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How to write a philosophical essay
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Sat, 23-Sep-2006
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How to write a philosophical essay: some informal suggestions. Article by Luciano Floridi

A. Foreword
Students (especially first-year students) may sometimes find it difficult to write short essays for their philosophy tutorials or examinations. Most of the times, it is not a problem of contents—what the student knows or has read—but of skills, that is how capable the student is to convey her or his own thoughts on a given topic through a written text. Practice is probably the best way of acquiring such a confidence with paper and ink, but there are also many texts that can be consulted in order to have some practical information about how to write an essay (a thesis, an article...), compile a bibliography, make footnotes, use italics and so on. The following is a brief selection (in descending, chronological order).

B. Bibliographic Note
A Guide to Writing Philosophy Essays. Please note that I have taken more than a hint from this guide.
Roger Lewis 1993, How to Write Essays (London: Collins Educational).
Kate L. Turabian 1987, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers Theses and Dissertations (London: Henemann).
Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert 1984, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (New York: The Modern Language Association of America).
George Watson 1970, The Literary Thesis, A Guide to Research (London: Longman).
Ralph Bescy 1966, How to Write a Research Paper (Oxford: Pergamon Press).
Some students may also find useful the following texts:
Richard Freeman 1982-1991, Mastering Study Skills (London: Macmillan).
Sarah Gash 1989, Effective Literature Searching, For Student (Aldershot: Gower).
Kate Williams 1989, Study Skills (London: Macmillan).
Keith Howard and John A. Sharp 1983, The Management of a Student Research Project (Aldershot: Gower).
Ann Hoffmann 1979, Research (London: Adam and Charles Black).
Derek Rowntree 1970, Learn How to Study. A Guide for Students of All Ages (London: Warner Bross).

C. Suggestions
In the past I have noticed that going through the following points has helped some students to improve their writing skills. Obviously, there are many ways in which each of us deals with the task of writing a text, so the following are only some reasonable suggestions. They are based upon the assumption that you must write 4 essays for the x philosophy paper in 3 hours.
Stage I: Choosing the title of your essay
• Read the examination sheet fairly quickly, and choose 5/6 essay titles. The selection should be the result of a positive procedure. You should be able to find the 5/6 questions which are close to you interest, about which you have attended lectures and tutorials, or are more prepared and remember more. This is better than proceeding vice versa, that is by excluding all the questions about which you think you know nothing at all, or very little and so forth, thus remaining with the 4 questions you have to answer anyway. Its a matter of psychology. The positive attitude, implicit in the former process, will make you feel more confident.
• Having selected a larger number of questions than necessary, read them extremely carefully. Do not rush. Spend at least 5 minutes trying to understand what each question is really asking you to write about. See if you can rephrase the title without loosing its specific meaning. Do not even touch your pen. Once you have written something, you tend to follow the path laid down by your text rather than by the title of the essay. When you analyse the question, do not forget that a vague and general topic is very unusual. The examiners expect you to write on the role of the malicious demon in the first Meditation, for example, not on the general problem of scepticism in Descartes. Do not start writing your essay plan until you are confident that you really know what the title implies. In order to be sure that you are answering the question set by the title of the essay, ask to yourself whether anybody reading your essay would be able to guess its actual title and topic. If not, then re-focus it. Remember: 50% of the essays usually miss their targets.
• Once you have a clear and firm grasp of what the 5/6 titles mean, choose now the 4 you wish to write about, once again by following a positive rather than a negative procedure. Note that, unless otherwise stated, no question is more important or better than any other. So feel free to make your selection without academic prejudices: writing on a well known topic is as good as writing on another which is more obscure and exciting.

Stage II: Planning the essay
• Planning the essay is essential, and you should devote to this task at least 25% of the whole time at your disposal (15 minutes if you write the essay in 1 hour).
• Let us suppose you have selected the 4 titles: instead of writing now a plan and then essay n. 1, then another plan and another essay, and so forth, see if you can write all 4 essay plans before. This is useful for several reasons:
1. the best moment to think is during the first hour. In the last part of the exam you will be under too much pressure to think clearly, so plan, when you are in your best mental state, what you are going to write under stress.
2. if you won't have enough time to answer all four questions, at least you will be able to hand in the plan of those you left unanswered.
3. writing the essay plans makes you aware of the level of difficulty of each question. This will turn out to be important in a moment (see section III).
• You still have a bit of time and plenty of paper, so do not rush and do not spare the latter. A good plan is the really difficult part of your task. Take your time and write and rewrite it, until you are completely satisfied by the number and the order of topics you want to cover. If you have a good plan, then you can easily fill its structure with a properly written text. It will take you about 20 minutes per question.
• Your mind needs to free itself from the present stress and warm up; you cannot simply switch it on. So if you are panicking, and this is a natural reaction, begin your plan by recording anything you can think it is even vaguely relevant to the topic in question. Be as inclusive as you can. You will see that the more you write the more new topics will come to your mind. This form of brain storming is a fruitful way of recalling information and ideas from you past readings and courses. Once you feel you have written all you could think of, read what you have just written and think about other topics connected with your notes, and so forth. Do not stop until you feel you cannot think of anything else related to the topic you are dealing with.
• During the previous process, and perhaps when you feel you cannot think of anything more to say, make a list of the technical expressions that the essay title will probably require (analytic vs. synthetic, a priori vs. a posteriori, liberalism, dualism and so forth). This is useful both in order to re-launch your mental process—and see if you can recall more about the topic—and in order to enrich and make more precise your language. It would be a shame if after so many efforts made in years of hard work in order to acquire the proper terminology you should write an essay without using it.
• When writing the essay plan, remember that a few signs, a key word, a name, an arrow from x to y, a brief expression are already sufficient to fix your thoughts on paper, so do not feel compelled to waste precious time writing down entire paragraphs. The plan can look more like a sketch, and should not be like a full text.
• If you find difficult to move on in planning your essay, try to ask a question ("But then what does Locke really mean by substance?").
• Suppose you have now emptied the basket, as it were. You still do not have a plan and your next task is to put some order among your notes. Make absolutely sure that you shape your ideas in a clear line of development. The backbone of your essay should include:
(i) a presentation of the topic,
(ii) its discussion,
(iii) your (more or less personal and critical) conclusion,
(iv) ramifications starting from any of the previous points and (possibly) including secondary literature.
The plan should lead to a clear and plain essay. A philosophical essay is never a diary of your thoughts, it is a carefully structured construction. See if you can find a nice starting point (incipit) that can catch the attention of the reader. A trivial incipit is any reference to the question itself, e.g. "In order to answer the question stated in the title of this essay I shall ...". If you think about it, I am sure you can find something a bit more exciting. Structure your essay around a limited number of points, two or three at most. You have no space nor time to develop more than a couple of good ideas.
• Let us suppose that you have now a clear line of development: time has come to limit the amount of things you want to say to those which are really essential. There is neither time nor space to discuss everything you wish and, above all, not all the topics you have listed in you plan need to receive the same amount of attention. Consider only the most important, and leave those marginal on the borders. You may proceed in the following way: if the topic x could be written as a footnote, drop it, if y could be written in smaller characters, use it to strengthen the backbone, only if the topic w is unavoidable use it to construct the backbone of the essay.
• Now you have the 4 plans in front of you. Having a general idea of what you wish to say, it is useful to grade the level of difficulty of the questions, from 1 to 4. Do not feel compelled to write about them in the order in which they appear in the sheet. Follow your own schedule. Roughly, you have two alternatives:
1. suppose you fear that you won't be able to answer all of them in time, and in a fairly decent way. Bad luck. Then order the essay plans starting with the one you feel more confident about. You can always leave the most difficult at the end, showing that at least you did answer some of the questions properly, leaving unclear whether, having more time, you would have answered even the last one.
2. suppose you estimate that, with a bit of extra time, you would be able to discuss all 4 questions rather well. Then start with the most difficult, and leave the easiest to the end. The former will require the best part of your time, when you are less tired and still feel that there is time to do things properly. The easiest question can wait the last 20 minutes, when you simply write down in good English what you have well planned ahead, without thinking too much.

Stage III: Writing the essay
Finally, you have to write about your question n. 1. Your main goals are:
1. Showing to the reader/tutor how well you understand the topic in question, without writing as if you were constantly under examination. I know it sounds paradoxical, but the less examination-oriented the essay is the better. If you know what you are talking about, this should indirectly emerge from the paper. Be an informative author.
2. Showing to the reader/tutor you have you own ideas concerning the topic in question, and hence know how to present them clearly and defend them effectively. Make your essay something one may be interested in reading. Be an exciting author.
3. Proving to the reader/tutor that you know how to do philosophy well. Be a good philosopher.
4. Get the highest mark. Be a successful student.
Here are some more suggestions to achieve them.
• Length of the essay: precisely the number of words required to express your thoughts as well as possible, no one more no one less. But if you really want a figure, then roughly 1500 ws will do.
• Write in such a way that the examiner can actually interpret your handwriting. You do not want to start with the wrong foot, by annoying him or her with a text that he or she cannot even read.
• If you usually type your essays for your tutorials, make sure that the practice of word processing your text is not affecting your capacities to write using only pen and paper. Most academics no longer know how to do without a computer (and I am one of them), but the University still requires that you write your examination papers with real ink.
• When writing, remember that ceteris paribus (everything else being equal) conciseness is a great virtue. Try to go straight to the point. You will soon run out of time, so keep you essay brief.
• Beginning an essay with a summary of what you are going to do is usually the perfect way of boring the reader who is looking for real action, not preambles, so do not worry about it. If you need an initial abstract, then make absolutely sure that there is no discrepancy between what you promise to do and what you are actually doing. In general, promises look good but are often useless, so do not waste to much time speaking about what you are going to do, "just do it" (you know the meaning of "Nike", don't you?).
• You have the material and the structure. Now fill the structure with the material, so as to shape it in a consequential order. Remember: your essay should not remind the reader of a shopping list but should be (in no particular order of importance) consequential, convincing, precise, synthetic, readable and aesthetically attractive. Do not amass sentences without any aim. Try to write your essay so that it is clear why you say what you say at that particular point, even if the reader disagrees with you. Your first aim is to write sufficiently well as to be intellectually respected by the reader for what you say. Being convincing would be even better, but it is an extra bonus which may or may not come.
• Avoid any irrelevant comment, or any remark which is not really informative. Please, do not explain what the five senses are, or how the stick looks when it is in the water. You are suppose to know such trivialities and your reader can be safely expected to share such background. Once again, go straight to the points you want to make.
• Specify the connections among the paragraphs or sections of your essay. Logical passages from one to another part of the essay—especially among sentences—do not have to be made explicit all the time, quite the opposite, but it must be evident why you move from one point to another. Your essay is like a road that leads from the title to your last sentence. Try to make it smooth to the passengers.
• Support your points with decent arguments. It is not true that philosophy in general is always concerned with argument, but it is absolutely true that philosophy in Oxford is, so make sure the contents and form of your arguments are satisfactory by being methodical, precise and systematic in analysing an issue.
• Be explicit. There are three ways in which you can clarify a concept: by providing a description of a more general context, that is by moving to a logically higher level (a law-like generalisation, a collection of similar cases, a less specific explanation etc.); by means of an example, a reference to an instance, a mental experiment, i.e. by moving to a specific, logically lower level; or by providing an analogy, a metaphor, an image, i.e. by referring to another context which is logically parallel. Try to avoid using examples as positive arguments—they hardly ever work, unless they are counterexamples—and limit them to explanatory tasks.
• Narrative should never be preferred to logical reasoning, so do not merely recount, paraphrase or summarise what you have read (not matter whether it is primary or secondary literature).
• Avoid labels: they do not convey that much meaning, are usually misleading, and they are an hallmark of scholasticism. If you need a label which you suspect is not a piece of standard knowledge, then by all means be explicit about what you mean, and provide either a brief definition or an example (perhaps in brackets). Do not let the tutor guess.
• Grammar, Spelling and Format: bad grammar, poor punctuation and spelling mistakes tend to distract a reader and get in the way of your presentation. Although grammar, spelling and punctuation will probably be assessed only indirectly, they may affect the final evaluation of your essay because of the psychological effect they produce in the reader. Particularly annoying are misspellings of technical words and of Latin expressions. Be careful about how you use commas, a dash, brackets and other forms of punctuation. The meaning of what you write also depends on how you use such elements.
• Citation and Plagiarism: Of course, all work should be your own.
• Beware of:
1. repetitions, both in you language and in what you are saying. If you say something clearly, you do not need to say it twice.
2. too many colloquial expressions or words, like "we need to do x", "I mean", "thing" (object? entity? member of a set? element in the domain? problem? issue? ...), "idea" (notion? conception? thought? assumption? presupposition? thesis? tenet? ...), get (achieve? obtain? acquire? derive?...) see (notice? remark? stress? state? ...) and so forth.
3. a patronising or frivolous style (Kant does this, thinks that, do such and such, or was a fool).
4. shifts in the way you use your technical words.
5. using too often the first person (I think, I believe, I see, I suppose, ...) in favour of a more objective style (The problem is, Descartes meant, one wonders whether, it is supposed to be...).
• Don’t
1. rely too much on specific examples. I’d rather repeat myself: it is always better to provide a conceptual analysis of an issue (e.g. what causality is according to Hume) that to state a particular case (Hume thought that a cause was for example ...). When in doubt, provide the definition, the clarification, the theoretical discussion first, and then the example.
2. worry if you do not write enough. Its the quality and not the quantity of what you write that matters.
3. worry about quoting some text. But if you use a quotation, make sure is accurate, useful and properly employed. A tag like Berkeley's esse est percipi won't impress the examiner, if you use it correctly (i.e. if you quote it in full: esse est aut percipere aut percipi, "to be is either to perceive or to be perceived"), but if you use it without any reason or in the wrong context or you misspell it, it may be deleterious.
4. try to show how much you know about the issue by referring to many authors, or writing a very long essay. Again, let me restate the point: your deep knowledge of the issues at stake should emerge between the lines, from what you say, not stated pedantically at every step. It is much better to show that you know what you are talking about by arguing for a point.
5. start a new paragraph always with a disjunction (however, nevertheless, although, though, yet). In a new paragraph you discuss something new, so possibly start with a plain statement concerning the new issue.
6. start a new paragraph with "this" or "that". It's usually unclear what you may be referring to.
7. limit yourself to report only the thought of one interpreter. If you refer to Mr. X, see if you can at least mention another Mr. Y. This will show that you have had a wide range of readings, and are not relying only on one single piece of secondary literature for your knowledge of the topic.
8. use quotations or a cut-&-paste way of writing. You won’t have any book during your examinations and you can be sure that, at the right time, you won't remember any piece of text you copied in the past. Besides, quotations or summaries from a text are often employed by students in order to avoid the most critical and difficult passages. Make an effort during your tutorials, it will pay when you will sit your examination.
• Try:
1. to be precise in what you write
2. to be rigorous in how you express your thoughts
3. to be concise and to the point in presenting your thoughts
4. to be clear. State your points as clearly and explicitly as possible. If they are mistaken, to state them vaguely is only to make things worse.
5. to be interesting in your style. If you can, catch the attention of the reader. Your essay should not read like a tedious technical report, but more like an interesting text.
6. to use a rich vocabulary, but avoid useless jargon or affected expressions. I shall never forget an essay in which a student thought it was an improvement to write "imbibe a beer". The following are just a few examples.
• In order to construct arguments can use more words than simply because and therefore, for example: following, since, for, however, as, then, hence, thus, so, alternatively, consequently, accordingly, subsequently, moreover, etc.
• Do not forget some argumentative expressions like: having said that, it is worth considering, assuming that, it is clear that, in any case, be that as it may, supposing x it follows that y, in spite of, despite x, it is still the case that, notwithstanding x, is support of x, irrespective of x, in contrast, but considering, on account of x, given that, giving x, due to, on the one hand/on the other hand, not only/but also, no matter how, had x been p, implying that, etc.
• Do not qualify your arguments by the simple use of the disjunction good-bad. There are many other useful adjectives like: legitimate, justifiable, proper, defensible, persuasive powerful, valid, (semantically/syntactically) consistent, substantial, rewarding, strong, clear, or weak, fallible, defective, poor, incomplete, flawed, unnecessary, unsustainable, fallacious, contradictory.
• One can do many things with an argument, beyond stating it. One can, for example, proffer, postulate, expose, expound, propose, sustain, assert, uphold, endorse, put forward, suggest, offer, validate, warrant, advocate, support, back, defend, elaborate, ventilate, introduce, or maintain it.
• Once the argument is in front of you can evaluate, recognise, identify, commend, appreciate, consider, weigh, regard, elucidate, assess, determine, or analyse it.
• And if you disagree, then you: withhold assent, not comment, undermine, weaken, oppose, argue, contest, contrast, discuss, dispute, resist, withstand, challenge, counter-argue, subject to criticism, criticise, object to that particular argument.
• An objection can be poor, unjustified, misguided, insubstantial, severe, harsh, stringent, strong, straightforward, fair, acceptable, adequate, reasonable, good, fair, incisive, penetrating and so forth.
• One can reply, rejoinder, response, retort, return, answer, challenge, do justice to... a question.
• In you paper there are more than just points, one may encounter, for example, an issue, a question, a topic, a subject, a problem, a confusion, a difficulty, a dilemma, an obstacle, a paradox, or a perplexity.
• The way you organise your point is not simply by listing them. You can use the following expressions: firstly/secondly, to start with, to begin with, former/latter, initially, finally, x continues ... and concludes, further, x opens so continues so and closes so, x starts so follows so and concludes so, x begins so supports y so, and ends by, i. e., that is, this means, in other words, namely, moreover.
• If Hume writes p and q, then you can report his thought by using one of the following expressions: according to x, in x's opinion, x wrote, y maintained, w assumed...
Stage IV: Checking the paper
It took you 5 minutes to understand the question properly, 10/15 minutes to write a good plan, 20/25 minutes to write the essay and you have 5 more minutes to check what you have achieved.
• You should read the final draft of your paper at least twice: after you have finished to write it, and then at least another time, after you have answered all the other questions.
• In order to be sure that your essay is sufficiently personal and critical, ask to yourself whether anybody who knows you well would be able to recognise it as your essay. If not, then modify it. Your essay is not any student’s essay.
• Check that
1. your arguments are forceful enough, adequate and so relevant to the topic as to let you state your conclusions.
2. the formal presentation is all right (Grammar, spelling, punctuation).
3. you have actually followed whatever suggestions given above you were meant to follow.
• Ask to yourself:
1. Can I make it shorter? Are there repetitions?
2. Can I make it more precise?
3. What do I mean by x and y?
4. Am I fully convinced of my theses? If not, why not?
5. What is the point I'm trying to make?
6. Have I stated my theses clearly enough? Is there any other way I can commit myself more explicitly?
7. Have I supported my theses sufficiently well? Are my arguments forceful enough, adequate and so relevant to the topic as to let me state my conclusions?
8. Is my terminology sufficiently rigorous? Are there shifts in my use of some technical words? Am I using too many colloquial expressions or words, such as "we need to do x", "I mean that", "thing" (object? entity? member of a set? element in the domain? ...), "idea" (notion? conception? thought? assumption? presupposition?...), get (achieve? obtain? acquire? derive?...) see (notice, remark, stress, state...) and so forth?
9. Should I start rewriting this paper, what would I like to change? This is a psychological trick. Try to think that you don't have to rewrite it, imagine, however, that you say to someone else that, if you were to resubmit it, you would like to change x, y, z and then ... make the necessary changes before you do submit it for the first time. Sometimes, mental laziness is our worst enemy.
10. Am I trying to show how much I know about the issue, or should I rather show that I know what I'm talking about by arguing for a point? We have already gone through this point but let me repeat it once again: the reader must be supposed to a knowledgeable one, so avoid to waste your and the reader’s time dealing with the obvious and the trivial (e.g. do not ever write in an essay : <<"Cogito ergo sum" can be translated into English as "I think therefore I am">> unless the topic of the question is asking you for a comment on the proper way to translate Descartes).
11. Am I catching the attention of the reader? My essay looks more like a tedious technical report or more like an interesting story? A bit of good narrative style makes it easier to convey one’s thoughts.
• Do not worry if you want to change some parts of the text. An essay without corrections is a rare beast. But when you correct your text, do so neatly. For example, draw a box around the whole paragraph you want to substitute, or cross the sentences you want to change with a simple line, and give a clear indication of what the examiner should read instead, e.g. by means of a numbering system, or an arrow pointing to the new sentence. Try to avoid any form of chaos.

D. Bad Writing
Finally, you may wish to know that you and I are not the only ones who find it difficult to write about philosophy in good English. Even professional academics (who are mother-tongue) sometimes write in awful prose. In order to cheer you up and to show you what you should avoid, here is are some real examples (what follows comes from a file posed on PHIL-LIT, a mailing list on Internet). The following is a long quotation.

We are please to announce winners of the PHIL-LIT Bad Writing Contest.
FIRST PRIZE to Stephen Ogden, for the following gem by Frederic Jameson:
"The triumphant moment in which a new systemic dominant gains ascendancy is therefore only the diachronic manifestation of a constant struggle for the perpetuation and reproduction of its dominance, a struggle which must continue throughout its life course, accompanied at all moments by the systemic or structural antagonism of those older and newer modes of production that resist assimilation or seek deliverance from it." The Political Unconscious (Cornell University Press).
In the view of the judges, Jameson has a special gift for cramming the maximum amount of obscurity into a single sentence. To Dr. Ogden goes the first prize, a copy each of Making Theory/Constructing Art, by Daniel Herwitz (University of Chicago Press), and Art and Philosophy, by Timothy Taubes (Prometheus Books).
SECOND PRIZE goes to an entry from the parched land of Australia. J. F. Knight spotted the following sentences in an essay on "Jean- Francois Lyotard," in The Judgement of Paris: French Theory in a Local Context, edited by Kevin D. S. Murray (Allan & Unwin):
"The libidinal Marx is a polymorphous creature, a hermaphrodite with the 'huge head of a warlike and quarrelsome man of thought' set atop the soft feminine contours of a 'young Rhenish lover'. So it is a strange bi-sexed arrangement giving rise to a sort of ambivalence: the Old Man and the Young Woman, a monster in which femininity and virility exchange indiscernibly, 'thus putting a stop to the reassuring difference of the sexes.' Now the Young Woman Marx, who is called Alice (of Wonderland fame), is obfuscated by the perverse body of Capital because it simultaneously occasions in her a revulsion and a strange fascination. She is the Epicurean Marx, the Marx of the doctoral thesis, the aesthetic Marx. She claims a great love for this man of thought who offers to act as the Great Prosecutor of the crimes of Capital. He is 'assigned to the accusation of the perverts' and entrusted with the invention of a suitable lover, the proletariat, for the little Alice."
THIRD PRIZE was won by Don Keefer of the Rhode Island School of Design. Originally we were only going to have only two prizes, but we just had to go for a third, charmed as we were by this marvel of prose. Keefer wins a copy of The Plato Cult, by David Stove (Blackwell). The extract comes from Academia and the Lustre of Capital, by Sande Cohen (University of Minnesota Press):
"A present overcoded by institutions (schools, banks, political parties) involved in contradictions so immediate and indirect that they make the present strange and bizarre speaks to already-achieved reductions, notably politicians who define power by its abuse, teaching that dogmitizes while it denies doing so, an economy that is not an economy (e.g., the proliferation of debt), or other modes of actual strangeness that cannot be judged. A society without history experiences results that may not be able to be used: experiences destroy the use-values of possible futures. If what is oxymoronic pertains to overcoded contradictions, where practices and pressures of reproduction engender distortions throughout the cultural and educational systems, then what remains of what Charles Levin calls the "sociological ego" and its monitoring of the "projections and objectifications" of social life? Consider what Frederic Jameson does in his Postmodernism (1990), where he narrates from absolute omniscience, and insists that cultural possibilities are circumscribed within a left version of cultural business as usual: 'The point is that we are within the culture of postmodernism to the point where its facile repudiation is as impossible as any equally facile celebration of it is complacent and corrupt'."
Is it any surprise to find one of our winners quoting from another of our winners? Bad writing is infectious!
FINALLY, the special Dan Quayle award for lifetime achievement in choosing le mot juste goes to Linda Brodkey, who was rewarded for her efforts at the University of Texas by stepping up the ladder to direct the program in composition at the University of California, San Diego. David Gershom Myers had her brought to his attention by an account in the recent book Dictatorship of Virtue: Multiculturalism and the Battle for America's Future by Richard Bernstein (Knopf). Bernstein tells the story of the controversy over the new English composition course proposed for the University of Texas - a course in which a textbook devoted to discussions of racism and sexism would have been required reading. It was objected that the textbook was one-sided.
"I am not compelled," wrote Linda Brodkey, "by the argument that there are opinions and arguments that would provide a balance to the authors' or that other books would provide 'a wider and more challenging range of opinions.' That's true but moot." The text Racism and Sexism was selected, Brodkey said, because it was "a way to focus students and teachers on work that has been done on 'difference,' and to give them some time to think about how those who work on and/or live with inequity define, describe, and analyze the problems they see."
It is worth noting, Bernstein comments wryly, "that Brodkey, in charge of a program to make better, more precise writers out of University of Texas freshmen, used the verbs 'compelled' and 'focus' in the dubious ways she did and repeated the word 'argument' within seven words of its first appearance in a sentence. It is strange," he concludes, "to see a teacher whose very purpose is to show students ways to acquire rhetorical skills, fomenting a clunker like 'those who work on and/or live with inequity.'" One might also point to the blunder in the use of "moot," which if interpreted correctly would make Brodkey's sentence read "That's true but debatable."
The Dan Quayle award consists in an old copy of Strunk and White (a classic freshman composition text, as American academics will recognise).
Philosophy and Literature, the interdisciplinary journal published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. For more information contact David Gershom Myers, the list moderator at [email protected]

These notes are distributed to the advantage of undergraduates. There is no copyright or other formalities, but if you have any comment or suggestion, I would really appreciate it if you could let me know your feedback by sending a message to Luciano Floridi
Permission is granted for reproduction of this document in any medium, but only in whole, for non-commercial purposes, and as long as appropriate credit is given to the author and this notice is always included.

© Copyright for this article belongs to Luciano Floridi

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