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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Philosophy Writing Projects

Page address: http://english.mnsu.edu/vwp/studentresources/writing/philosophy/argument.htm

Philosophy Writing Projects: Argument/Position Paper

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You'll probably remember this assignment from your "Comp" class. You most likely constructed a couple of these yourself. And the ingredients are essentially the same for your Philosophy "1C" class as they were for "Comp." These are the stuff of argument—a position statement, claims associated with your position, an attempt to meet and refute a counter-claim, and evidence to support your argument.

Subject matter establishes the difference between your "Comp" arguments and the philosophical arguments in your "1C" course. You'll be asked to position yourself in relation to a specific philosopher or philosophical theory. You'll then need to apply that theory to a specific contemporary situation or issue.

Some Expectations for the "Argument/Position" Paper

  • Thesis—unlike the very brief "Response/Discussion" paper, you'll need to establish a focused and arguable position. The whole paper depends on it, and your instructor will often assist you in constructing it.
  • Support—you'll need evidence to support your position claims.
  • Direction—think about including in your introduction a "preview of coming attractions"—that is, a sense of the geography of your argument (how you'll be proceeding and where you hope to be at the end).
  • Objectivity—the ability to represent what you have read in a philosophical work in an unbiased way.
  • Shape—each paragraph in your paper must be carefully and consistently related to each other and your thesis.

Types of Evidence

  • The PRIMARY text—any support for your arguments will come directly from specific readings you'll be asked to shape your papers around. You'll rarely be asked to interact with other outside sources.
  • Personal support—it's very possible that you'll be permitted to include examples and details and observations from your own experience.

Using your Evidence

  • Direct quotes—it will be rare for you to be asked to respond to long quotes in a paper of this length, but the use of the exact words from a philosophical reading will be an essential part of your argument. Short phrases, key words, or complete sentences will capture a tone, an attitude, or a specific way of viewing an issue, and you'll need these.
  • Paraphrases—you'll need these considerably more than the direct quotes in representing to points or claims or ways of looking at an issue that are not your own. And you'll need to scrupulously distinguish the words of the reading you're building an argument in relation to from your own. Again, think about the act of translation when you're paraphrasing: read a point you want to include in your paper, turn away from the reading, and then attempt to summarize and rephrase the point while not looking directly at it. You'll want to use either the words or a pattern of expressing them that it is peculiar to the author of the reading.
  • Summary—because this paper is mid-range in length, you might well use summary. Since objectivity is important in representing a philosopher's views in one of your readings, you may be required to represent the skeleton of that reading: the thesis, the major points, a couple of major elements of support, and the conclusions. Most of it should be in your own words, with a scattering of short quotes to represent the most important ideas and an author's way of saying them.

Citing your Sources

  • Internal citations—you'll always be asked to use parenthetical citations in your paper wherever you're referring to the reading or readings you're working with. Depending upon the academic discipline you feel most comfortable working within, you may use MLA, APA, or some other discipline-specific citation format. Whatever method you start with, stay consistent with it.
  • Works cited—there will very likely be a "works cited" section in this paper. Again, set up this page in your paper in a way that is consistent with the conventions with the bibliographic format that dovetails with the citation format you've used in the body of your paper.

What's Valued in the "Argument/Position" Paper...

  • Thesis—without an arguable position, this paper goes nowhere (or everywhere!).
  • Geographical design—think about an introduction that is long enough to include a clear idea of where you're going in the paper. And be specific about that design: how will you be proceeding, and toward what end are you directing this design?
  • Support—a convincing argument requires proof, and a sufficient amount of it to enable you to explain the merits of the claims you're making.
  • Analysis—it's hard to think of a discipline that is driven by such a consistent obligation not only to muster support for claims you're making but also to show how that evidence strengthens your position. And analysis becomes even more important when you're attempting not only to acknowledge another claim that runs counter to your argument but also how you can point to a weakness in that counter-claim.
  • Careful editing—your argument is sure to be strengthened if you've "cared enough to send your very best" to your Philosophy instructor by carefully proofreading and editing your work before submitting it.

...and What is NOT

  • Bad "leads"—be sure not to begin a paper like this with a cliché or boring, such as "Since the beginning of time…" If you sound uninterested in what you're writing about, you'll lose your reader immediately.
  • Forgetting or misusing the source of your argument—you cannot ignore your "reason for writing" in this assignment, which is the reading or readings that provide the foundation for the argument you're building. Not using it, or simply misrepresenting parts of it carelessly will affect both your credibility and the logic of your argument.
  • Unsupported generalizations—unsupported arguments aren't really "arguments" at all. The stronger the evidence and your explanation of how that evidence supports your claims, the stronger the argument.
  • Bias—an unbalanced argument can occur for a number of reasons, but, most frequently because you may have relied on your strong emotions regarding an issue rather than evidence you may be able to gather to support it. The examination and analysis of arguments involving ethics and values depend upon your ability to suspend bias and maintain objectivity.
  • Grammatical and mechanical errors—very few people will read a paper that has been written carelessly. That carelessness reflects directly upon the quality of the argument.

Samples of Actual "Argument/Position" Paper Assignments

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Samples of Student Responses to the "Argument/Position" Paper

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