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Eric Dayton, Philosophy Faculty

'A' Paper

What makes an exceptional undergraduate paper?

Well, I think that in first year classes, what you discover is that some students have already an excellent command of language, can see into problems, and can argue, can give you, in a few paragraphs, a very nice summary of what was said. That's worth a lot, because that is in competition with students who have trouble writing more than two or three sentences about an article that was twenty pages long. If they can say, "He tried to show God existed, and he was afraid of the church," or something, that... that's all they could say. Clearly, in comparison, the good summary is a superb answer, but you can give a good summary without having followed the logic of the argument, without seeing. ...If you think of philosophy as being primarily aimed at the truth, then you don't want to know just what conclusion a person came to; you want to know whether they did it rightfully or not, whether their answer is correct. I think that's one of the things that a lot of students have difficulty understanding is that philosophy writing is a normative enterprise; it's not just a descriptive one. So, you cannot give a description that tells you whether or not something gets - whether or not the argument is correct, whether the author has succeeded in demonstrating a conclusion.