Seminar in Free Will: Final Paper Assignment First Full Draft Due

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Seminar in Free Will: Final Paper Assignment
First Full Draft Due: Fri, Nov. 22. Late papers will be penalized 5 points for every 24 hours late for first draft or final draft.

Submit one copy as an email attachment to me by class (save as “Lastname Paper”) and bring hard copy to class for peer referee report (you can arrange sending electronic copy as desired).

Final Draft Due emailed by 9:00 AM on Friday, Dec. 13 (earlier if possible) (“Lastname Final”)

Value: 50% of final grade.

Length: 15-20 pages, roughly 4500-6500 words

* Your paper or review should have a 100-word (or less) abstract at the beginning.

Paper option

For this paper you will do research on a philosophical topic we have discussed and read about in class or another topic relevant to debates about free will and moral responsibility that we have not discussed (ask me if you are not sure whether it’s in the ballpark). You will explain in detail an argument presented in relatively recent work you have researched and then to develop an objection to that argument. You may use article(s) we have read in class as a starting point, but you need to focus your paper on article(s) that you research on your own, preferably work published in the last decade or so. Your goal is to write a paper suitable for submission to a conference or journal.

Book Review option

If you choose to write a book review, you should choose a book on free will or moral responsibility that has been published in the last decade, and preferably one that is so recent it has not been reviewed by many (or any) people (there are at least a half dozen such options). Your goal is to write a review that could be condensed and sent for publication at a journal or a venue such as Notre Dame Review of Books (or, less prestigious, Metapsychology Online). Most venues publish book reviews on the order of 1000-3000 words, so you’d need to edit what you write for this class significantly. For a useful website on philosophy journals, which includes information on which accept (unsolicited) book reviews, see:

Your review should be roughly half detailed summary of the main arguments of the book and roughly half critical evaluation of those arguments (perhaps focusing on just one main argument). If you are thinking about doing a book review, you should start looking for one now, talk to me about whether it is appropriate, and read it sooner rather than later. You should avoid reading existing reviews of the book.
A paper proposal is due no later than class on Fri, Oct. 25 (see reverse).
Please read the Guidelines and the style sheet I have provided and make sure you proofread carefully. Also make sure to have someone else read your paper for clarity of expression. Remember the problem of other minds: your ideas may be clear to you, but others can only see what you put on the paper to understand what you are thinking. Form and content cannot be clearly separated by the reader.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Good luck!
Paper Proposal
Due: by class on Fri, Oct 25 (email as “Lastname Proposal”). It must be this early so that I can let you know immediately if your topic or research or proposed book for review is not acceptable. Turning in a complete proposal on time will result in an A for an RR grade to replace the lowest grade of the six you turn in. Late proposals will lose a letter grade per 24 hours. Failure to turn in a proposal within a week of the deadline will result in a loss of one letter grade on the final paper (e.g., B+ becomes a C+). Once you turn in your proposal, you may not change the target paper/book without discussion with me; you may, of course, alter the direction of your argument.
1) You must include the full citation for the article/chapter that you will be discussing (i.e., the one whose argument you will explicate and raise an objection to), or of the book that you will review. As in RRs, you should also provide a few sentences about how you did your research.
2) You must include a brief explanation of the main argument of the article(s) and how you think you will object to it, or outline the main arguments of at least 1/3 of the book you will review (with some critical response if possible). The more you provide in this part of your proposal, the more helpful I can be in giving you advice.
Doing Research (basically just like doing an RR)

1) Consider what topic you are interested in (the more you can narrow it down the better—e.g., “Consequence argument and Al Mele” is a better start than “incompatibilism” or even “Consequence argument,” which would still give hundreds of hits). You can ask me for ideas.

2) Start with:

a. Stanford Encyclopedia (good background reading on topics with extensive bibliographies)

b. (an incredibly useful source for philosophy articles)

c. Library e.g.:

d. Philosophers Index and JSTOR

e. You may also try Google Scholar: (use quotations around search terms—e.g. “Frankfurt cases”)

3) Search topics you are interested in, looking for abstracts that present an argument that is comprehensible to you and preferably takes a position with which you disagree. Most articles are available online so you can open them up and take a quick look.

4) Confirm that the article is in a legitimate philosophy journal by a legitimate philosopher. Though there are very good thinkers without PhDs from, or positions in, philosophy departments, for this paper you must pick someone with “credentials.” You can do a Google search on the author’s name + “philosophy department” to find them and usually see their publications. Also, it would probably be better if your target article were published in the last decade or so, in order to engage with the most current literature (e.g., this will be especially useful if you may end up turning this paper into a writing sample or a submission for a conference, etc.).

5) Read the article and see if you can find and understand the central argument as well as some objection to it. If not, try again.
Some websites with tips on writing philosophy papers (lots of good advice, but none of it should supersede my advice or requirements):

Guidelines for Writing Philosophy Papers*

* these Guidelines and Rubric were written for Intro class, but most info applies to any phil paper

Organization and Content

There are many ways to write a philosophical paper, but we will focus on writing a philosophy paper with a very specific structure, consisting of five parts:

  1. An introduction with a thesis statement.

    1. Briefly explain what the general philosophical problem is. Do not begin anything like “Human beings have been pondering ______ since the dawn of time.” Rather, introduce the philosophical question (which may be done creatively) and its importance.

    2. Briefly mention the proposed solution (i.e. the argument you will raise an objection to).

    3. Thesis statement: Guide the reader by saying what objection you will raise to the argument.

  2. An explanation of the argument under consideration (there are different ways to convey this information, but make sure the explanation is complete and obeys the principle of charity, meaning you have presented the argument as fully and fairly as possible).

    1. Explain the conclusion the argument seeks to justify.

    2. Summarize the argument, perhaps with numbered premises leading to that conclusion. Then, explain in detail the reasons the author offers (or could offer) to believe each premise is true. Only discuss the relevant parts of the author’s text.

      1. Make sure you explain clearly the author’s use of essential concepts and distinctions.

      2. Use some quotations from the author, making sure you properly cite them and explain what point they are making.

  3. An explanation of a specific objection to the argument.

    1. Offer a clear transition so that the reader knows you have finished explaining the argument and will now raise an objection to it, and briefly state what the basic objection is.

    2. Your objection should explain why one of the premises of the argument is false or why the conclusion has an implication which is more problematic than at least one of the premises.

      1. Make sure you argue for your views rather than simply asserting them. Offer support for your opinions (why someone holds a philosophical position is more important than what the position is).

      2. Never use unanswered or rhetorical questions to make a point.

      3. Avoid irrelevant information, personal anecdotes, distracting tangents, and inappropriate language or tone. Use examples but make sure you explain how they are relevant to the objection. Creativity is welcome as long as it makes a point.

      4. Do not try to solve the philosophical problem. Rather, your goal is to show why one proposed solution is not satisfactory. A clear and focused paper will work best.

  4. Suggest at least one possible response to the objection you have raised and explain how you can answer that response. If the response is obvious, then your objection is probably weak.

  5. A conclusion

    1. Briefly restate the proposed solution to the philosophical problem and how you objected to it

    2. Suggest where the debate might go from here or wider implications it suggests.

    3. Do not raise new objections in the conclusion.

You should re-read the relevant text several times before you start writing. You should outline your paper before you begin writing. You should re-write your paper at least once after your first draft. If you have questions about what counts as plagiarism, let me know. Be careful to cite properly any direct quotes or paraphrased passages.


  1. Your paper must be typed, double-spaced in a standard font and size (e.g. Times New Roman, 12-point) with black ink on white 8.5 x 11 paper with 1 inch margins on all sides.

  2. At the top of the first page include your name and the date. Number all subsequent pages and staple your paper in the top left corner. Do not use a binder or cover page.

  3. Begin with an informative and catchy title, which should never be (but may include) the title of the text you discuss. Do not underline or italicize your title nor put quotation marks around it.

  4. Use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Write in a clear and readable style. I highly suggest reading Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style in order to become a better writer.

  5. Never use “this” or “that” without following it with its referent, as in: “This explains why the author’s argument is wrong.” What explains it? The last word, sentence, paragraph?

  6. Use clear, direct language, not complicated sentences or fancy words found in the thesaurus.

  7. Never write run-on sentences, they are distracting, sometimes confusing, however fragments are just as bad. Don’t use them. Unless you are a teacher trying to make a point. Lamely.

  8. Use transitions to lead your reader through your essay. However, do not overuse words like “however,” “thus,” and “therefore.” Also, remember that these words are not conjunctions; they cannot be used with a comma to connect two sentences. Wrong: “This sentence is a run-on, however, it is not a fragment.” “However” and “therefore” are not conjunctions like “and” or “but.”

  9. Use the present tense, except when describing historical events. Even though he is dead, “Descartes argues that the mind is distinct from the body.” Philosophical arguments are timeless!

  10. Understand the differences between “argues,” “asserts,” “proves,” “assumes,” etc. when describing an author’s or your own position. People argue for or prove claims only if they offer supporting reasons; they assert claims they think are obviously true; they assume claims to see what conclusions follow.

  11. Spell well, which today mostly means use spell-check, but watch out for tricky words:

    1. cannot” (one word) not “can not”; “therefore” not “therefor”; “possess” not “posses”

    2. do not confuse “than” with “then.” Wrong: “If so, than the author is smarter then me.”

    3. “quote” can only be a verb; “quotation” is the noun

    4. “accept” means allow; “except” means excluding

    5. “effect” is usually a noun; “affect” is usually a verb (“to influence or produce an effect”)

    6. “it’s” means “it is” while “its” is possessive; “you’re” means “you are” while “your” is possessive, like “their”; “their” is possessive, while “they’re” means “they are” and “there” is used in sentences like “There are three reasons this is wrong.” But avoid writing sentences that begin “There are …”

  1. Avoid the passive voice, especially phrases such as “It is believed that …” or “It is argued …”

  2. In America quotation marks go outside commas and periods. Example: Plato states, “The word ‘piety,’ cannot mean simply ‘what the gods love.’”

  3. Use internal citation, as in: Lewis claims, “This, too, is a valid argument” (73). Use no punctuation at the end of the sentence (unless the quotation ends with a question mark or you are using ellipses). Then put the page number in parentheses and use a period. At the end of your paper include a bibliography with complete citations for the sources you use or cite.

  4. Be clear when you are paraphrasing someone vs. presenting your own ideas (you should use “I” freely).

  5. Use gender neutral language. The best method is to use masculine and feminine pronouns in different paragraphs of your essay. Otherwise, use the plural consistently or use “he and she” type constructions. Never use “man” for “human,” “men” for “humans” or “people,” or “mankind” for “humankind,” even though the authors we read are usually ambiguous and sexist in just this way.

  6. PROOFREAD several times, including at least once after you have not looked at your essay for a while (sleep on it!) and at least once after you have printed it out on paper (try reading it aloud!).

  7. Finally, think of writing as teaching someone about a really interesting idea you want them to understand. Maintain a tone and level of discourse appropriate for a teacher who is familiar with the subject, but think of your audience as a good friend whom you hope to enlighten and perhaps convince. In fact, have a friend read your paper and tell you where it is not clear or needs more explanation.

Grading Rubric
Style, organization, and editing (roughly 10%): A--------B--------C--------D--------F

An A paper is easy, even pleasurable, to read, is clear, and has been carefully proofread and edited. It avoids distracting grammatical and spelling mistakes. It avoids the mistakes described on the Style sheet. It is well-organized. A C paper is not easy to read and contains a number of grammar and spelling errors. It reads like a first draft. An F paper is riddled with so many writing mistakes that its meaning cannot be understood. The clarity of your writing will also influence all the sections below.

Introduction and Thesis (roughly 5%): A--------B--------C--------D--------F

An A paper clearly but briefly introduces the philosophical problem and the proposed solution (the target argument) to be discussed, engaging the reader in the topic. It has a thesis statement that informs the reader how the paper will be organized, including a brief statement of the objection to be raised. A C paper has an introduction and thesis statement but neither makes it very clear what exactly the paper is really about. An F paper lacks an introduction or thesis statement.

Explanation of the argument (roughly 30%): A--------B--------C--------D--------F

An A paper focuses on a specific argument to discuss and demonstrates an excellent understanding of this target argument and its crucial premises. The explanation is clearly written, complete, and fair (charitable). It explains essential concepts and distinctions. It can be understood by someone unfamiliar with the argument. It does not raise objections until the explanation is complete. Quotations are used effectively and explained. A C paper describes a general position more than a specific argument and premises. It may explain the position and concepts under consideration, but is inaccurate in some important ways. It would not help an unfamiliar reader understand the debate. An F paper fails to explain the argument or concepts or explains them in an inaccurate or misleading way.

Objection to the argument (roughly 40%): A--------B--------C--------D--------F

An A paper provides a transition from the explanation to the objection, and it offers a clearly written and relevant objection to a specific aspect of the target argument, an objection that goes beyond objections raised in the class readings and discussions. It explains exactly how the objection damages the argument. It offers specific examples (e.g., real world counterexamples or thought experiments). Most of all, it offers reasons to accept the objection, rather than just asserting undefended opinions. A C paper presents objections, but they are unoriginal, uncompelling, or disjointed, and it does not explain how the objection undermines the argument. An F paper fails to develop any objections or asserts objections without any support.

Response and counter (roughly 10%): A--------B--------C--------D--------F

An A paper suggests a response to the objection, a response that goes beyond the original argument and is not obvious (if it is obvious, then the objection must be weak). It then suggests a way to counter this response. It does not suggest that the philosophical debate has been resolved. A C paper offers no response to the objection or simply restates the original argument in response. An F paper fails to offer any response.

Conclusion (roughly 5%): A--------B--------C--------D--------F

An A paper briefly summarizes the information it has presented and reminds the reader what the paper has done. It also leaves the reader thinking by suggesting where the debate might go from here. It does not raise new objections. A C paper has no real conclusion or leaves the reader unclear about what the paper has done, perhaps because it raises new issues. An F paper has no conclusion or simply trails off lamely.

Overall Grade: A--------B--------C--------D--------F

Referee Report

Due: Fri, Dec. 6 by class (email as attachment to peer and to me; earlier will help your peer!)

Length: 3-4 pages (typed double-spaced)

Value: 10% of final grade
In writing this referee report, your goals are, in this order, (1) to help your peer improve his or her paper/book review, (2) to demonstrate that you have carefully and critically read the paper/review, and (3) to practice writing a referee report for your future philosophical career. It is understood that you may not know the article or book your peer is writing about—just do the best you can based on their explication, which should, after all, be written for people who do not know all the background literature.
You should pretend you are refereeing the paper for a conference or the paper/review for a journal (use real or made-up name):

(1) write a summary paragraph stating what the author (AU) is trying to do and whether AU succeeds; include a sentence stating your summary judgment of whether the article should be (a) accepted as is, (b) accepted with minor revisions, (c) revised significantly and resubmitted, or (d) rejected (see the Jacquette article for discussion of these categories).

(2) write a 1-2 page summary of the paper/review (your own explanation of AU’s objection will help AU understand whether it has been clearly presented).

(3) write several paragraphs raising questions or problems for the paper’s objection or critiques in the review (one of which may be that AU misunderstands the argument of the target article/book); here is where your constructive criticism can be most useful.

(4) make grammatical and stylistic corrections on AU’s actual paper. These should not be discussed in the report, unless they are so significant they affect the substance of the paper (e.g., the ability to discern what AU is trying to argue). I will not see these corrections; they are meant solely to help your peer.
** Do NOT discuss your peer’s paper with them before or as you write your report. Let their written words do the talking. Referee reports are normally anonymous. You are, of course, encouraged to discuss the work with your peer after you have completed your report in order to help him/her improve it.

** Assignments of referees will be done by me, largely randomly but with some consideration of the topic, and students writing book reviews will likely referee other book reviewers.

Paper Presentation

At make-class at my house, you will explain your paper in 3 minutes or less (which is really no time at all, so practice). You should provide a handout (<1 page) with a clear summary of important information for an uninitiated audience to understand the arguments involved in the paper. Email me these handouts before that class so I can print them out for the class. (Your presentation is part of your participation grade.)

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