Tutorial Papers and Meetings

Tutorial Papers: Procedures and Guidelines

About Tutorial Papers

What are tutorial papers?  Tutorial papers comprise answers to a series of related questions that are given to the student ahead of time.  Tutorial papers are not standard essays—no thesis, body, conclusion format.   The questions are normally about specified passages from philosophical texts and prompt the student to make a variety of decisions about what’s going on in the passage.  The aim of tutorial papers is for the student to independently develop his or her own interpretation of the selected passages—usually about how a certain philosophical argument is supposed to work—and to make his or her own decisions about the relative merits of the passage.


Tutorial papers are more a record of the student’s thought about the questions and the texts than they are “presentational” papers, such as standard college-level essays.  As such, they are written more to be read and discussed, rather than to be submitted-graded-returned (although all those things do happen).


Pedagogically, students tend to develop a deeper philosophical insight about texts and questions when they are tasked to come up with their own positions on things, and then critically discuss what they’ve come up with.  The point, then, is not to have memorized a particular view and then demonstrate that one can put it in writing, but for the student to formulate what he or she actually thinks—on his or her own—given the available evidence of the text, plus philosophical smarts.  This is how actual philosophers actually work, by the way, and so is a sine qua non in a liberal arts course in philosophy.


Tutorial Paper Writing Guidelines

Paper Submission. All papers are to be submitted to me electronically, i.e., as an e-mail attachment, by their due dates and times.  No late papers are accepted without my prior approval.  Please send papers to me at pmooney@jcu.edu.


If you are using MICROSOFT WORD, 2003, 2007, or 2010, please submit your paper as a “word document” (.doc).  If you are using ANY OTHER WORD PROCESSOR please instead submit your paper in “”rich text format” (.rtf).  This format is made available to you in a “drop-down” box when using the “SAVE AS” command, and affords more trouble-free reading of documents between computers with differing word processors.


Paper Formatting and Page LimitsPlease adhere to the following formatting in order to afford easier reading and marking‑up of your papers.


·         Indicate: Name, course, Tutorial No., term anywhere at the top of the first page: (e.g., “Colage Studint, PL210, T1, Sp11”).

·         No more than 21/2 pages, single-spaced.

·         Normal margins.

·         Normal size font (10, 11 or 12 for most fonts).

·         Include a clearly identifiable question number preceding each of your answers. This ensures that I know what question portions of your paper are supposed to be answering.  Often, tutorial questions have several parts.  Please indicate the individual answer parts, as well.


Below is a sample of what a portion of a rightly formatted tutorial paper might look like.

Colage Studint, PL210, T1, S1 11

Q1.  Answer answer answer answer answer.  Answer answer answer answer answer.  Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer.  Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer.  Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer

Q2. (i) Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer.  Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer.  Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer.  Answer answer

Q2. (ii)  Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer answer answer answer. Answer answer.









Get going on the tutorial questions as soon as possibleSome of the questions will prove quite challenging and so will need a little time to “sit” with you.  Also, you can’t know what problems that you will face in answering the questions until you start writing, and so you’ll need to allow yourself plenty of time to work through these problems, and to revise your answers as your thinking progresses.  You will normally receive each set of tutorial questions two weeks before your papers are due.  (Summer sessions may not be able to meet the two-week advance.)


Work Independently.  You are very strongly advised to not work with other students in the course, or with anyone else in writing these papers.  Please complete this work entirely on your own!  Among the aims of this work is the development of the individual student’s own capacities.  This aim is far too often thwarted when students work with someone else in answering the tutorial questions.  If you find that you’ve hit a roadblock of some kind, and need a bit of a jumpstart, please instead seek help from me.  I am in a far better position than anyone else about how to lend the appropriate hand without marring your own development.  Success in this course depends heavily upon your own development…regardless of where you’re starting from.  (In addition, students too often don’t know how to work with one another in such a way as to avoid plagiarism.)

In those cases where the student needs considerable help in writing mechanics, they may consult the Writing Center for help.  But under no circumstances should that help go beyond writing mechanics (e.g., grammar, paragraph structure, etc.). 


Answer the actual questions askedPast students have often simply neglected the question altogether, choosing instead to discuss some issue related to the question.  But there is indeed a difference between answering a question (which you must do), and giving what is merely a general discussion on the question topic (which is not a substitute for answering the question).  Answering a question is not the same thing as having something to say when asked a question.


It is rather easy to lose one’s focus in answering difficult questions about deep and complicated philosophical texts.  To help avoid this problem, my advice is to answer the question directly, precisely and briefly, first, and then give your explanation, argument or other discussion.


Make sure that your explanation, argument or other discussion really explains, argues for, or otherwise helpfully discusses your initial, brief answer.  If it doesn’t, don’t write it.  Put a different way, make sure that everything you write does some work towards answering a question, or explaining and defending your answer.  If not, the sentence, paragraph, page—or whatever—is philosophically useless and oughtn’t to be written.

Be sure to answer all questions, question parts, etc.


Clarity of Writing.  In philosophy there is a rather high premium placed upon the clarity of writing.  Mostly, this means that you must make every effort to ensure that your readers can readily follow what you are saying, sentence by sentence.  Specifically, you will need to pay very close attention to matters of grammar and spelling, and to work for the most efficient organization and presentation of your thoughts that you can manage.


Clarity also requires striving for simplicity.  For a variety of reasons, writing philosophy may seem to invite students to use overly complex means of expression in their writing.  (No doubt, you have read philosophers that reveal a flair for complexity; but this is not what makes that philosopher great, if he or she is great.)  But, unless there is no way out of complexity, avoid it.  One consequence of following this advice is that it will demand of you that you rewrite your answers several times (‑‑again: do not wait to get started on the questions).


A final word about mechanics: In general, I will make remarks about grammar, spelling, etc., only in the first paragraph or two, even if the remainder of the paper contains additional mechanical errors.  Often, too, I will resort to abbreviations for these sorts of remarks.  Far more often than not, mechanical problems make for worse papers—at least to the extent that the problems interfere with the reader figuring out what you’re trying to say.  Your knowing what you mean when you use bad grammar, sloppy spelling, etc., is not a good reason for believing that anyone else will know what you mean.  In general, it is expected that all papers will meet high mechanical standards (college-level standards).  Very probably, students cannot pass this course without being able to meet such standards.


Tutorial vs. Essay Paper.  The papers you will write for this course are tutorial papers, not essay papers.  Among other things, this means that it will not  be necessary that you answer the tutorial questions as though you were producing one coherent essay‑‑that is, in such a way that your paper shows the relationship between all of your answers.  In fact, I discourage you from trying to write your papers in that way: you will find that your page limit is almost too little space to adequately answer the questions, let alone to explain to the reader some grander thesis that ties them together.  Instead, I strongly prefer that you simply answer each of the questions “by itself,” and leave the relationship between the answers to be drawn out at a later time.  I am convinced that the best way to learn anything about the strengths and weaknesses of various philosophical views is, first, by concentrating your thought upon quite specific passages using the method of question and answer and, second, by discussing what you say about these passages in focused tutorial meetings.  For these purposes, the “standard essay” method is an extremely poor instrument, so please avoid it.


Philosophical Responses to Objections.  Almost all of the tutorial papers will require that the student say how Socrates (or whomever) might respond to certain objections raised against their views.  In doing so, however, students find it very tempting to simply restate the philosopher’s view, and then suppose that this is the same as a response to the objection.  In philosophy, though, a response to an objection makes the objection “go away,” so to speak, and so is not merely a restatement of the original view.


To make the objection “go away”, one has to show that the objection is either groundless, that it misses the point, that it itself makes false presumptions or that the original view is somehow able to account for the objection without damaging the theory‑‑or by yet some other means.  In any case, a response is no mere digging‑in‑of‑heels, but in one way or another weakens the force of the objection.  Your papers will not be devoted to merely setting out two or more opposing views (though this will often be involved), but to actually determining which of two or more opposing views is more likely correct!


Be honest about your difficulties.  It is often quite tempting to try to write “smooth” answers to tutorial questions‑‑that is, answers which cover up, or gloss over, almost obvious difficulties that your answers face.  Philosophy students must avoid this, however.  The idea behind writing in philosophy is to be as honest as you can about the difficulties that your answer faces.  The best way to find a good answer to a philosophical question, after all, is to be as forthright and clear about what the difficulties are that proposed answers face.  So if there are difficulties that your answers face, please be candid about these in your answers!  I will, of course, be looking for papers that exhibit a strong, concerted effort to provide thoroughly thought‑out answers.  But it is perfectly consistent with this standard that you openly acknowledge where you are not quite sure of yourself, and why.


Openly challenge Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (or whomever) about their arguments and their philosophical presumptionsMany of the questions will afford you the opportunity to say whether or not you think the philosophers in question are right or wrong about what they say.  If you think they are wrong on a certain point, there is no need to be shy in saying so and in saying why you think they are wrong.  In fact, go out of your way to be hard on them, if you think it is warranted.


Good arguments and bad arguments.  Often, you will need to say whether or not you think that a particular argument is a good or bad argument.  What makes an argument good or bad is itself a matter of controversy in philosophy.  However, at the very least, a good argument is one in which its conclusion is amply supported by its premises, and the premises are likely to be true.  So some reasons for thinking that an argument isn’t very good might include: the premises don’t sufficiently support the conclusion; one or more of the premises are false; and so on.  Likewise, the following considerations are not reasons for thinking that an argument is good (I make use of phrases typical of student papers): “It makes sense”, “It got whomever Socrates was speaking with to back down,” “Socrates does a good job of explaining himself,” etc.   The criteria for a good argument, in short, are scientific criteria, broadly construed, and not mere rhetorical criteria.


Do not write something just because you think it is what I would agree with or would like to hear.  Such a strategy will almost certainly wind up in disaster.  You stand a far better chance of doing well on your papers by writing what you yourself think is true, even if you suspect that what you think is quite the contrary of what I think.  Also, it is much easier to reason plausibly for a particular philosophical position if you feel sincerely pulled toward that position.


Textual evidence and citations.  In answering the questions rely upon the text as much as possible.  Do not attribute a view to Socrates, Plato or Aristotle (or whomever) unless you have textual evidence that you can cite which justifies your attributing views to them.  Far more often than not the text will tell you‑‑in one way or another‑‑what you need to know.  I do not say that the text will tell you this “directly,” for sometimes the only way to figure out what is being said is to develop some instincts for how Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (or whomever) get things across.  Nevertheless, you cannot simply dismiss the text.


Make sure to actually cite the textual evidence for your views where appropriate.  For example, if you say that Aristotle’s views about voluntary wrongdoing are such and such, you must indicate the passage or passages which support your claim.  In Ancient Greek Philosophy (PL210), this is normally done by citing the Stephanus pages and line numbers (Plato), or Bekker pages and line numbers (Aristotle).  For all other of my courses (PL101, PL 270, etc.), use the page numbers of whatever the common text is for the course, or paragraph number if the text supplies it (as is the case, say, with Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Understanding).


Cite the textual evidence even if you choose not to directly quote from Plato or Aristotle (or whomever), but merely to paraphrase them.  Most scholarly disagreements about what a philosopher’s arguments are for their views arise as the result of a disagreement about what a particular passage is really saying.  So you will always need to alert your readers as to the evidence that led you to ascribe a certain view or argument to the philosopher: this way, they may investigate the passage for themselves to see if they agree that what you say is evidence for your interpretation really is evidence for your interpretation.


For our purposes, your citations may be indicated by inserting a parenthetical notation right in the body of your papers.  For example: (Meno, 77b4‑5), and (De Motu Animalium, 701a1‑5).  You may abbreviate the names of works in your citations [e.g., the second example above may be indicated as follows: (DMA, 701a1‑5).]  There is no need for footnotes or bibliographies to catalogue any of this information.


Stay within the bounds of the specified page limit.  This limit is partly imposed by the time constraints of tutorial meetings, partly by our common interest in my returning your papers to you in a reasonable amount of time and mostly to force you into improving your writing towards the more concise and on-point.  In any case, the questions are designed to fit this limitation with good, clean, concise writing.  A few lines or a small paragraph over the page limit is not a problem, but any amount more than that may not be read by me.


No fraudulent papers will be accepted.  Students turning them in will be dismissed from the course with a failing grade.  A paper is fraudulent if either: (a) It contains any material that is not the result of the student’s own work.  It is acceptable, of course, to call the reader’s attention to the thoughts of another.  But any such “borrowed” material must either appear in quotes (with appropriate citation), or, if paraphrased, must nevertheless be introduced as belonging to another (and with appropriate citation), or, (b) It contains any material the relevance of which the student is unable to adequately explain, even if appropriately cited.

All papers will require that you sign a statement of originality.  Unsigned papers may not be evaluated.

Fraudulent papers may also result in expulsion from the University.


Tutorial meeting procedure

Meeting Structure.  Normally, tutorial meetings will include either 2 or 4 students plus myself.  (Summer sessions normally include two students/meeting.)  Meetings last no more than 50 minutes, unless a longer time is agreed upon by all participants, and will convene according to the meeting schedule arranged with students ahead of time.  It is crucial that students arrive on time.  The default location for all meetings is the Department of Philosophy Conference Room, just inside the department’s main door, and then an immediate right.


What should each student bring with him or her to the meeting?  Students who are readers need to supply each student participant with a copy of his or her paper (including one for yourself).  (Normally, all students in a summer session course are readers.)  I will supply my own copy.  All copying will need to be done prior to the meeting’s start.


Non-readers do not need to supply extra copies of their own papers, but should nevertheless have a copy for themselves to use.  Everyone will need to have the relevant texts with them (e.g., Plato’s Republic, I).


Readers and Non-Readers.  A reader will read out loud various portions of his or her paper during the meeting.  Which portions are read is decided by me during the meetings.  Normally, there are 2 readers/meeting.  The role of non-readers is to carefully observe the proceedings, paying attention to the philosophical give-and-take of the reading participants.  Non-readers are encouraged to raise questions with the readers about their answers, just as I will be doing.  The roles of reader and non-reader will switch during the second round of meetings.


Meeting Procedure.  The two readers each take turns reading their answers to the tutorial questions.  I will pick and choose which answers each student will read.  Normally, my selections will be made in accordance with what discussions emerge between us, the amount of time available to us, and what issues most interest me at the time.  Each reader will be frequently interrupted by me asking them questions about what they wrote (questions of clarification about what the student wrote, questions that get the student to rethink his or her reasoning for a given answer, questions asking about the student’s textual justification for an answer, etc.).  The point of my questions is always philosophical and pedagogical: students are not there to prove anything about themselves, or to compete with anyone.


Aim of Meetings.  Tutorial meetings are an attempt to do honest, non-artificial scholarly work, which it is at least one aim of any course in philosophy to meet.  This is best accomplished after each participant has already given deliberate consideration to certain questions, so that they may then discuss them intelligently with other people who have done similar work.  (Note that this process is little less than how all sciences proceed at a certain level.)  Figuring out good answers to deep, difficult, questions requires that real preparation be done ahead of time, and then have the results discussed in a sterile environment.  Tutorial meetings are among the closest proximity to that aim that college-level education can achieve.


Is the meeting graded?  No.  Only the papers are.  The meetings themselves are strictly educational events and, as such, carry no evaluative threat.  The work that will be graded—the papers—have already been written, so the meetings will neither harm nor help any grade prospects.  At risk of sounding quaint, the meetings are there strictly for you to learn.


Please remember: Lots of direct and indirect advice is given along the way about how to write answers to these sorts of questions, how to read texts—scour them, really—for philosophical arguments and information.  Non-readers are to pay attention to all such remarks no less than readers (even though the remarks are specifically about only their papers).  In fact, it is expected that each student’s second tutorial paper will be a better product for those reasons, and it will be graded accordingly.  (And so on for T3.)


Paper Evaluation and Feedback

Feedback on your tutorial papers comes in three distinct ways.


Remarks Made in Tutorial Meetings.  Remarks both about philosophy and about writing are made during these meetings.  While the purpose of the philosophical ones is primarily for the sake of doing philosophy—having a considered, deliberate, discussion about theory—the students should also consider both kinds of remarks as feedback on their written work.  In both cases, there will be indirect suggestions made about how this present paper could have achieved its aims better, and about how to proceed differently next time around.  While it is true that, in most cases, only two papers in particular are being commented upon in the tutorial meetings, non-readers in the meetings are nevertheless expected to apply what is said to themselves and to their own work.


Evaluation Summary.  Instead of returning papers to you, I will return an Evaluation Summary.  SEE SAMPLE BELOW.  The summary is a brief discussion of your work as a whole, and so doesn’t go into the same level of detail as do those remarks made in tutorial meetings.  Many students find that they are better able to benefit from remarks of a more general sort, and are less practiced at benefitting from remarks pitched at a greater level of detail (though see next paragraph).


Solicited Additional Remarks (detail-type comments).  Students who desire more feedback on their work—feedback of a more detailed kind--besides the two mentioned above (those made in tutorial, and general remarks in the evaluation summary), may request that of me.  Please make such requests within 3 days of receipt of the paper’s Evaluation Summary.


While I am very happy and eager to provide additional feedback, per request, please only make sincere requests.  Students asking for additional feedback will not receive a “grade bonus” merely on account of making a feedback request; additional remarks are made with the presumption that the student will in fact read and consider them.