I am Lucifer DeMorte
Papers are submitted through Turnitin.com, (Details in syllabus) More info at madwizard.com/turnitin.htm.

The instructions for the second paper will be given in a comment on your first paper in turnitin.com.

Read, THINK, Write.

If the prompt disagrees with the following, and you're not sure what to do, please follow the prompt if you can.

(RED material here was revised and expanded 10/30/22.)

Basic Task

Fundamentally, what you are supposed to do for your first Odyssey writing assignment is to:

1. Pick at least one argument from each side of your topic.
2. logically analyze those arguments.

If you don't do both of those things before you start writing, you're not doing the assignment.

Detailed Instructions

In more detail, your task is:

  1. Pick a topic from the list assigned for your class.
  2. Carefully read the prompt provided for that topic, and get ready to do exactly what this prompt says.
  3. Read only as much other stuff as directed in the prompt.
  4. Stop doing research when you have arguments on two opposing sides of the issue, or whatever it is the prompt says to research.
  5. Make notes on everything important in the materials you have.
  6. Clarify definitions, note any agreed facts, identify any evidence (or whatever the prompt says to do - 10/25).
  7. If you can, figure out which side has burden of proof. (I'll explain this later in this page.)
  8. Do what you can to logically analyze the various arguments.
  9. Try to answer the specific question in the prompt, or otherwise come to some kind of overall conclusion about the issue.
  10. When you have stopped making progress (or run out of time), stop analyzing.
  11. Based on your analysis, figure out all the various things you currently think about this issue. (Even if this is just a bunch of questions.)
  12. In particular, think about the logical implications of the evidence in this issue.
  13. Figure your deepest overall current thoughts about this topic, even if it's just questions, or thoughts about things you still need to figure out.
  14. Come to the best overall current thought or set of thoughts ("orimiskepsi") you can manage at the moment.
  15. If you have a thesis, write down your thesis as the first sentence in your paper. (Introductions are prohibited for this assignment.)
  16. Or you can first write your "takeaway", which is your most insightful question or best overall impression of this topic at this time
  17. Add on whatever is needed to make your meaning crystal clear and unambiguous, even if this takes a couple paragraphs, or even a page or two.
  18. Start a new paragraph in which you do your best to explain why you think whatever it is that you think.
  19. If there's an opposing view that you've already thought about, describe it, and say what's logically wrong with the argument supporting that view.
  20. Write more paragraphs explaining your other thoughts, in whatever order makes most sense to you.
  21. Read over your paper to make sure it says all the things you think as clearly and completely as you can manage.
  22. When you have accurately described every significant thought you have about your topic, stop writing.
  23. Your paper is finished, and may be submitted through Turnitin.com (Make sure you click "confirm" on the page that pops up after submittal.)
  24. (FYI: In Turnitin, the word "submit" does not mean "submit". It means "begin a two-step process that will later allow you to submit your paper".)
  25. (FYI: The instructions for the second paper will be given in a comment on your first paper in turnitin.com.)

Fundamental Rules

  1. Material submitted must respond to the relevant prompt, and to the general writing instructions to receive any credit at all.
  2. A thing that just kinda sounds like what I told you to do is not the thing I told you to do.
  3. Things that other people told you to do are not things I told you to do.

If you need clarification on these rules, please read rules.htm.


Suppose that in your very first school class that involved writing, your teacher had told you to go away and think about some particular issue, think it through from various angles, talk it over with family and friends, and, when you have thought it over just as well as you can manage, and have come to what, as far as you can tell, based on logic and the evidence available to you, is as close to the correct answer as you can get, then, and only then, sit down and write a paper explaining what you think, and why you think it, as clearly, correctly, and completely as possible. Suppose that when you've done this for the first time, and turned in your paper, your teacher reviews it, and gives it back to you with hints and suggestions on how to think more logically, on how to better find, understand, and interpret evidence, and how to write and organize your paper so that the average expected reader will be more likely to be able to understand your thoughts and your reasons. Now imagine that every class that involved writing worked this way so that over your school career, you got better and better and better at thinking things through, and at describing your ideas and reasons. I call this "cognitive writing" (If I was in charge of education, this is how it would always be.)

The "RTW" Cycle

In my view, pretty much every paper should be the pure result of a Read - THINK - Write cycle. You read the most relevant information, enough of it to support a substantial paper, think it through from all angles as deeply as you can (the thinking is the most important part), and only then, you write down the most important results of your thinking process as clearly and completely as you can. When your developed thoughts are as clearly and completely expressed as possible, you stop. Your paper is finished.

To this end, some things are NOT allowed in my class. Specifically things that do not represent part of the results of your thinking process are banned. "Introductions" that waste the reader's time with irrelevancies are not allowed. "Conclusions" that merely repeat things you've already said are not allowed. Dictionary definitions are not allowed. Rhetorical questions are not allowed. Uninterpreted quotes from other writers are not allowed. Snide comments are not allowed. Cop-outs are not allowed. Stuff that is added merely to fill up space ("padding") is especially not allowed.

The Assignment

Your initial assignment is to pick a topic from the list assigned to your class, read completely the prompt for that topic, (and any other material that may be assigned for that topic), make extensive notes on the definitions, ideas, positions, arguments, and facts of that issue, and then figure out as best you can what conclusion is best supported by a logical analysis of all the relevant evidence available to you at this particular point in time. When you've done that, and every aspect of the issue is as sorted as you can get it in your mind, then you write out your most developed thoughts in an organized manner.


  1. The paper is about trying to figure out what conclusion is most logically supported by the evidence available to you right now.
  2. If you can't come to a definite final conclusion, you can write about whatever it is you've worked out so far
  3. The paper is NOT about explaining your beliefs, or things you merely feel to be true.
  4. If the evidence contradicts your personal beliefs, your paper's thesis must go with the evidence. (You can change topics if you like.)
  5. You should read enough to have a good idea of substantial arguments on at least two sides of the issue, but really, no more than that.
  6. The views expressed in your paper should be your own. Not the rehashed views of random other people from the internet.
  7. If a previous teacher taught you to write differently, their instructions do not apply here.
  8. IF you quote another writer, you must EXPLAIN what you think the quote means IN YOUR OWN WORDS.

Forming A "Thesis"

Roughly speaking, settling on a "thesis" must be the LAST thing you do in your prewriting process. (If a previous teacher ever told you to start a writing process by picking a thesis, that teacher was wrong.) In this class, your "thesis" is whatever you find yourself thinking when you've made all the progress you can reasonably make in the time you have got to write this first paper. If you've come to a settled conclusion about what conclusion is best supported by the available evidence, fine. If you haven't come to a settled conclusion, that is also fine. If you've taken the time to think the issue through as best you can, whatever you happen to think, even if it's just a list of things you can't figure out, will count as your "thesis". Remember, the important thing is to do your own independent thinking, and then write up the results of that thinking as a paper. It's the thinking that counts. The shape of the paper only counts to the extent that it reflects your personal thinking.

Intermediate Position

If you're having trouble forming a thesis that you would be confident defending, you could instead form an "intermediate position", which is just a statement of where you happen to be on the topic at the time of writing. This can be hedged about with all kinds of "ifs", and "buts", and "maybes", and just has to represent whatever it is you happen to be thinking at the time you write. (If you'd like more details on this idea, please email me.)

Burden of Proof

Roughly speaking, a person who controversially makes a definite claim, or a moral claim has the logical responsibility to come up with a compelling argument for their view. If they don't have a compelling argument, we should conclude that their claim is likely false. (This can get complicated, so I'm just giving the broad outlines here.) For instance, a person who disputes an established scientific or historical theory bears the burden of proving that some contrary theory is true, a person who controversially claims that some action is morally wrong bears the burden of proving that it is morally wrong, a person who controversially claims that something new exists or something strange is happening bears the burden of proof, and so on. The side with the burden of proof is the side whose argument gets analyzed first. (I tend to call this side the "pro" side, and the side without the burden of proof the "con" side.)

Logical Analysis

The analysis of arguments can get complicated in practice, but in principle it's, well, a little bit complicated. There's two phases.

First, you ask what the pro side is trying to prove (it's "conclusion"), and the factual claims it's using to support that conclusion. Next, negate that conclusion. (If the conclusion is "my house has been burgled", its negation is "my house has not been burgled".) Then, ask if this negation of the conclusion, and those factual claims can all be true together. (If the factual claims are "my window is broken in," "my stuff is all strewn about", "my mint-in-box Transformers Generation 1 Collection is missing", the question to ask, is it reasonably possible for all those fact claims to be true if my house has not been burgled?) If it is true that the factual claims can all be true with the negation of the conclusion, then the argument is logically flawed, and does not prove anything. (And your analysis is done.)

Second, If the fact claims and the negated conclusion cannot all be true together, look at closely each of the argument's individual fact claims. Are they all things that everyone thinks are true? If so, the argument isn't flawed as far as you can tell. If the specialized facts (scientific, historical, geographic) are supported by a consensus of the relevant experts, the argument isn't flawed as far as you can tell. However, if the claim is disputed by relevant experts, you need to think apply logical analysis all over again to whatever argument is given to support that factual claim,

Basically, logical analysis tends to consist of over and over asking the questions "is this factual claim most likely true", and "if this fact claim is true, does it make this other fact claim most likely true". It's a messy, disorganized process, and it usually takes a person's brain some time to work out and absorb the answers, which is why it's good to spread the process out over a couple of days.

The Writing Process

Reading Phase

Consider Scanti, Optimia, and Terence, each of whom is writing a paper for this class

Terence trawls the internet for articles, blogs, "encyclopedia" entries and other opinions about the topic. Terence takes quite a lot of time, and assembles a large collection of items expressing various opinions about the topic. Terence glances over the prompt, but doesn't really read it. Instead, Terence reads many of the articles he's found. (Most of the time, Terence skims, because there's a lot of material here.)

Optimia spends much less time on the internet. Optimia reads the prompt carefully, and makes a couple of notes. If the prompt gives links for further reading, Optimia follows and reads only as many links as the prompt requires. Optimia makes notes and tries to identify opposing arguments. Optimia takes important definitions, claims, and arguments and puts them into their own words. Optimia is careful to work out what each sentence actually says.

Scanti doesn't bother to read the prompt. Instead, Scanti scans the internet for an article that agree with Scanti's preexisting opinion, and then finds an article supporting the side Scant thinks is wrong. Scanti skims each article for key words, and then writes down what they thinks each writer is trying to say.

It should be clear that Optimia is the only one doing it right here. Terence wasted a lot of time collecting more articles than needed, and isn't giving anything any kind of careful attention, so Terence's understanding of their articles is shallow at best. As for Scanti, well Scanti isn't really isn't reading at all. Skimming for key words isn't reading. Speculating about what might be in the writer's mind isn't reading. Reading requires reading all the words, in order, and figuring out what the sentence actually says. Optimia, on the other hand, collected just enough material to work with, and then deeply analyzed that material.

Thinking Phase

Terence thinks about which articles they're going to use, and in what order, without bothering to get their arguments clear, and then stops thinking.

Optimia tries to work out what the known facts imply, and tries to work out logic of the various arguments, and figure out which which ones have logical flaws. (See "logical analysis above.) Optima also thinks about the issue while driving, or eating, and at various odd times during the day, and sometimes discusses their ideas about the issue with various friends and relatives. Optima doesn't necessarily spend any big block of time thinking, but does think, and think again, at various times over several days, at least.

Scanti goes straight to the writing phase.

Of course, Optimia is the only one actually thinking here. (And the other two are setting themselves up to fail.)

Writing Phase

Terence has picked out four authors, two on one side, and two on the other. Terence takes the time to write a long introductory paragraph, describing what they take to be the history and background of the issue. Having written well over half a page, Terence ends the paragraph without including a thesis. In the next paragraph Terence describes the views of the first pro writer. After that Terence describes the views of the first con writer, followed by the second pro writer, and finally the second con writer. Terence includes no logical analysis of any of these arguments. Finally, Terrence writes a concluding paragraph about the importance of the issue, repeating a lot of things from previous paragraphs, and ending with a comment to the effect that we ought to figure all this out soon.

Optimia has pretty much concluded their thinking process, or has run out of ideas, or run out of time to think. Optimia may have a well-supported definite thesis about the issue, or they may have made some progress. Whatever set of ideas they have come to, they write a paper explaining what they think and why they came to the conclusions that they did. Where they have a definite conclusion, they explain that conclusion and give their reasons for thinking that conclusion is true. Where there is an opposing argument that they found to be logically flawed, they explain that argument in detail, and say what specific parts of that argument they found to be problematic. They include all the relevant facts they know about, and add in all the other thoughts they have about the issue. They use whatever structure works for them, whether it be a tightly structured thesis paper or a freeform thinkathon, or something in between. If they have a thesis, their first sentence is their thesis. If they don't have a thesis, their first sentence says what they presently think about the issue, even if it's just that they can't make up their mind. They don't write an introduction, or a conclusion, or any other time-waster.

Scanti came into their project with a preexisting opinion on the subject, and writes an introduction that eventually states that opinion. They then carefully describe the argument in the article they agree with, and after that, give a rough sketch of the argument in the article they don't agree with. They remember they're supposed to do some logical analysis, so they make some disparaging comments about the second author, and approvingly repeat the first author's argument. They then write a conclusion repeating most of the things they just said.

Depending on quality of reasoning, Optimia's paper could potentially receive full marks and some admiring comments. There's no wasted work, and the paper fully displays the results of Optimia's thinking process, which is what is required. Terence could potentially receive half credit, and some sympathy, for the descriptions of one pro and one con argument, but, since no thesis is stated and no analysis is done, there's no justification for much more than half credit. Scanti's paper receives zero credit, because it is basically a crime against philosophy.


  1. Remember that this is not an opportunity to merely state your personal beliefs or feelings. This is an exercise in logical analysis.
  2. The views of other people should be explained with the same respect you give to your own views.
  3. Never disparage people merely because they disagree with you.
  4. You can include definitions, but only if they're your definitions, and not definitions taken from dictionaries.
  5. You can't claim that something is a "fact" unless you can support it with good evidence.
  6. You can't say there is evidence unless you can actually describe that evidence.
  7. You can't claim an argument is bad unless you can identify a problem with some specific part of that argument.
  8. Stuff that doesn't help explain what you think and why you think it should be omitted from your paper.
  9. Beyond explaining and clarifying what you presently think, don't write an introduction.
  10. Don't include a cover sheet, nor a separate citations page. Don't waste space.
  11. If you can't answer a question, just say so. Don't pretend that there's no answer.
  12. Don't delay stating your thesis (or "takeaway").
  13. Don't speculate. Just stick to what can be proved.
  14. Don't mention stuff you don't discuss. Only mention stuff that helps you deliver your ideas.
  15. Don't waste time on history, or background information, or anything that doesn't help you deliver your thesis.
  16. Don't substitute quotes for your own writing. If you quote, make sure you also put the idea into your own words.
  17. Don't ask rhetorical questions. If you have something to say, say it plainly.
  18. Don't write stuff that doesn't help state, clarify, support, or defend your ideas and conclusions.
  19. Once you've said everything once, stop writing. Don't write a "conclusion" that just repeats things you've said before.
  20. Submit through Turnitin.com (Make sure you click "confirm" after submittal.)

Optional: The Inverted Pyramid

(This was suggested by student Taylor Jaseph.) 

A good way to look at this assignment is to see it as a report on your own thinking process. Once you've analyzed the arguments and the evidence and everything else available to you on the topic, you will have an information structure that includes your thesis (or takeaway)

Model Papers

The following links lead to two entirely fictitious papers, each written with the kind of style I tend to be looking for.




Don't Prejudge. High school teachers often train students to first mindlessly pick a thesis, and then think about how to "prove" that thesis. This is not only deeply stupid, it is also profoundly dishonest. How can you have any confidence that your thesis is correct if you haven't even begun to analyze the logic of the issue? And how can you regard yourself as an honest person if you set out to try to persuade people to believe something that you personally have no real rational reason to believe? Picking your thesis before doing any prewriting is the exact opposite of what you are being told to do here, and prejudiced papers may receive as little as zero points

Don't Survey. Papers that say what some writer said, and then what some other writer said, and then what some third writer said, and then what some fourth writer said, and then stops without even beginning to analyze any of their arguments will be a complete and utter failure. Nothing in these instructions tells you to limit yourself to merely repeating things other people say. If you survey, you will be going very much against the instructions for this assignment.

Don't Cheerlead. Papers that relentlessly gush over some writer's thesis, and only mention their opponents for purposes of slander might be acceptable in your particular major, but they are absolutely unacceptable in a philosophy class. This is not a marketing class, and I am not training you to work for some corrupt psychopath of a politician. I am doing my best to train you to think clearly and logically, If you cheerlead, you will be going very much against the instructions for this assignment.

(Material in red was added 4/3/22.)

If you have any concern that you didn't do it right, it might help to access http://madwizard.com/checklist.htm.


The requirement for the first paper is to read some relevant material, think a lot about that material, and then write up the developed results of your thinking. This can consist of anything from a highly structured "thesis paper" down to a completely unstructured "thinkathon".

Link to Thesis Paper Option

Link to Thinkathon Option

Remember, that the basic point is to think and to report the results of your thinking. You should explain everything you think clearly and completely, with no unnecessary words, paragraphs, sections or anything else that isn't part of a clear and complete report of your own reasoning about the topic. These options are there just in case you need a little direction.

Subsequent Stages

Once your initial paper has been graded, you will receive follow-on instructions in a "Z-comment" (probably "ZNS") in the top-left corner of your paper in Turnitin.com. (See the blue smudge circled in red below? That's about where it will be on your paper.)

Top Left Corner

 Z-comments are always follow-on instructions for new personalized assignments. They are sometimes optional and sometimes mandatory. (ZNS "Ze Next Stage") is the most common Z-comment, but there is also "ZOS." "ZPS," "ZNT," and a few others.) The important thing to remember is that when you see a capital "Z," you know that the marked comment is going to give you instructions for what you should, or could do next in this writing process. (One of the things you can do is change your mind. You don't have to change your mind, but you are always allowed to change your mind. So if you ever think of asking 'may I change my thesis,' the answer will always be "yes, you may change your thesis.")

DON'T STRESS! Remember, the assignment includes a sort of "do-over" option, so if you're still not sure what to do, just write a paper the way you normally do, turn it in as "practice paper," and we can go from there.

Questions?  Check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

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.

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, you may click on the following optional link to more extensive (and more boring) optional more detailed instructions.

Remember, when your initial paper has been graded, look for the Z-comment to find out what to do next. (Which may or may not include changing your mind.)

Please note that your paper will be graded purely on the quality of the reasoning displayed. Good reasoning, which shows a proper understanding of the nature of factual evidence, arguments, and the logical relationships between factual claims, will earn credit. Papers that do not display good reasoning will not earn credit.

Your paper shall be submitted through Turnitin.com, details in syllabus, see madwizard.com/turnitin.htm for general information on TII.

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