How to Write a Philosophy Thesis

Many philosophy students write theses on Aristotle.
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As someone who’s read Descartes might tell you, reading philosophy can be difficult. But writing a philosophy thesis is even harder. It requires you to be original, reflective, logical and engaging -- all at the same time. If you can manage all these competing priorities, you’ll have a great philosophy thesis on your hands -- and so will your readers.

1 Make an Original Contribution

A thesis is not a summary of other people’s work -- it’s a work of your own that contributes to the scholarly community in a meaningful way. A first-year paper can -- and often should -- aspire only to interpret previous philosophical texts correctly. But a philosophy thesis should posit an original argument. If you’re having trouble thinking of an argument that hasn’t been made before, the best place to start is with a piece of philosophical literature. Read it thoroughly and make sure you understand it fully to the best of your ability. Then, you can begin to explore various interpretations.

2 Previous Philosophers’ Arguments

While it’s important to make an original argument, it’s just as important to avoid pulling that argument out of thin air. You have to demonstrate that your argument is solidly grounded in philosophical texts, by building on the research you've conducted. Perhaps your argument is a reaction against previous philosophical arguments, or perhaps it supports previous philosophical arguments -- more likely, it does both. Make sure that you engage with other members of the scholarly community -- both contemporaries and predecessors -- as a sign of respect to them and as a sign of your own competence.

3 Sound Logic

When your thesis is evaluated, the question that will be asked is not, “Is this true?” but rather, “Is this logical?” Of course, a thesis from any discipline should be logical -- that is, your reader should be able to follow your thought process as they read. Make sure that all content supports your conclusion in some way. Anything that contradicts or is extraneous to the argument should be eliminated during your revision process. Make sure to explain your ideas at length so that your reader may grasp the logic you're presenting.

4 Use Clear Language

Like in many academic disciplines, philosophy scholars use a lot of jargon, often to the detriment of clarity. Over-complicated language makes philosophy less accessible. When you’re writing a philosophy thesis, strip your sentences down to their bare bones. Not only will this make it easier for your readers, but it will also make it clear that you know what you’re talking about, because you won’t be hiding behind obtuse language. The ability to clearly communicate complex ideas is far more impressive than the ability to write long sentences with big words.

Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.