It is possible to improve a paper without improving it enough to raise it to the next grade level. Sometimes that happens. But I hope you’ll all do better than that.

Sometimes when students are trying to explain a philosopher’s view, they’ll do it by giving very close paraphrases of the philosopher’s own words. They’ll change some words, omit others, but generally stay very close to the original text. For instance, Hume begins his Treatise of Human Nature as follows: All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call impressions and ideas. The difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and liveliness, with which they strike upon the mind, and make their way into our thought or consciousness. Those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we may name impressions; and under this name I comprehend all our sensations, passions, and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul. By ideas I mean the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning. Here’s an example of how you don’t want to paraphrase: Hume says all perceptions of the mind are resolved into two kinds, impressions and ideas. The difference is in how much force and liveliness they have in our thoughts and consciousness. The perceptions with the most force and violence are impressions. These are sensations, passions, and emotions. Ideas are the faint images of our thinking and reasoning. There are two main problems with paraphrases of this sort. In the first place, it’s done rather mechanically, so it doesn’t show that the author understands the text. In the second place, since the author hasn’t figured out what the text means well enough to express it in his own words, there’s a danger that his paraphrase may inadvertently change the meaning of the text. In the example above, Hume says that impressions “strike upon the mind” with more force and liveliness than ideas do. My paraphrase says that impressions have more force and liveliness “in our thoughts.” It’s not clear whether these are the same thing. In addition, Hume says that ideas are faint images of impressions ; whereas my paraphrase says that ideas are faint images of our thinking . These are not the same. So the author of the paraphrase appears not to have understood what Hume was saying in the original passage.

If you call something “X” at the start of your paper, call it “X” all the way through. So, for instance, don’t start talking about “Plato’s view of the self, ” and then switch to talking about “Plato’s view of the soul, ” and then switch to talking about “Plato’s view of the mind. ” If you mean to be talking about the same thing in all three cases, then call it by the same name. In philosophy, a slight change in vocabulary usually signals that you intend to be speaking about something new.

Another example that supports Smart’s argument against rule utilitarianism, but that he did not use himself, is the hypothetical situation known as “the inquiring murderer.” This hypothetical is often used to discredit Kantian ethics and other ethical systems that employ absolute moral laws. I will present this example from my perspective. Imagine that a murderer knocks on my door and asks if I know the location of a man that he is bent on murdering; further imagine that I do know the location of the intended victim and that I must decide whether to lie in order to save the life of an innocent man or tell the truth and aid in an innocent man being murdered (Shafer-Landau, 166). One could easily imagine that a rule which stated that it is never morally permissible to tell a lie would be generally optimific; or an even more extreme rule which stated that it is never morally permissible to withhold the truth, which would also be optimific in a majority of cases. In the case of the inquiring murderer, however, such rules would oblige the rule utilitarian to divulge the location of the murderer’s intended victim, aiding in his demise.

I have argued that J.J.C. Smart’s criticisms of rule utilitarianism are correct. There are certainly many cases where, as Smart argues, it is optimific to not follow a generally optimific rule. This simple truth makes rule utilitarianism self-defeating as its guidelines do not consistently produce, and will sometimes even specifically hinder, its intended results.

I will now explain J.J.C. Smart’s objection to rule utilitariansim. Smart believes that generally optimific rules are useful “rules of thumb” for act utilitarians, as they will often allow us to act in optimific ways when there is not time available to carefully weigh out the consequences of a particular action (Smart,94). Smart believes that rule utilitarianism simply takes these common sense guidelines too far, and that doing so can have disastrous results (Shafer-Landau, The Ethical Life , 96). Smart provides an example of a hypothetic rule entitled “R” (Smart, 96). 99% of the time, following R will produce optimific results, while 1% of the time it will not; Rule utilitarianism states that all moral agents are required to follow R, even if they know with complete certainty that doing so will not produce optimific results (Smart, 96). Smart said of such a scenario that it would be “monstrous to suppose that if we have worked out the consequences and if we have perfect faith in the impartiality of our calculations, and if we know that in this instance to break R will have better results than to keep it, we should nevertheless obey the rule” (Smart, 96). As Smart suggested, it is completely irrational to believe in an ethical theory meant to promote overall net happiness, and then to choose to follow through on an action that you know will decrease said happiness, simply for the sake of following a rule that will usually promote happiness. It is a clear sign of a flawed ethical theory when following its guidelines of morality actually contradicts its intended results.

I intend to argue that J.J.C. Smart’s criticism of rule utilitarianism is correct because, as he argues, there are clearly some cases where it is optimific to break a generally optimific rule. I will show this by first explaining rule utilitarianism. Then, I will explain J.J.C. Smart’s critique of rule utilitarianism, including the hypothetical example of “the dying promise,” and provide explanations as to why his criticisms are correct. Finally, I will provide another hypothetical example, one that Smart did not use, in support of Smart’s argument.

Argument essays seek to state a position on an issue and give several reasons, supported by evidence, for agreeing with that position.

Example: The most important way to make your marriage divorce-proof is to make sure you have carefully prepared for that commitment.

2. Refute Objections: Another way to craft a thesis statement is to state one side of the argument and present a refuting statement.

In this example, you state one side of the argument—”there is no way to divorce-proof your marriage”—and refute it by saying “there are fewer divorces when people carefully prepare for that commitment.” What makes this statement stronger (and more appealing) is the reference to studies that will back up your argument.

3. Roadmap : An additional way to make a strong thesis is to do a “Roadmap” which tells in just a few words the three or more main points you will cover.

1. Question/Answer Format: The easiest way to write a thesis statement is to turn the topic or prompt into a question, and answering that question. For example:

3. Value: How important is it?

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Socrates on the Moral Authority of the State.

(Note: page references are to a different edition than the one you have ; paragraphs should be indented, but are not here due to limitations of html formatting; I have not here included footnotes for the same reason; and your papers should be double-spaced, rather than single-spaced.)

(ii) Citizens must endure whatever any law or order of the state says they must–including the law that verdicts arrived at through proper procedures shall be carried out–but citizens need not and morally should not do what is prescribed by an unjust law.

Secondly, it might be objected that Socrates’ view of the moral authority of the state is inconsistent both with what he did when ordered by the Thirty to capture Leon of Salamis for execution, and with what he says he’d do if ordered by the state to cease practicing philosophy (both from the Apology ). When the Thirty ordered him to capture Leon, he refused, on the grounds that this would have been wrong (unjust and impious). ( Apology , 32c-d) This seems to be a recognition that one is morally obligated or at least permitted to disobey the state when what it commands is wrong–even if one fails to persuade it of its wrongness. And similarly, Socrates makes clear that he would disobey the state and continue philosophizing if it were to order him to stop–again, on the grounds that it would be wrong for him to stop philosophizing (recall that he saw philosophy as his life’s mission, given him by the god). ( Apology , 29c-d) Again, this seems to contradict what he says in the Crito about the supreme moral authority of the state and its laws and orders.

First, your reader is likely to find it difficult to keep track of so many different arguments, especially if these arguments approach the topic from different directions.

Another common mistake is to think that your case will be stronger if you mention, even if briefly, virtually every argument that you have come across in support of your position. Sometimes this is called the “fortress approach.” In actual fact, it is almost certain that the fortress approach will not result in a very good paper. There are several reasons for this.

Cuteness. Good philosophical writing usually has an air of simple dignity about it. Your topic is no joke. No writers whose views you have been asked to read are idiots. (If you think they are, then you have not understood them.) Name calling is inappropriate and could never substitute for careful argumentation anyway.