Philosophy paper writing


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Professor Margolis
PHIL101, 2015-2016 T2
Paper Assignment #2
Due Date: March 31
Select one of the following topics:
Topic A: Patricia Churchland and the Sleepwalking Killer
In class, we will discuss a tragic case in which a man killed his wife while sleepwalking. How
does this sort of example relate to the position on free will that Particia Churchland argues for?
What should Churchland say about this case? Does it support her viewpoint? Do you see any
problems that it raises for her view? Explain.
• Churchland, Free Will, Habits, and Self-Control. Ch. 7 of her Touching a Nerve: Our
Brains, Our Selves (W.W. Norton, 2013), pp. 168-194. (See the course packet.)
• Morris, S. ( 2009). “Devoted Husband Who Strangles Wife in His Sleep Walks Free
From Court” Guardian, 20 Nov. 2009 issue. Online:

A link to the Morris article is on the assignments page of the course website.
Topic B: A Philosopher and a Scientist Debate Free Will
In Episode 2 of the podcast Axons and Axioms, Timothy Verstynen (a scientist) and Derek Leben
(a philosopher) discuss the implications of work in neuroscience on the free will debate.
Verstynen argues that neuroscience may show that we lack free will. Among other things, he
mentions findings in which people’s actions seem to originate in brain activity that precedes their
awareness of having a conscious intention. He also brings up considerations that suggest that
forces in our history have a substantial impact on what we are likely to do in certain situations. In
contrast, Leven argues that neuroscience doesn’t threaten free will at all. He maintains that a
proper understanding of free will ought to be rooted in the ordinary sense of the word “free” and
that this leads to the view that people exercise their free will when their actions are not coerced
or blocked by external impediments. Do you think that a good case is made for one or the other
of these viewpoints? Why? Explain.
• Axons and Axioms podcast Episode 2: Judgment Day [Free Will]
• Ayer, “Freedom and Necessity”. From his Philosophical Essays (St. Martin’s, 1954), pp. 320. See the course packet.
• A link to the Axons and Axioms podcast is on the assignments page of the course website.
©Eric Margolis. Not to be copied, used, or revised without explicit written permission from the copyright owner.
Approximately 1200 words
Hand in two copies of your paper (hard copy + electronic copy)
(1) Bring a hard copy to class and (2) upload an electronic copy to Turnitin. You are required to
submit both the hard copy and the electronic copy. Instructions for using Turnitin are on the
course website. Both copies are due at the beginning of class on March 31st.
Formatting for the hard copy
• Use 1.5 spacing for the body of the paper, as well as standard margins and a standard
font. One staple on the top left corner will do. Please, no plastic covers and no clips.
• Cover page: Use a cover page in which the bottom half is kept blank. Towards the top left
corner include your name, student number, e-mail address, and a word count.
• After the cover page: do not repeat or include your name or any information that could be
used to identify you (i.e., this information should be confined to the cover page).
• E-mail address. The e-mail address on your cover page should be the one you included in
your Turnitin user profile. This e-mail address is necessary so that we can match the hard
copy of your paper with the e-copy submitted to Turnitin. If you have concerns about
sharing your personal e-mail address, you may create a new one for the purpose of
working with Turnitin. Just make sure to check your new e-mail address for the duration
of the course.
Formatting for the electronic copy
• You may omit the cover page if you wish so that your personal information isn’t included
in the Turnitin database.
Documenting your paper
You need to document all of the sources that you have used in writing your paper. See the
instructions on documentation in the handouts section of the course website. We will also discuss
documentation procedures in class.
Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s work or ideas without giving them full credit. For
example, if you were to reproduce a section of an article or book and present it as your own, that
would be an instance of plagiarism. Or if you were to rely on a webpage when you formulate an
argument but fail to note where you got the argument from, that would be an instance of
plagiarism. Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty and will be treated in the same way as
cheating on an exam. See the instructions on documentation in the handouts section of the course
Computer Glitches
I don’t want to hear about corrupted files, broken printers, hard drive crashes, etc. Take whatever
precautions are needed to ensure that you are able to hand in the paper on time.
Late Papers
Late work will usually be penalized up to one grade per day (i.e., ten points). Do not leave your
late paper with the secretaries in the Philosophy Department office or slip it underneath my door.
To hand in late work, contact the course TA (Madeleine Ransom) using the subject line
PHIL101 late work. Madeleine’s contact info is on the course website.
You have been given ample time to work on this assignment. If you are sick during much of this
period, you may request an extension by contacting the course TA (Madeleine Ransom) using
the subject line PHIL101 extension request (contact info is on the course website). However,
you should also plan ahead and budget your time wisely. If you become sick the night before the
assignment is due, that is not an especially compelling reason for being granted an extension.
Your paper should be (1) clear, (2) well-organized, (3) fair to the authors you are discussing, (4)
well-argued, and (5) original. I will discuss these points in class. If you have further questions,
you should also take advantage of the many office hours that are available during the weeks
preceding the due date.
General Tips

Whatever else you do, you must argue for your view. Merely stating it or summarizing
one of the readings (or someone else’s views) will not suffice.

These are fairly broad topics. You will need to find a way of focusing your paper, since
you can’t possibly cover everything. Focus on something you think is important, not
something that is trivial or peripheral. How you choose to focus the paper says a lot about
your grasp of the material.

Try writing in the first person. It promotes clear writing. Clarity is one of the main goals
of a philosophy paper.

Somewhere near the beginning of the paper you should say what you will be arguing for.
Don’t keep this a secret. As a rule of thumb, a sentence beginning “In this paper, I will
argue that…” is a good way to ensure that you are being perfectly explicit about your

Don’t presuppose familiarity with technical philosophical concepts or theories. Write for
an intelligent audience but one not already familiar with the specific material that you are
covering. And make sure you say exactly what you mean; don’t leave blanks to be filled
in by the reader.

Explain the background material that is needed to understand your thesis. Given the space
limitations, the exposition of background material will have to be succinct. But the
exposition still has to be detailed enough to bring your audience up to speed and to
indicate that you really know what you are talking about. Striking the right balance
between brevity and detail is a difficult task and will usually require a fair amount of

This is a short paper. Everything you say should contribute to your thesis. If a passage is
simply filler material or goes off on a tangent, it is not helping you.

Avoid long quotes. Don’t use a quote as a substitute for your own exposition.

Explain any quoted material. Don’t assume that readers will understand the quoted
material in the same way that you do. Again, a quote is not a substitute for your own

Use a title of your own invention. Calling your paper “PHIL101 Paper 2” doesn’t say
anything about the content of your paper, and it’s boring.

This is a piece of formal writing, but it shouldn’t be stuffy or read like an anonymous
piece of writing. It should still sound like you—just you when you are trying to be
especially clear, precise, and convincing.

Don’t turn to the internet for further reading. There are literally thousands of books,
articles, and websites that are related to these paper topics, but most will lead you astray,
you (probably) aren’t in a position to determine which are helpful and accurate, and the
point of the assignment is not for you to master a literature—it is for you to develop your
own critical analysis of the assigned material.

Good writing requires a fair amount of rewriting. You should plan on writing several
drafts of the paper. So don’t wait until the last minute!

For further tips, see Pryor’s guidelines for writing philosophy papers:

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