- Physical layout:
- Print (or type) your name in the upper right-hand corner
of the first page (title page if you have one).
- Underline your surname (family name).
- Write your student number under your name.
- If there is a tutorial in the course, under your student
number, write the number of your tutorial session, the
time it meets, and the name of your tutorial instructor.
- Staple the pages in the upper left-hand corner.
- Do not put your paper in a binder or a folder.
- A title page is optional.
- Write (/typewrite) on only one side of each page.
- On every page, leave a right and left margin of
at least one inch (2.5 cm).
- Pages must be numbered.
- If your paper is handwritten, it must be in ink. Papers
written in pencil will not be accepted.
- Notes should be placed at the bottom of pages, not
collected at the end of your paper.
- Do not attach a blank page at the end of your paper.
- Be careful using right-justification.
- If you are typing your paper or using a word-processor,
double-space the lines and leave two blank spaces after each
period or question-mark that ends a sentence; leave one blank
space after other periods, e.g. after "Mrs.", and after all
commas, colons and semicolons. Be sure that you use a dark
(preferably black) ribbon in your typewriter (printer).
- No photocopies will be accepted.
- If you are using a word-processor, make frequent backup copies to
a (second) floppy disk and then store that backup diskette in
some place remote from the original. Virtually every computer
user has had the experience of finding a diskette suddenly
unusable or of erasing a diskette accidentally. Making a backup
copy of your work is very cheap; failing to make a backup copy
can be very expensive. Please note: the excuse that your work in
progress was destroyed by your computer or that you have lost a
disk or had a disk stolen will not be acceptable. It is up
to you to insure that you have a backup copy.
- If you are using a word-processor which has a spelling-checker, do
use that feature.
- If you use any bibliographical material, your paper must have a
Bibliography. Try to use primary sources. If the original
source is available in the Library, do not write "... as quoted
in ..."; instead, retrieve the original source and quote from it.
Titles of books and journals must be italicized or underlined;
titles of journal or magazine articles must be enclosed in
quotation marks. Proper bibliographical citations include: the
name(s) of the author(s); the date and place of publication; the
publisher's name (for books); volume and issue (for articles);
and page numbers (for articles).
For instructions on how to cite sources on the Internet, see
Columbia Guide to Online Style" by Janice R. Walker and Todd Taylor.
 Augustine, Saint, Confessions, translated by R.S.
Pine-Coffin, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1984.
 Hofstadter, Douglas R., and Daniel C. Dennett, The Mind's
I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul, Bantam Books,
New York, 1982.
 McMullin, Ernan, "Persons in the Universe", in Zygon,
vol. 15, no. 1 (March 1980), pp. 69-89.
- If you quote a passage, you must include a bibiographical
citation. You may do this in either of two ways: by an
immediately following (in-line) reference to your bibliography, or by a
Augustine asked, "What, then, is time?" (, p. 264).
Augustine asked, "What, then, is time?"18
Your footnote might, then, read:
18. , p. 264.
Alternatively (provided there is only one reference to
Augustine in your Bibliography), your footnote could read:
18. Augustine, p. 264.
- In general, it is useful in writing a philosophy paper to
'concretize' abstract principles with one or two short, well
chosen, examples. Such examples must never substitute for an
analysis or an argument; but they are often enormously helpful in
explaining an argument.
Examples, too, are especially helpful in thinking about your
own thesis. Test your own argument against a wide variety of
cases (examples) to see whether it holds up. Try, yourself, to
find examples which undermine your own position. Of course not
all these many examples should find their way into your final
draft. They should be used as an aid to your figuring out what
you want to argue. If your argument runs into trouble with your
own examples, perhaps you should consider switching to the
- Contractions (e.g. "don't") are perfectly acceptable in casual
and conversational prose. But philosophy papers are (supposed to
be) scholarly productions, and scholarly productions do not use
contractions. In general, write out contractions in full: "do
not" for "don't"; "cannot" (or "can not") for "can't"; etc.
- Do not confuse "i.e.", "e.g." and "viz.". Their respective
- "i.e." = "that is" [used only when one is restating a point in
different, but equivalent, phrasing]
- "e.g." = "for example"
- "viz." = "namely" (or, "to wit")
- Generally, do not quote dictionary definitions in your paper.
Dictionary definitions are seldom helpful in making fine
philosophical distinctions. (See for yourself. Look up the
definition of "belief" or "knowledge" in your dictionary. The
analysis given will, very likely, be exceedingly crude from a
philosophical point of view.) Be particularly careful not to
write "The dictionary defines 'xyz' as ...". There is no such
thing as 'the' dictionary. There are many dictionaries, and
their respective definitions will often vary, sometimes a very
great deal. Incidentally, "Webster's" is not a copyrighted name;
it simply signifies an American (U.S.) dictionary. Some Webster
dictionaries are very good; others are deplorable. (For more on the
theory of definition, see "Definitions,
Dictionaries, and Meanings".)
- Avoid grandiose introductions of the sort, "For centuries in the
history of philosophy, thinkers have struggled with the question
of ...". State the problem as simply and directly as possible -
forget about 'locating it' among larger issues - and then get on
with the job of discussing the problem at hand. (See
"Writing a Philosophy Paper".)
- The word "really" is not magical: in particular, it will not undo
a contradiction. Do not write such things as, "she believed it,
but did not really believe it". In general, try to avoid using
the word "really".
- Although many students are in the habit of using questions to make
assertions, it is a very poor practice. It annoys the reader
and often elicits the wrong answer. If, for example, your point
is that rational belief is possible only if one has evidence, do
not write, "Could one have a rational belief without evidence?",
but instead, "One cannot have a rational belief without
- The possessive ending " 's " should, in general,
be reserved for terms which refer to creatures. Thus it is
proper to say "Margaret Thatcher's back was against the wall",
but inelegant to say "the chair's back was against the wall".
Instead use the preposition "of": "the back of the chair was
against the wall". There are, to be sure, many exceptions, e.g.
"Hell's Gate" and "New York's financial difficulties", etc. As a
rule, try the prepositional form to see whether it 'sounds
- Use "who" (or "whom", as the case may be), not "that" or "which",
to refer to persons. Write "she was the philosopher who first
raised the issue", not "she was the philosopher that first raised
- "Relevant" is like "older than" in being a relational term.
Nothing is, by itself, relevant; just as nothing is, by itself,
older than. If something is relevant, it is relevant to
for something; you must spell out what this latter thing
- The 6-word expression "the question of whether or not" can be
effectively shortened to three words: "the question whether".
- Do not use "this" to refer to previous assertions. In general,
be very careful to make it absolutely clear what terms such as
"this", "their", "its", etc. are referring (back) to.
What does "this" refer to: the historical view about Hume
himself or the thesis about necessity? The ambiguity can be
resolved in two different ways:
||The traditional view is that Hume
argued that there is no necessity in nature. This is
Along with "this", students tend to overuse and misuse the
||The traditional view is that Hume argued
that there is no necessity in nature. This historical
attribution is problematic.
||The traditional view is that Hume argued
that there is no necessity in nature. This thesis about
necessity is problematic.
To what exactly is "which" referring back? If we try
substituting "more history books than music books are sold" - the
only plausible candidate for the substitution - we generate a
grammatical barbarism: "More history books than music books are
sold is regrettable". Instead, the original sentence should be
rewritten like this:
||More history books than music books are
sold, which is regrettable.
||That more history books than music
books are sold is regrettable.
||It is regrettable that more history
books than music books are sold.
- Avoid run-on sentences.
Hume 'looked inwardly' to try to find what he called 'self'
something distinct from his stream of consciousness, what, in
effect, would be the 'owner' of that consciousness, and in his
failure to find that self he claimed that self is nonexistent
and that a person is nothing more than a stream of consciousness
associated with a human body.
This long, clumsy, sentence can be readily 'broken-down' into more digestible, shorter, sentences:
Hume 'looked inwardly' to try to find what he called 'self'. For Hume, the 'self' was something distinct from one's stream of consciousness. In effect, it would be the 'owner' of that consciousness. When he failed to find that self, Hume claimed that self is nonexistent and that a person is nothing more than a stream of consciousness associated with a human body.
- Try to avoid using nouns as adjectives, particularly when the
adjectival form is available. Do not write "history example",
"explanation rule", etc. Instead write "an example drawn from
history", or "an historical example"; "an explanatory rule"; etc.
- Generally "many" sounds better than "a lot" or "amount". Note
that "amount" does not mean "large amount"; if it did, there
would be no point in the qualification "large".
- The adjectives, "less" and "fewer" are not synonyms.
Use "less" for mass terms,
e.g. "water", "lumber", "meat", etc.; and use "fewer" for
aggregates of countable items, e.g. "recordings", "books",
- Although the popular press uses quotation marks less and less
frequently, they are still required in philosophical writing.
In short, be sure to observe the use/mention distinction. (For
more on the use/mention distinction, see
"Definitions, Dictionaries, and Meanings".)
For example, do not write:
||The terms belief and knowledge are
||The terms, "belief" and
"knowledge", are frequently interchanged.
"Although the term luck is difficult to define, we can at least
say that it is a desired or undesired event."
There are two errors here: (1) the unquoted occurrence of
"luck", and (2) the unclarity of the antecedent of "it". If we
correct the first error, we compound the second. Thus, we make a
mistake if we write:
"Although the term 'luck' is difficult to define, we can at least
say that it is a desired or undesired event."
In this latter sentence, the term "it" now clearly refers to
" 'luck' ", i.e. the name we use to refer to luck. But
we want "it" to refer, not to the name of luck, but to luck
itself. Thus, to get our sentence to say what we mean, we must
"Although the term 'luck' is difficult to define, we can at least
say that a lucky event is one that is desired or undesired."
- Try to avoid the expressions, "it is the case that" and "it is
not the case that". Their use in other than purely technical
contexts is an affectation.
- The construction "not X because of Y" is usually ambiguous and
ought to be avoided. Consider:
"He did not kill her because of her dowry"
is ambiguous between,
"He killed her, but not for her dowry",
"He forswore killing her in order to get her dowry".
- Similarly, do not write "all S is not P", but disambiguate it as
either "no S is P" or "not all Ss are Ps".
- Observe grammatical parallelism.
If you begin a sentence with "First", be sure to have
another that begins "Second". Similarly, "on the other hand"
should be preceded by "on the one hand". Also do not write, "he
said that (1) .... and (2) that ....", but "he said (1) that ....
and (2) that ...". Be particularly careful, in using the
constructions, "both ... and ..." and "either ... or ...", to
begin both 'fillers' with the same grammatical forms. Thus:
||The principal difficulties are that
instruments can fail, a technician's misreading the dials, and
having misremembered the data.
||The principal difficulties are an
instrument failing, a technician misreading the dials, and a
person misremembering the data.
||To pass a driver's test one must both study
hard and must diligently practice.
||To pass a driver's test one must both study
hard and diligently practice.
||To pass a driver's test one must
both study hard and practice diligently.
- Beware of misplaced modifiers. Years ago I read a short story
which included this memorable gem: "She entered the room and saw
a picture of her son hanging over the mantle." Here is another:
"He registered at the desk without any luggage."
There is a great tendency in constructing sentences which
report indirect speech (and which use 'that'-phrases) to misplace
the modifiers. For example, the sentence,
"He said that the cake burned because he smelled smoke",
obviously should read instead,
"Because he smelled smoke, he said that the cake burned."
Other examples of similar mistakes include: (1) "She heard
that the king was murdered on her radio"; (2) "She reasoned that
he was elected using the information she had read in the
newspaper"; (3) "The degree of belief which is appropriate
depends on the plausibility of the claim that such an object
exists within the context of the prevailing scientific paradigm";
and (4) "President Bush was informed that Nicolae Ceausescu had
been executed by his National Security Adviser."
Here is a classified advertisement that appeared in the
Vancouver Sun: "Black boy's BMX Raleigh bike missing from
Nanaimo and East Broadway area. Call xxx-xxxx." I hope both the
error and its correction are obvious.
And here is yet another: "Quill said in the March 7 edition
of the New England Journal of Medicine that he told the medical
examiner the patient died of leukemia rather than suicide to
avoid a police examination" ("Doctor won't be charged in
mercy-killing", in Vancouver Sun [April 13, 1991], p.
- If you have a parenthetical remark, or a qualifying phrase,
within a sentence, be sure that the sentence without that remark
or phrase is grammatical.
||We do, or at least have, believed that
knowledge is possible.
||We do believe, or at least have
believed, that knowledge is possible.
- "Vague" does not mean "ambiguous"; "arbitrary" does not mean
"conventional"; and "arbitrary" does not mean "random". Choose your
- There is a distinction between "expert" and "authority" that is
worth preserving. Experts are persons who are especially knowledgeable
in their fields; authorities are persons who are empowered to enforce
laws or rules, to issue orders, etc. For example, the principal of a
high school may be an authority (within that school), but may not be
particularly expert about educational matters. Similarly, a university
professor may be expert on matters of aquaculture, but may have no
authority whatever to enforce his/her views. There are no
authorities in philosophy.
- "None" is singular; it means "not one".
||None of these philosophers have written
about free will.
||None of these philosophers has written about free will.
- Be careful in your placement of the word "only".
Each of the following sentences (except the second) means
something different from each of the others. Try to see
yourself what the differences are. (By the way, only the last of
these examples is a correct description of empiricists.)
||Locke only found one source of our concepts.
||God only knows why the universe exists.
||Locke found only one source of our concepts.
||Only God knows why the universe exists.
- Only Empiricists claim that factual matters can be known by
- Empiricists only claim that factual matters can be known by
experience. (Note: this sentence is ambiguous. It can mean
either what is stated by the preceding sentence or what is stated
by the following sentence.)
- Empiricists claim only that factual matters can be known by
- Empiricists claim that only factual matters can be known by
- Empiricists claim that factual matters can be known only by
- Be careful not to write such unqualified claims as "we cannot say
...". If you can write it, you doubtless can say it.
What you would do better to write is something of this sort: "we
cannot without misleading our hearers say ...", or "we cannot
without violating certain rules of language say ...", or "we
cannot justifiably say ...", etc.
- Words such as "may", "might", "can", "must", "possibly",
"necessarily", etc. are modal terms. Try not to iterate
modalities. For example, it is (usually) redundant to write "it
must necessarily be that ...", or "it may be that it is possible
to do ...", "we cannot possibly do ...", etc.
- The word "like" can be used to mean "similar to" and can be used
to mean "such as". If you write a sentence using "like",
double-check it for ambiguity, and if it is ambiguous, rewrite
using "similar to" or "such as" as the case may be.
||Certain English philosophers,
like Bradford, were struggling with the problem of evil.
||Certain English philosophers, such as
Bradford, were struggling with the problem of evil.
([Alternatively:] Certain English philosophers, including
Bradford, were struggling with the problem of evil.)
||Certain English philosophers, in a manner
similar to that of the South African, Bradford, were struggling
with the problem of evil.
- The expression "try and see" is as barbarous as "could of seen".
These should read, respectively, "try to see" and "could have
seen". Be careful not to use "and" for "to"; or "of" for
- Terms such as "concept", "idea" and "meaning" are technical terms
within philosophy. Do not use them as substitutes for
"statement", "belief", "proposition", etc.
- Philosophical prose is distinct from legalese. Among
philosophers, parties are events where wine and cheese are
served. Parties are not persons, collectivities, corporate
- In ordinary English prose, we often use "does not believe" when
"disbelieves" is appropriate. In careful philosophical writing,
these two phrases are distinguished. Similarly, "does not want
x to occur" does not mean the same as "wants x not
- Be careful how you use "or" after "believes", "knows", "wants",
etc. The two sentences, "He believes that Kant or Hume used that
argument" and "He believes that Kant or believes that Hume used
that argument", simply do not mean the same thing.
- Persons rarely deduce conclusions or hypotheses. Almost
always you will want to use the term "infer" rather than
"deduce". (A deduction is a deductively valid inference.
Sherlock Holmes' so-called 'deductions' were virtually never deductively
- In careful philosophical prose, "infer" and "imply" are never
used as synonyms. While the copy-editor at the Vancouver Sun may
allow Elizabeth Aird to write "Naming him man of the year infers
greatness" (Dec. 22, 1994, p. B1), such a sentence will not be
allowed in philosophical writings. Aird should have used
"implies", not "infers". Persons (and some other conscious
creatures) make inferences (i.e. draw the implications out of
propositions); no statements or actions (such as naming someone
man of the year) make inferences. Think of it this way:
implications are 'pointings-towards'; inferences are
'elicitings-from'. Both persons and statements can imply
(certain things); but only persons [and some other conscious
creatures] (not statements, actions, etc.) make inferences.
(Whether computers can make inferences is a question best left
for courses in cognitive science or the philosophy of mind.)
- We may ascribe truth to a proposition; but we do not
describe, prescribe or subscribe truth to a
proposition. None of "ascribe", "describe", "prescribe" or
"subscribe" is synonymous with any of the others.
- Do not confuse the terms "necessarily" (a modal term) and
"universally" (a nonmodal term). "Necessarily" (when used
without qualification [e.g. as in "physically necessary"]) is
(logically) stronger than "universally". "Universally" means
"throughout the (actual) universe, at all times and all places".
"Necessarily" (again when used without qualification) means
(roughly) "in every universe, both actual and possible". For
example, it is a universal truth (we are pretty sure) that all
living things need an external source of energy; but it is not a
- One sometimes finds in ordinary prose a use of the expression
"begs the question" which is entirely different from the use that
expression receives among philosophers. (Not too many years ago,
this popular use was regarded as a misuse; but it has now become
so common that it is frequently regarded as acceptable in
ordinary [non-philosophical] contexts.) In the popular press
"begs the question" is often used to mean something like "in turn
raises the question ..." or "demands that we ask the question
..." For example, in Time we find:
Many cities make statements; Dresden begs questions. Above all,
there is this one: What can have kept this city alive after a
wartime bombing that left it a wasteland ...? [Benjamin,
Daniel, "Dresden Redivivus", in Time (Jan. 6, 1992), p.
But in philosophy, "begs the question" preserves its original
meaning. In philosophy, this expression is used only to describe
fallacious arguments in which the conclusion either implicitly or
explicitly occurs among the premises or in which the conclusion
has to have been antecedently assumed in order to warrant the
- "No reason in principle" means "no reason contrary to theory". For
example, one might write: "There is no reason in principle to believe
that establishing a colony on a distant planet is impossible."
The expression "principled reason" means "a reason warranted by (moral)
Try to avoid writing "there is no principled reason ..." when
your intent is to express the claim that there is no reason in
principle ... .
FREQUENTLY MISUSED WORDS
- common sense (noun phrase) / commonsense (adjective) [Examples:
"Do try to exercise some good common sense." "It's a simple,
- consensus ["consensus of opinion" is as pleonastic (redundant) as
"close proximity" (see "proximity" below)]
- disinterest / uninterest ["disinterested" means "objective,
unprejudiced, unbiased, lacking a stake in", etc. "uninterested
in" means "has no curiosity about". Thus, for example, a judge
might not be uninterested in the case she is hearing (indeed we
might hope that she would be interested), but (there are legal
expectations that) she should be disinterested.]
- every day (adverb) / everyday (adjective) [Examples: "Every day
she writes a newspaper column." "Everyday occurrences are the
stuff of her newspaper columns."]
- it's / its [Example: "It's a poor dog that has lost its tail."]
- militate / mitigate
- proximity [Do not write "close proximity". "Proximity" means
"closeness". What would be the contrast of "close proximity"?
"Distant proximity"? (a self-contradictory phrase).]
- was / were [Although the subjunctive mood is falling into
disuse, it does give one's writing a polish. Counterfactual or
hypothetical cases require (or at least have traditionally
required) the subjunctive ("were"), not the indicative ("was"),
mood. Thus one would write "If I were to travel to the future
..." instead of "If I was to travel to the future ..."]
FREQUENTLY MISSPELLED WORDS
- acquaintance; acquire; etc. [virtually the only words which begin
with "aq" are "Aquinas" and words deriving from the Latin "aqua"
(for "water"), e.g. "aquarium", "aquatic", etc.]
- a lot / allot [there is no word "alot"]
- accommodate [two "m"s]
- affect / effect
- argument [not "arguement"]
- Britannica [one "t"; two "n"s]
- casual / causal
- criterion (sing.) / criteria (plural)
- existence / existents
- inferred [two "r"s]
- inferring [two "r"s]
- instance / instants
- judgment [Canadian/American spelling]
- offered [one "r"; note contrast with "occurred" and "referred"]
- phenomenon (sing.) / phenomena (plural)
- precede [note: "cede"]
- proceed [note: "ceed"]
- principal / principle
- rational / rationale
- reference [one "r" in the middle]
- referred [two "r"s in the middle; note contrast with "offered"]
- spatio-temporal (or spatiotemporal) [not
- than / then
- their / there / they're [Example: "They're going to be late if
their car stopped there."]
- who's / whose [Example: "Who's the historian whose manuscript was
accidentally used as kindling?"]
- you're / your
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