Odyssey Writing

Your assignment is to write a thoughtful and carefully reasoned 3 to 5 (or more) page double spaced thesis paper on one of allowed topics for this class

Some of my students have said that they find the odyssey instructions confusing, so I've created some simplified instructions which I hope will at least make it easier for you to get started.

General Plan

This is a Read-Think-Write assignment, which means that you have two very important and complicated things to do before you start any actual writing. Here, in this green box, is what you're supposed to do for whatever topic you pick.

1. READ: Read the essay prompt very, very, very carefully.Try to develop at least one argument on each side of the issue, together with any critcisms or counter arguments that seem relevant to you, or which you can come up with off your own bat. Write all these arguments down in your own words as clearly and completely as you can.

2. THINK: Logically analyze the arguments on both sides, and work out which side is logically supported by the available evidence. Remember, this assignment is not about your feelings, so don't just pick the side you happent to "think" is right, pick the side that is supported by the argument that doesn't fail under logical analysis. One way to do logical analysis is to do the following:

  1. Write out a list of relevant arguments clearly in your own words.
  2. Examine each argument to determine whether it commits a logical fallacy.
  3. If an argument commits a logical fallacy, cross it out.
  4. Examine each remaining argument to see whether it has some other logical weakness.
  5. If an argument has a fatal logical weakness, cross it out.
  6. If there's more than one opposing argument left, cross out the logically weakest arguments until there's just one left.

If you follow this procedure, you should be left with the strongest argument 

3. WRITE: Do the following actions in order:

  1. Take the conclusion of the one argument that didn't have any logical weakness, and write that out as your thesis. (This would be the first sentence of your paper.) 
  2. Type in "##########################" after your thesis.
  3. Write out in your own words the argument for your thesis. (This would be the argument that turned out not to have a logical weakness.)
  4. Take one argument against your thesis, explain it in your own words, and then explain clearly and exactly what is wrong with that one argument.
  5. If you have another argument against your thesis, explain it in your own words, and then explain clearly and exactly what is wrong with that other argument. (It's okay if your paper just discusses two arguments.)
  6. Repeat step 5 until you have run out of opposing arguments. (This will result in a series of paragraphs, each one discussing a different argument.
  7. Make any other comments you happen to think of. Don't write a "conclusion" or "conclluding paragraph," and don't repeat anything you've said before. Instead, write out any other thoughts you might have about this topic. (You can write anything at all at this point.)
  8. In a completely seperate document, write up a brief overview or summary of everything you have written so far for stages 1 through 7. When this is done, paste this summary in just after your thesis, replacing the "##########################" you typed in earlier.
  9. Stop writing, make any cosmetic or other edits you think appropriate, and turn in your finished paper

If you follow these instructions, and keep your writing clear and simple, your paper won't have any structural flaws.

The green-box steps

hhhabove are your clear and simple instructions for the paper. If you completely understand these instructions, and you see clearly how all these items are different from each other, and you know exactly how to write high quality academic papers, you can go ahead and write your paper.

If you do not understand any or all of these items, or if you are not just not completely sure about how to write this paper, keep reading, because the rest of this page just consists of more detailed explanations of how to do the six things described above.

Video Help

I make terrible videos. But one or two might be helpful, so here they are.


How not to write.

Paper Talk

wrangles and odyssey

If you still find my instructions confusing, email me before you write the paper. (Do not wait until you have gotten a bad grade, and then tell me that my instructions are "confusing." That will not improve your grade.) Get the instructions clear in your mind before you start.

Fallback Option: Thinkathon

If the "green-box" instructions seem too hard, or you're irreducibly confused by all these instructions, take this option.

If you're having a hard time coming up with arguments, you can instead write a "thinkathon" paper, in which you write down all the things you think about your chosen topic. Again, you don't write the kind of paper you'd write for an English class, so don't fall back on the conventional, boring and wasteful style of paper. Instead, do a lot of thinking, write out what you think, and explain as best you can why you think what you think.

Include the word "thinkathon" in the title of your paper, so I know what you're doing.

When I grade your paper, I will be looking for clearly expressed deep understanding of your topic, insightful thoughts about that topic, and carefully reasoned justifications for your thoughts. Your paper doesn't have to be perfect, but you can only get credit for material that demonstrates your own thinking process. A paper that might get an A in English class might well get an F in my class, and vice versa.

Remember, a properly written thesis paper is preferred to a thinkathon, but if you're not ready for the big time, a thinkathon could be a very, very good start.

Important Notes

1. You should not play accordion music at any time in this paper.

"Accordion music" is material that does not contribute to explaining, supporting, critiquing or defending your thesis. Think about it like this: Suppose you take your car in to the transmission shop for repairs, and the mechanic says "$75 for parts, and $100 an hour for my labor. You agree to this and, having nothing better to do, you go to a nearby coffee shop to wait. You sit outside, and happen to be able to see the mechanic working on your car. For the first hour, he works on your transmission, but then puts down his tools, picks up an accordion, and plays polka music for two hours. (You hate accordion music. You especially hate polkas.) After two hours of dancing around your car playing such favorites as "Beer Barrel Polka" and "Im Krapfenwald'l," he picks up his tools again and resumes work on your car, finishing up in exactly one more hour. You return to the shop, and he charges you $475, which he says is $75 for parts and $400 for the four hours he worked on your car. My question is, do you think the mechanic should be paid $200 for the two hours he spent playing polka music instead of working on your transmission? Personally, I would not pay a mechanic for unwanted polka music, and I won't give credit for unwanted material that does not contribute to explaining, supporting, critiquing or defending your thesis.

Remember this: Material that does not contribute to explaining, supporting, critiquing or defending your thesis (or your ideas) counts for nothing

Seriously, would you pay for this if all you wanted was your transmission fixed?


2. You should make sure your paper includes a FIREWORKS FACTORY (if you haven't fallen back on the "thinkathon.")

The "Fireworks Factory" is the part of the paper where you do real logical analysis of the opposing argument. This means you examine the factual and logical claims made in the opposing argument, and explain the reason why you found those factual or logical claims unconvincing while you were doing your prewriting. To understand the name "fireworks factory," suppose that (like Milhous in S08E14 of the Simpsons) you are watching a cartoon show in which the main characters set off to visit a fireworks factory, where hijinks, explosions and dismemberments will presumably ensue. But also suppose that, instead of going on to the fireworks factory, the characters stop to interact with a pretentious and annoying cartoon dog, who wastes minute after precious minute with cliched and boring jumping around. In enduring this garbage you might, like Milhous, experience an intense sense of frustration, and utter an anguished cry of "when are they going to get to the fireworks factory?" (They never do.) Well, that's how I feel when I reach the very end of a student paper and there's still no logical analysis of the opposing argument. I feel like I've been promised some hilarious antics but have instead been tricked into sitting through a bunch of other stuff with absolutely no payoff at the end.

To make a fireworks factory, you do the following:

  1. Look at your "part 5" paragraph, where you explain the argument against your thesis.
  2. Remember the reason(s) you thought these specific arguments were in themselves logically bad.
  3. Make sure that this reason is different from your pro argument.
  4. Make sure that this reason specifically refers to the facts mentioned in the opposing arguments.
  5. Explain this reason (or reasons) clearly and completely in the last section of your paper.

Once you've finished your fireworks factory, you're basically done. You can write other stuff (as long as you don't repeat anything you said before), but you don't have to, and a concluding paragraph really won't help your grade, so you really shouldn't waste your time with one.

The usual grade recieved by a paper without a fireworks factory is a "C" or worse, but even if the rest of your paper is absolutely brilliant, the absolute best you can do with a paper that doesn't analyze opposing arguments is a "B." (I warn you that if you say to yourself "I can live with a B," and don't bother trying to analyze the opposing argument, that paper will probably get a "D," or an "F.")

Remember this: A paper that does not contain a logical analysis of the opposing argument cannot possibly get a grade higher than a "B," and will probably get a "C," "D," or "F."

Don't put me through this, please!

If you still don't understand the concept of a "fireworks factory," email me.


Ideally, your paper will include at least one argument for your thesis, one argument against your thesis, and a critical analysis of that opposing argument. This critical analysis is the most important part of a philosophy paper, mainly because it's the part where you can demonstrate actual logical thinking. Unfortunately, most students don't bother trying to follow instructions and decide instead to write bad papers.

The clearest example of accordion music in student writing is the unnecessary fluff and nonsense that many students use to start off their papers instead of stating these theses right away. It wastes the student's time to write such stuff, and it wastes my time to read it. One student told me that his English teacher had told him he had to write empty generalizations and other kinds of fluff before stating his thesis. That English teacher was wrong. You start your paper by stating your thesis. If you think your thesis needs more explanation, you follow your thesis with an explanation of what exactly you personally mean by your thesis. After stating (and maybe explaining) your thesis, you briefy explain your main reason for thinking your thesis is true. (If you can't do this, close your computer, and do the pre-writing you should have done before you started typing your paper.) If the last sentence of your first paragraph is your thesis, you've done it wrong.

Consider arguments against your thesis. If you can't find any, email me.

Again, make sure you don't skip the fireworks factory. The "fireworks factory" is the part of your paper where you do a critical analysis of the argument(s) against your position. This means you examine the factual and logical claims made in the opposing argument, and explain the reason why you found those factual or logical claims unconvincing while you were doing your prewriting. If you did your prewriting properly, this will be easy. If you can't think of any real logical problems with the opposing argument(s), rethink your thesis, and redo your prewriting. If you can't think of any opposing arguments, please at least acknowledge this fact at some point in your paper.

One you've finished your first paper, submit it to turnitin.com, then check back in a few days to see your grade, and to get your next writing assignment, which will be contained in a comment marked "ZNS" at the top of your paper.

The above are your basic instructions for the first stage. (If you think I want you to do something different from what these instructions say, I don't. Make sure you follow my instructions.) The following "Detailed Instructions" given below are basically just a greatly expanded version of the basic instructions, with "do's and don't's" and so forth. As you read the more detailed instructions, just remember that what you are basically being told to do is exactly what I just told you to do.

Detailed Instructions

Odyssey is a series of directed writing exercises that requires you to do the kind of thinking that is essential for successful philosophy. Odyssey requires you to think about whether or not various theses can be logically supported, and really doesn’t require you to personally have an settled opinion on the issue. You can use any format you like, so long as you answer the questions and give reasons for your answers, but you don’t have to produce any sort of “polished” or "structured" product at all. Stage one asks you to determine whether some particular thesis (which need not be your own opinion) can be logically supported. (If you care so passionately about some particular belief that you could not bear to ever say that it is not supported by reasons, you should avoid writing about that belief in this class.) Later stages require you to thoughtfully respond to specific questions that I will come up with based on what you wrote before.  The odyssey thus develops analytical and critical thinking skills through a linked series of writing exercises in which you are asked not "what do you believe?" but "what thesis is best supported by evidence and arguments known to you." Real writing is an intellectual process of focusing on and exploring the underlying arguments of a particular issue. Thus it is not primarily aimed at producing a "finished" paper but at making progress in more deeply understanding that issue. Such progress almost always involves changing your mind again and again about facts, evidence, implications, arguments and (especially) your thesis itself! (So don’t pick an issue you couldn’t stand to change your mind about.) Stage one requires you to look at both sides of an issue before deciding what thesis is easiest to support. Subsequent stages require you to thoughtfully respond to specific questions posed by the instructor. Make sure that you respond to the exact question as it is written. A paper that thoughtfully discusses why you can’t answer your assigned question can get full credit while a paper that dodges or changes the question will fail. This is an exercise in organizing your ideas, and in thinking and rethinking your thesis on the basis of information and reasoning currently available to you. Say what you think, not what you think I want to hear, or what you think you're supposed to think. Editing or rewriting any previous STAGE will not fulfil any stage, and will get you an F for that stage. Call me if you have problems!.

Stage 1: Tackle an issue from the list provided separately. (Make sure you chose a topic from the list supplied for your class.) This stage is graded on responsiveness to the questions actually posed by that topic, on the depth of thinking demonstrated and the logical support offered for your ideas. Remember, the way you tackle the issue is to do your prewriting, and then, when you've figured everything out, write a paper explaining all your thoughts.

Subsequent stages: Tackle the specific question(s) I ask you on the "Ze Next Stage" comment. They're graded on responsiveness to the question(s) I ask for that stage, on your demonstrated ability to tell whether a thesis or claim is or is not discredited by a specific objection and your demonstrated ability to understand and explain the logical implications of all the evidence and arguments available to you at this stage.

Research is usually not required. (Generally, you should ignore those parts of the internet that you are not specifically told to look at.) This is an exercise in organizing your ideas, and in rethinking them on the basis of information currently available to you, not in supporting a predetermined “right” answer. Say what you think, not what you think I want to hear. Allways write in clear colloquial English. Don’t try to make it look “philosophical.” Don’t write anything a fellow student couldn’t understand. Use your own (short and simple) words & say exactly what you think.

When you give other people's arguments, remember to credit those arguments to those other people. If you got the argument from Joe Sixpack, write "Joe Sixpack says.... " Don't write down Joe's argument as though you personally just thought of it.

When you give an opposing argument, don't write it as though it's your argument. If it's an argument that opposes the thesis that turned out to be best supported, preface it with wording like "People who oppose cat juggling argue . . . " or "Jill Keg, who opposes cat juggling, says.... " Don't write down an opposing argument as though it's your pro argument.

The thing to keep in mind here is that odyssey writing might be completely different from whatever you've been taught about writing so far in you academic career. While there are some absolutely excellent english teachers out there, there are also some that teach their students to write badly, or even to do the opposite of writing, so please be aware that what you've been taught so far might serve you very well in this class, or it might drag you down like a jet-fighter diving nose-first into an enormous vat of chocolate pudding..

The essence of an odyssey paper is that it it must represent new rational thinking on the chosen topic. (Each stage represents new and possibly different thinking, so don't repeat any text.) Nothing that doesn't constitute rational thinking will earn any credit. (If you're interested in some concrete examples of stuff that isn't rational thinking, download and print this file, and work through it on your own)

An Odyssey is basically an extended analysis of the logic involved in a particular controversial topic. You fulfill stage 1 by setting out what you take to be the best arguments on both sides of an issue, and then saying which side is actually better supported by logic. (See odysseymodel.htm for a suggested format.) After stage 1 is graded, each student will receive an individualized stage 2 assignment based on her stage 1 work, and so on to stage 3. No stage can be assigned before the previous stage has been graded, so students who turn in work late run the risk of being unable to do all four stages. Odyssey stages will be graded solely on the quality of the logical analysis presented. Insightful comments and creative examples can help a logical analysis, so they can help your grade. Avoidance of inconvenient facts, and reliance on logical fallacies to support a favored conclusion kills logical analysis stone dead, and so will kill your odyssey grade equally dead.

Do's And Don'ts


DO everything I tell you to do. You should follow the instructions on this page and in your chosen essay prompt exactly. If this page tells you to do something, do that thing. If the prompt for your chosen topic tells you to do something, do that thing. If I tell you to do something in your "Ze Next Stage" prompt for a subsequent stage, do that thing. (Many people fail simply by ignoring instructions.)


DON'T do anything I don't tell you to do. If there's something you feel like doing in your paper that is not one of the things I told you to do, don't do that thing. The things I do tell you to do take quite a bit of effort, and it makes no sense to waste effort on things that will not earn you any credit. I won't take points off for you wasting my time and yours with unnecessary stuff, but the parts of your paper in which you do stuff that I didn't tell you to do will be marked "not needed" or "off topic" and will earn you no credit whatsoever.

DON'T do anything I specifically tell you not to do. If I've said not to do something, then don't do that thing. If I've marked a part of your paper as "not needed" or "off topic" or otherwise indicated that this is not the kind of thing you're supposed to do in a paper, it's accordion music, and you should not do that kind of thing again. Seriously, don't. Again, your actual assignment is hard enough, so it's not a good idea to do things that you should know won't get you any credit, and which might easily cost you points. (Many people waste space with off-topic and other unnecesary material. It earns no credit, so don't waste space.)

DON'T repeat any text in any subsequent odyssey stage. This is the most basic rule of odyssey writing. If you copy any section, any paragraph, or even any sentence from any previous odyssey stage and paste it into your current work, you will be deliberately breaking the rules. Reusing ideas is fine, just so long as those ideas are expressed in new text that you write just for your new odyssey stage. Reusing arguments is fine, just so long as those arguments are described in new text that you write just for your new odyssey stage. Just don't reuse any text from a previous stage. Start with a new blank page and write in new sentences and paragraphs to express and explain your new ideas.

DON'T skip the fireworks factory.

DON'T cheat.

DON'T listen to anyone who tells you to do your writing assignments differently from how I say to do them. Don't listen to anyone who tells you my instructions really mean something different from what they actually say. Those people are fools, and they are trying to make you fail.

Click on the appropriate link to get topics for your class.

Topics for Introduction To Philosophy
Topics for Logic and/or Critical Thinking
Topics for Ethics, Society and Law.
Topics for Intro to Ethics.
Topics for Religions of The East.

Odyssey papers should be at least long enough to answer a substantive question, or to at least do some substantive work towards that such a question. If you need me to give you a specific page count, I will ask you for four pages, but will accept three pages, or two, just as long as it's two full pages.  Apart from that, it should be typewritten, double spaced, 12 point type, no cover sheet, with your name, date and class on the first page.

Pick a substantial controversial issue from the topic list for this class and do the following.

1. Identify the arguments on one side of this issue and get those arguments clear in your mind.

2. Identify the arguments on the other side of this issue and get those arguments clear in your mind.

3. Work your way through all these arguments and anything else you can think of until you can come to some kind of conclusion about what position is best supported by the evidence and arguments available to you at this time.

4. Write an essay explaining that position, the arguments for that position, the arguments against that position, and why the arguments against that position don't work. Be as clear, thoughtful, precise, detailed, nuanced and rigorous as you can.

Your must discuss arguments from both sides of the issue, using the same critical standards for both sides. If you cannot find arguments on one side, or cannot easily present the arguments for the other side, choose a different topic. If you pick an issue that's too easy you will not be able to do enough critical thinking to earn a good grade, so choose a different topic. If you pick an issue you care so passionately about that you cannot bear to fully present the other side's arguments, choose a different topic.

Do not use dictionary definitions. Do not cop out. Don't ask rhetorical questions. Don't include uninterpreted quotations.

Be as clear, as complete, as precise and as logically rigorous as you can.

There may be students who think that they can skip the thinking process and just jump into typing out an essay based on whatever random thoughts have come into their heads from themselves or others. These students are deliberately failing the assignment. Think before you write. If your mind is made up before you start looking at the facts, you have already failed.


Before you turn in your paper, you can rate yourself on how well you followed the instructions. This won't represent your grade, but it will let you know if you've made certain procedural or formatting mistakes.

5 points: Thesis statement. If your very first sentence is a statement of your paper’s thesis, give yourself five points. If your first sentence is not a statement of your paper’s thesis, you don’t get these five points.

15 points: Overview. If the remainder of your first paragraph is an overview of the arguments, counter arguments and analyses of your paper, give yourself fifteen points. It it isn't, don't give yourself these points.

A “traditional” opening paragraph, which gives unnecessary background material and makes sweeping claims about history or society, is worth exactly zero points, so if you wrote one of those, you should delete it and write a proper opening paragraph.

5 points: Point of View Statement and Indicators for Pro Side. If you are giving arguments you accept as logical, you should say something like “I think that . . .” or something else that indicates which point of view you are representing, and continue to indicate POV with words like “I” and “they” whenever appropriate. If you didn’t, you miss out on these five points.

10 points: Pro Argument. Making sure you include all necessary point of view statement and indicators, clearly and completely state the logically stronger of the two arguments you impartially considered before you started typing. (Remember, the stronger argument is not necessarily the argument for the conclusion you want to believe. It is the argument that turns out to not have any logical problems when considered from an impartial point of view.) No pro argument, zero points here.

If it’s clear the only reason you support this side is the fact that you agree with its conclusion, give yourself zero points here.

5 points: Point of View Statement and Indicators for Con Side. The con side is the side that turned out to be supported by a demonstrably weak argument. You should indicate that you are talking about the side you do not support by saying things like “those who believe in _________ say” or “my opponents believe that . . . .” and so on. If you don't, no points here.

20 points: Con Argument. Including all necessary point of view statement and indicators, clearly, completely and charitably state the logically weaker of the two arguments you considered before you started typing. (Remember, the weaker argument is not necessarily the argument for the conclusion you don’t want to believe. It is the argument that turned out to have a real and demonstrable logical problem when it was impartially examined.) Remember that in this section you should state the argument in a way that its proponents would like to see it stated. Make it as complete, as clear, and as strong as reasonably possible. If you made a clear, complete and charitable statement of the con side's argument, give yourself 20 point. If you didn't do all that, give youself fewer points.

If it’s clear that you are disrespecting the con argument, give yourself zero points here.

40 points: Critical Analysis of Con Argument. Including all necessary point of view statement and indicators, clearly and completely explain the logical reasons that you decided the con argument was logically weak. (Disagreeing with you is not a logical weakness.) A critical analysis does not have to be written in technical language. It just has to be a report or a reasoning process that led you to conclude that the argument supporting the con side had a logical flaw. If you did what you were told to do, this will be easy, since you will have thought critically about both arguments and this is the one that turned out to have a logical weakness. All you have to do here is explain that logical weakness in your own words as clearly and completely as you can. (If you get to this point and realize that you haven’t yet thought about the logical strength of the arguments, tear up your paper immediately. If you haven’t printed it yet, print it out, erase it from your computer and then tear it into little pieces. Then look at your pro argument again. If you rejected the con side without thinking, then it’s probably your pro side that’s wrong.)

If it’s clear the only reason you criticize this argument is because you feel its conclusion is wrong, give yourself zero points here.

If you find that all you have done here is restate your pro argument, give yourself zero points here.

If you find that all you have done here is give a new and different pro argument, give yourself zero points here.

If you find that you have not explicitly referred to at least one premise in the con argument, give yourself zero points here.

Remember, if you don’t do a critical analysis of the opposing argument, you have deliberately failed the assignment.

You have to look carefully and honestly at the arguments against your position. The one sure way to do badly at this assignment is to ignore, distort or otherwise disrespect the arguments against your position.

You are assigned to do a topic from the list for your class. If you specifically check with me first, giving me a tentative thesis and argument, and get my permission, I might let you do a topic that is not on the list. If you write on a non-list topic without first showing me a thesis and arguments, you will get zero points.

Cheats will be caught and punished. Last time I caught a plagiarist I recommended expulsion.


Deliberate Failure

One of the most frustrating things about teaching is that every so often, a student decides to "write" a paper in which he completely ignores the instructions in the prompt. This is bad. It might produce a paper that lacks critical analysis of any opposing argument, or it might result in a paper that omits opposing arguments altogether. This is bad

Grading Penalties

Accidental mistakes are not penalized. If you include a piece of bad reasoning in an Odyssey, all that will happen is that that particular bit of text will not earn you any points. If there's enough good stuff in the rest of the paper to earn you an A, then you get an A, no problem.

Deliberate refusal to follow instructions is another matter. There are certain practices that cannot possibly contribute to intellectual growth, and these practices are banned absolutely from my classes. You have been told not to do the following things. Here are the penalties for doing them.

Dictionary Definition: Minus 100 points

If you use a dictionary to define any word in any paper you write for me, I will deduct one hundred points from your score.

Trawling for Idiots: Minus 50 points

This is the practice of ignoring the essay prompt in favor of googling the topic. In such cases, the "writer" does not take any time to think about the topic, and copies over the sayings of random people, (who are usually complete morons) in place of giving her own thoughts. People who "write" by trawling for idiots almost always turn in papers that largely consist of random, uninterpreted and undigested quotes from random, possibly moronic, people on the internet. This is not even remotely close to being even slightly acceptable, and such papers receive at most zero points. If your paper contains any idiot trawling, it will receive a 50 point penalty. If your paper consists of nothing but unsupported claims and idiot trawling, it will be worth zero and will incur the penalty, meaning it will get an overall grade of negative fifty points.

Cop-Out: Minus 50 points each

If you ever write the phrase "but who is to say ..." in any paper for my class, you will cost yourself fifty points. Claiming that you can't answer a moral question because "different people have different ideas about morality" is a particularly weasel-hearted cop out, and will certainly cost you fifty, as will any other cop out.

Uninterpreted Quote: Minus 10 points each

If you use a quote from another writer without explaining what you think the quote means, I will definitely deduct ten points every time you do it. (The best way to refer to the work of other writers is to put the other person's thought into your own words and say who said that thought. That way, you don't have to use quotes at all.) In a philosophy paper, the student is supposed to demonstrate that he understands everything that is being said, and quoting only demonstrates that you can look something up. I've seen many, many student papers in which many quotes were made without the slightest indication that they were understood at all. I've also seen several papers in which quotes were interpreted as saying things they clearly did not say, or in which the student wrote things that indicated that he had completely misunderstood the quote. Quoting, by itself, adds nothing to a paper. Don't add a quote unless you also put in your own interpretation, in your own words of that quote.

Rhetorical Question: Minus 5 points each

Sentences that end in question marks are questions, not statements. Providing rhetorical questions instead of statements is avoiding the assignment. I will deduct five points for every question I see in your paper. (Some people have written rhetorical questions with the question marks left off. This doesn't work.) Don't use rhetorical questions.

Use of Non-Class Source: Minus 10 points (Well, not really, because you might have to to a little bit of research.)

If it’s not the textbook or one of the webpages I tell you to, you probably shouldn’t even look at it. The odyssey requires you to think about the ideas and arguments I provide you. It requires you to not look around for what lame internet people think. Don’t even look at a source that isn’t assigned. (This penalty can be waived if you acknowledge all sources used, or even looked at.)

Failure to List a Source: Minus up to 300 points

Depending on the circumstances, failure to acknowledge a source may be taken as evidence of dishonesty which, if found, will be punished appropriately. If you even briefly consult a work that isn’t part of the official reading, you absolutely must mention that work somewhere in your paper

Use of a "friend" to write your paper: Minus exactly 300 points.

If you turn in a paper written in whole or in part by somebody else, you are cheating. If you "get help from a friend" who "gives you some ideas" and those "ideas" turn out to be pieces of text that you did not write, you are cheating. I am incredibly tired of cheaters. I am incredibly tired of cheaters who pretend that they had no idea that paraphrasing other people’s work is cheating. I'm incredibly tired of people who copy stuff directly from the internet and then expect me to believe that the presence of other people's exact words in their paper is the result of having a friend who "gave them a few ideas." People who do this suck. They are scum. Ha! They leave a trail of slime wherever they go. Even worse, they are boring.

Ignore my instructions at your peril. It is easy to avoid dictionaries, cop-outs, uninterpreted quotes and rhetorical questions, so I will not hesitate to give you a negative grade if you decide to include these horrible, horrible things.

These bad practices are the only mistakes that can incur penalties. Other kinds of mistakes are understandable and will not incur penalties. Fluff, filler, repetition and pomposity won't earn you any points, but they won't cost you any either. I will be looking for thoughfulness, care, nuance, clarity, detail and logical rigor. These things will get you points. Do enough clear and careful thinking and you can get full marks, even if your paper is far from perfect.

Types of Cheating

1. Having someone else write the paper for you is cheating.

2. Buying an already-written paper and turning it in as your own work is cheating.

3. Downloading writing from the internet and turning it in as your own work is cheating.

4. Downloading writing from the internet, making small changes, and turning it in as your own work is cheating.

5. Downloading various chunks of writing from the internet, putting them together, and turning it in as your own work is cheating.

6. Organizing various pieces of other people's writings into a paper and turning it in as your own work is cheating.

7. Including, without acknowledgement, even one phrase that you didn't write is dishonest.

8. Doing any of the above in the sincere belief that it is morally okay or academically legitimate to do so is just self-deception, making you doubly dishonest.

Other Notes

I've noticed that some students think the way to do this is to tell me what people on each side say about the topic, and then follow this with some general statement that's not supported by any reasoning or, even worse, some warm-and-fuzzy "split-the-difference" generality. Remember, you are supposed to dig up arguments and analyze them. You're NOT supposed to simply report what people on both sides say about your chosen topic, you're supposed to go through what they say and work out what their arguments are, put those arguments in your own words and analyze them as best you can. Telling me what each side says is not enough. (Remember however to clearly reference the source of each argument you discuss. Don't write out someone else's argument as though you were arguing it, especially if you don't agree with it.)

Occasionally, a student will decide that he can satisfy the Odyssey requirement by turning in a paper designed to defend some particular belief (instead of an objective logical analysis of the arguments relevant to that belief.) This is completely and utterly false. Odyssey writing never, ever asks you to write an advocacy paper. If you see your task as defending one particular side of an argument, then you see your task wrong. If you decide, before analyzing any arguments, that the other side cannot possibly be right, then you are deciding to fail. While I usually look for opportunities to give credit, no paper that is written on the assumption that one particular side has to be right, and the other side has to be wrong is worth any credit whatsoever, and so I reserve the right to give 0 points to papers that fail to give fair and equal critical consideration to the arguments on both sides of an issue. If you cannot bear to contemplate the possibility that the arguments on the other side of the issue are stronger than the arguments that support your personal beliefs, then you should pick a different issue to write about. If you cannot understand the difference between a paper that logically analyzes arguments and a paper that defends one side in defiance of logic, please see me since it will be impossible for you to succeed in this class without knowing that difference.

Reusing, editing or superficially rewording any previous material is expressly forbidden, and will get you an F for that stage. The whole point of this assignment is for you to think deeply and seriously about your topic. Editing does not involve deep thought. Rewording does not require serious thinking. Time spent rewording previously used ideas, editing previously used text, or (gods forbid) polishing, is time wasted.

To repeat some important points:

Quoting a dictionary to define the meaning of any important term will get you a -100 point penalty. Part of this assignment involves you working out for yourself what you think important terms mean. Part of this assignment involves getting the meanings of these terms exactly right. Relying on the dictionary makes both of these goals impossible. Looking something up is not the same as thinking. Writing down how people use a word is not the same as working out what it really means. Using a dictionary instead of thinking for yourself will cost you 50 points, which is enough to turn a "A" into an "F." Of course, if you rely on the dictionary too much, you won't even earn as many as 50 points in the first place, so using a dictionary could lead to you getting zero points for that stage. (If you think this is unfair, see dictionary.htm)

Asking any rhetorical question will get you a -5 point penalty per question. If you have something in mind, say it straight out in plain English. If it's a question that's on your mind, think about it and write down what you think. Writing out the question just wastes space. If you can't think of anything to say about the issue, don't say anything about it. If you think that your ability to ask a question that you can't answer means anything at all, you had better be able to explain why YOUR IGNORANCE should count as a reason for anything! (This penalty will only be waived if you immediately go on to answer the question you asked.) You never need to include rhetorical questions. They never help your writing.

Making a statement that includes words like "but nobody really knows ... " or "people disagree about this, so ...." will get you a penalty of up to 50 points per instance. In any paper you write there is exactly one person who is to say the answer to every question. That person is you. Saying "people disagree about this issue, so we can never answer the question" is a meaningless cop-out. The only reason for giving any writing assignment is to find out what you have to say. The horrible thing about this way of speaking is that the speaker seems to think that his or her inability to think should count for something! If you can't think of the answer, just say that you can't think of it. Then go on to questions that you can answer. Your opinion is the only one that matters even the slightest bit in any paper that you write for me. (If you think this penalty is excessive, who is to say what's excessive?)

DON'T start by thinking up a thesis and then looking around for ways to make that thesis look good. That's the opposite of thinking! Instead, start by writing down all the relevant facts about the issue, especially the facts that you don't like to think about. Then work out what you think those facts taken together logically imply about the topic. Make that the thesis of your paper, even if you don't personally agree with that thesis. (You can always add commentary saying "I don't agree with this thesis, but it's the one that's most supported by the evidence and argument available to me right now.) Then, explain as clearly as you can how those facts support that thesis. Next, find as many ways as you can to make some fact(s) seem to oppose your thesis. (What would someone who disagreed say against that thesis?) And explain each of those ways in a seperate paragraph. Finally, take each of those opposing arguments and say what's wrong with it. Don't do anything else.

A good way to approach the writing process is to imagine an annoying little voice that continually asks you "but why do you think that?" as you write your paper. Imagine it asks you that for every thing you say! Then take the time to think about whether you can back up your assumptions. (This is called "deeper thinking.") If you can, write down your reasoning. (This is called "trying to earn more points.") If you can't, say you can't, so I'll know that you at least thought about the issue. (This is called "intellectual honesty.") Every time you finish a STAGE, you can go back over it with that annoying little voice and try to think of more things to say.

Material that isn't part of this kind of logical analysis can't count towards your grade, so don't bother writing an introduction or a concluding paragraph. If I find material that isn't part of supporting, criticising or defending your thesis I will cross it out. For more information on what I like to see in a paper, see write.htm

I require you to give reasons for the most important claims you make. I want you to change your mind about your thesis when the evidence and arguments available to you at that time logically support a different thesis. I require you to state explicitly what thesis is logically supported by the evidence and arguments available to you at the time you write, even if you personally choose to believe a thesis that isn't logically supported.

Sometimes it is difficult to organize your thoughts well enough to produce a coherent picture supporting one side or another. Maybe you can only support one side of the issue, or maybe you can support both sides so well that you can’t figure out which side is best supported. In that case, you can do a partial analysis, which consists of whatever arguments and criticisms you can come up with. You can improve your chances of getting credit by explicitly acknowledging that it isn’t a full analysis, and by pointing out where the gaps and weaknesses are. You can also add questions you would need to answer to go on with your analysis. Coming up with good question(s) could make the difference between an F and an A.

Sometimes it is difficult to organize your thoughts well enough to even figure out what the basic questions are. Maybe you have a lot of ideas and see a lot of sides to the issue but have no idea how to even get started on an essay. If all else fails, you can do a topic analysis, which consists of a series of disconnected paragraphs, each one dealing specifically with a single topic that seems to be relevant to the main issue, and which may or may not be mentioned in any or all of the other paragraphs. Start by making a list of which ideas you think are relevant to the issue. For each idea, write a paragraph (or more) in which you talk about what this idea might mean for the issue. Don’t discuss any other topics in that paragraph unless it is directly relevant to that idea. (Just being relevant to the overall issue isn’t enough.) Different ideas get different paragraphs. When you run out of ideas, stop writing paragraphs. Again, you can improve your chances of getting credit by acknowledging that it isn’t a full analysis, by pointing out where the weaknesses are and adding questions. Again, the questions might be the best part. You can start by writing down all your thoughts randomly as they come to you. Look your writing over and make a list of all the things you wrote about. Write a separate paragraph about each thing (and only that thing) and you have a topic analysis. Go over your original notes and see if you can figure out which ideas support which side of the issue. cut up your topic analysis so that each topic is on a separate piece of paper. Put each topic into a “pro” pile, a “con” pile or a “not sure” pile based on which side it seems to support. Then do the following: First, write a short paper defending the pro side based on the ideas in your pro pile (pro paper). Second, write a short paper defending the con side based on the ideas in your con pile (con paper). Third, look over your two papers and decide which paper makes a better case, then write a short paper explaining which side has the better case, and why you think so (decision paper). Fourth, Write a short paper saying which side you chose, saying what the other side’s reasons were, what your side’s reasons were, and then discussing the “not sure” ideas and explaining why you’re not sure about them (intro). Then staple them all together in the order intro – side you chose – side you didn’t – decision, and you’ve got an analysis.

Rules For Going Off List

Occaisionally, a student asks me if he or she can do a topic not on the official list. I always say " only if you first provide me with a statement of your intended thesis and argument, or alternatively a statement of the main arguments on both sides of the issue." Invariably, this student will completely ignore these instructions and turn in an absolutely horrible paper that purports to cover an important topic but which in fact contains no logical analysis whatsover. This means that the student has turned in an inadequate paper on a topic on which he did not have permission to write. Each of these features is worth a grade of "F," so the paper is worth a grade of "double-F," or negative 100 points.

So, if you think of a topic, relevant to your specific class, upon which you wish to write philosophically, you may EITHER turn in a short statement of your thesis about this topic and your argument for that thesis OR turn in a short statement explaining the main arguments for both sides of this issue.

If you turn this in, you MIGHT get my permission to write on this topic. You don't have it yet.

If you don't turn in a statement as described above, you absolutely do not have permission to write on an off list topic.

Remember, you only have permission if I explicitly tell you that you have permission. If you don't have my explicit permission, writing on an off list topic will get you a zero-point "F" for that paper.

Final Thoughts

Remember, you are supposed to dig up arguments and analyze them. You're NOT supposed to simply report what people on both sides say about your chosen topic, you're supposed to go through what they say and work out what their arguments are, put those arguments in your own words, standardize them, and analyze them as best you can. Telling me what each side says is not enough. A good starting line is "One argument I found for ________ is ______... "For this exercise, you should generally take the facts to be as presented in the various arguments. If you don't like some particular facts, you should still deal with them. You can caveat your citations of facts with qualifications like "so-and-so says...," but you must deal fully with the implications of those facts ("if this is correct, then... ") before you even think of trying to undermine them ("however, this may not be true because... "). Remember that ignoring or arbirarily dismissing factual claims is extremely bad reasoning, so if you dispute a factual claim you must come up with a real reason against it, not just a speculation or "what if?" And if you claim that the author has not met some particular standard of proof, you must impose exactly the same standard of proof on the other side. If you find it hard to avoid being harder on one side than the other, think about picking a different topic. An easy way to improve your grade is to identify and expose bad arguments. So if you find a website with ten bad arguments and one good one, don't just explain the good one. Take the time to critique each of the bad arguments as well.

Copyright 2014 by Martin C. Young

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