Determinism vs. Libertarianism

The Structure of the Essay and Formal Requirements


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  • No less and no more than 3 double-spaced pages(12-point Times New Roman font, 1” margins).
  • Your essay must be argumentative: it must not only offer a summary and analysis of an issue, it must provide an argument in defense of a claim. (More on the structure of the essay below)
  • Your essay must consist of an introduction (in which you state a thesis), a body (in which you provide the supporting argument), and a conclusion(a restatement of the thesis).
  • You must consult at least one source outside of your own textbook. For suggested readings, see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on-line.
  • See for further guidelines on how to get started on writing an argumentative paper.


Essay Topics


Essay 1: Topics: Plato’s Theory of Knowledge; Skepticism; the ‘Justified, True Belief’ Analysis of Knowledge; The Philosophical Influence of Pythagoras on Plato’s Philosophy; Zeno’s Paradoxes of Motion.

Essay 2: Topics: Empiricism, Perception and the Theory of Ideas; Locke and the Representative Theory of Ideas; Berkeley’s ‘Esse is Percipi’; Phenomenalism and Modern Physical Science.

Essay 3: Topics: Rationalism vs. Empiricism; Descartes’ Method of Doubt; Descartes’ ‘Cogito’ Argument; Dualism vs. Materialism; Determinism vs. Libertarianism: Is There a Happy Medium? Is Kant’s Categorical Imperative valid? A Defense of Utilitarianism against Some Common Objections.


Structure of the Essay:


Introduction: Introduce topic; background to the topic or debate; concise and detailed statement of the thesis (A thesis is a statement of what you intend to argue. It is something to be defended by means of rational argument. It must not be obviously true, and it must be disputable, which does not necessarily mean is must be controversial, but it must be a claim which one could provide reasons for and against. An example of a philosophical thesis is the following:

In what follows, I argue that Descartes’ argument for Substance Dualism is flawed because it is founded on the assumption that mental phenomena belong to a special category of existence; but, as I will suggest, Gilbert Ryle has argued convincingly that such a category of existence is a fiction, as it is founded on what he calls a “category mistake.” Furthermore, if Ryle is right, the case may be made that any argument in support of Substance Dualism must become suspect.

Other forms a thesis might take: X’s claim that p is inconsistent with other of A’s claims sincex,y,z (x: A claims that p in this part of the article but then claims that not-p in another part, or claims something that implies or presupposes not-p.); A’s criticisms of B’s position are unfounded becausex, y, z. This follows the familiar organizational pattern for formulating a thesis that you have learned in English composition courses. Note that the topic sentences, x, y, z are explicitly stated and ordered in the thesis.

Body Paragraphs: Support for thesis by means of rational argument (logic, the principles of evidence, explanation, canons of inductive reasoning); Provide textual support. Is the textual evidence against your thesis stronger than that in support of your thesis? What are the reasons in support of your thesis? (Create a separate paragraph for each reason, and present the reason as a topic sentence; the topic sentence should be the first or second sentence of the body paragraph)

Somewhere among the body paragraphs there should be a counter-argument. This need not be a simple contradiction of your thesis, but it must direct the reader’s attention to some perceived problem; it must attempt to detract from the merit of the thesis in some reasonable way. If you cannot think of a counter-argument, then it is likely that you have not given sufficient thought to the plausibility or implications of your thesis. Spend some time meditating on what you want to say and how you want to say it; write an outline; consider re-reading a text so that you can be sure to have fully understood the issues. As is generally true in philosophy, this is not something that should come easily to you. It is useful to continually entertain possible (hypothetical) counter-arguments and objections in the course of composing your essay. You can always incorporate these in your essay in some way. Hypothetical counter-arguments require the use of imagination: can you imagine someone disagreeing with your thesis? Can you imagine their having a reasonable argument to back up their disagreement? An argumentative essay requires sometimes that you think on both sides of an issue

Your essay should contain a rebuttal to the counter-argument. Now that you have considered the reasoning behind an opposing point of view, what additional reasons would you adduce to further defend and substantiate your thesis? You may argue forcefully against the objection in order to neutralize it, or you may, alternatively, take a more concessive tone: does the counter-argument reveal something about your thesis that you cannot defend? If so, how could you qualify your thesis to accommodate the point of the objection? Is there a reasonable position of compromise between your thesis and the counter-argument? If so, consider revising the initial thesis and frame your discussion accordingly.

Conclusion: Re-state your thesis in light of having defended it against considered objections. Is there something that you have learned in the process of defending your thesis? Keep the conclusion short. As a rule, try to summarize the topic sentences from each of the body paragraphs.

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