Jim Pryor: Sample Philosophy Papers

These pages have resources discussing how your philosophy papers will be graded, and some samples of student writing with our analysis and feedback on them. In many classes we’ll also have group discussion of some of the writing samples, to solicit your ideas on what problems the papers might have, and how they could be improved.

What We Look For and How We’ll Grade

Sample Papers

These three sample papers all aimed to answer the following prompt:

Do creatures like cats and dogs have minds? Or are we just projecting our own reactions onto them, the way we do with baby dolls and stuffed animals? If you think they do have minds, explain what you think the evidence for this is. If you think they don’t have minds, explain what your reasons are for thinking that. If you think they have “minds” in some senses but not others, explain what are the different senses you’re thinking of.

I asked for short response papers, only 1-2 pages long.

The first paper is a made-up paper written by David Barnett when he was a teaching assistant in a class we ran. He intended the paper to be “flawed” in ways that reflected problems he was seeing in many student papers.

Read that paper and come to class ready to discuss what problems you think it has, and how it could be improved.

David numbered the paragraphs in the flawed paper, to make it easier to refer to it. He also wrote up detailed comments on this paper, and an “improved” revision of the paper. The two versions are similar in terms of the conclusion they arrive at, and the arguments they give for them. But the improved paper is written in a clearer way.

Paper 1

Original Paper | Comments | Revisions with Explanations | Just the Revised Paper

The second and third papers are real student papers submitted for this assignment in past years. I don’t know whether they’re the results of one hours’ work or of five. But they’re fair first efforts. However, like all philosophical writing, including yours and including my own, they can be improved. We’ll talk through some ways to make them better.

Read the original versions of these papers first. Think about what’s going on in them, and how they might be improved. Then you can click the “Analysis” link to see my large-scale, general feedback on the paper. The kind of feedback you get on your papers will look like that, as well as an indication of how you did on the different components of the grading rubric.

For the third paper, you can also click the link to see a discussion of small-scale details of the writing, and how they can be improved. It can be useful to walk through this and try to learn how to improve your own writing in the same way. However, it’s more important first to address the large-scale problems identified in the Analysis links. It does help your readers a lot if the details of your writing are as polished and clear as they can be. But you have to already have good and well-structured things to say, before that’s worth your attention.

Paper 2

Original Paper | Analysis/General Feedback

Paper 3

Original Paper | Analysis/General Feedback | Improving Small-Scale Details of this paper’s writing