Many of you may have encountered difficulties when your philosophy teacher first asked you to write a philosophical essay or an essay on a philosophy topic.
Having difficulties is completely normal. From a young age, throughout our education we are taught that learning consists of studying content and then reproducing it in the most literal way possible.
But when students reach a certain age and they begin to be required to do their own work, problems can easily appear. It is no longer just a matter of studying and reproducing the contents of the subject, but of studying them and knowing how to match them, unite them and integrate them into a general reflection, in which our own personal ideas will also be added.
To help those who are facing a philosophical essay for the first time, or those who are not very good at it and want to improve their results, I will propose a series of tips that I hope will be useful.
Learn philosophy with a private teacher
1. Take care of the wording and style
This advice actually applies to any type of essay, not just the philosophical one. It may sound silly, but being careful with your wording and writing style can help us sharpen our thoughts and structure our ideas.
For example, it is tremendously useful to unite in a paragraph all those ideas that are related to each other and, within each paragraph, differentiate each of these ideas by means of points and show the relationships that exist between them through connectors.
The use of examples is a tool that will allow us to give our essay a more attractive appearance and demonstrate that we truly understand what we are writing about.
2. Be intellectually honest.
Freedom of opinion is a right that all people have. But that we have the right to say something does not mean that what we say is correct. Many people confuse both things and, when they have to talk about a subject they have no idea about, they start to rant under the right to freedom of opinion.
In a philosophical essay we must avoid this attitude. Don’t write anything about things you don’t know. We must not be pretentious. The objective of an essay is not to give an image of “intelligence” to the gallery, but to clarify our ideas and try to reach a conclusion. And if at the end of the essay we have even more doubts than at the beginning… collect those doubts and put them as a conclusion! You can do like Socrates and conclude that you only know that you know nothing. Be intellectually honest.
3. In philosophy originality is overrated
In philosophy sometimes being original is valued too much. Why is this overvaluation? I think we can point to two reasons. In the first place, because it is thought that the only thing that those of us who study philosophy do is improvise and invent our own reasoning. This is not like this.
It is true that philosophy demands originality, but this only has value when the arguments of the great philosophers before us have been studied and their possible flaws have been understood and seen. Originality without deep knowledge of the problem is worth nothing.
Secondly, because when one is faced with a philosophical essay with a free theme, one thinks that one has to deal with a theme that has never been addressed before. And when you try to do this, it usually goes wrong.
Philosophy has more than two centuries of history; few virgin fields remain, if any. Instead of looking for them, I find it better to attack arbitrary positions. What do I mean by an arbitrary position?
I understand that position that an author maintains without providing arguments to defend it, or at most providing malicious arguments. In other words, deep down he defends it arbitrarily, he defends it simply because he feels like defending it.
Arbitrary positions are a perfect target to attack, thus being able to demonstrate that we handle good philosophical weapons (that is, good arguments) and that we are skilled at using them in combat (that is, that we know how to use them properly and consistently).