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How to Write a Philosophy Paper

Professor James Lenman of the University of Sheffield offers some helpful thoughts on how to write a contemporary philosophy paper. Many of them work just as well for academic theology. Here are a few highlights:

Whenever in any doubt as to what to say about X, say, apropos of nothing in particular and without explanation, that X is extremely subjective.

When that gets boring, try saying that X is all very relative. Never say what it is relative to.

Use language with as little precision as possible. Engage heavily in malapropism and category mistakes. Refer to claims as “arguments” and to arguments as “claims”. Frequently describe sentences as “valid” and arguments as “true”. Use the word “logical” to mean plausible or true. Use “infer” when you mean “imply”. Never use the expression “begging the question” with its correct meaning but use it incorrectly as often as possible.

At some point in every essay, treat the marker to a brief Dr McCoy style sermon about the dangers of being too “logical” when trying to think about the existence of God/moral obligation/free will/the theory of knowledge/any subject matter whatever. To reinforce the point it always helps to point out how once again how very subjective the subject matter in question is.

Avoid clarity at all costs. Remember: nothing that is clear can possibly be really deep. If as a result the marker gives you a third that just shows that your wisdom is going straight over his/her head (Don’t, whatever you do, heed the words of Peter Medawar: “No one who has something original or important to say will willingly run the risk of being misunderstood; people who write obscurely are either unskilled in writing or up to mischief.” – What a silly man!)

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.