Philosophy 2730F/G Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Thesis Statement, Marshall Mcluhan, Analytic Reasoning

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Writing Instructions for Students and T.A.’s in Media Ethics, Phil 2730
Fall 2014
What follows is a thorough description of what I and your graders will be looking for
when grading your two essays, complete with the outline of a hypothetical essay.
In other words, this document specifies, with some degree of care, the STANDARDS by
which your essays will be assessed.
This document is divided into 4 sections:
I. Preliminary remarks/goals (p. 2)
II. Clarity in the Structure of an Essay (p. 3)
III. Clarity of Expression (p. 14)
IV. Grading Scheme (p. 18)
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I. Preliminary Remarks/the Goal of Every Essay
There’s nothing mysterious in any of what I’m about to say (I hope… there shouldn’t be).
The descriptions of the parts of an essay contained in this document are guidelines that
I’m sure you’ve all seen before, though maybe not laid out in exactly this way.
What you’re about to read is a guide to success on every essay assignment you ever
write, for every course you ever take (I hope). If anything I’ve written doesn't make
sense to you, I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have in one of the forums
or by e-mail.
What I am going to describe are the parts of an 'argumentative' essay: an essay wherein
you are trying to convince your reader that your point of view is the point of view
they should adopt, using an argument a.k.a., the power of reason.
So again, the goal of your paper is to convince every person that ever reads your paper
that your position is the position they should adopt.
The means by which you will achieve that goal is by presenting an argument that
provides a rational basis for your position. (So you won’t be, for example, trying to
convince your reader to accept your position on emotional grounds.)
The bulk of what I’m going to include in this document is a description of how you
should structure your essays, given that you are trying to present an argument that
convinces those who read your paper to adopt your thesis.
The reason for this focus is that convincing anyone of anything ever depends, first, on the
person you are trying to convince understanding what you are saying
So what I’m about to outline might seem really formulaic and structurally simple, but
that’s because simplicity in the structure of your essay is CLEAR, and
CLARITY IS THE NECESSARY PRECONDITION OF ANY SUCCESSFUL
ARGUMENT.
Conversely, you’ll NEVER succeed in convincing anyone of anything, ever, if they do
not have a clear understanding of:
i. The thesis/conclusion/belief/opinion you’re trying to convince them to accept, and
ii. The grounds/reasons you present to justify their acceptance of your thesis.
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II. Clarity in the Structure of an Argument
There are three necessary and sufficient components to every clearly written essay… I
will describe each part and simultaneously develop a sample essay based on our first
reading by Marshall McLuhan.
The three parts of every essay (and those I will be introducing in this section) are:
1. The thesis/point of the essay
2. The exegesis/exposition/description
3. The reasons that support you thesis/point
1. The thesis/point of the essay.
If you are going to convince your reader of something, you must have something to
convince them of, i.e., a point. In other words, in the absence of a thesis, your essay
literally has no point (and that’s a really bad thing).
Because your essays are short, and the goal of these papers is to improve upon your
ability to make arguments in a way that convinces others to accept your conclusion, you
should start by explicitly stating your thesis.
So, THE FIRST SENTENCE OF YOUR ESSAY SHOULD BE YOUR THESIS.
For example, I could begin an essay about Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the
Message’ with the claim:
“The goal of this paper is to show there is good reason for thinking McLuhan’s claim that
the only person capable of grasping ‘the Message’ will be ‘the serious artist’ is too
strong.
This would be the very first sentence of the essay… notice how blunt and clear the
sentence is, and how it simultaneously identifies the topic (McLuhan’s claim about
artists) and my point about the topic (McLuhan’s claim is too strong).
Notice also the precision of this thesis; I do not claim that I will be able to establish,
with certainty that McLuhan’s claim about the serious artist is too strong… all I say is
that I will ‘show there is one good reason for thinking... ’ This choice of phrasing ensures
that I am not exaggerating the strength of my argument; all I’m suggesting is that there’s
a really good chance that I am right, but I am not unrealistically claiming that I know I
am right with certainty (because that would be impossible).
Why is it important to start your essay with your thesis? Because essays are not
mystery novels; the best way to ‘hook’ an academic reader is with a clear and explicit
thesis (one that is sensitive to the limits of the sort of argument you’re going to make).
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