Your essay may serve one of three main functions: argumentative, evaluative, or descriptive. The essay’s function largely determines its style.
If you are attempting to defend, refute or extend a particular point of view, the functional style is more argumentative – not a pejorative term in philosophy. E.g.: In this essay, I will attempt to defend/refute/extend Thoreau’s view of civil disobedience. ́
If you are attempting to compare or contrast two or more points of view, the functional style is less argumentative and more evaluative. E.g. This essay will compare and contrast deontological versus teleological theories of right in dealing with terrorism. ́ But in making an evaluation, you will still be weighing arguments in favor or disfavor of a given viewpoint.
If you are attempting to describe a given philosopher’s contribution to the history of ideas, or to the understanding of a particular issue, your functional style will be more narrative than argumentative, but will still embody evaluative discourse. This essay will examine the influence of John Stuart Mill’s philosophy on 20th-century human rights movements
in America. ́
Like any coherent story, an essay has a beginning, and middle, and an ending.
In the beginning, you should clearly state what kind of attempt your essay will make. For example, In this essay I will endeavor to convince the reader that … ́ or The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast two perspectives on … ́ or This essay will explain why X’s philosophy of Y is important for Z ́ are all credible openings. Of course you should say more than this by way of introduction.
In the middle, you should state the main reasons (called arguments ́) for espousing your viewpoint, if you are writing an argumentative essay. You should explain, compare and contrast in detail the perspectives you choose to treat, if you are writing an evaluative essay. You should survey both in depth and in context your chosen thinker or idea, if you are writing a descriptive essay. In any case, the middle section embodies the main
substance of your work.
Whatever kind of essay you are writing, it is desirable to anticipate the strongest possible objection that could be made to your argument, interpretation or description, and to raise and counter that objection itself. This ultimately strengthens your position.
In the ending, depending on the kind of essay you will have written, you can draw the conclusion or conclusions that follow from your argument; you can summarize or contextualize your evaluation; or you can frame or project your description.
References should be made to all quoted or paraphrased materials. Any standard method of footnoting may be used (e.g. Chicago Manual of Style, APA style, etc.). You must footnote author’s name, year, title, publisher, and page number(s) in some consistent order, and give a “List of Works Consulted” (“References”) at the end of the essay. If quoting from or referring to a web-site, give at least the URL (and author, if known) in a footnote.
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