How to Write a Philosophy Essay Step by Step

Charles Cooper, 5 January, 2019
Updated 9 November, 2023


Importance of Writing Philosophy Essays

Philosophy essays are a critical tool in exploring and understanding philosophical theories and arguments. They require a deep engagement with the subject matter and provide a platform for students to express their reasoning and critical thinking skills.

Overview of the Philosophical Essay’s Purpose and Structure

The purpose of a philosophical essay is to present a well-reasoned argument or critique on a specific philosophical topic. The structure typically includes an introduction, where the argument is presented, a body where the argument is developed, and a conclusion where the argument is summarized.

Understanding the Essay Question

How to Interpret Essay Prompts

  1. Read Carefully: Begin by reading the prompt several times to ensure understanding.
  2. Identify Keywords: Look for action words like “explain,” “argue,” or “discuss,” which indicate the type of response required.
  3. Clarify Ambiguities: If the prompt is vague or open-ended, consider clarifying the scope with your instructor.

Tips for Defining Terms and Outlining the Scope of the Essay

  • Define Key Terms: Early in the essay, define any philosophical terms used in the question.
  • Limit the Scope: Be clear about what the essay will cover to avoid overextending your argument.

Research and Analysis

Conducting Philosophical Research

  1. Start with a Broad Search: Use academic databases to find relevant texts and papers.
  2. Narrow Your Focus: Choose sources that specifically address the essay prompt.
  3. Keep Organized Notes: Document your sources and key points for easy reference.

Evaluating Sources for Credibility and Relevance

  • Author’s Credentials: Check the author’s background and expertise.
  • Publication Source: Prefer peer-reviewed journals or reputable publishers.
  • Date of Publication: Ensure the source is current or historically significant.

Engaging with Philosophical Texts and Arguments

  • Critical Reading: Analyze the arguments presented, looking for strengths and weaknesses.
  • Comparative Analysis: Compare and contrast different authors’ views on the topic.
  • Reflective Thought: Consider how the arguments relate to your own position on the topic.

Thesis Statement

Crafting a Clear and Argumentative Thesis Statement

A thesis statement in a philosophy essay is a concise summary of the main argument or claim that you will be discussing. It should be:

  1. Clear: It must convey your argument unambiguously.
  2. Concise: It should be brief but encompass your main point.
  3. Argumentative: It must take a stance that others might challenge.

Aligning Your Thesis with the Philosophical Issue at Hand

  • Directly Responsive: Ensure that your thesis directly addresses the philosophical issue in the essay prompt.
  • Philosophically Grounded: Your thesis should be rooted in philosophical theory and practice.

Argument Development

Structuring Coherent and Logical Arguments

  • Logical Sequence: Present your arguments in a logical order, with each point building on the last.
  • Supporting Premises: Develop premises that support your conclusion and are backed by evidence.

Addressing Counterarguments and Rebuttals

  • Anticipate Objections: Identify potential counterarguments and address them within your essay.
  • Rebuttal Strength: Provide strong rebuttals to counterarguments to reinforce your thesis.

Using Evidence and Philosophical Reasoning

  • Evidence Selection: Use textual evidence from philosophical texts to support your arguments.
  • Reasoning: Employ deductive or inductive reasoning to draw connections between your evidence and your argument.

Writing the Essay

Detailed Structure (Introduction, Body, Conclusion)

  • Introduction: Start with a hook, provide background information, define key terms, and end with your thesis statement.
  • Body: Each paragraph should contain one main idea that supports your thesis, with sufficient evidence and analysis.
  • Conclusion: Summarize your main points, restate your thesis in light of the arguments presented, and consider the implications of your argument.

Paragraph Structure and Topic Sentences

  • Topic Sentences: Begin each paragraph with a sentence that introduces the main idea of the paragraph.
  • Unity: Ensure that all sentences within a paragraph relate directly to the main idea.

Philosophical Writing Style and Clarity

  • Formal Tone: Use a formal, academic tone without colloquial language.
  • Precision: Be precise in your use of terms and in expressing your arguments.
  • Clarity: Avoid overly complex sentences that may obscure your meaning.


Correct Use of Philosophical Citations

When writing a philosophy essay, it’s essential to reference ideas that are not your own to avoid plagiarism. Here’s how:

  • Direct Quotes: Use quotation marks and include an in-text citation with the page number when quoting directly.
  • Paraphrasing: Even when paraphrasing, cite the original source.
  • Consistency: Maintain consistent citation throughout your essay.

Different Citation Styles in Philosophy

Philosophy essays commonly use the following citation styles:

  • APA (American Psychological Association): Often used for psychology and social sciences, and accepted in philosophy.
  • MLA (Modern Language Association): Commonly used in humanities, including philosophy.
  • Chicago Manual of Style: Offers two systems (notes-bibliography and author-date) and is used in some philosophy journals.

Revision and Proofreading

Strategies for Effective Revision

  • Take a Break: Before revising, take a break from your essay to return with fresh eyes.
  • Read Aloud: Reading your essay out loud can help catch errors and awkward phrasing.
  • Feedback: Get feedback from peers or instructors to gain different perspectives.

Proofreading Tips for Grammar, Coherence, and Clarity

  • Grammar Checkers: Use grammar checking tools as a first pass.
  • Manual Check: Trust but verify with a manual check for nuances that automated tools might miss.
  • Coherence: Ensure each paragraph flows logically to the next, and all support the thesis.


Summarizing the Main Points

  • Restate Thesis: Begin your conclusion by restating your thesis, considering the arguments you’ve presented.
  • Highlight Key Arguments: Briefly summarize the main arguments of your essay without introducing new information.

Reflecting on the Significance of the Essay’s Argument

  • Broader Implications: Discuss the broader implications of your argument for the field of philosophy or the real world.
  • Personal Reflection: You may choose to reflect personally on the topic, particularly if the prompt allows for it.

In concluding your essay, aim to leave the reader with a clear understanding of your argument’s significance and a sense of closure on the topic.

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