Although the problem of free will is something everyone on a philosophy course should write about, professors claim they seldom see adequate essays on this subject. Use this brief guide to make yours one of those.
The first thing you should do is to familiarize yourself with the three main philosophic positions regarding free will. Libertarians believe that free will exists, and nothing is pre-determined - while Hard Determinists believe the opposite. Next, there are Compatibilists who believe that freedom exists along with determinism. You can take one of these sides, or remain “over the battle” by criticizing the limitations of all three approaches. In any case, you should back your position with arguments and quotations from previous philosophic works.
You might want to go beyond the common question: “Does the free will exist or not?” One of the alternatives to consider is: “Can both free will and determinism exist?” You may also reflect on whether there can still be a purpose to existence if we have no free will, or how a person’s belief in either freedom of will or determinism can shape his or her behavior.
Avoid opening your paper with something like: “Since the dawn of humanity people have pondered over the problem of free will”. Such trivial phrases will not add any value to your paper. State your main argument, or the purpose of your paper, in your very first sentence. Are you going to discuss Strawson’s view on free will? Weave his most important claim into your opening sentence.
A good thesis statement should be clear, controversial (leaving room for disagreement within the claim you make), and focused on the particular texts you are going to discuss.
In any philosophical essay you need to present both points of view, and critique that of your opponents. Do not take the easy route of attributing crazy or stupid views to your opponent (e. g. “Libertarians argue that everyone can do what they wish, without any responsibility”), in order to shatter them. Such attempts are always apparent; instructors call them “strawman argumentation” and disapprove of them. If you’re fighting with phantoms, you can’t point out the limitations of your opponent’s actual position.
On the one hand, a simple summary of your position is boring; on the other hand, you shouldn’t introduce any new arguments or points in this part of your paper. Therefore, make your conclusion as short as possible. Bring together your main points, and suggest a path leading to further study, then press full stop.
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