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PHIL2 – Intro Moral – Essay Writing

ESSAY ONE: AN ARGUMENT

1. Introduction
a. Thesis: “In this paper I reconstruct X’s argument that Y”
b. Introduction: “First I give reasons to think that A is true. Then I show that B
follows from A. Finally, I show that if B is true, then we have good reason to
accept X”
2. Body
a. Reconstruct an argument from the text
b. Formulate it explicitly as a set of premises, intermediate arguments, and
conclusions
c. Evaluate the argument by considering potential objections or explaining why you
find it compelling.
3. Conclusion
a. Don’t write a conclusion, the paper is too short.

Things to avoid

1. Barry –Take out anything that is not:


a. a thesis,
b. an argument,
c. an objection,
d. an explanation of one of these,
e. an example of one of these
f. signposting (i.e. signaling what you have and will argue)
2. This includes:
a. Colorful introductions
b. Historical considerations
c. Quotations from famous thinkers (except from whoever you’re writing about)

Things to strive for

1. Clearly state your thesis.


2. Be original (explain things in your own words, come up with your own ideas)
a. Explain what someone else argues in your own words (don’t just repeat their
argument)
b. Make your own arguments and objections (don’t just take them from the text or
popular culture)
c. Come up with your own examples to support your argument (not taken from the text)
Structure of an Argument in General
1. Premise:
a. Give reasons that someone should agree with your premises, but don’t try to
conclusively prove that they follow from a valid and sound argument.
b. A single argument is like a snapshot of a larger theory about how the world works.
Like a snapshot, we can always ask what comes before our argument (why are our
premises true) and what comes after (what follows from our conclusion).
c. Example premises:
i. The sky is blue
ii. Our intuitions tell us that morality is unlike taste
iii. Evolution explains biological functions
2. Intermediate Arguments
a. Explain what necessarily follow from your premises (give reasons why someone who
accepts your premises must accept something else) with an eye towards establishing
your conclusion.
i. Usually you can’t establish your conclusion directly from your premises, so
you must make smaller arguments to connect them.
ii. The results of these smaller arguments are conclusions from the perspective
of your premises, and premises from the perspective of your conclusion. They
are like even finer snapshots of your overall argument.
b. Example intermediate arguments:
i. Things are colored because they are made of matter that reflects different
wavelengths of light
ii. If two things are different, then we have to decide disagreements about them
in different ways
iii. Morality is a biological function
3. Conclusion
a. Explain why your argument’s conclusion follows from your premises together with
the arguments you’ve made so far.
i. If your explanation is valid, then someone who accepts your premises must
accept your conclusion.
1. Validity establishes your conclusion hypothetically: “If you accept P
then you should accept Q”
ii. If your explanation is sound, then someone should also accept your premises
1. Soundness stashes your argument categorically “If P then Q, P,
therefore Q”
b. Example conclusions
i. The sky is full of matter, not empty
ii. The way we should decide moral disagreement is different than the way we
should decide aesthetic disagreement
iii. Evolution explains morality
4. Objections
a. You can consider objections to any part of your argument (to premises, intermediate
arguments, your conclusion, or your argument as a whole).
b. An objection to an argument either consists in
i. an argument to the effect that one of the premises of the argument is false,
ii. or that the premises of the argument do not support the conclusion (i.e. that
the argument is not valid).