critical analysis paper 800 words mla format

Your assignment for the second paper is to write a critical analysis of the core argument contained in one of the following readings from The Ethical Life:

“Euthyphro” by Plato (Chapter 6)

“Natural Law” by Thomas Aquinas (Chapter 7)

“The Ethics of Emergencies” by Ayn Rand (supplied via blackboard)

“Utilitarianism” by John Stuart Mill (Chapter 8)

What does “critical analysis” mean? Each of the readings listed above contains at least one core argument for some position in normative ethics. You are to give a critical analysis of this argument, which involves doing three things: 1) providing an analysis of the core argument in the reading, 2) providing a critical assessment of this argument, and 3) responding to potential replies to your assessment. More details for each of these three steps is listed below.

Analyzing Arguments

Analyzing an argument involves clarifying the basic components of the argument and the relationship between the basic components. In any argument, the components include premises and a conclusion. So, when reading the argument, you need to be asking yourself what the final conclusion of the argument is and what reasons (premises) does the author give in support of this conclusion. You should also make it clear why someone might want to advance or accept the argument. One way of doing this is by considering the premises, and, for each, make it clear what it means, and why someone might believe it. If appropriate, an example or two can be given to illustrate the point made by the premise. It is customary in philosophy to present the argument being analyzed into standard form. It is up to you whether you follow this custom, but you at least need to get clear what the main point of the argument is and the reasons the author has given in support of that conclusion. The goal of the analysis is to represent the argument in the text in an accurate, clear, concise, and charitable manner.

Critically Assessing Argument

Once the argument has been analyzed, you can then go on to critically evaluate the argument. Here are some basic rules for evaluating arguments.

A good argument is one that has rationally acceptable/justified premises that provide sufficient grounds for affirming the conclusion. So there are two basic ways of evaluating any argument. You can assess the acceptability of its premises or the sufficiency of the premises as grounds for asserting the conclusion. When grounds are sufficient the inference is either a deductively valid one (if the premises were true, it would be impossible for the conclusion to be false) or an inductively strong one (if the premises were true, then it would be improbable that the conclusion is false).

Given these two goodness making features of an argument, there are two general ways one might challenge an argument. You can challenge the acceptability of the premises or challenge their sufficiency for accepting the conclusion.

oChallenging premises: You can argue that there are overriding reasons for supposing that the premise is false, or you might argue that we don’t have sufficiently good reasons for supposing that the premise is true.

oChallenging the Inferential Connection: You can also argue that, even if the premises were true, they would not provide good enough reasons to accept the conclusion. Here it’s important to observe the intention of the person presenting the argument. Does the person intend to be presenting a deductively valid argument, or only an inductively strong one?

A common mistake occurs when students simply give reasons for thinking the conclusion is false. This is not a good strategy. While it is the case that if the conclusion is false there is something wrong with argument, simply showing that the conclusion is false does not show where or how the argument goes wrong. So, if you think the conclusion is false, you need to show how the argument for the conclusion goes wrong by either challenging at least one of the premises or challenging the inferential connection. Finally, if you think the conclusion is true, don’t assume the argument is a good one. There are plenty of poor arguments for true conclusions and your job is to assess the argument as a whole, not the conclusion.


The last part of the critically analysis is to respond to potential replies to your assessment. For example, if you tried to show that the argument was unsound or not cogent, try to identify the way a defender of the argument might reply to your objections and address these replies. If you evaluate the argument positively, then you should identify potential objections to the argument one might raise, and defend the argument against those objections.

Organization and Style

You paper needs to be organized into an introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction should be one paragraph where you briefly introduce the reading you are focusing one and set forth a thesis statement. The thesis statement should be one sentence stating what you are going to demonstrate about the argument in the reading. For example, a thesis statement might look something like the following. “After analyzing Hume’s argument for expressivism, I will show that this argument is unsound because there are good reasons for thinking one of the premises is false.”

The body of the paper should be several paragraphs long where you include the analysis, assessment, and response described above.

Finally, you should include a concluding paragraph. This paragraph should succinctly review what you think you’ve demonstrated and potential implications. Answer the question, “What does it matter?”

The paper should be 800-1200 words in length. That’s about 3-4 pages double-spaced when using a normal 12-point font.

You do not need to do outside research on your topic. But if you are interested in finding some secondary sources, talk with me and I’ll point you in the right direction. Do not just follow the results of google searches.

You must cite any sources that you use, including passages from the authors we have read. I do not care what citation format you use.

The paper must be composed as a ms word file and submitted through the assignment in Blackboard.

How your paper will be evaluated

There are two primary questions I am looking to answer in assessing your paper:

1. Does this author understand what she is talking about?

2. Has this author thought carefully about the philosophical issue she is discussing?

Everything in your paper should be seen as a means to the end of enabling me to answer both questions with a resounding “yes!” Certain things make it very difficult to answer those questions affirmatively. For example:

Poor writing

A lack of examples

The use of technical terms or jargon without explanation

Hewing too closely to the structure or wording of a course lecture

Unnecessary use of synonyms (e.g., using “mind,” “soul,” and “spirit” interchangeably)

Writing that attempts to sound sophisticated by being difficult or confusing

The appearance of “filler”—irrelevant words that appear only to take up space

Please refer to the rubric to see how I will evaluate the papers in more detail. Also, remember that this is the second of three papers assigned during the course and only your two highest scores will count toward your final grade. This gives you a chance to learn through the writing process and feedback.

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