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  1. Your assignment is to critically reflect upon and engage with one or two arguments in one of the texts that we have read. Your paper should have (in addition to an introduction and a conclusion) two distinct parts (which may be clearly labeled sections, if you’d like):

    The most important thing is to avoid summarizing. The point is to extract one or two important lines of reasoning – as such, your focus must be on the REASONING, not on the WRITING. So,you should avoid saying things like, “First Goodman says… Next, Goodman says…” The order in which things are said is not particularly important, except insofar as they indicate the logical structure of the argument. Instead you should say things like “Goodman thinks that… He argues for this view in this way…” Your task is to show how it is that the original author tries to convince their reader that their thesis is true. To do so, you must have a specific thesis of the original author’s, the defense of which is the focus of your paper. To accomplish this, you should support your understanding of that argument with appropriate citations and quotations.

  2. You should not give me a personal reflection of how the argument made you feel; nor should you limit yourself to telling me whether you agree with conclusion. These are not critical reflections; they are autobiographical self-aggrandizing. Not to put too fine a point on it, in this assignment I don’t care what you feel. I want to know what you think, and to think cogently you must focus on the author’s justification for her or his conclusion, not just on the conclusion itself.

That having been said, there are several ways that a student may provide a good critical reflection. Here are some ways this may be done (though it is not an exhaustive list):

  • The most direct (though, perhaps, also the most difficult to do well) is to criticize the argument. In that case, your thesis would be that the author’s original argument is not as compelling as it may at first appear. You may demonstrate this with a counterexample, or by illustrating an exception to a general rule that plays a key role in the original argument, or by attacking a premise or assumption, or by attacking the logic of the argument directly. What is most important is that you are not simply attacking the conclusion; while that may be part of this sort of paper, your focus is to engage with the reasoning the author provides.

  • Alternatively, your critical reflection may come in the form of a brief comparative analysis between this argument and that of another author we’ve read (or, with special permission, an author we’ve not read). The philosophers we will read occasionally engage with each other directly, so you need to make sure that the comparison you are drawing is your own, and that you are doing more than simply pointing out what is already explicit in the text. For instance, Goodman is explicitly responding to Hume;merely pointing this out is not a good paper (though, if you think he is misunderstanding Hume, that would be a good topic). Similarly, Schlick and Carnap worked closely together, so it is not interesting that they say similar things (though differences or contradictions between them may be interesting). It is very important, if you are doing this kind of a reflection, to make sure that you have a clear and interesting thesis. Merely saying, ‘hey look, these guys are different,’ is not an interesting thesis. You also have to make sure that your thesis engages with the arguments,and not just the conclusion, of the original authors.

  • Another kind of reflection extends the original argument in a new direction. This could be done by applying the argument to a novel example or case, and exploring what the argument shows us about it. This should be more than just an example that illuminates the author’s point; the author, rather, should be illuminating the case study. As such, it is important that the case in question is in need of further illumination or that new and worthwhile insight may be gained by applying the author’s ideas to it.

  • Finally, you may examine further consequences of the argument that are not considered by the author. The idea here is to explore something that the author does not consider that seems to follow from their position. Doing so may amount to a further defense of the plausibility of the author’s conclusion, or may point out a reason to think that the argument maybe suspect, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. There is a great deal of room for creativity in this sort of a reflection.

Since the goal is to get you reading the text closely and carefully, you may not use any secondary sources (e.g. articles about the author, or Google, or Cliff’s Notes, or Wikipedia) for this assignment, unless you get special permission. And, of course, you should make sure to avoid plagiarism (remember, any use of any language or ideas that you did not come up with, without a proper citation, is plagiarism!). As with any academic paper, your argument should be grounded with appropriate quotations and citations from the original text.

Refer to my philosophy paper writing guide (also on Blackboard) for more general information about how to write a philosophy paper and to the grading rubric on Blackboard for information about how I grade various elements of your paper. The elements from the rubric will be weighted thusly:

               Argumentation: 45%

               Exposition: 35%

               Writing Mechanics: 20%