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Introduction to Philosophy

Example Evaluations of Test Essay Questions

Abstract: Examples are taken from student tests to illustrate how essays are evaluated.

  1. Essays questions—general comments:

    1. Answering essay questions on tests should be similar to writing a paper where you reconstruct the ideas in terms of your own thought and words. Clarify your understanding of the question carefully, as if you were explaining the philosophy slowly and carefully to a younger brother or sister.
    2. If the question asks for your own analysis, then feelings, religious beliefs, and political views should be avoided unless you give good logical reasons, verifiable empirical evidence, or insightful examples supporting your views. For normal essay questions, an adequate answer to test questions requires about 400 to 450 words to completely answer; for short essays, an adequate answer of about 150 words is necessary to cover the subject.
    3. Some example essays taken from student papers may help illustrate how essays are evaluated in this class. Consider, for example, student answers to the following test question:

      General Instructions:
      “[Answer any two of the following five essay questions in considerable detail.] Be sure to include supporting reasons for your view, and explain clearly the philosophical concepts used. If possible, provide examples illustrating, not just mentioning, those concepts. All answers must be in sentence and paragraph form for full credit. All lists and diagrams must be explained.”

      "Explain Paley's design argument and explain (not just mention) two objections to his argument in detail. Be sure to include supporting reasons for your view, and explain clearly the concepts used. If possible, provide examples illustrating those concepts."
    4. For an outline of an answer to this question see section II of William Paley, “The Teleological Argument”. The reading upon which these notes are based is Chapter 14. “The Teleological Argument”" by William Paley.
    5. The main points of evaluation include:

      1. Is the argument stated as an analogy or as an analogical argument?

        The argument should be presented as an argument in analogical form: Situation A is to situation B as situation C is to situation D where A is the intricate design and order of a watch and B is the watch-maker, C is the intricate design and order of the universe, and D is the universe-maker or God.
      2. Is the argument stated as a proof rather than just described? That is, are separate reasons given for the conclusion which is specifically stated?

        Transition phrases such as "since," "because," "for the reason," "therefore," and "thus" are normally present in an argument. Premise indicators identify the reasons given, and a conclusion indicator is used for the conclusion.
      3. Are all premises and conclusion(s) to the argument present? Is the argument complete?

        See the outline of the argument here: William Paley, “The Teleological Argument”.
      4. Are examples or descriptions given on intricate design of the watch or the universe?

        E.g., Specific examples such as the balance assembly, the escapement, the mainspring for the watch or the Krebs cycle, adaptation of the eye, or the laws of physics for the universe, might be mentioned.
      5. Are key philosophical terms used in the argument defined or explained for clarity?

        Key terms might include “intricate design,” “God,” “means and ends,” “prescriptive and descriptive law,” and “analogy.&lrquo;
      6. Are the objections to the argument first stated clearly and second explained? Are specific examples or descriptions used to help explain the points made?

        Examples of relevant differences between the intricate design of watches and of the universe should be either mentioned or described. Definition and examples of prescriptive and descriptive laws should be provided. What it means for a law to be broken, the problem of evil, the difference between a finite creator and an infinite creators also can be included depending upon the objections chosen.
      7. Are the presentation of the argument and the objections to the argument consistent and complete?

        See the outline of the argument here: William Paley, “The Teleological Argument”
      8. On take-home tests, is the argument copied verbatim or paraphrased idea by idea from another source? Are all exact quotations cited and documented correctly?

        The argument and objections must be in the student's own words. If no quotation is present, no citation is necessary.
  2. Evaluation Summaries of Sample Essays

    1. No-credit essay:



      Paley's design argument for God's existence suggests the fact that God is around and exists because someone was intelligent enough to come up with such complex things in our world today that can be used and their purposes and functions are great. Although, I believe this is a great hypothesis, there are a few criticisms. For example, think about the rock and the watch. Two of the major criticisms are the fact that the complexity of the stone was underestimated by Paley. The other question is whether laws of nature are invented or are they discovered?
      1. Is the argument stated as an analogy or as an analogical argument?

        The one sentence description is not a presentation of the complete argument.
      2. Is the argument stated as a proof rather than just described? That is, are separate reasons given for the conclusion which is specifically stated?

        No argument is given; the summary statement assumes what is meant to be proved. The analogy is not mentioned.
      3. Are all premises and conclusion(s) to the argument present? Is the argument complete?

        No premises or conclusion are given.
      4. Are examples or descriptions given on intricate design of the watch or the universe?

        Intricate design is only indirectly mentioned, and no examples are given.
      5. Are key philosophical terms used in the argument defined or explained for clarity?

        No terms are clarified.
      6. Are the objections to the argument first stated clearly and second explained? Are specific examples or descriptions used to help explain the points made?

        The relevance of the complexity of a stone and the origin of prescriptive laws are not explained. No objection is stated or explained.
      7. Are the presentation of the argument and the objections to the argument consistent and complete?

        How the statements relate to Paley's argument is not discussed, and so the presentation is neither consistent nor complete.
      8. Is the argument copied verbatim or paraphrased idea by idea from another source? Are all exact quotations cited and documented correctly?

        No quotations were present.
    2. Minimum Credit Essay:



      Paley's argument about the watch is pretty good. Such like the stone, when a person walk by a stone an sees it they figure its been there forever but thats not the case. Just like with a watch someone had to make that stone some how. You have a world creator such as God and then you have watch makers. Paley's is just trying to get the point across there has to be someone in the heavens to create this world it didn't just appear.

      The difference between prescriptive and descriptive is prescriptive has no lawmaker an laws can be broken where as descriptive has no lawmaker but cannot be broken. He was using the two to compare the watch and the existence of a lawmaker. There has to be a lawmaker. The law giver gave the laws of nature such as gravity and many others. It wouldn't be good if we were all floating around.
      1. Is the argument stated as an analogy or as an analogical argument?

        The watch and the universe are mentioned, but the analogy based on intricate design is neither mentioned nor argued. The universe is compared to the watch, but the basis of the comparison is not stated.
      2. Is the argument stated as a proof rather than just described? That is, are separate reasons given for the conclusion which is specifically stated?

        No proof is given; only the conclusion that God must exist is present. Paley's distinction between the stone and the watch is mistaken.
      3. Are all premises and conclusion(s) to the argument present? Is the argument complete?

        The reasons for the conclusion are not given.
      4. Are examples or descriptions given on intricate design of the watch or the universe?

        Examples and descriptions of the design of the watch and the universe are not given.
      5. Are key philosophical terms used in the argument defined or explained for clarity?

        Only prescriptive and descriptive laws are mentioned but not defined or explained. The fact that the laws of nature are descriptive laws is meant to imply that these laws are observations rather than prescriptions. The essay states that both kinds of laws have no creator; however, prescriptive laws require an agent's existence.
      6. Are the objections to the argument first stated clearly and second explained? Are specific examples or descriptions used to help explain the points made?

        The objections are not stated clearly nor are they explained. The law of gravity is mentioned, but it is mentioned as a prescriptive law rather than as a descriptive law.
      7. Are the presentation of the argument and the objections to the argument consistent and complete?

        The argument is neither consistent nor complete.
      8. Is the argument copied verbatim or paraphrased idea by idea from another source? Are all exact quotations cited and documented correctly?

        No quotations are present.
    3. Half-Credit Essay:



      Paley's Watch Argument was equating the universe to a watch. A watch is instrument with a purpose and function created by a watchmaker. Paley believed that the universe was also created with a purpose and function by in this case God. He doesn't believe that the universe came into being by chance, due to the complexity of the universe.

      Prescriptive laws are laws made by a law giver. These laws can be broken this would be things like a speed limit or ethical principals. Descriptive laws are natural laws that can't be broken. This would be something like the law of gravity. The existence of “laws of nature” doesn't imply a “law giver” because natural laws are factual claims which are witnessed by the observation of regularities, unlike prescriptive which is a law given by authority with no factual basis.
      1. Is the argument stated as an analogy or as an analogical argument?

        The argument is stated as an identity rather than an analogy.
      2. Is the argument stated as a proof rather than just described? That is, are separate reasons given for the conclusion which is specifically stated?

        The statements are listed as beliefs rather than as premises and conclusion in an argument or a proof.
      3. Are all premises and conclusion(s) to the argument present? Is the argument complete?

        The premise that an intricate design implies the existence of a designer is not explicitly stated.
      4. Are examples or descriptions given on intricate design of the watch or the universe?

        No examples of intricate design are given.
      5. Are key philosophical terms used in the argument defined or explained for clarity?

        No key terms are defined; “prescriptive and descriptive laws” are not defined, although they are characterized and examples are given.
      6. Are the objections to the argument first stated clearly and second explained? Are specific examples or descriptions used to help explain the points made?

        Only one objection is given. An objection based on the difference between descriptive and prescriptive laws is noted, but not explained as to it applies to the argument as given.
      7. Are the presentation of the argument and the objections to the argument consistent and complete?

        The elements of the argument are present but incomplete. The objection is not explained in reference to the argument.
      8. Is the argument copied verbatim or paraphrased idea by idea from another source? Are all exact quotations cited and documented correctly?

        No quotations are present.
    4. Almost full-credit essay:



      Paley's watch argument discusses the analogy of a watch and the watchmaker to the universe and the universe-maker. Paley says that one does not question that all watches have watchmakers. The watchmakers put all of the intricate parts together, and no one questions that fact. Why then should anyone question that the universe and all of its intricate parts were put together by the universe-maker? God took and still takes the time to create each and every one of us. He is our creator and our maker.

      Prescriptive Laws are the ones that people can choose whether or not they want to obey. These laws include but are not limited to laws involving the consequences for murder, theft, and assault. Deviations from these laws involve legal consequences. Descriptive Laws are ones over which people have no control and no choice to disobey or obey. The laws are laws of science and include but are not limited to the Laws of Motion, the Law of Supply and Demand, and the Ideal Gas Laws. These laws have always existed, regardless of the exact time at which someone discovered them. They exist without question; they simply are part of the world.

      God's existence, in the minds of His followers would fall under the same classification as the Descriptive Laws. The existence of God simply is part of the world, and the need does not exist to question His existence. The Bible exists to explain His purpose and place in our lives, just as the scientific documentation exists to explain the Ideal Gas Las and the Law of Supply and Demand.

      The Laws of Nature (or Descriptive Laws) do not need a “Law Giver,” because they have always existed. The points in h istory at which individuals took the time to research, study, and document the laws did not mark the beginning of their existence. The laws were always there; however, the people who labeled them simply tagged a name to them. The laws would still exist without the labels, just as God would still exist regardless of his label as the Supreme Being.

      I enjoyed Paley's argument about the Watch and the Watchmaker. The analogy fits perfectly. The watch has a watchmaker, just as all of the pieces of the universe have a universe-maker: God.
      1. Is the argument stated as an analogy or as an analogical argument?

        Yes, the analogical argument is stated.
      2. Is the argument stated as a proof rather than just described? That is, are separate reasons given for the conclusion which is specifically stated?

        Yes, the reasons for the conclusion are stated. That God creates each person who exists is not, however, part of Paley's argument.
      3. Are all premises and conclusion(s) to the argument present? Is the argument complete?

        Yes, the premises and conclusion are present.
      4. Are examples or descriptions given on intricate design of the watch or the universe?

        No examples of intricate design are given.
      5. Are key philosophical terms used in the argument defined or explained for clarity?

        Prescriptive and descriptive laws are defined and examples are given. But the use of this distinction is confused in the explanation of the objection. Examples of intricate design are not given.
      6. Are the objections to the argument first stated clearly and second explained? Are specific examples or descriptions used to help explain the points made?

        A second objection is not given or explained.
      7. Are the presentation of the argument and the objections to the argument consistent and complete?

        The analogy of the existence of laws of nature and the existence of God is a mistaken analogy. The essay states that God's existence can be classified as a descriptive law, but God is not an empirical concept nor subject to the laws of science.
      8. Is the argument copied verbatim or paraphrased idea by idea from another source? Are all exact quotations cited and documented correctly?

        No quotations are stated in the essay.
    5. Full-credit essay:



      Paley's Watch Argument begins as an attempt to explain how the intricacy of the universe and the intricacy of a watch by way of their design prove that there must have been someone to put all the pieces together perfectly. This further develops into a discussion which focuses on the fact that for the universe to be so sophisticated in its development there must have been someone greater than this world to make it. The argument starts out by saying that if someone were to come upon a rock lying on the ground they could readily assume that the rock had been there forever. However, if that same person came upon a watch lying on the ground they would never automatically assume that the watch had been there forever. We realize this by inspecting the inner parts of the watch. If the tiny parts of the watch had been arranged any differently or sized differently then the watch would either not work at all or would not be able to properly serve the purpose for which it was intended. This fact alone leads us to believe that for this watch to work accurately, there must have been someone, somewhere that knew how to make the watch, understood why they were making the watch, and the purpose that the watch would serve once it was made.

      The argument goes on to say that even though we may not know ourselves how to make a watch; have never seen a watch made; or have never known anyone who did know how to make a watch, it would not weaken our belief that someone had known how to make a watch and carried out that procedure to make the one that we found. It also states that we would still believe in the “watch-maker” even if sometimes the watch didn't work perfectly right because the purpose, the design, and the designer are all still evident. We would also never be inclined to believe that the ground itself had some internal configuration which molded itself into the watch that we had found. Nor would we be able to consider the possibility that lesser forms of the watch had existed before and had evolved into the watch that we hold now. Basically, just by the little that we know about the watch, nothing could make us believe that the watch had come from anywhere or anything but the watch-maker.

      A prescriptive law is a law that can be broken. This is a law that was created by a lawgiver and includes things like laws against killing, stealing, lying, etc. A descriptive law does not imply a lawgiver and includes laws that cannot be broken including gravity. These principles are important to his argument because of the fact that the watch maker has acted like a lawgiver and imposed laws on the watch including things like how fast it should tick. This would be an example of the prescriptive law within his argument. By pure definition, a prescriptive law is a law that can be broken. Therefore the watch could stop ticking at any time, just by some fault of the mechanics within the watch or a dead battery. On the other hand the descriptive law side of his argument would consider the fact that the concept of time itself would never stop. Time keeps going no matter what anyone in this world does, so it follows the definition of a descriptive law. There was no lawgiver in this instance and time cannot be broken for anything or anyone.

      The “laws of nature” in themselves are exactly how they sound. They are the few laws that are here because without them this world would not and could not function as it does today. It is a natural part of the way the world works. The law of gravity, the laws of motion, the laws of physics, and the concept of time are all great examples of natural laws that cannot be broken due to the nature of this world. None of these laws imply that there was or ever has been a lawmaker. These few examples are a great way to tell that no one ever sat down and thought up the concepts for the laws of nature. Scientists may have discovered these laws but these laws are inherent in our world today, just as they always have been. According to the laws of nature, there is no evidence that there was a law-maker that put them into effect.

      The second objection can be put this way. To make a watch would require many persons including the designer, the manufacturer, the distributor, and the maker. If the analogy were perfect, then this would imply by analogy that the creator of the universe would be also many different agents, none of whom would be infinite.
      1. Is the argument stated as an analogy or as an analogical argument?

        Yes, although the design of the universe implying the existence of God is assumed rather than specifically stated.
      2. Is the argument stated as a proof rather than just described? That is, are separate reasons given for the conclusion which is specifically stated?

        Yes, the analogy is presented as an argument.
      3. Are all premises and conclusion(s) to the argument present? Is the argument complete?

        Both the main premises and conclusion are present.
      4. Are examples or descriptions given on intricate design of the watch or the universe?

        The parts of a watch are mentioned, but the parts are the universe are not. No examples of the design are mentioned or explained.
      5. Are key philosophical terms used in the argument defined or explained for clarity?

        Yes, laws of nature, prescriptive laws, and descriptive laws are explained and examples are given.
      6. Are the objections to the argument first stated clearly and second explained? Are specific examples or descriptions used to help explain the points made?

        Yes, both objections are stated and explained.
      7. Are the presentation of the argument and the objections to the argument consistent and complete?

        All parts are complete with no contradictions.
      8. Is the argument copied verbatim or paraphrased idea by idea from another source? Are all exact quotations cited and documented correctly?

        No quotations are present in the essay.
    Further Reading:
    • Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper explains the kind of reasoning necessary for writing a philosophy essay as well as detailing the stages of writing a philosophy paper. The tips on philosophy writing are well considered and clearly explained by Prof. Jim Pryor of New York University.
    • How to Write a Philosophy Essay briefly summarizes the organizational method of writing a philosophy essay. The site outlines a simple model to follow for the essay. Also, worth reading on the site is the page on “How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps.”
    • Writing Essay Exams explains how to a well written answer to an essay questions by the six most common types of questions and gives examples comparing essay answers. Tips for good essay writing are also enumerated by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab.
    Top of Page

    “Why do we engage in philosophy? Perhaps no better answer exists than that given by Aristotle … We are naturally curious animals. Yet to engage in philosophy is not merely a matter of being curious about things. It requires that our curiosity be expressed through questions and answer in a manner that is both systematic and critical. To this end, however, the methods of philosophy are many. I enumerate some of the most important below.

    Philosophy is analytic in that it analyzes the most basic assumptions that we use in an attempt to understand ourselves and the world around us.

    Philosophy is normative in that it appeals to relies or precepts that determine correct and incorrect ways of human thinking and behavior.

    Philosophy is critical in that it challenges time-honored cannot of belief in an effort to get at truth or further our understanding of some issue.

    Philosophy is synthetic in that it aims to synthesize our views of ourselves and the world in a coherent and systematic manner.

    Philosophy is rational in that it insists that reasons be given for what we believe and that consistency, simplicity, coherence, and order of thoughts are desirable.

    Philosophy is creative in that it invites us to explore and examine new ways of looking at philosophical problem and issues.”

    Andrew Holowchak, Critical Reasoning and Philosophy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 4.

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