Blank page panic? On writing an argumentative piece

In philosophy, the ability of defending or rejecting positions on the basis of carefully constructed arguments is usually considered crucial. Argumentative essays, where the author presents an argument with the pros and cons of supporting an argumentative issue, are therefore a central component of a philosophical training.

In this post, I highlight a few pieces of advice on how to write an argumentative essay, mainly inspired by the R&P Lab’s guide to writing an argumentative piece. However, the Lab’s suggested selection of materials on the topic also includes Jim Pryor’s “Guidelines on writing a philosophy paper”, Kyle Stanford’s “Seven deadly sins of argumentative writing”, Jimmy Lenman’s “How to write a crap philosophical essay”, and Simon Rippon’s “A brief guide to writing the philosophy paper”. But here are the recommendations:

  • Keep the personal out. Your goal is to convince the reader that an argument is good, not that the belief of the author is important;
  • How to keep it philosophical? Remember that justifications for the position you want to defend are required!
  • How to not get bored due to the overly conventional argumentative style? In the case of a term paper, check with your professor to what extent you can follow your inclination for a more original style. In the case of a paper for publication, check how much the journal breaks the standard rules; also: distinguish writing from writing-for-publishing: creative the former, rule-following the latter;
  • How to select the ‘right’ idea among the many? By forgetting! Once you stop reading (you will have to), your attention will focus to the ideas which survived the ‘forgetting process’;
  • How to avoid putting too much background? Once you have mapped out a debate, you have to make decisions and zoom in into the branch you want to deal with.

Michele Luchetti

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