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Michael Cholbi Cal Poly Pomona January 26, 2010 A Quality Thesis: The Key to the Philosophical Kingdom 1.

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Presentation on theme: "Michael Cholbi Cal Poly Pomona January 26, 2010 A Quality Thesis: The Key to the Philosophical Kingdom 1."— Presentation transcript:

1 Michael Cholbi Cal Poly Pomona January 26, 2010 A Quality Thesis: The Key to the Philosophical Kingdom 1

2 Writing essays is easy, right? Just follow these simple rules: Remember to never split an infinitive. The passive voice should never be used. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing. Corect speling is esential. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. 2

3 Actually, its not easy. In the course of writing an essay, you may end up feeling a lot like … 3

4 doing this! 4

5 But a quality thesis goes a long way in keeping these frustrations in check, especially in philosophy! When it comes to philosophical writing, a quality thesis is the key to the kingdom. 5

6 Our goals 1.Underscore the importance of your thesis to the task of philosophical writing 2.Identify some features shared by quality philosophical theses 3.Practice identifying theses that have these features 6

7 Thesis (df): the principal claim you as an author aim to defend in your essay To your audience Your thesis is what youre trying to persuade your audience of. Its why theyre reading your essay: to determine if your thesis is true, and why. To you Your thesis guides everything in your writing process: your choice of texts to read or cite, your argument strategy, etc. Without a thesis, your writing efforts lack focus, direction, and purpose! Why your thesis matters 7

8 Yeah yeah yeah Dr. Cholbi but how do I know when I have a quality thesis? 8

9 In one word: (with apologies to the shoe manufacturer) 9

10 Rank the following theses. Which would be the best thesis to use in a philosophy essay, and which would be the worst? A.Philosophers continue to debate the nature of consciousness. B.No philosophical argument has ever answered, or ever can answer, the skeptical challenge posed by Descartes evil demon. C.In this paper, I will explore whether time travel is possible. D.Thomsons famous violinist analogy succeeds only in showing that abortion is morally permissible when it results from non-consensual sex or when a woman responsibly uses birth control that proves ineffective. E.Morality is objective. 10

11 Think-pair-share After ranking theses A-E from best to worst, find a partner and 1.Share your rankings. 2.Give one another a chance to explain your rankings. Why did you rank the best thesis as the best – and the worst thesis as the worst? 3.Prepare to share your responses with the rest of the class. Projected time for this exercise: 5 minutes 11

12 12 In case youre curious… The paper with thesis A ultimately received a C grade thesis B ultimately received a B- grade thesis C ultimately received a C- grade thesis D ultimately received an A grade thesis E ultimately received a D grade So the quality of your thesis is probably the single most powerful factor in the ultimate success of your essay!

13 4 features of a quality philosophical thesis Provocative Unambiguous Modest in its ambitions Assertive 13 = PUMA Cute, eh?

14 P rovocative Thesis A. Philosophers continue to debate the nature of consciousness. A is not provocative : It does not say anything that anyone remotely familiar with the topic of consciousness doesnt already know! Thus A is not really a thesis worth arguing for. 14 How might A be improved to be provocative?

15 P rovocative Thesis A. Philosophers continue to debate the nature of consciousness. 15 Some improved versions of A: A1. That philosophers continue to debate the nature of consciousness suggests that its nature cannot be known that, as Colin McGinn has argued, we conscious beings lack the resources to understand our own nature. A2. No immaterial view of the mind can explain a basic feature of consciousness: that it has a specific location in time and space.

16 U nambiguous Thesis E. Morality is objective. 16 Objective is an ambiguous term. It carries an epistemological meaning (its truth or falsity isnt based on the opinions of individual human subjects) and a metaphysical one (independent of human minds or attitudes), and philosophers use it in many different ways. E thus leaves the reader unsure about exactly what the author means to defend. How might E be improved to be unambiguous?

17 U nambiguous Thesis E. Morality is objective. 17 Some improved versions of E: E1. Morality is objective in that a moral belief can be supported by reasons or evidence just like any non-moral belief can. E2. Regardless of whether our actual moral beliefs are true, there must be some objective moral truths that whose truth does not depend on anyones judgment or opinion.

18 M odest in its ambitions Thesis D. No philosophical argument has ever answered, or ever can answer, the skeptical challenge posed by Descartes evil demon. 18 Most undergraduate philosophy essays are short (500- 2,000 words, say). An ambitious or sweeping thesis like D cannot be credibly defended in a paper of this length. So a quality thesis is one with ambitions modest enough to be carefully addressed in a short paper. How might E be improved to be more modest?

19 M odest in its ambitions Thesis D. No philosophical argument has ever answered, or ever can answer, the skeptical challenge posed by Descartes evil demon. 19 Some improved versions of D: D1. Empiricist philosophers cannot answer the skeptical challenge posed by Descartes evil demon. D2. To answer the skeptical challenge posed by Descartes evil demon, we would need to tackle the daunting task of providing a sound argument for the existence of a benevolent God.

20 A ssertive Thesis C. In this paper, I will explore whether time travel is possible. C is not assertive : It does not make a claim about time travel. It merely states the authors topic. C thus fails to convey what the author will be trying to defend. 20 How might C be improved to be assertive?

21 A ssertive Thesis C. In this paper, I will explore whether time travel is possible. Some improved versions of C: C1. That time travel would make it possible to change the past does not show that it is impossible. C2. The theory of relativity shows that time travel is conceptually possible, but no human being could survive it anyway. 21

22 22 Not obvious or uncontroversial (provocative) Clear in its meaning (unambiguous) Can be successfully argued for in a short paper (modest) Says something, makes a statement (assertive) A PUMA thesis? Thesis D. Thomsons famous violinist analogy succeeds only in showing that abortion is morally permissible when it results from non-consensual sex or when a woman responsibly uses birth control that proves ineffective.

23 23 Not obvious or uncontroversial (provocative) Clear in its meaning (unambiguous) Can be successfully argued for in a short paper (modest) Says something, makes a statement (assertive) A PUMA thesis? Thesis D. Thomsons famous violinist analogy succeeds only in showing that abortion is morally permissible when it results from non-consensual sex or when a woman responsibly uses birth control that proves ineffective.

24 Q&A about philosophical theses Must I have a thesis before I begin writing my essay? 24

25 Q&A about philosophical theses Must I have a thesis before I begin writing my essay? 25 Not necessarily, though it is strongly recommended. After all, the thesis should guide you in the writing of the essay, so it helps to have it in place beforehand. But sometimes you can begin by writing about your chosen topic and a thesis will emerge.

26 Q&A about philosophical theses Can I revise my thesis even after Ive started writing? 26

27 Q&A about philosophical theses Can I revise my thesis even after Ive started writing? 27 Definitely! In almost all of my own writing, my thesis changes somewhat as I recognize the strengths and weaknesses of my arguments, etc. The important thing is that your thesis and arguments align: your argument(s) must support your stated thesis.

28 Q&A about philosophical theses Must my thesis be expressed in a single sentence? 28

29 Q&A about philosophical theses Must my thesis be expressed in a single sentence? 29 It typically is, but need not be. An example: Addiction is typically thought to cause some sort of harm to the person afflicted. I will argue that there are instances in which addiction is beneficial.

30 Q&A about philosophical theses What if I cant come up with a thesis?! 30

31 Q&A about philosophical theses What if I cant come up with a thesis?! 31 Some tips: Review your class notes for something that interests you. Imagine how philosopher A might respond to a claim by philosopher B. Think of a question youd like answered; the best answer you come up with is your thesis! Read another students essay and think of a response or criticism.

32 Some takeaways Your thesis guides your reader and guides you in the writing process. Quality philosophical theses are PUMA. Use PUMA to evaluate the theses that are appropriate for your writing task. 32 Thank you!


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