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Essay Writing in Philosophy. A starter’s guide. Agenda. A brief word on the exam Unpacking the question General principles Specific principles. The exam. Section D is an essay Examiner’s reports consistently refer to weakness in essay technique. Unpacking the question.

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essay writing in philosophy

Essay Writing in Philosophy

A starter’s guide

agenda
Agenda
  • A brief word on the exam
  • Unpacking the question
  • General principles
  • Specific principles
the exam
The exam
  • Section D is an essay
  • Examiner’s reports consistently refer to weakness in essay technique
unpacking the question
Unpacking the question
  • What is the question asking you to do?
  • Is there a specific context?

Question 3 – 2008

Does science provide truth? Discuss with reference to at least two of the following: Plato, Popper and Kuhn.

unpacking the question1
Unpacking the question
  • Analysis and evaluation are a given in philosophy essays, even if not explicitly stated
  • Identify the key philosophical concepts
general principles
General Principles
  • First person and passive
  • Plagiarism
  • Answer the question
    • Do only what is asked of you.
    • Stick to the topic
    • cover every aspect of a question
    • Link your paragraphs and sentences to the question
general principles1
General Principles
  • Choose a topic where you feel that you have something to say.
  • Use clear and precise language
  • Organise the essay so that it is coherent
specific principles
Specific Principles
  • Introduction
    • Define the key philosophical concepts in the essay topic
    • If appropriate highlight what the main issue is (why are we interested in this?)
    • Relate the issue to a set text/s
    • State what it is you will do and briefly indicate what it is that you will conclude
introduction
Introduction
  • Sentence starters for an introduction
    • For the purposes of this essay, I will define…
    • A major issue raised by this topic is…
    • In this essay I will….
    • I will conclude that….
body of the essay
Body of the essay
  • Generally analysis followed by evaluation
  • Analysis
    • Set out the premises and conclusions of the argument
    • Try to capture the logical flow of the argument
    • Only include what is relevant to the essay topic and express the analysis in these terms
    • Set up your evaluation
analysis
Analysis
  • Sentence starters:
    • I will now set out….
    • The author reaches the conclusion that….
    • The reasons given for this are…
    • A key example used to support this point is…
    • The author reasons that….
    • An assumption here is that….
    • An implicit step in the argument here is ….
evaluation
Evaluation
  • Outline objections and any counter-objections to the view
  • Outline why you may support a view
  • Objections
    • Those that challenge the plausibility of one or more of the premises
    • Those that challenge the link between the premises and conclusion
evaluation1
Evaluation
  • Things to consider:
    • What are the strongest/most relevant objections?
    • Think critically about your evaluation – what are its strengths and weaknesses?
    • Are there ambiguities in the argument?
    • Are examples given appropriate?
    • What are the consequences of what is said?
evaluation cont d
Evaluation cont’d
  • Is the author consistent?
  • Which points are the most relevant to the topic?
  • How do the claims fit in with another text? Does any similarity or difference matter?
conclusion
Conclusion
  • State what it is that you are concluding
  • State briefly your own opinion if relevant
  • Indicate any unanswered questions or where we go from here.
conclusion1
Conclusion
  • Sentence starters:
    • From ….it can be concluded that…
    • In my opinion….
    • Some questions that still remain are…
example
Example
  • Question 2
  • Outline and critically compare the views of Descartes, Turing and Armstrong with respect to the possibility of thinking machines.
slide18
Outline and critically compare the views of D, T and A with respect to the possibility of thinking machines
  • Whether computers could have minds and think for themselves is a heavily discussed philosophical theory. Many say the proof for thinking machines is there to be seen while others believe their lack of complexity in relation to ourselves as humans means they could never have our level of rational thinking. [01]Descartes and Turing both discuss this topic, openly expressing their opinion on the matter[02]. Armstrong on the other hand never openly dismisses the possibility of artificial intelligence (AI) however conclusions can be drawn from his theory of the mind[03].
slide19
Outline and critically compare the views of D, T and A with respect to the possibility of thinking machines
  • Descartes believed [01]that as humans we are above machines. We are able to think and reason and a machine is not. He believed that language was the mark of a mind and without it we are unable to determine whether something can think. Descartes thought that machines were unable to communicate meaningfully with us in conversation and it was this that proved they were unable to think for themselves[02].
slide20
Outline and critically compare the views of D, T and A with respect to the possibility of thinking machines
  • While Descartes’ idea was strong there were flaws in his [01]arguments. His major point is that machines are unable to communicate but this is wrong. All computers use text or sounds to communicate with us when we make a mistake and some use sounds or words to indicate problems. This ability to communicate ideas is even further advanced that some humans who either have mental disabilities or lost their speech or hearing. Surely this ability to communicate would be proof enough for Descartes that computers can indeed think. His other idea that language is the maker of a mind is also flawed. When I see a person I have never met before they speak and I attribute a mind to them. We attribute minds to other humans because they look similar and act in similar ways to ourselves. If we saw a machine with similar physical characteristics to ourselves then we would attribute to it a mind. Language can be used to demonstrate the presence of a mind but it is not the determining factor.
slide21
Outline and critically compare the views of D, T and A with respect to the possibility of thinking machines
  • Unlike Descartes, Turing believed the concept of a thinking machine was a perfectly valid one. He thought that if a machine was successfully able to pass itself off as a human then it proved the presence of a mind. Turing didn’t argue to back up his claims with evidence, but to refute those who argued against him. He outlined nine claims against him then refuted each. He believed that as machines became more powerful they would be able to accomplish more, if it appears to think and we doubt it then we doubt other humans and that while a machine can’t replicate the central nervous system (CNS) if it gets the right results there is no problem.
slide22
Outline and critically compare the views of D, T and A with respect to the possibility of thinking machines
  • Turing raises some very valid responses to his critics[01]. Machines have already proven their increasing capacities has resulted in more functions being performed. His major point though is that imitation of a human is enough to prove the presence of a mind. This is a valid point because it is the similarities we see in other humans that allows us to attribute to them a mind, not the presence of language. While it appears Turing uses a solipsistic argument saying if we doubt machines then we doubt humans it is a valid point because we can’t see the thought processes of others [02]and have to rely on trust. His other refutation about the CNS is also strong. In life different actions can achieve the same results so why worry about whether their process is the same as ours?
slide23
Outline and critically compare the views of D, T and A with respect to the possibility of thinking machines
  • Armstrong never talks about [01]the possibility of AI, but his strong belief in science and his picture of the mind suggests he believes it is possible. Armstrong attempts to create an image of the mind as a purely physico-chemical object. To do this Armstrong places his faith in science, saying science is the convergence of learned opinion and we should believe what the learned agree upon, so believe in science. This gives science the credibility Armstrong requires and allows him to describe a physicalist view of the mind.
  • The strongest aspects of Armstrong argument is its basis in science. In an age where science is being trusted more and more, Armstrong’s reliance on sciences ‘truth’ is the structure on which his arguments lean. If our mind is a purely physico-chemical object then it follows that it can be recreated in this way. If this is possible, intelligence in computers is possible because we replicate the mind, only we use different materials. While Armstrong would admit the current level of technology is not advanced enough it is likely to the future could bring the required advancements to make thinking machines a reality.
slide24
Outline and critically compare the views of D, T and A with respect to the possibility of thinking machines
  • In conclusion, I would [01]agree with Armstrong and Turing and reject Descartes’ view. I accept the argument that it will soon be possible to produce thinking machines, and that thought doesn’t depend on what the underlying materials are, just on what those machines are capable of doing – and if they can act and communicate like a human, then we have no reason to doubt that they really are thinking, just as we take for granted that other humans are thinking as well.[02]
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