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1.7: Creating a Philosophical Outline

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    6 Creating a Philosophical Outline12

    Choosing a topic and figuring out the basics

    When choosing your topic for a philosophical essay, make sure you choose a topic that requires you to take a position that requires significant defense. The basic things that you need to do for a complete outline is: pick your topic, describe it, pick your side, explain your side, defend it, and state and respond to an objection for your argument (such as, “Someone might disagree with me because I’m not a nuclear scientist, but they’re wrong because…”). For example, you cannot choose to argue that Double Stuf Oreos are better than regular Oreos because everyone would agree with that. You can, however, argue for one side in classic debates such as abortion, free will, or that the Dodgers are better than the Lakers.

    You need to be sure to recognize the important philosophical aspects in your topic, break down the issues, and discuss them. You should first identify the important aspects of your issue – doing so will help you organize your thoughts and make your arguments. When you proofread your assignment (and you should do this) you should always think that the person grading it will be constantly asking “Why?” and you should be sure you have answers to these “Why?” questions. If you need more help, read your outline or essay aloud to a friend (seriously, despite how bad of an idea this sounds) – you’ll get some good feedback and notice problems for yourself.

    Make sure you CONNECT all of your ideas to each other and always be sure that everything you say leads back to your thesis. If something you are saying doesn’t help you make your case, then you should probably leave it out.

    One aspect of making a good argument is anticipating a strong objection to what you are saying and addressing it. Consider what an opponent to your view might say, make it as strong as you can, and then respond to it. You don’t have to completely destroy the argument, but you need to make a convincing case that your answer is better than your opponent’s answer. (TIP: If you don’t know where to begin, you can structure your essay by presenting the counterargument and using that to set up your own arguments, like “Some people say the death penalty is wrong because killing is always wrong. However, this is not a good argument and killing, especially in capital punishment, is permissible because…”)

    While you will always be stating your opinions, you must be sure to back them up with arguments. An argument is NOT simply stating something – you must say WHY it supports what you say it does. It’s not about whether you are right or wrong, but whether your position is more justified than the others.

    Outlines can take many forms, and I prefer to keep it simple. As long as the following get you’re your outline, you’ll have the skeleton of a properly structured essay:

    1) Briefly describe what you the topic you would like to write about.

    2) Write your thesis statement.

    3) Write a one paragraph introduction to your paper that (a) clearly states your thesis, (b) briefly states all of your reasons in support of your argument (as you will elaborate on in part 4), and (c) briefly states why someone who disagrees with you is wrong.

    4) Write at least 3 reasons to support your thesis with at least 2 pieces of evidence or arguments that support each of your reasons.

    5) State in ONE sentence what you think the strongest objection is to your thesis and then state in ONE sentence why you think the objection is wrong.

    6) List at least 2 sources you will use to help make your argument – only ONE of them may be a dictionary or Wikipedia.

    7) Write a one paragraph conclusion that brings your thesis and all of your points together.

    Example of a thesis statement: “I agree with Socrates that Philosophers should rule us.” If you want to add more, then put your strongest and most important reason into it as well, such as by saying, “I agree with Socrates that Philosophers should rule us because they are so amazingly brilliant and kind.” These would be reasonable thesis statements in response to a question like, “Do you agree with Socrates that Philosophers should be rulers? Why or why not?” THEN you would go on to elaborate in good detail giving good reasons supporting your thesis statement.

    See below for an example of how to do this.

    Name: Noah Levin

    1. Topic: There is a lot of disagreement over the effectiveness of online classes, especially in comparison to in-person classes. I would like to argue that they can be just as effective if they are run properly.

    2. Thesis: Online courses can be just as effective as in-person courses when designed and taught properly.

    3. Introduction:

    A lot of people believe that online courses can never be as effective as in-person courses, but I disagree. I maintain that online courses can be just as effective as in-person courses when designed and taught properly. I believe this because all of the elements that are present in an in-person class can be maintained, and sometimes even enhanced, when done online. Many people have the misconception that discussion and interaction cannot take place in an online course, but with the proper use of things like discussion boards, blogs, wikis, and chat rooms, discussion and interaction can still take place effectively. In fact, because students have more time and are not “put on the spot” in online forums, discussing online can be more fruitful than it is in person. Additionally, with the plethora of media devices available to use, such as live webcasting and videos (both pre-recorded, like YouTube, and created by the instructor), there can be no loss in the effectiveness of instructional delivery, despite the fact that traditional lectures might not be present. Student engagement can also be had through the use of interactive media, like games and activities, which would be analogous to what could be done in an in-person class. When all is said and done, if an online course is run properly, it can be just as effective as an in-person class.

    4. Reasons:

    Reason 1: Discussions and interactions between students can take place online

    Supporting evidence/argument #1: Discussion boards, etc., are good tools for discussing

    Supporting evidence/argument #2: Students can think more about what they want to say before posting

    Reason 2: Instructional delivery is not hindered from going online

    Supporting evidence/argument #1: All of the materials that a student would use in a class, like textbooks, can still be used online

    Supporting evidence/argument #2: Instructors can, at the very least, post videos of their own lectures online, which would make them no worse than in-person classes

    Reason 3: Online games and activities can be useful in engaging students

    Supporting evidence/argument #1: Playing a game online can help get students engaged and applying learning points

    Supporting evidence/argument #2: For philosophy, there are a lot of interactive activities that have students directly apply critical thinking concepts, perhaps even better than could be done in an in-person class

    5. Objection and response

    Objection: Online classes cannot work as well because students don’t get the personal interaction with an instructor as they do in in-person classes.

    Response: Instructors can interact with students plenty with online courses through chat rooms, video chats, discussion boards, emails, and phone calls.

    6. Sources:

    7. Conclusion:

    Although in-person courses have their perks and conform more with traditional educational methods, online courses can be just as effective when designed and taught properly. A properly designed online course will make use of available technologies and media to help engage students in creative and inspiring ways. They will also include plenty of discussions and interactions using web-based boards and blogs. The important thing to note, as numerous studies have illustrated (see the studies by Ithaka, 2012, and the US DOE, 2010), is that student learning is not hindered in online courses as compared to in-person courses. But this is not to say that any online course will be good – they need to be designed and taught properly so that the important educational elements that are present in traditional in-person classes are not lost and ideally end up enhanced. Also, who doesn’t want to be able to attend class in their underwear at 3am?

    Below is a blank template for you to use.


    1. Topic: Summarize your topic here.

    2. Thesis: Write your thesis clearly and simply here.

    3. Introduction:

    Write a one paragraph introduction that summarizes all of your points and reasons and DEFINITELY contains your thesis.

    4. Reasons:

    Reason 1: Write one of the main reasons you will use to support your thesis

    Supporting evidence/argument #1: Write one thing to make me accept your reason (some sort of argument, evidence, statistic, etc.)

    Supporting evidence/argument #2: Write another thing to make me accept your reason

    Reason 2: Same as above

    Supporting evidence/argument #1:

    Supporting evidence/argument #2:

    Reason 3: And same as above again

    Supporting evidence/argument #1:

    Supporting evidence/argument #2:

    5. Objection and response

    Objection: Write the strongest objection to your argument here.

    Response: Write how you would respond to the objection.

    6. Sources:

    Source #1: ONLY ONE may be a dictionary or Wikipedia

    Source #2:

    7. Conclusion:

    Write a one paragraph conclusion that contains a brief summary of your reasons and drives your point home.

    This page titled 1.7: Creating a Philosophical Outline is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Noah Levin (NGE Far Press) .

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