PHIL 495: Philosophical Writing (Spring 2008)

The URL for this syllabus is

This is a course about writing philosophical prose. Since philosophical writing consists of philosophical arguments, we will spend much of our time studying how to analyze, criticize, and construct philosophical arguments, as well as how to put them into words in a clear way.

Writing-Intensive Course

This course qualifies as a Writing Intensive course for the purpose of the University's Core Curriculum.


In this course, you should learn:


We will not use a commercial textbook for this course. Instead, there will be a series of notes on the topics for the course. We will also analyze and discuss philosophical arguments from a number of sources, including selections brought to class by students (see below for the details).

What We Will Do

In general, each class day will be divided between some discussion of philosophical arguments and some discussion of techniques for clear and effective writing. The syllabus below gives the topics under each of these headings for each day. Classroom discussion will center usually on short examples of philosophical prose. I will bring some of these to class myself, and I will ask you to search for examples elsewhere: in the writings of philosophers, in newspapers and other popular publications, on the Internet. There will also be a total of five short written assignments in this class. Four of these will involve analyzing or producing philosophical arguments, while one will be based on using research techniques (we will have one class session in Evans Library to go over this).

Grading basis

  1. Four short essays (two pages each) on philosophical subjects: 40% (10% each)
  2. Library research assignment: 10%
  3. Classroom participation: 25%
  4. Paper assignment for co-requisite course: 25%

Each essay will have an assigned topic related to the readings most recently covered in class. Each essay is due by the beginning of class on the date indicated in the schedule below. Since this is a course in philosophical writing, essays will be graded in part for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and writing clarity. Essays may be submitted either in printed form or via email attachment.


This course has a co-requisite: you must enroll in another 300- or 400-level philosophy course which has a term paper requirement at the same time. You must inform the instructor of your co-requisite course that you are using it as your co-requisite for PHIL 495. You will also need to submit to me a copy of the term paper you are writing for your co-requisite course. For the purposes of determining your grade in PHIL495, that essay will be graded on its language, organization, structure, and use of research strategies.

Here is a tentative list of the course sections which satisfy this co-requisite for the Spring semester 2008 (THIS IS SUBJECT TO REVISION):

CourseTitleDay and TimeInstructor
PHIL305. Philosophy of Natural Science TR 2:20-3:35 Sansom
PHIL314. Evironmental Ethics MWF 4:10-5:25Varner
PHIL315. Military Ethics TR 11:10-12:25Ellis
PHIL331. Philosophy of Religion TR 12:45-2:00McCann
PHIL332. Social and Political Philosophy TR 8:00-9:15Harwood
PHIL361. Metaphysics TR 9:35-10:50McCann
PHIL410. Classical Philosophy MWF 8:00-8:50Austin
PHIL413. Modern Philosophy TR 11:10-12:25Sweet
PHIL416. Recent British/American Philosophy MWF 1:50-2:40Burch
PHIL419. Current Continental Philosophy MWF 3:00-3:50George
PHIL489. Sp Top; Feminist Theory TR 9:35-10:50Katz
PHIL497 Independent Honors Studies (STAFF)

If you are not enrolled in one of these courses, you will not be able to continue in this course. If you are enrolled in more than one, you'll need to let me know at the beginning of the semester which one you will be using as your co-requisite course.


The schedule below is subject to change to accommodate unforeseen problems. I reserve the right to drop things from the schedule or slow down the pace if it appears to me that the class is having trouble keeping up with the material. All changes will be announced in class as well as appearing here.

DateAbout argumentsWriting clearlyWork Due
Jan. 14: Philosophy and arguments
Jan. 21: Martin Luther King day (NO CLASSES)
Jan. 28: Arguments, good and bad Grammar, syntax, spelling
Feb. 4: Identifying, analyzing, and criticizing arguments Sentences, compound and otherwise Short Essay 1
Feb. 11: Classroom discussion: criticizing arguments Ambiguity
Feb. 18: Fallacies: names for popular errors Things not to confuse
Feb. 25: Philosophical arguments: thought experiments and other devices Parallel constructions Short Essay 2
Mar. 3: Philosophical arguments: intuitions and possible worlds Keeping it short
Mar. 17: Criticizing philosophical arguments: counterexamples Structuring a paragraph Short Essay 3
Mar. 24: Developing your own position Structuring an essay
Mar. 31: Working through a philosophical debate
Apr. 7: Doing research: using the library and other sources
Apr. 14: Constructing a Bibliography Short Essay 4
Apr. 21: Revising your work Draft of co-requisite course paper
Apr. 28: This is a "Prep Day" on the University calendar Research Assignment
May 5: Final version of co-requisite paper due by 4:00

Academic Integrity Statement

The Aggie Honor Code:

"An Aggie does not lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who do."

Effective September 1, 2004, Texas A&M University has an Honor Code that defines campus policy on academic integrity and academic misconduct. The Aggie Honor System is charged with the enforcement of this Code. Students should be aware that the Aggie Honor System has the power to impose punishments for academic misconduct. For information on the Aggie Honor System, see; information of particular concern to students, including definitions of types of academic misconduct, may be found at

It will be my policy in this course to include the following statement on all examinations and request students to sign it:

 "On my honor, as an Aggie, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this academic work."


Signature of student 

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Policy Statement

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal antidiscrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accomodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accomodation, please contact the Department of Student Life, Services for Students with Disabilities in Room 118 of Cain Hall, on the Internet at, or by telephone at 979-845-1637.