Saturday, October 23, 2010

On Writing Philosophy Essays

Writing a philosophy paper?  Here are a few phrases you should probably avoid:

1) "Socrates* feels that X is true."  (We don't know much about his feelings, do we?  Focus on what he said rather than on what you think he felt, unless you're also prepared to explain your insight into his feelings, and the relevance of that insight and of those feelings.) (*Or any other philosopher who doesn't tell us how she is feeling.)

2) "There is no answer to this question." (Do you mean no correct answer?  Why do you think I asked it, by the way?  Let me suggest that, at a minimum, there is an answer given in the texts we read.  If you think it's wrong, I'd be delighted to hear why you think it's wrong, once you've told me clearly what it is.)

3) "I've decided to ignore what the books say and focus on my own opinions here." (Not that your opinions don't matter, but they're deucedly difficult to grade.)

They Know It When They See It

An inmate in the South Dakota State Penitentiary has been denied access to art-instruction books because they contain images of unclothed human bodies.  (Original story here and here.)  While not everything that could be called an art book is a good art book, shouldn't we be doing everything we can to help felons improve their lives?  And isn't art one of the best things they can do while in prison?  Let us grant the prison wardens their claim that pornography worsens prison conditions; does that mean that all nudity is obscenity? (Scroll down to the concurring position of Mr. Justice Stewart.)