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I have a question about the writing sample, but considered that it need not merit an entire thread. So I thought I'd make a thread for anyone to ask whatever questions they might have about the writing sample, in case others are able to answer (if this already exists and I simply didn't see it, feel free to point me there).

My question is: I'm writing an applied ethics paper, but one that also discusses a bit of normative ethics and metaethics. The paper is unfinished but already too long, and I'm wondering how appropriate it is to simply state certain metaethical and normative assumptions at the beginning without defending them. For example, is it appropriate to merely write something like:

  • "The arguments offered here are supported by a few, critical assumptions. First, the metaethical foundation of my argument is non-naturalist moral realism (*brief explanation of what that means), and the normative foundation of my argument is hedonistic utilitarianism (*brief explanation of what that means)."

Is there a better way of doing this? Also, should this be written at the beginning of the paper, where I state certain preliminary assumptions, or should it immediately precede the section to which it is relevant? 

Thank you!


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I think it's totally fine to have your argument be for a conditional claim (i.e. I will argue that, given Y, X). No one expects you to be able to give a defense of hedonistic utilitarianism in order to say anything about applied ethics. But I do think it's worth motivating why that conjunction of positions is at all compelling. Why is this ethical question pressing, important, relevant for someone who holds those positions? You don't want to make it seem like you're just randomly choosing these positions. I think it's also worth asking yourself how necessary those background claims really are to your argument. I can see why the normative framework would, but does it really matter whether moral realism is true for your argument? I mean maybe it does, but I think a lot of the literature on topics in applied ethics can work fairly independently from meta-ethical claims.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think that is totally fine. Just state your assumptions and say something like:

The conjunction of these positions are hold by XXX (papers' names). It is compelling since.... it is beyond the scope of the paper to do justice on defending these claims, for some defenses, see... (names of papers that provide a detailed defense). 

I think Glasperlenspieler's advice about considering the connection between these assumptions and your argument is really worth of consideration. But bear in mind that you can still argue for a conditional thesis that if X is the case, then Y is the case, which is still helpful to the debate on the table in a certain way. Just clarify in which way this thesis is important to the debate. Then you are good.  

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Agreed with Losebeforeapply's advice, and I'll add that the approach they outline works even if there aren't paper(s) that defend the specific conjunction of claims. As long as each of the claims separately is attractive and has defenders, then it's reasonable that there'll be some people who want to hold both claims (assuming there's no conflict between them, of course). I'd also generally recommend that the papers in defending the claim(s) should be in footnotes, so you can reserve the main body text for motivating a little why the views are plausible.

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Thanks for the thread. I have a question, hope someone helps. 

I've never liked to analyze, compare, criticise what a philosopher says. I have a problem, I want to say something and in some point I may need to analyze, compare, criticise what a philosopher says. Or, lots of time I quotes a philosopher, I do it when her/his idea supports my argument. However, I feel like I manipulate the philosopher and make him to serve my project which is not cool in a professional/academical manner. I do not know how and when to use a quotation properly. Hope someone helps.

For example, X and Y is an argument and A is a philosopher. This is what I generally do:

-I support argument X, and from argument X, I reach the argument Y as philosopher B says.

However, while I share same idea with philosopher A, I may not have same pattern for reaching the argument Y (he may not reach it from the argument X for example), and also I may improve the argument Y and reach different conclusions. Is there any problem about it? Because I may read something and the philosopher's a sentence raises an awareness about something, that may have lots of difference with the idea of the philosopher (especially the way she used to reach the argument or the context she conceives the argument).

The question may be asked like that: should I use a quotation if I share the idea holistically or do I have to use the argument throughout the paragraph? I mean, if I start a paragraph, should I indicate the philosopher that raises my consciousness about this idea at the beginning of the parapraph? Or, each time should I indicate my difference with the philosopher that I share same idea?

-If the article consists of two main arguments, P and Q (while these arguments are related with each other tightly like (P) the sun is yellow and (Q) the sun is hot)), am I allowed to use philosopher (these philosopher may stand at the opposite pole of idea like R is Hegel and S is Deleuze) R for the argument P and philosopher S for the argument Q?

I would be so happy if aynone would suggest a guideline for academic writing.

Edited by cockroach
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  • 1 month later...


Late reply, but here's a writing guide for academic philosophy that many have found useful.

To your main question, I can't myself give authoritative advice, but it seems wise to me to carefully (but perhaps briefly) specify wherever you diverge from the author you're citing. If it's important that you cite philosopher B's argument for Y (where Y is the conclusion you share), you can say something like "While philosopher B also reaches Y, they do so for reason Z, which are distinct from reason X that I offer. I do not endorse/discuss reason Z here". On the other hand, if the difference between how you arrive at Y and how the person you're citing arrives at Y is informative or important for your main argument, it's probably worth discussing Z at least a bit. 

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