PHIL 4150: Analytic Philosophy

Dr. Robert Lane, University of West Georgia

Fall 2012


Instructions for Writing Response Papers


(Portions of the document adapted from a similar document

written by Dr. Janet Donohoe.)


Over the course of the semester, you will be required three response papers to various assigned readings. The due dates and readings are as follows (page references are to your textbook, Analytic Philosophy: An Anthology, 2nd ed., edited by Martinich and Sosa):


due date


Tues. Sept. 11

Frege, “The Thought” (pp.24-34 only, starting at the last paragraph on p.24)

Thurs. Sept. 20

Moore, “The Subject-matter of Ethics” (pp.439-449)

Tues. Oct. 16

Ayer, “The Elimination of Metaphysics” (pp.499-505)



A response paper is not the same thing as a term paper (instructions for your term paper are contained in two other documents). The aim of a response paper is to demonstrate that you understand the material you have read and that you have thought about it enough to be able to make an original response to it.


Below are some guidelines to help you in preparing a clear and thoughtful response paper.

1.      Describe the main philosophical issues addressed in the reading. After doing the reading, put the text aside and tell yourself what the main points of the reading were. In doing this, you help yourself determine what is important about the reading. The main philosophical points should provide the focus for the opening paragraph(s) of your paper, in which you briefly identify what those main philosophical points are and explain why they are important. Do not treat the philosopher or the views you are discussing as if they were stupid. If they were stupid, I would not be wasting your time with them. Philosophers sometimes do say outrageous things, but if the view you are attributing to a philosopher seems to be obviously wrong, then you should think about whether he really does say what you think he says. Use your imagination. Try to figure out what reasonable position the philosopher could have had in mind and direct your comments toward that.


2.      Think about the issues.  Having identified what is important about the text, you should be prepared to think about and respond to it. In doing this, it might be helpful to ask yourself some questions, e.g., how do these ideas apply to me? is the author right about the importance of these ideas? is there another way to think about this issue? etc. Think of this process of questioning as a discussion between you and the philosopher. How might he respond to some of the questions you pose? Are those responses reasonable? Avoid easy and common responses to the questions you raise. Philosophers do not usually subscribe to common, easy responses. Try to think beyond and beneath those answers. Once you think you have an answer, ask yourself why that is the answer you come to and whether that is an answer that most people would give. If it is, then once again ask why. And again ask how the philosopher would respond to you.


3.      Describe your response and why that is your response. The second part of your paper should be an explanation of the thinking that you did in number 2 above. Explain the issues that arose when asking yourself those questions and how you resolved those issues in your own mind, if in fact you did resolve those issues. Sometimes questions remain, and it is certainly acceptable to explain that they remain. As philosophers, we are not expected to have pat answers to difficult issues, so it is OK to describe the process of questioning. In any case, explain why those are the answers or questions that you come to.


4.      Draw Conclusions.  Finally, you should draw some conclusions.  This does not necessarily mean answers. Conclusions are things you can conclude from the process, which may mean that some things remain questions for further thought, but you should give an indication of where that further thought might take us.

Remember, the important thing is to show that you have thought about the text. You should NOT summarize the text or reiterate the class discussion about the text. You should engage yourself honestly with the text, doing your best to put aside preconceptions and common clichéd responses to issues.


5.      Sources and Citations. Your response paper must include a bibliography with at least one entry, namely, the article about which you are writing. Because all readings for the response papers in this class will come from an edited anthology (namely, Analytic Philosophy: An Anthology) they should have the following format:

Frege, Gottlob. “On Sense and Reference,” in Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, ed. Peter Geach and Max Black, Blackwell Publishers, 1952, pp.56-78; reprinted in A. P. Martinich and David Sosa, eds., Analytic Philosophy: An Anthology, 2nd ed., Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA, 2012, pp.9-21. Page references are to the reprint.

Notice that this bibliographic entry includes the information for the original publication (included on the first page of each article in your textbook), as well as about the reprint that you are using.

Any time you quote directly from the text or cite a specific idea from the text, you should cite the page number of the passage in question. Place your page citations in footnotes, using the following format:

In describing his distinction between sense and reference, Frege writes that “[t]he reference of a proper name is the object itself which we designate by its means…”1 What he means by this is that...

1 Frege, p.11.


6.      Technical requirements.

a.       I want to grade your response papers anonymously. Do not put your name anywhere on your response paper, and do not say anything within the paper itself that would reveal your identity. Identify yourself with your student number; put it at the top of the first page of your paper.

b.      The minimum word count for each response paper is 750 words. You may exceed 750 words, but falling below this minimum will result in a grade penalty. I reserve the right to assign an “F” (0%) to papers that are shorter than 750 words.

c.       Include a word count at the end of your paper. This should cover only the body of your paper, not the title, bibliography, or footnotes. Type in the word count at the very end of your paper.

d.      Do not include a cover sheet, and do not turn in your paper with a cover or binder. Simply staple the pages together.

e.       Use 11- or 12-pt. Times New Roman font and double-spacing between lines.


7.      Evaluation. I will assign grades to response papers based on the following criteria:

a.       Understanding: how well do you understand the text on which you are writing?

b.      Strength of your reasoning: is your reasoning logically strong or weak? Are the assumptions on which you rely true, or at least plausible?

c.       Originality: does your paper contain your own original thinking?

d.      Clarity and precision: is it clear to the reader (me) what you are trying to say? is your wording precise, or does it leave unclear the point you are trying to make?

e.       Grammar, punctuation and spelling: your papers should be free from any grammar, punctuation or spelling errors.