Paper #1: Why Be Moral?
I. The Assignment
In Republic, Plato addresses the question whether it is always better for an individual person to be just than to be unjust. His answer to this question depends on a detailed account of justice in the individual soul. In the first half of this paper, summarize Plato’s account of justice (in both the State and the individual), and explain how he uses this account to show that justice in the individual soul is always better than injustice. In the second part of the paper, critically interact with the argument summarized in the first part. Do you agree with Plato’s conclusion? Do you find his argument compelling? Why or why not? If you agree with Plato, try to consider at least one objection to his view or argument. If you disagree, try to consider how Plato would respond to your objections.
- Due: In hard copy at the beginning of class on Thursday February 28
- Page count: 3-4 typed, double-spaced pages, 12 point Times New Roman font, 1.25” margins
- Note: Please try to stay very close to this page count. You will not be rewarded for going over the page count limit. It is unlikely that you will be able to fulfill the assignment in less than the allotted space.
II. Formatting Guidelines
- Be sure to state Plato’s main claims in your first paragraph.
- State your own thesis in your first paragraph.
- Your first paragraph might look something like this: “In Republic, Plato argues that justice in the individual soul is always better than injustice. His argument for this claim relies on an analogy between the State and the individual, along with a detailed account of the nature of justice. In what follows, I will summarize Plato’s defense of justice and critically evaluate it. I will argue that___________.”
- When stating your thesis, it is fine to write in the first-person.
- The use of quotations is permitted (and even encouraged). But be sure to avoid overusing quotations. As a rule, quotations should comprise no more than 5-10% of your paper. Provide page citations for all quotations.
- Your paper should consist in roughly 2-2 ½ pages of summary, and the rest critique.
- Clearly mark the boundary between your summary and critique, perhaps with a section heading.
- Avoid interspersing summary and critique—keep these two tasks separate.
- This is not a research paper. If at all possible, avoid using outside sources. To provide you with some context, will go over some key parts of Plato’s argument in class.
- Do not try to write a running summary of Republic. You don’t have the space for this. Stick to the main argument about justice as it appears in Books I-IV.
III. Helpful Hints
- As always, get started early!
- Read the relevant parts of Republic (especially the passages we discuss in class) at least twice in the next few days. Do the first reading fairly quickly. Try to get a basic sense of the author’s conclusion and the structure of his main argument. On the second (more careful) reading, try to get a sense of how the details of the argument fit into its main structure.
- It may help to make an outline of the argument’s structure. What is the main conclusion? What premises are supposed to support this conclusion? How does the author argue for those premises? Hint: Plato develops an analogy between the State and the individual soul.
- Read my guidelines for writing and revising philosophy papers (on Blackboard). For additional advice, see Jim Pryor’s guidelines for writing a philosophy paper: http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/index.html
- If you have made a detailed outline, the step from outline to prose form may be fairly short.
- To make sure that you are ready to write, try to state the author’s argument to yourself in just 3-5 sentences. If you cannot do this, you are not yet ready to write. Go back and read the text more carefully.
- Aim for clear, precise prose. Never use a long word when a short word will do. Never write a long sentence when a short one will do. In contrast to many other kinds of writing, philosophical writing should be straightforward.
- Strategies for critique: (1) Show that the author’s premises fail to support his conclusion; (2) Show that at least one of the author’s premises is false; (3) Show that the author has failed to provide adequate support for at least one of his premises; (4) Provide an independent reason for thinking that the author’s main conclusion is false.
- Audience: It may help to think of yourself as writing for a friend or roommate who is not in this class. Your goal is to make Plato’s argument (and your critique) easily understandable for an intelligent person who has never read his essay.
- Aim to have a completed draft at least two days before the due date. Set the paper aside for a day, then return to it for revisions.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread! Be meticulous about grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. Poor writing inhibits your ability to express even your clearest thoughts.
- Read your paper aloud. If you cannot bring yourself to do this, use the speech function on your computer to have the paper read aloud to you.