Resources for Students

I’ve created several documents to help my students, in addition to the syllabus and the course readings. If they’d be helpful in your classes, please feel free to use them (wholesale or adapted). And let me know! I’ve also compiled other relevant links on this page.

Why Study Philosophy?

Philosophy is often derided as useless, but this reputation is thoroughly undeserved ; a philosophy education can help you to succeed in many seemingly-unrelated career paths. Here are a few links for prospective philosophy students (or their parents).

Argument Maps

Argument maps may be an effective way to teach critical reasoning with fewer drawbacks than teaching formal logic (e.g. formal logic is time-consuming to teach, it is unintuitive to many students, the expressive capacity of classical logic is limited). I’m currently experimenting with argument maps in my courses.

  • I have a tentative handout on my own method. But there are still a lot of kinks to work out! Constructive advice is welcome.

  • MindMup is a free, online resource for argument mapping in the box-and-arrow style (though like a lot of existing standards, it uses a red-green color scheme that might not work for everyone).

  • Tim van Gelder (a Pitt grad like me!) has an old blog post on argument mapping, including some remarks about the benefits and history of the practice.

Reading Philosophy

It sounds odd at first, but one of the difficult skills you should learn in a philosophy course is how to read. Of course university students are generally literate, but many beginning students will not know how to read critically and effectively.

Philosophical Writing

Writing is an important part of learning philosophy. You don’t just write so that there is something to grade; writing forces students to confront their own understanding and to think through their own intuitions. Writing is thinking in slow motion. However, philosophical writing is different from many other kinds of writing.

  • The best general and easily available advice for writing that I know is Jim Pryor’s guidelines on writing a philosophy paper. These guidelines give a good general idea of what kinds of things should be in a philosophy paper, and what kinds of things are inappropriate in a philosophy paper.

  • Ron Amundson offers some brief and highly practical advice on writing philosophy papers.

  • Students might also be interested in the commented sample paper by Angela Mendelovici.

  • I have another commented sample paper that I sometimes show to my students. This is based on a paper I wrote for my first undergraduate philosophy class. Note that there are some good features and some bad features of this paper, which are pointed out in the comments.

  • For a different kind of advice, check out James Lenman's How to Write a Crap Philosophy Essay: A Brief Guide for Students.

  • For students who have difficulty getting organized and getting started, I also recommend Stephen Mumford’s Mumford Method, which I often use when I write.

  • If you want to splash out for a book, there is good practical advice on constructing arguments in Jay Rosenberg’s The Practice of Philosophy.

  • I offer some advice on writing in the study skills packet I give my students, but some of it is peculiar to my courses.

Plagiarism

A lot of current students don’t seem to understand precisely what plagiarism is or how to avoid it. Here are a few resources that might help.

  • Kevin deLaplante has a useful series of short videos on topics in plagiarism. I would draw my students' attention to videos 4, 5, and 6, on copying & pasting and on improper paraphrasing.

  • If you prefer text to video, the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin has a helpful resource on “patchwork paraphrase.”

  • I offer some general advice in the study skills packet I give my students.

  • I don’t recommend my undergraduates worry about this, but for long documents I like to use reference management software. I use EndNote, which integrates pretty well with MS Word and is functionally free for most academics. I know others who swear by Zotero, and of course LaTeX users will already be familiar with BibTeX. And I’m always interested in hearing about other alternatives.

Research

There are also some good resources for advanced students. These are not recommended for students looking to pump up short papers for introductory classes—they’re unlikely to be helpful at that level, and at worst may raise your instructor’s suspicions concerning plagiarism. Still, for the advanced and the curious, these are excellent tools.

  • The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is the best free resource for sophisticated introductions to topics in academic philosophy. It is especially helpful as a way to discover important papers, so you can look them up and read the original text.

  • PhilPapers, an outgrowth of Chalmers’ MindPapers project, is an excellent discovery tool for scholarly articles (though you often need library access to view the articles).

Practical Typography for Academics

As a typography nerd, I love a well-prepared document and since academics are professional writers, it is good for us to know the basics. A little extra effort as one writes may save a lot of effort in revision. It should be noted, though, that tinkering with typesetting is a trap that will distract you from the important work of producing text that is worth setting well! Someday I may put together my own guide. If you’re looking for typographical advice in the meantime, I strongly recommend Butterick’s Practical Typography.