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How to Write a Dissertation in Philosophy: Brief Guide

Writing a dissertation in philosophy is a challenging experience because this project is different from those that students are asked to do when writing academic papers in other fields of studies. You need to show how you understand complex philosophical concepts, theories, and arguments, critically assess them, and have an ability to provide your own answers to big philosophical questions. Working on the dissertation is an opportunity to conduct extended independent research and writing on a specific topic and to present this project to one’s peers. Your dissertation should reflect your own views on some philosophical problem but must be based on some established part of the philosophical literature.

Due to philosophy dissertation specific characteristics, writing a good final paper can be really stressful for the majority of students. If you are one of them and face difficulties in developing a coherent and logical argument to provide an answer to one of the big questions, read this article where you will find a complete guide to writing a philosophy dissertation and get quick answers to all your questions. If you have problems with completing different types of other college papers, check full guides to all writing assignments out there on our website.

What Is a Dissertation in Philosophy?

The goal of your final project is to get you doing philosophy. Dissertation offers you a great opportunity to develop intellectual independence and specialize in depth in a topic of interest. Your task is not just present results of your independent research, findings of different tests and experiments or your personal impressions and feelings. Instead, you need to present a reasoned defense of some claim. That means that your dissertation must present a specific point that you are trying to establish and provide justification for its acceptance or reasons to believe your claims. You need to make a statement and present logical argument to convince your readers accept your point of view.

You can’t just say in your dissertation:

My point of view is that B.
or:
Plato says that C.

Instead, you should say something like this:
My point of view is that B. I think so because …
or:
Plato says that C. but the following reasons prove that it is not true.

You need to create an independent inquiry-based paper.

You are expected to produce a mature and a competent piece of writing which embodies the results of significant original research. To achieve that goal, you need to seek out a researchable question, decide on relevant literature to research the question, employ an appropriate methodology and draw your subsequent research together to provide a sustained and reflective argument that reveals your critical thinking skills.

  • You need to demonstrate profound knowledge and understanding of the chosen subject and its place in philosophy as a field of knowledge.
  • You should be able to synthesize and integrate a critical evaluation of a wide range of primary and secondary texts into a coherent argument.
  • Present your ideas logically and defend them both in writing and orally in a rigorous way.

How to Find a Good Topic for a Dissertation in Philosophy

Finding a good dissertation topic is a rather difficult part of getting your PhD in philosophy and many students struggle at this step. You need to find an interesting topic of appropriate scope and depth which will be regarded as an essence of your academic identity. You need to find a subject that will suit both earning a diploma and getting a job. Since you will be searching for an initial faculty position, you should choose a topic in the fields of philosophy that are most in demand. Of course, you may pursue an independent part in your research but in this case, you are likely to face special challenges connected with finding a position.

Have no idea of what to write about? Review 15 awesome philosophy dissertation topics!

  • Logic and Metaphysics;
  • Moral Judgment and Decision Making;
  • The Philosophical Judgments of the Muslims;
  • Solipsism and the Problem of Other Minds;
  • Determinism vs. Fatalism;
  • Difference between Living and Being Alive;
  • Existence: Is it a Series of Random Events;
  • Why Is Beauty Associated with Morality?
  • Ethical Issues of Human Cloning;
  • Women’s Role in the Enlightenment;
  • Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte;
  • The Role of Reflexivity in Hermeneutic Phenomenology;
  • Hegel’s Philosophy of Absolute Spirit;
  • The Purpose of Feminist Theory;
  • Kant’s Theory of Self-Consciousness.

Feel free to use any topic suggestion for your own project. You should choose a topic that you are passionate about or a topic which is not familiar to you but you would like to learn more about it. After you pick some interesting idea, start reading existing philosophical literature to narrow your topic down and to find some specific approach to it. Then create a research question and a thesis statement that will help you stay focused and ensure a logical argument.

For example, if you decide to write a dissertation about Voltaire philosophy of history, your thesis statement may look like this one:

‘Being a severe critic of a traditional way of thinking, Voltaire made an attempt to reinterpret the religious, aesthetic, and moral views as well as the traditions, customs, and practices that were prevalent in ancient civilizations.’

How to Structure a Dissertation in Philosophy and Make an Outline

The structure of a typical dissertation in philosophy should include at a minimum, the following elements:

  • Title conveys the main message of your paper;
  • Introduction briefly explains your main claim and how you are going to prove it;
  • Sections with headings explain different aspects of your topic and contribute to overall argument;
  • Conclusion provides information about implications of the central claim and suggests possible areas for further research;
  • References section provides a list of sources in an alphabetical order.

The general requirement to structuring your dissertation is that you should present an argument which culminates in a particular central claim (evaluative or interpretive) and use logic to persuade your readers that your claim is true. If you have no idea how to organize your project, you can take an article in a scientific journal as an example you can follow. Remember: you need to provide an original, independent piece of research that is based on primary texts and relevant secondary sources but it’s crucial to draw your own conclusion.

Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?

Structure of a dissertation in philosophy is very important because it allows you to:

  • Provide a context for your topic and explain the background assumptions;
  • Build a sustained argument to reach a conclusion;
  • Explain why your conclusions matter;
  • Anticipate possible objections and respond to them.

You should break the content of your dissertation into chapters and each chapter should have a specific focus and contribute to the overall argument.

Before you start writing your draft, create an outline of your paper and of all key arguments that you are going to present to defend your thesis statement. So, you should think about the order of explaining different terms and positions you’ll be discussing and presenting your own arguments, how you are going to present your opponent’s positions and the way you will offer your criticism. If you do it before you actually start writing, it will be easier for you to organize your points and get a clear understanding how they are going to fit together. A detailed outline will help you stay productive during the writing process and avoid the writer’s block which typically happens when you don’t know exactly what you are trying to say.

Writing a Draft of a Dissertation in Philosophy

Now let’s discuss different aspects of writing a draft and its section in your philosophy paper.

Introduction

When you start writing an introduction, it’s important to be concise and make the structure of your dissertation in philosophy clear to your audience.

  • You should start with formulating your precise thesis statement so that your readers will be able to see clearly what your project sets out to achieve.
  • You need to define special or ambiguous terms that will appear in the text of your paper to help your readers understand the argument.
  • Tell your readers why the subject of your discussion is important for them and why should they care to read your piece of writing.
  • Explain briefly how you are going to defend your thesis statement and outline what points you are going to make.
  • If it’s necessary speak about the arguments you are going to criticize.

Body of Your Dissertation in Philosophy

When writing the main sections of your dissertation, you need to be concise but at the same time explain yourself fully. You should develop a strong and coherent argument to support your thesis. Don’t skip any steps assuming that your readers will accept all premises which they don’t understand or know very little about them. If you use some claims that your audience may find doubtful, you should give your readers convincing reasons to accept that point of view. But don’t include anything in your paper that doesn’t directly address the subject, specific questions and problems related to it. It’s always better to concentrate on 1 or 2 points and develop them in detail than try to cover too many points and use multiple weaker arguments.

An essential part of your philosophy dissertation is anticipating and answering objections to your argument. Don’t be afraid to bring up relevant objections to your own thesis because in this way, you actually support your main argument and make it more compelling. Keep in mind that when you present objections to your argument, you should always present reasons for thinking they are true. Think about the strongest objections and reply to them.

When you present your argument, you should do your best to be straightforward and say precisely what you mean. Sometimes, you will need to present examples to explain your points but it’s crucial to be as concise as possible because unnecessary words will confuse your audience and make your argument less convincing.

Your dissertation doesn’t always have to give straight answers to some questions or offer definite solutions to all problems. It’s acceptable to ask questions and raise important problems in your dissertation even if you can’t provide satisfying answers to all of them. You must explain what makes such questions interesting explain your audience that you leave those questions unanswered on purpose.

Don’t include lengthy quotations and don’t rely heavily on paraphrases. Use direct quotes only when it’s essential to present another writer’s exact selection of words. Keep quotes and paraphrasing to the minimum. Your task is to do original research, critically assess views of other philosophers and present your own ideas on the topic of your dissertation. Credit all your sources appropriately to avoid plagiarism. You can use any major referencing style, for example, MLA or Harvard but keep in mind that you should be consistent.

Conclusion

In the conclusion, you should briefly restate your thesis and key points and explain why you think your paper has achieved its goals and what your argument has established. Don’t include any new information in this section of your paper or any examples. You can also emphasize the significance of the problem and make suggestions about further research.

Revise and Edit Your Dissertation in Philosophy

Don’t think that you will be able to write your philosophy dissertation from scratch without revising the structure and the content of your arguments multiple times. Any first draft can be improved significantly by rewriting. You should edit boldly focusing on clarity of the overall structure of your argument to ensure that it is as concise as possible and clear for your readers. Remember that shorter drafts are always better drafts and clear sentences are the result of thorough and tough-minded editing. Edit your paper to ensure that the final draft of your dissertation in philosophy offers the clearest expression you can manage in your argument and proofread the final draft multiples time to make it the best it can be.

We hope that our guide to writing a dissertation in philosophy will help you successfully cope with this challenging task and make a great impression on your committee.