How to write A2 Philosophy and Ethics Essays

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How to write A2 Philosophy and Ethics Essays
A2 Essays are in one part (not two as per AS) – a statement is made and you are asked to discuss it. The essays are marked similar to AS in levels of response (see mark sheet) but are marked with two criteria:
A01 - This covers knowledge and understanding of the topic/concept along with

knowledge/reference to Philosophers or Ethicists and Commentators.

A02 - This covers critical analysis and evaluation of the different views/approaches
It is important that when writing your essays you show the examiner that you have understood the focus of the question and that you are always answering it. A tip is to take out the middle page of your essay – hand it to someone and see if they can tell you what the question was! You should aim to return to the question at the end of each paragraph.
When critically analysing the different approaches you will need to be like a tennis player. The ball (or concept) must be continually hit across the net in consecutive strokes. In other words – a statement may give a positive view or strength of a theory but the next stroke shows the weaknesses or criticisms of the concepts.
So as an example of an essay on the ethical views on the conscience: Discuss critically the belief that the conscience is the voice of God.
One argued point could state:

St. Augustine defines the conscience as ‘inward teaching’ which is God given, therefore, in order for a person to become virtuous they should follow their conscience which directs them to the correct action. So, if the person was unsure whether to have an abortion or not they would consult their conscience before they decided.
This point showed knowledge of religious views of the conscience with an example to demonstrate understanding. Now critical analysis needs to be made of this point. So …

To support Augustine’s view of the conscience, Cardinal Newman, who was an intuitionist, believed the conscience is the voice of God and that it informs the moral decision making.

However (criticism) Freud said the conscience is not the voice of God, mainly because he believed religion was just an illusion. Freud stated the conscience is manufactured/developed through human conditioning. It is a feeling of guilt. The super-ego is formed by feeling of disapproval becoming internalized – it leads to feeling of guilt based on the perceived

expectations of society/parents. Yet Freud’s views have been criticised by …. (Remember the tennis approach – you make a point; criticise it or support it; criticise or support the criticism and so on…)

So in all the belief that the conscience is the voice of God has been disproved/or has support from ….. (your paragraph ends by returning to the question. Then in your next paragraph you start on a new point to discuss).
These paragraphs have shown both support and criticism for the first statement and therefore this is evaluation (A02).
You also need to show: INDEPENDENT THOUGHT not just what you have learnt from the text books or class notes. State your beliefs or ideas but do not be dictatorial. You should try and write essays in the third person – do not focus on the “I think or, I do not agree …”.
Evaluative Sentence starters:

  • The problem with this approach

  • A controversial view is … because …

  • An alternative explanation is …

  • More recently

  • The explanation of … more recently differs as …

  • In addition to

  • It is usually challenged by

  • In contrast to

  • However, other philosophers/ethicists

  • However, we must question

  • However, other evidence suggests

  • Despite these criticisms

  • An obvious strength is

  • We can question this approach by examining the work of …

  • An introduction which should be short and concise showing understanding of the question and explaining to the examiner how you are going to process in the essay
    It is quite ineffectual as …

  • Critics have argued that …

  • In response to …

  • This contradicts earlier assumptions that …

All essays should consist of a sandwich:

The main part of your essay (the filling) which should be detailed and use quotes from the various Philosophers/Ethicists or Commentators along with working examples to support your statements/explanations.

The conclusion which should NOT just repeat what you have written in the main part of the essay but which should sum up to reach a decision and could give implications of the conclusion.

So, for instance, the end to the “Discuss critically the belief that the conscience is the voice of God” could end with stating that since there are so many different views on the conscience from secular and religious believers perhaps this shows that the conscience is an essential tool in the moral making decision process but that its origins are not important.


Religious philosophy can offer no firm evidence for a distinction between body and soul”. Discuss.

Key words: no firm evidence

The modern scientist view is a monist approach determining that the mind is matter and energy only and this would contradict the dualistic view that the mind/soul and the body are separate entities (distinct).

Main Part

Monism is ….

This view is advocated by Richard Dawkins who believes human beings can be explained in their entirety through the physical processes of biology, genetics etc.
He states ….


Is Dawkins view firm evidence? What criticism can be made of Dawkins?

Behavioural Materialism supports Dawkins by …..


Behavioural Materialism can be criticised by …

Contradicting the monist view is the dualist approach.

Plato believed …..

  • soul in 3 parts

  • He saw the soul as eternal because …

Aristotle rejected this ….

And although Aquinas agreed with Aristotle to an extent because he believed the soul animates the body; he believed that the soul was separate because ….
Yet Descartes/Cartesian dualism supported ….

But then there are problems with Descartes because …

The Christian View (or John Hick) believes that …

But is this firm evidence?


Although there are many different approaches concerning whether the soul and body are distinct none of the ones discussed above provide firm evidence either way. Therefore the question we now have to ask is whether it really matters if the body and soul are distinct.

………… would argue that it does matter because

………… would probably agree it doesn’t matter because …

I would state ……………

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