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Essay questions

Most Philosophy essay questions require you to make your own judgements about arguments advanced by certain writers. For example you may be asked to decide whether Philosopher A's argument about Issue X is valid; or to compare Philosophers B's account of Issue Y with that of Philosopher C and then decide which is argued the more persuasively.

When you are analysing an essay topic, there are a number of probe questions you can consider to be sure you are on the right track

  1. What precisely do I need to make a judgment about?
  2. What type of judgement do I need to make?
  3. What are some possible judgments?

Consider the following sample essay topic about the philosopher Thomas Aquinas:

Essay topic

What is the argument of Aquinas' "fifth way"? Is this argument valid? Is it sound? Is it persuasive?

Interpreting this essay topic is relatively straightforward (which is not to say it will necessarily be easy to write about). Notice how the topic can be analysed in terms of the three probing questions above.

Analysis information quiz
probing questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • The argument of Aquinas' "fifth way"
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  • Whether the argument is valid
  • Whether it is sound
  • Whether it is persuasive
  1. What are some possible judgements?
  • The argument is/is not valid - why/why not?
  • The argument is/is not sound, etc.
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