Introduction to Philosophy

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Essay Questions and the Argument Advice
PHIL1110 Introduction to Philosophy, Takaharu Oda
Summer 2022
Select one question from the following:
1. Critically evaluate Anselm’s ontological argument in his Proslogion.
2. Critically evaluate Hume’s sceptical argument in his Enquiry.
3. Critically evaluate Malebranche’s occasionalist argument in his Search.
Draft 1 (15%): 1000 words with an argument in premiss-conclusion form, due Class 8 (Wed)
Draft 2 (25%): 2000 words on the same question and argument, due Class 17 (Tue)
Final Essay (35%): 3000 words on the same question and argument, due Class 25 (Fri)
References
Charlesworth, M.J., ed. and trans. 1979. St. Anselm’s Proslogion: with a reply on Behalf
of the fool by Gaunilo and The Author’s Reply to Gaunilo. Notre Dame: University of
Notre Dame Press.
Clarke, Desmond M., ed. 2008. Berkeley: Philosophical Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Lennon, Thomas, and Paul Olscamp, eds. and trans. 1997. Malebranche: The Search After
Truth. Plus Elucidations of the Search after Truth, translated and edited by Thomas
Lennon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Millikan, Peter, ed. 2007. Hume: An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Essay Structure: Intro, Body Paragraphs, and Concl.
1. Introduction: the first paragraph should be up to 10% of the word count, and
articulate two components:
i. Your thesis statement by answering and paraphrasing the essay question in your
words (‘In this essay, I will argue that…’);
ii. Announcing your essay structure of each section or step. (‘In section 1, Berkeley’s
argument is reconstructed… In section 2, I will consider an opponent’s view…’).
2. Body paragraphs: you will posit a philosopher’s argument in premiss-conclusion
form, an objection to a premiss of it, and your response to the objection.
3. Conclusion: the final paragraph can mirror the introduction by paraphrasing.
4. References: don’t forget bibliography!
1
Highlight
Argument Advice (modified from Dr Kenny Pearce)
By ‘argument’ in philosophy, we mean an argument in premiss-
conclusion form. Therefore, (1) gather a conclusion and a set of its
premisses for a philosopher’s argument, (2) make the argument’s
deduction valid (i.e. logically connected), and (3) judge whether
the argument is sound (i.e. all the premisses and conclusion are
true) or unsound (some premiss is false and so is the conclusion).
Every essay question for this course will ask you to critically evaluate an argument
contained in one of the historical texts we are reading. An argument is just a collection of
reasons (the premisses) for endorsing some particular claim (the conclusion). These reasons
are always offered to some particular audience—that is, there is someone the author is trying
to convince. When an essay question asks you to critically evaluate—analyse and explain—an
argument, this means that you will need to defend your own position on whether the audience
should be convinced. In order to do this, you will have to get clear on how the argument is
supposed to work. In evaluating an argument, follow these three steps:
Step One: Identify the Conclusion and its Premisses
W
hom is the author (philosopher) trying to convince? Of what is the author trying
to convince them? Often (but not always) the conclusion of the argument will be
identified with words such as ‘therefore’, ‘so’, or ‘hence’. Sometimes the author will
say explicitly who the audience is; other times you will need to gather this from the text and
its context.
For the conclusion, you will reformulate explicit premisses, which are the premisses that
are directly stated in the text. Sometimes (but not always) they may be identified with
words like ‘since’ or ‘because’. They may come either before or after the conclusion.
Step Two: Make the Argument Valid
A
n argument is valid if the premisses guarantee the conclusion. In other words, if the
premisses are true then the conclusion must be true. The premisses and conclusion
of a valid argument might be true and they might be false, but if the premisses are
true then so is the conclusion. Conversely, if the conclusion is false then at least one premiss
is false.
When you take logic next year, you will learn formal, mathematical methods that will
allow you to tell whether very complicated arguments are valid or not. For now, we’ll stick
to very simple arguments that can be seen to be valid without these advanced techniques.
Here are a few tips to help figure out whether an argument is valid:
• If the conclusion contains a new concept that is not anywhere in the premisses, the
argument is not valid.
• If you can make up a story where all the premisses are true and the conclusion is false,
and you can tell your story without contradicting yourself, the argument is not valid.
• Arguments that apply a universal principle to a particular case are valid (but only if
the principle is absolutely universal). For instance, this is a valid argument:
P1. Socrates is human. [particular case]
P2. All humans are mortal. [universal principle]
C. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
• Arguments of the form ‘If A then B; A; therefore B’ are valid, so called ‘modus ponens
[mode that affirms]’. For instance, this is a valid argument:
2
P1. If Socrates is human, then Socrates is mortal.
P2. Socrates is human.
C. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
You want to reconstruct the argument from the text in a way that makes it short, simple, and
obviously valid, like these examples. In order to do this, you will usually have to paraphrase
what the philosopher has written. Sometimes, you may also need to add one or more implicit
premisses. An implicit premiss is something the philosopher assumes, but doesn’t actually
say, that is needed to make their argument valid. For instance, if someone said, “Socrates is
human, so he’s mortal,” we would know that that person was assuming that all humans are
mortal, even though this was not stated. When adding implicit premisses, you should clearly
indicate that you are adding an implicit premiss and explain why you think the philosopher
would accept that premiss.
Making the argument valid is the most difficult part, but is also very
important. If an argument is valid, that means that anyone who accepts all the premisses
must accept the conclusion or, in other words, anyone who wants to avoid the conclusion
must reject at least one premiss. This is crucial in determining whether the argument is
convincing. Those convinced call the argument sound, if all the premisses can be true.
Step Three: Is the Argument Sound and Convincing?
T
he audience should be convinced by the soundness of the argument only if the
argument is valid and they have good reason to accept all of the premisses (truths).
This means that, in evaluating the argument, you should think about
which premiss might be most vulnerable to attack, and how the premisses
might be attacked. If you think the argument is ultimately convincing, you will need to
examine all of the premisses to be true and show that the audience must accept all of them.
If you think the argument is not convincing, then you need to identify one premiss and show
that the audience need not accept it. In other words, for the audience or opponent, the
unaccepted premiss is judged to be false, and thus the argument is to be unsound. This
should be the main thesis of your essay, and should appear in a thesis statement
in your first paragraph, and again in a conclusion in your last paragraph.
In evaluating whether the argument is convincing, it is a good idea to consider one or
more specific objections that an opponent might give. All the above essay questions expect a
specific opponent and ask you to engage with that opponent’s objections. But even if your
chosen essay question in future does not do this, it is always a good practice to consider
some objections to your thesis.
References for Logic Training
How to formulate an argument? Have a look at, for example,
1. forall x (P.D. Magnus, Albany, 2005)
2. Wilfrid Hodges (2001) Logic: An Introduction to Elementary Logic (if you buy a book
on logic, make sure that the author’s answers to logic exercises are included. Hodges’s
book is great in this sense. See below the quotation from Hodges)
3. Jay Rosenberg (1996) The Practice of Philosophy: Handbook for Beginners (If you
cannot access the book, do ask me. I will scan and distribute more chapters that you
request)
4. Openproof Project (Stanford)
5. Logic Matters (Peter Smith, Cambridge)
3
https://www.fecundity.com/logic/
https://www-csli.stanford.edu/groups/openproof-project

What is here?


Hodges (2001, 36):
An argument […] is what a person produces when he or she makes a statement
and gives reasons for believing the statement. The statement itself is called the
conclusion of the argument (though it can perfectly well come at the beginning);
the stated reasons for believing the conclusion are called the premisses. A person
who presents or accepts an argument is said to deduce or infer its conclusion
from the premisses.
Rosenberg (1996, 19): Rule One (the point is so important that there is no Rule Two)
Any opinion for which one can give reasons is admissible in philosophy, but once
a claim has been supported by an argument, subsequent criticism must then
engage the argument.
11 Top Tips for Successful Essay-Writing by Dr Brian
Carey (Number 7 will surprise you!)
1. Don’t be afraid of the first-person pronoun.
2. Express complex ideas in simple language.
3. Define technical terms.
4. Use ‘signposts’: remind the reader what you’ve done, and what you’re about to do.
5. Avoid history lessons and biographies.
6. Get straight to the point. A shorter essay with only relevant content is better than a
longer essay with irrelevant content.
7. Your conclusion should be almost a mirror of your introduction.
8. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
9. Always stick to the question that you are being asked. This is the number one
reason why students lose marks in essays and exams.
10. When you get to the end of your essay, make sure you’ve done what you said you would
in your introduction.
11. Seven words that will guarantee you extra marks in every assessment you write from
this day forth: ‘In this essay, I will argue that…’
For example, in the introduction:
In this essay, I will argue that Deep Space 9 (DS9) is the best Star Trek series
of all time. I will begin in Section 1 by identifying two key measures by which
a TV series ought to be judged – (1) quality of writing (2) quality of cast. In
section 2, I will argue that DS9 ranks above all other Star Trek series on each of
these measures. In Section 3, I will consider and reject the objections that DS9’s
storylines were predictable and repetitive, and that most of its cast members
were scenery-chewing hacks. Section 4 concludes.
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