Sophia on the web

A Resource Guide for Philosophy Students

Created by Jennifer Leslie Torgerson, MA

This page last modified:  September 13, 2015

© copyright, 1997 - present




School of Athens


How to Write a Philosophy Paper




Basic Paper Requirements:

·         Papers should be TYPED, using a 10 to 12 point legible font.

·         Papers must have a bibliography or works cited page (usually on a separate page).

·         Papers must be properly documented using Chicago style footnote, endnote, MLA, APA or other documentation method.  Be consistent in the use of any method of documentation.

·         Length of the body of the paper will be determined by the course requirements.

·         Papers must defend a position, claim, or assertion.

Wolff’s simple foolproof method for writing philosophy papers:


“A philosophy paper is a defense of a thesis, in which the thesis is explained and analyzed, arguments are given in support of the thesis, possible objections to the thesis are stated and examined, and responses are given to the objections.  A philosophy paper thus, has 5 parts:


(1)      The statement of the thesis

(2)     The analysis and explanation of the thesis

(3)     The arguments in support of the thesis

(4)     The examination of the objections to the thesis

(5)     The response to the objections


The simplest and most foolproof way to write a philosophy paper is to organize it in precisely this order:  Thesis, Analysis of Thesis, Arguments for Thesis, Objections to Thesis, and Response to Objections.  It isn’t necessary to stick to this order, of course, and after you get good at writing philosophy papers, you may want to experiment with other systems of organization.  But if you’ve never written a philosophy paper before, and you aren’t really quite sure what you are doing, it might be a good idea to stick to this structure.” [1]


Examples of thesis statements:

(1)      Abortion is morally wrong under all circumstances.

(2)     A woman has an absolute right to decide whether to have an abortion.

(3)     There is no God but Allah.

(4)     It is logically impossible for there to be a Supreme Being.

(5)     Human beings are incapable of determining whether there is a Supreme Being.


These are theses because they make a claim, or an assertion.  This is what I mean by a “position paper”.  It is not merely your belief, or feelings, or opinions, but a defense of an assertion (or position). 


Examples of sentences, which do not assert anything, and are NOT theses:

(1)      The scientific status of astrology.

(2)     Abortion, pro and con.

(3)     Why I believe in God.


These are not theses because they do not make a claim, or assert anything.  They are topics, not theses.



The example provided here is a summary of Wolff’s example.


Thesis:  Abortion is morally wrong under all circumstances.


There is a distinction between what is morally and legally wrong.  What is meant by “any or all circumstances”? 


Explain thesis:  “Abortion is morally wrong under all circumstances whatsoever” means “terminating a human pregnancy at any stage before birth, so long as the fetus is alive, violates the objective and universal principles of Judeo-Christian morality, and is therefore wrong without exception for rape, incest, danger to the life of the mother, or any other circumstance, including even a circumstance in which the abortion might save the lives of many other innocent people.”


Argument in support of thesis:

(1)      Taking an innocent life is morally wrong.

(2)     Abortion is the taking of an innocent life.

(3)     Therefore, abortion is morally wrong.


This argument is in a general argument form.  It is a Categorical Syllogism (AII figure 1).

(1)      All A are B.

(2)     C is an A.

(3)     Therefore C is a B.


The argument presented demonstrated an instance (abortion is the taking of innocent life) of the general rule (taking an innocent life is morally wrong).  This form of argumentation is called Instantiation.  This is a deductive argument form as presented above.


Another argument form is called Generalization.  This is an inductive argument form. [2]  Here is an example:


(1)      Do you agree that shooting someone walking down the street is wrong?

(2)     Will you agree that bombing civilians who happen to live near a war zone is morally wrong?

(3)     Will you agree that smothering a baby in its crib is morally wrong?

(4)     Can you see what these cases all have in common, and what makes them morally wrong is the fact that they are all cases of taking an innocent life?

(5)     If you agree that what makes those three acts morally wrong is the fact that they are all cases of taking an innocent life, if that is why they are wrong, then it follows that any act of taking of an innocent life must also be wrong.  In other words, the taking of an innocent life is morally wrong.


Objections to the thesis:

Play Devil’s advocate for a bit, and think up the best objections you can to your own thesis.  Don’t just put up some cream-puff objections that anyone can knock over.  This part of the paper is for “damage control”.  If you can succeed in defending your thesis against the strongest possible objections, you may be able to persuade your reader.  [An objection to the example thesis is its use of universal rules, instead of using the consequences of action, to determine an action’s moral value.]


Respond to the objections:

Now that you thought up the objections, answer them! 


And then you are done!


How long should the paper be?  Truly just long enough to state a thesis, explain it, defend it, and respond to the objections to the thesis.  Don’t pad or add unnecessary fluff.




Go to this web page:


Karla's Guide to Citation Style Guides


Karla has a list of links for just about every style of documentation.  It is a must see site.


Looking for a MLA stylebook?

Joseoh Gibaldi.  MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition.  (New York, NY:  The Modern Language Association of America, 2003).


Another good book to purchase is:

Kate L. Turabian.  A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th Edition. (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 1996).


Kate is using the Humanities style of documentation, not the MLA (parenthetical author-date style).  The use of footnotes (with bibliography) are preferred for reading on microfilm, since the entire paper can be read from beginning to end without the need to flip to the back for the source citations and other notes.


Pages 185 to 238 in Turabian show you an example of near every kind of citation in Humanities note format, and bibliographical format, as well as comparing this to other styles of documentation- all in one place.


Also see this site, for a complete list of how to document all sorts of electronic documents in the Humanities format (it is a companion to Turabian):

found via this resource (EuroDocs):


“The first time a work is mentioned in a note, the entry should be in complete form; that is,

it should include not only the author’s full name, the title of the work, and the specific reference (volume, if any, and page number), but the facts of publication as well.  For a book the source information is the title page and copyright page; for a periodical it is the cover, and the article itself.  Once a work has been cited in full, subsequent references to it should be in shortened form.” [3]


If you look at the ENDNOTES PAGE you can see examples of what Kate has described above.  Page 2 of this handout contains a shortened citation example using ibid.  I have also given you an example of how to document a book, by one author, using the Humanities format of documentation.  I like to include the city and the state in my citation.


Direct quotes longer than 50 words need to be “centered” and justified in the middle of the page in single spacing, and set apart from the body of the text (by DS or double spacing).


Some examples of citations methods for sources typically used in student papers:

(see Karla’s web site for more examples)


·         Web site (like mine):  Jennifer Leslie Torgerson, [] “Socrates,” Sophia on the web:  Articles about Philosophers and Philosophical Topics, [], 31 August 2009.      

o   The citation should include the name of the author, their Internet address if available, and the title on the title bar or the title of the page, the URL or Internet address, and the date (posted) if possible.  I also included the title of the topics page used, as if it was a journal article citation.



The examples below are all non-electronic source examples in Humanities format from Turabian.


·         Book with an editor:  Robert von Hallberg, ed., Canons (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1984), 225.


·         Classical work:  Plato.  Apology.  38 A. (also cite the translation used after this in the first full note and in the bibliography).


·         Class notes:  Jennifer Leslie Torgerson, “Spinoza,” (lecture presented at Coppin State College in PHIL 201-003, Baltimore, Maryland, 28 March 2000), unpublished.


·         Encyclopedia (unassigned article):  Columbia Encyclopedia, 5th ed., s.v. “cold war.”  The facts of publication are usually omitted, and the edition (if not 1st) must be noted.


·         Interview (unpublished):  Benjamin Spock, interviewed by Milton J. E. Senn, 20 November 1974, interview 67A, transcript, Senn Oral History Collection, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD.


·         Journal article:  Richard Jackson, “Running down the Up-Escalator:  Regional Inequality in Papua New Guinea.”  Australian Geographer 14 (May 1979) :  175-84.


·         Magazine article:  Bruce Weber, “The Myth Maker:  The Creative Mind of Novelist E. L. Doctorow,” New York Times Magazine, 20 October 1985, 42.


·         Selection of one work in another:  Bruno Bettelheim, “The Frame Story of Thousand and One Nights,” in The Uses of Enchantment:  The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York:  Vintage Books, 1976), 87.


NOTE that bibliographical entries are different from note entries.


A bibliography or works cited page should appear on its own page, separate from the body of the text.  A BIBLIOGRAPHY SHOULD BE ON ITS OWN SEPARATE PAGE.  The ENDNOTES page too should be on its own page. Neither the bibliography, nor the endnotes page(s) are counted as numbered pages, as part of the body of the text.







[1]     Robert Paul Wolff, About Philosophy, Sixth Edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall, 1995), page 464.

[2]     For more about logic, and logical forms, see Robert Solomon, Introducing Philosophy:  A Text with Integrated Readings, 6th Edition (Fort Worth, TX:  Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1997), pages 20–40.  See my Logic lecture notes for more examples.


[3]      Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th Edition (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 1996), page 123.