Philosophy Tutor: Outlining Your Objection

Posted by Enoch Lambert on 6/23/14 9:43 AM

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Opus shows us how important it is to state your objections clearly.


Greetings again, fellow philosophy students!  It is summer again in Boston, a great time and place for philosophy tutoring!  In my current series, I have been discussing how to utilize the essential tool of creating an outline for your philosophy papers.  In my first two installments, I focused on outlining these important parts of your papers: introducing the main thesis and argumentative move, setting the stage for your thesis and argument through literature review and clarificatory work, and the main argumentative work.  This time I will review outlining sections that consider and respond to objections and then conclude the paper.  

Recall from my last post how much I recommend things like diagramming as part of the outlining process.  Diagramming the steps of your main argument goes a long way in helping you write the best paper you can.  Something very similar holds for outlining your section on objections and replies.  I suggest you begin by straight out numbering each objection you can think of.  Include any and all that come to mind.  Summarize each in one to three complete sentences.  At the end of this process, you should have a nice numbered list that might range anywhere from one to a dozen objections.  

Next, before you begin to construct replies to the objections, start to think about the objections at a more general level by categorizing and comparing them.  Which ones are from the literature on the topic and which ones did you think up on your own?  Are any similar enough to each other that they might be considered variants of the same type?  What might be underlying motivations for the different objections, and can different ones be grouped according to similar such motivations?  Which are the more serious one, and which are less so?  Do some directly contradict your main thesis or argumentative move and do others raise worries about indirect implications of them?  Once you’ve raised these questions about your list of objections, you can organize them in a table classifying each according to where they fall in your answers to the questions.  

The above exercise will help you more clearly present the objections in your paper.  In addition, classifying and categorizing your list of objections will help you more effectively and efficiently construct your responses.  You may discover that one type of response will suffice for a few different objections that are of the same type.  You may discover that addressing an underlying motivation for a few different objections can help stifle the tendency to generate more.  You will figure out which ones require careful, extended reply and which ones can be more easily brushed off or even ignored for the purposes of your paper.  Anyway you ultimately look at it, however, imposing order on the objections to be addressed in your paper will in turn allow you to develop your responses in an orderly way.  Once you’ve got your chart (or diagram, etc.) organizing your objections and have begun formulating your replies, you should add short summaries of your replies to the chart (or diagram, etc.).  

You may find that the most serious objections to your main thesis and line of argument may themselves need to be formulated in terms of an argument, and that your developing response needs to be as well.  In that case, you should reiterate the process I discussed in my last post for outlining arguments.  Other objections may require less involved response.  For example, you may come to the point where your case has become so strong (through your initial argument and responses to the more serious objections) that certain sorts of objections begin to appear, perhaps not completely impotent, but also in need of more argumentative motivation than it is your responsibility to give in the paper.  At this point you may decide to make the “shifting the burden of proof” move against certain sorts of objections.  This happens when you feel that you cannot give a straightforward refutation of the objection, but also think that the onus is now clearly and squarely on someone who wishes to wield the objection to come up with a good argument that it needs to be taken more seriously.  

Finally, the outlining process should conclude in you sketching a conclusion.  It need not be a polished one, but you should make an attempt, once you’ve outlined the rest of the paper, to write a summary of what you think you’ve accomplished, or what you aim to have accomplished by means of the outline.  This will help you determine whether you are satisfied with where you have gotten so far with with outline.  If you are satisfied with your conclusion-sketch and think your outline has what it takes to get you there, then you are ready to really write the paper in its polished form.  If not, go back and reiterate your outlining process.  In either case, appreciate the power of the outlining process to enable you to write your very best essay!

Tags: philosophy, expository writing