How to DO philosophy


For the most part, philosophy is about reading and writing…

You’ll read philosophers about topics you’ve probably never thought about directly — then you’ll write about those topics and add your own views in terms of critique…. it’s a messy business, because it’s about human beings.

Philosophy is the “oldest” discipline, in that every other subject you’ll take in college split off of philosophy, or a discipline that split from philosophy at some point.  What’s left is thinking about our experience in the world.  You probably don’t know this, but having a Ph.D. means you’re a Doctor of Philosophy in (something, math, English etc..) — and a Philosophy Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy — weird, huh?

Outside of some basic objective truths (dates, who believed what — and the nature of what they believed) — there is little objective about a philosophy class — so, you don’t have lots of facts and data to remember, but you do have arguments to work with.

Over the course, you’ll be asked to identify arguments — which sounds easy, but isn’t really —  the main idea is to identify the premises and conclusion the philosopher is using to make their point.

To figure out the argument, first look for the conclusion.  A conclusion is the point the author is trying to get you to see or support… often, philosophers will say something like “in this paper i will prove that……..” — for the most part, this is your conclusion.

Premises are bits of evidence intended to support their conclusion.  In other words, why does the author think their conclusion is true?  Premises can be factual things, or they can be observations, opinions, or conclusions from other arguments…

There are also, often, implied premises — stuff the author doesn’t say, but assumes is general knowledge or shared assumptions.

identifying premises and conclusions has an element of subjectivity to it — so, do your best to identify what you think the conclusion is and why the author supports it — then look at what other folks write to see how your ideas compare with your classmates :).


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