. If you
paraphrase an idea from the readings, cite the relevant part of the readings. If an idea
isn’t yours, it needs to be cited. If you don’t cite, you’re claiming original authorship.
Don’t include lengthy quotes from the text. In fact, it’s a good idea to avoid direct
quotes entirely in short papers like this. Explain ideas in your own words in a way
that’s faithful to the text. You must then cite where in the readings those ideas are found.
If you decide to quote the text directly, make sure you also explain the ideas/terms in
your words. If you rely strictly on directly quoted material to explain an idea or define a
term, your instructor may not be able to determine whether you understand the material.
Directly quoted material should only supplement your own words. I want to stress this:
it’s sufficient to paraphrase without directly quoting. It’s your words matter that, so
directly quoting is mostly redundant. You’re not writing a news story.
See this helpful video on citing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1RFLj-s1XA
It’s your responsibility to keep a copy of your work for your records.
Feel free to approach me by email if you have a topic in mind that’s different from those
offered below, or if you’d like to take a different approach to one of the topics below.
You don’t need to offer your own original arguments. You can use those we’ve covered in
lectures and readings. The important thing is that your essay presents an argument, taking
and defending a side.
Your term paper and short response paper must be on different topics unless
you receive explicit permission from me.
#1: Descartes and Scientific Method.
Many argue that Newton was largely responsible for replacing the Axiomatic-Deductive
scientific method of the Aristotelian-Medieval era. Is this correct? Be sure to explain both the
Axiomatic-Deductive scientific method and the Hypothetico-Deductive scientific method,
laying out the historical transition from the former to the latter.
#2: Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence.
Has the modern scientific method (i.e. the core scientific method since the Cartesian and
Newtonian worldviews replaced the Aristotelian-Medieval worldview) ever included
theological standards? Unless you discuss an alternative example in modern science history
with me, confine your essay to the discussion of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence.
#3: Kalam Cosmological Argument.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument concludes with the claim that the universe has a cause of
its existence. Present the Kalam Cosmological Argument, then defend or criticize the idea that
it makes theism, in particular, likely to be true. Be sure to define “theism” and “God” as we
did earlier in the course.
#4: Anthropic Teleological Argument.
Present the Analogical Teleological Argument and Hume’s critique. Explain how Darwin’s
theory of natural selection would have helped Hume. Then, present the Anthropic
Teleological Argument and explain whether Hume’s criticism, spelled out in Darwinian
terms, works as a criticism of the Anthropic Teleological Argument. Last, explore the
implications of the multiverse hypothesis for the Anthropic Teleological Argument.
#5: God & the Multiverse.
Does the multiverse offer a solution to the problem of No-Best-World? First, present the
problem of No-Best-World, then present Kraay’s proposed solution to the problem. Whether
you defend or criticize Kraay’s proposed solution, you should engage with Johnson’s
#6: Science & Morality.
Answer one of the following two questions. (1) Does a strictly scientific worldview imply
moral skepticism? (2) Is any skeptical model of moral truth viable, or is some form of moral
objectivism required to make sense of seemingly undeniable moral claims, of moral progress,
and of moral disagreement?
#7: God & Morality.
Does divine motivation theory succeed in showing that the Euthyphro dilemma is a false
Additional Writing Guidelines
Assume the reader is smart but unfamiliar with the material. This means you need
to clearly define all key terms, unpack/explain all ideas, and lay out the steps in your
arguments/reasoning. Do not simply use a term without defining it or refer to an idea without
explaining it. Don’t assume the reader will know what you’re talking about. Pretend you’re
writing for a friend who’s just as smart as you but who hasn’t taken this class.
You will be asked to (1) accurately, clearly, and concisely present the relevant course material,
and then (2) critically interact with the material. You will take a position (your thesis) and
present supporting arguments/reasons. A common mistake is to simply offer one’s own
view/feelings on the topic as opposed to offering an argument that engages with the material.
Critical engagement requires placing your feelings on the issue aside and offering an
argument. This is an argumentative essay. Even if you’re presenting an interpretation of
someone’s work, you’re presenting an argument for that interpretation.
Your introductory paragraph is very important. It will structure your entire essay and
clarify things for the reader. Here are the important elements of an introductory paragraph:
(1) The first thing you’ll need to do is introduce the topic (also called the hook). If you
need to use any technical/key terms to introduce the topic (you probably will), define
An example from an ethics paper: “It seems clear that cultures widely and deeply
disagree about moral issues. [Maybe offer an example or two.] According to Jesse
Prinz (2011), this constitutes sufficient evidence to show that moral objectivism is
false and moral relativism is true. Moral objectivism is the view that… Moral
relativism is the view that…”
(2) You’ll then inform the reader of your thesis, which is what you’re trying to establish
through your essay. Your thesis is your essay’s purpose; it’s the conclusion of the
argument you’ll offer. It should be very clear, not vague or overly ambiguous. It’s the
most important single element of your essay. Without a thesis, an essay cannot receive
an A grade (80%+). In fact, it will be hard to get a B-grade without a thesis.
Example from the same ethics paper: “In this essay, I argue that Jesse Prinz is
incorrect: moral disagreement does not constitute sufficient evidence against moral
objectivism and for moral relativism. On the contrary, moral disagreement
constitutes evidence for moral objectivism.”
(3) To round out your introduction, provide a preview/overview of the
arguments/reasons you’ll offer in support of your thesis.
“I will show this by [argument 1]. Also, [argument 2]. Last, [argument 3].” There’s no
pre-set number of arguments. However many arguments you offer in support of your
thesis, preview all of them here. Note that a preview of arguments is not a table of
contents. You don’t need to list every step of your paper. You’ve introduced the topic
already, so the reader knows you’ll exposit the topic. Preview your analysis only.
Below is a full example of an introductory paragraph. The thesis is in bold. Preceding it is
the hook. Following it is the preview of supporting arguments/reasons.
“Many of us are deeply troubled by the idea of criticizing an entire culture as being
morally wrong in some of its views and practices. Indeed, it may seem that moral
objectivism, the view according to which there are extra-cultural moral truths, has
very bad consequences. It may seem to breed dogmatism, license intolerance, and
impede each culture’s equal right to its own view on moral issues. I argue that
moral objectivism does not encourage serious moral vices, but in fact
offers strong grounds for condemning them. First, I show that it does not
license dogmatism, intolerance, or the violation of each culture’s equal right to its
own view on moral issues. Second, I show that quite the opposite is very plausible if
moral objectivism is true: dogmatism, intolerance, and the violation of each culture’s
equal right to its own view on moral issues are all plausibly objectively bad. Last, I
show that moral skepticism, the view according to which there are no objective moral
truths, has a much tougher time dealing with dogmatism, intolerance, and the
violation of each culture’s equal right to its own view on moral issues. Moral
objectivism is clearly the better option.”
Your body paragraphs should be structured according to the prompts in your introductory
paragraph. In your introduction, you’ll introduce the material that you’ll be critically
addressing, you’ll offer a thesis, and you’ll preview your arguments/reasons for your thesis.
Structure your body paragraphs accordingly into expository body paragraphs and
argumentative body paragraphs.
Expository paragraphs are where you summarize/present the material you’ll be critically
addressing in your argumentative paragraphs. You’ll have already introduced this material
quickly in your introductory paragraph. Now you’ll present it at length.
There should be at least as many expository paragraphs as there are distinct ideas in the
material you’ll later critically address. There’s no pre-set number of expository
paragraphs. But each paragraph should deal with a distinct idea/issue.
If you’re taking a side in a debate between two authors, you’ll need to present both of
Only present what’s necessary for the purposes of your essay. Don’t present everything
we went over in lecture concerning a topic if you’re writing only on one sub-issue. For
example, if you’re writing on the Anthropic Teleological Argument, there’s probably no
need to discuss the Analogical Teleological Argument.
Argumentative paragraphs are where you present each argument you’re offering in favour
of your thesis. Treat your thesis as the conclusion of an argument and your argumentative
paragraphs as premises supporting it. These paragraphs should support, establish, or
make plausible your thesis.
Devote at least one paragraph to each of the arguments you’ll offer in support of your
thesis. If one argument has two distinct components, it’s fine to split it into two
paragraphs. Paragraphs are organization aids. They can help make things clearer.
Start by stating the claim you’re trying to establish in that paragraph. Remember, your
goal in each argumentative paragraph is to establish a point/idea/reason in favour of
your thesis. State it explicitly at the beginning of the paragraph and then explain and
defend it in the remainder of the paragraph. This helps the reader follow along.
When writing a specific argumentative paragraph, treat it as a mini-essay. Start with
your main claim (like a thesis, but for that paragraph only), then offer your reasons for
claiming it. Of course, make clear how the paragraph as a whole supports your overall
thesis for the term paper.
Your concluding paragraph isn’t nearly as important as your introductory paragraph.
However, it’s necessary, since you don’t want your essay to stop suddenly. The idea is to
summarize your essay very briefly. Don’t simply repeat your introduction. You don’t need to
define terms you use here, or unpack any ideas you mention here, since you’ve already
defined and explained them. There should be no new terms or ideas introduced in your
conclusion. You may, however, leave the reader with an interesting thought about what’s left
to figure out or what further work might be appropriate. But this isn’t necessary or important.
Since you’ll be presenting course material and critically engaging with it, it’s crucial that you
understand and present it accurately and charitably. When reading others’ arguments,
sometimes premises and conclusion are not in order. Sometimes premises are not explicit. If
you’re criticizing an argument, make sure you’re not targeting an inaccurate version of it.
Accurately and charitably presenting material is a big factor in your grade.
Taking this point further, it’s a great idea to anticipate how your opponent(s) might reply
to your objection(s). Of course, be sure to state that this is how they might reply. But try to
formulate as strong a reply as possible on their behalf. You want to challenge your own
position as much as possible. Do this if you have space in your paper.
It’s always recommended that you have someone else read your work. Ideally, this
would be someone at a writing clinic. If not, have a peer read it. No matter where you are in
developing your writing skills, this will help. Writing an essay in a short period can make you
blind to errors you might otherwise have caught. Also, when you read your own work, you
know exactly what you mean to say. Someone else might identify an ambiguity or place of
confusion. If you don’t want that “someone else” to be your grader, have a writing clinician or
peer read your essay.
It’s very helpful to return to a completed draft after being away from it for a day or more. This
isn’t always possible, given deadlines and other commitments. But do this if you can. When
you write, you zone-in on your specific thoughts on the matter at hand. This can blind you to
errors and shortcomings. After stepping away for a bit, your ability to review and edit your
own work will be more incisive. This is a nice fallback option if you can’t find someone else to
read your work (though I stress that you should try to find someone else to read your work).