Some may think that the field of philosophy is inaccessible, full of larger-than-life ideas that seem difficult to comprehend. From this point of view, the prospect of writing about philosophy can be daunting. However, in his recent talk to Berkeley Connect students on “How To Write a Paper for a Philosophy Course,” Professor Niko Kolodny made the process seem less intimidating.
He referred to three mantras:
There is no substitute for repetition. Writing philosophy is like a sport; you get better only with practice. This may involve making mistakes, and that’s okay! That’s part of the learning process.
Ask yourself, what job is this sentence doing in the argument? Since the key to philosophy is understanding how arguments are structured, it’s imperative to mirror this in your own paper. You can answer this question using two methods: 1) marginal notes, where you write what sentences are doing, and 2) a reconstructed outline, where you describe concisely what your main points are and how they’re related.
Strive to be clear to your reader. To write the best philosophy paper, you must make it very clear to the reader. You must be able to connect two ideas together and demonstrate why they’re related. This can greatly improve the clarity of your paper.
Referring to the advice of NYU philosophy professor Jim Pryor, Kolodny said that you should always read philosophy three times: the first time to understand the general structure of the piece, the second time to figure out the arguments, and the third time to turn your critical lens on and analyze the piece. Writing a paper about a philosophical work may be challenging, but these tips and tricks can ease the difficulty.
Interviewed after the talk, student Michael Ragland said he is enjoying his experience in Berkeley Connect Philosophy: “I really love it!….It’s more interactive than normal philosophy classes.” This was echoed by student Austin Moon, who said, “Berkeley Connect helps me connect and network with other philosophy students.”
Although some philosophical questions like the meaning of life, the existence of God, or whether you should eat that last slice of pizza or leave it for your roommate, may be intensely thought-provoking, Berkeley Connect students are learning that they’re more easily analyzed following Professor Kolodny’s mantras and advice.
Posted by Melody Niv, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant