On How to Write a Critical Analysis Paper in Philosophy

*This guide for writing a critical analysis paper in philosophy was provided by Dr. John Lemos, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Coe College.

I. Introduction (One or two paragraphs)

In the introduction, tell the reader what your paper is about in general and what it is that you will try to prove in the paper.

II. The Exposition

In the exposition section of the paper, provide a detailed account of the argument(s) or view that you will be critically discussing in the paper. Cite passages from the text that you are interpreting to support your interpretation of it. Define key terms in the argument. Point out what significance(s), if any, the argument or view that you are considering has for other issues.

III. The Critical Section

Whether you are defending the argument(s) or view that you are discussing or whether you are attacking it, you ought to begin your critical section by airing one or two criticisms of it. Be sure you support your critical points by providing evidence or reasons for them.

After providing initial criticisms and backing them up with evidence, you should put yourself in the position of the philosopher that you have just criticized. Consider in the paper how he or she might most reasonably defend his/her position against the criticism(s) that you have made against his/her argument. In developing this section of the paper you should avoid giving responses that contradict what the philosopher says in other contexts.

Having now provided initial criticism(s)and having considered how these criticisms might most reasonably be responded to, you are now in a position to decide whether your initial criticism(s) really do have merit. The last part of the critical section should contain an explanation as to whether or not your initial criticisms still hold in light of the best responses to them.

IV. Conclusion (One or two paragraphs)

Review the central points that you have made in the paper and explain what significance, if any, your conclusion has for other issues.

Some points to keep in mind: In writing the paper you should apply the principle of charity. What this means is that in interpreting the argument(s) or the view of the philosopher that you are discussing and in criticizing his or her argument(s) you should assume that the author is not stupid. And that he/she may well have good reasons for his/her beliefs.

Failure to read authors charitably often results in the writing of poor critical papers, because, if you do not read an author charitably, then you are likely to criticize his or her argument as understood in its weakest form. But good critical papers involve criticizing an argument when it is interpreted in its strongest form.

Also, keep in mind that when writing the paper you should write for an audience that does not know anything about the topic that you are writing on. Do not assume that the reader, whether it be your professor or anyone else, is familiar with the issues that you are addressing. I am telling you to write in this fashion, because all good papers are papers that can be read and understood by any competent reader regardless of her knowledge of the subject matter.

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E-mail Dr. Bob Marrs with any questions, comments or suggestions.