Really, don’t panic is the best advice I can give to a student.
I know y’all get frustrated. I know you get worried, anxious, upset, mad, sad and all the other stuff. But, if you can avoid panic, you’ll be fine.
The thing about philosophy is that it isn’t like many other courses. There IS an objective element to it (who said what etc..) but, in many ways it’s about comparing and contrasting arguments.
It’s funny, it’s kind of true, and it gives you the definition of an argument — which is not, really — a fight.
When you’re tackling a new philosophical article, ask yourself a couple of key questions…
1) What is the author trying to prove (usually they’ll say something like “I intend to show…” or “I intend to support the idea that..” etc. This is, for the most part, their conclusion.
2) What evidence or reasoning does the author supply to support their conclusion?
If you can get those things down for an article, you’ll be on your way.
AFTER you figure out what the article is trying to say, THEN you should look at whether or not the premises support the conclusion. Are there alternative (and conflicting) conclusions that could come from those same premisies?
THEN, ask yourself if the premises themselves are solid, or do you have counter-evidence that will negate the value of a premise or premises.
FINALLY — ask yourself, what would happen if this conclusion actually IS the way the world works — (what if everyone adopted this theory, acted in this way, etc..) — that’s usually the basis for an objection, if you haven’t found a problem with a premise or the pattern of reasoning.