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Indiana University Bloomington

Undergraduate Program

Techniques and Tools Of Philosophy

One cannot describe these matters without entering into areas of some controversy among philosophers, but certain points are important for anyone studying philosophy to keep in mind.

First, the kind of paper students will be asked to write in most philosophy courses is notable. Such papers require an important skill those philosophy students will be encouraged to master. Philosophical paper assignments tend to place heavy emphasis on the ability to give good arguments for positions on philosophical questions. Learning to give clear, sound arguments is a crucial part of learning to write good philosophy papers, and most philosophy courses will encourage this skill. The skill is useful in a way not at all confined to philosophy or philosophy courses, and is very helpful in expounding and arguing for positions in other areas. This skill is one of the greatest advantages of studying philosophy, and studying philosophy is one of the best ways to acquire it.

Another sort of technique much used by philosophers is logic. Here logic must be distinguished from what was just discussed, which was the construction and presentation of clear and sound arguments for philosophical views. "Logic" means primarily the study of valid arguments, not merely as a tool for use in presenting one's case, but as an interesting object of study in its own right. At its most formal, logic involves studying the structure of arguments in the way a mathematician studies an abstract system of numbers, and in this sense logic can be a branch of mathematics. A person studying philosophy needs to decide what sort of course in logic is most appropriate to his or her own needs. Philosophy P105 and P150 concentrate more on the use of arguments, especially informal arguments. Philosophy 250 and P251 concentrate on more formal structures.