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How to Write a Philosophy Discussion Essay

Updated on June 30, 2011

So you have to write a philosophy essay, you really want a good grade, but you are just not sure what you are supposed to argue. Besides, these guys have been doing it for years, and you’ve just started! Do not fear, for here are some hints.

How to use this guide

I have had to split this guide into two parts. One part is located under another post on how to write an argumentative essay in philosophy. I suggest to follow the first parts on this hub before proceeding. I have put a link back to this hub on that page.

Planning stage 2

Assuming that you have come from my hub on argumentative essay writing, welcome back! This part runs on from exactly where you left off.

3. The original part

  • Now, in my post on argumentative essay writing I titled this section ‘pose your own argument’, but we are not interested in arguing for a particular position, here. But you do need to try to say something that is interesting. So what could you do? There is no quick answer to this question, but I can provide some helpful hints that might give you a kick-start. But first, a suggestion. Don’t be scared to ‘have a go’ and write down the first thing that comes to mind. You can always delete this again if you don’t like it. But it is beneficial even if you don’t come up with anything decent on your first attempt because it allows you to start writing; the ideas should follow. Now, here are some hints on the angle you might take:
  • Discuss the differences between two or more authors
  • Show where it is that two or more authors agree/disagree with each other
  • Show how the arguments you are discussing shed light on some further area of enquiry
  • Suggest that there are good points on either side of the argument, but they still have some problems
  • Claim that there just is a real stalemate here, and we must await a better theory
  • Try to show that the arguments are insoluble

Remember, give reasons!

4. Consider the options…

  • You have now come up with an interesting/original position in respect to the arguments/positions you are discussing. Why do you think this is the right way to analyse this debate? It is time to tell us. The best thing to do is to come up with the best alternative judgement and tell your reader why it fails. Remember (can you guess what?) give reasons.

Now you need to slot this into the remaining paragraphs. How to do this? There are no hard and fast rules, here. Divide it up as you see fit. For example, you might delegate 2 paragraphs to exposition, 2 paragraphs for discussing the arguments/positions, 2 paragraphs for your own viewpoint, 1 paragraph to consider an alternative suggestion and the final paragraph for your rebuttal of the this alternative. Remember, this is only a rough guide and you might find (a) that something else works better for you, or (b) that you find your general format changes as you think about/write your essay.

Planning stage 3: Brainstorming

Now is time to get some paper and start a brainstorm. As the word implies, it is like a storm in your brain. On a blank piece of paper write down the topic of each paragraph, and leave a lot of space under it (so you can write your notes). This is where you write down notes, quotes and ideas you have as you read through your readings.

Writing stage

Writing essays is a kind of an art. It is good to look at as much material as you can. I have suggested some material you might be interested in to your right. These ones deal with writing at the paragraph level, whereas I will give you a brief plan on how to write your essay

It is best to write your essay in the following order:

  • Main body
  • Conclusion
  • Introduction

Yes, I do say to write the introduction last. You might write out a plan before you start your essay, but this is for yourself, not your reader. The introduction should be like a map of your essay; it should tell the reader what you are doing and how you will be doing this. Anyway, here are some notes on the relevant parts: 

Main body

  • Tell us about the arguments you are discussing first (that is to say, before you start telling us what you think)
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the author: why does he/she say this? Doing this will allow you to provide reasons for their view. Remember, pretend you are filling their shoes
  • Quotes are good, but keep them to a minimum. We want to hear your words


Tell the reader what you have done in your essay. (Remind them how good it was!). Make sure it states what you think the essay has concluded as well as a brief summary of how you got there. Here is an example:

To sum up, I think that there are good reasons to think about the existing debate in [blah] as controversy over [state conclusion here]. I have argued for this in the following way. First, I discussed [philosopher A’s view] and found that she had made [the following error]. I then considered an alternative suggestion, put forward by [blah], but found that this suffered from the same defect. I then argued that there were only two ways in which this challenge could be met, but that neither was palatable. The first way [was wrong because…] and the second way didn’t fare much better [for this reason]. I concluded that there is a stalemate [in the argument under discussion], which will not be resolved until [state what this is].


You will see that the introduction has now pretty much written itself! All you need to do is (pretty much) copy down what you have done. Try to do these three things:

  • Introduce topic
  • Get the reader’s interest
  • Give a map of your essay

So here is an example:

In this essay I will discuss [philosopher A’s and philosopher B’s] views on [state what]. I will claim that there is a stalemate in this debate at present time. I will make this claim in the following way. First, I will discuss [philosopher A’s] view, before contrasting it with [philosopher B’s]. Second, I will claim that… Thirdly, I will argue that… Finally, I will show that ...

What is important is to remember the three points: introduce topic, get reader’s attention and give a map of your essay. I highly recommend that you come up with your own formula and do not just copy mine. If you can do this, you will be well on your way to writing a stunning essay!


What Now?

Well, there are many many things you might want to do now. One can never improve enough in essay writing. As a final word, I would recommend that you make the essay as clear as possible. If nothing else, this will allow the reader (marker/tutor!) to understand what you have written. If worse comes to worse it will allow them to tell you where you went wrong. Else, have a look at more information on hubpages, etc. e.g. hubs on philosophy and my other entries (here, here, and here). Any comments are welcome.

And good luck!



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