Explanation of A Particular Narrowly Focused Topic in John Stuart Mill’s “Utilitarianism” edited by Roger Crisp

Explanation of A Particular Narrowly Focused Topic in John Stuart Mill’s “Utilitarianism” edited by Roger Crisp

1. Your first paragraph should be only three to five sentences long. (a) It should only
introduce your specific topic and your thesis. Tell the reader exactly what your thesis is,
how you will argue for it, and summarize your reasoning in support of it. (b) Avoid truisms
and banalities like “Plato is a great philosopher” or “The problem of knowledge has
occupied philosophers for centuries.” (c) Omit all historical and biographical information
unless it is necessary for your explanation and evaluation—which it rarely is. (d)
Autobiographical information, such as what interests you about the topic, is never relevant
in philosophy papers. (e) Always use the present tense to refer to any philosopher, whether
he is alive or dead, and his views. (f) You do not need sections or headings.
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2. Following your introduction, the rest of your paper must consist of two parts, explanation
and evaluation. In both, strive to communicate your understanding of the topic. That is,
try to convince the reader that you really understand what you are discussing—but do not
try to pretend since misunderstandings cannot be hidden easily.
3. Whether you write 10 or 15 pages, the first third or so of your paper (the explanation
portion) explains the philosopher’s specific argument on the specific topic of your paper.
Your explanation should be accurate; the test is whether the philosopher himself would
agree with you that you really do express his ideas accurately. (Reread what you are
explaining several times to make certain that you understand it properly.) Do not just
paraphrase, but explain as much as you can in your own words. If you are in doubt, consult
a suitable secondary source and acknowledge your indebtedness in a footnote and in the
bibliography.
4. Your explanation of the philosopher’s argument is also your interpretation of it: your
understanding of his words, their meanings, and his reasoning. The better your
interpretation, the greater its accuracy, clarity, and completeness in explaining the
philosopher’s views. If your understanding is not sufficiently objective, you will distort his
meanings and intentions, thus weakening your paper. Since textual support is a major
criterion of valid interpretations, you must quote from the philosopher wherever necessary
to support your interpretation, especially about his claims which are central to your
evaluation. To avoid excessive reliance on quotes, whether from the philosopher’s writings
alone or secondary sources as well, limit all quotes to 15% of the paper; any more risks
weakening your paper. So choose carefully: quote only what is necessary to make your
interpretation convincing to the reader. Assume that the reader knows nothing about the
philosopher’s views; your task is to explain them through your interpretation and wellchosen
quotes. Always give the number of the page containing the text you quote.
5. Do not summarize the philosopher’s entire argument or philosophy in your explanation—
you do not have enough space. Explain only what is necessary for the reader to understand
your specific topic and your thesis. It is a given that you are being selective in order to write
a short paper, so do not suffer metaphysical anxiety at being forced to exclude from your
explanation everything that you think is relevant, important or necessary. Assume that the
reader has realistic expectations.
6. The remaining two-thirds of your paper are its core. Here you develop your specific thesis—
your evaluation of the philosopher’s specific argument, which you explained in the first part
of your paper. Develop your evaluation as thoroughly and specifically as you can. Whether
you agree or disagree with the philosopher’s view is irrelevant; what matters is only the
quality of your evaluation of his argument. This is measured by such objective criteria as
the accuracy and completeness of your understanding of the philosopher’s argument, the
clarity of your conceptualizations and reasoning, your logical and analytical rigor, etc.
Evaluation is never the mere expression of personal preference, but a reasoned defense or
criticism of a view. Always keep in mind that it is not sufficient merely to state ideas; you
must give reasons in support of them, especially of crucial ones. Moreover, since your
interpretation is the basis for your evaluation, the quality of the former is inseparable from
the quality of the latter; so as you write each part of your paper, you should keep both parts
in mind.
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7. The last paragraph of your paper should restate your conclusions briefly, in two or three
sentences. Do not repeat specific details from the rest of your paper. Do not repeat
anything.

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