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Is economics an experimental science?

Read the items in the reading list carefully, making notes, and perhaps also copying out passages which seem to you important. This helps to fix these passages in your memory, and is useful if you want to quote them later. The method of transcription was used by Isaac Newton, John Locke, and other famous thinkers. At this stage it may be worth looking in the library for other relevant material not in the reading list. To find related material you can look for works that are quoted in the essays in the reading list. You can also take the most recent book/article on the subject, which usually includes a complete bibliography.
After finishing the reading and note-taking, allow a few days to pass turning the material over in your mind. Then prepare a plan for your essay. It is useful, as part of the plan, to divide the essay into sections. The section headings can then be placed at the beginning of the essay after the title as a sort of table of contents. Suppose, for example, the essay is entitled: Does the Lucas Argument show that Minds Are not Machines? A division into sections might go like this:
1. Introduction
2. Statement of the Lucas argument
3. Benacerrafs objections to the Lucas argument
4. The validity of a modified version of the Lucas argument
5. Conclusions
In the plan, each section heading would, of course, be followed by a brief summary of the planned content of that section. Ill be happy to see your plans and advise you, if you want to show them to me in advance. In general, do not try to cover too much. Choose a topic and try to go deeply into it. The length of an essay varies depending on the course, but normally should be around 2,000 words.
When the plan is complete, use it as a guide to write the essay, though as you write the essay, you may decide to alter the plan in some ways e.g. dividing a section into two, omitting a section, or adding a new one. You should also have the notes you made in front of you when writing the essay, but you may also have to return to the original texts to check some points. When youve finished, check that the contents correspond to the plan. Adding a brief summary at the beginning (as a separate abstract, or as part of the introduction) is useful for you and for the reader. Eventually, check the mistakes, the grammar, and the spelling. If there are too many, this may lead to penalties. Foreign students may ask their English-speaking fellows for some help to improve the presentation.
When describing someones views in your essay you can either paraphrase, or quote. Which is better in a given context is a matter of judgement, though there is much to be said for quoting, which often leads to a more accurate account of the views in question. Please note, however, that you should not quote in an exam. Learning passages by heart is a waste of time for the exams, paraphrase. Do not quote a lecturers handouts go to the sources. Of course you can quote the passages quoted in the handouts, although finding other paragraphs restating the same concepts (if they exist) proves that you bothered to read the originals.
Some essays you write will contribute to the overall assessment, so it is crucial that you refer precisely to all the sources you have consulted. Copying from other articles, papers, books, or the Internet will lead to severe penalties. This refers obviously to the form, but also to the contents of your writing. Of course you might reinvent some argument inadvertently, but: if you think you have found something really original, read as much secondary literature as you can, to check whether someone has already endorsed that point of view. 90% of the times, youll find that this is the case. Discovering that you have come independently to the same conclusion as a great philosopher is quite rewarding anyway. If you cant find anyone endorsing that view, then it is probably mistaken! Double check that it makes any sense by trying to criticise it. Notice that this is not meant to discourage original contributions, but rather to encourage honest ones that are grounded on hard work (see also below on originality). At any rate, making a little mistake in a very sophisticated argument is not a big deal, it shows at least that you are able to devise sophisticated arguments!
Whether you quote or paraphrase, the reference must be given correctly, so that any reader can check whether you have quoted correctly. I suggest you adopt the Harvard name-date system, which is the best in my opinion, and is coming to be more and more widely adopted. It works like this. In the text, you refer to a work by the authors name, and the date of first publication e.g. Bacon (1620). Then at the end of the essay you include a section entitled: References, which lists all the books and papers from which you quote in alphabetical order. Here you specify the exact edition from which the quotation is taken, which may be later than the first one. E.g.
Bacon, F. (1620) Novum Organum. English translation in R.L. Ellis and J. Speeding (eds.) The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon, Routledge, 1905, pp. 212-387.
If the quotation is from a paper, give full details of the journal or volume e.g.
Ariew, R. (1984) The Duhem Thesis, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 35, pp. 313-325.
Musgrave, A. (1976) Why Did Oxygen Supplant Phlogiston? Research Programmes in the Chemical Revolution, in C. Howson (ed.) Method and Appraisal in the Physical Sciences, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
If you are quoting, give the page number, e.g. Bacon (1620, p. 270). If you like you can add extra details about Parts, Chapters, Sections, etc. e.g. Bacon (1620, Book I, Section LXI). This extra information can help the reader to track down a quotation. If you are paraphrasing, a vaguer indication is appropriate, e.g.
Ariew claims (see his 1984, section 2) that the Duhem thesis is significantly different from the Quine thesis.
There are two main advantages of the Harvard name-date system. First of all it is economical, since the reference has to be specified in full only once (in the list of references) and in the main body of the essay the work can be referred to by a short abbreviation. Secondly the dates give a lot of information about the historical development of ideas on the subject. Thus the author of a 1963 paper might have read one published in 1960, but not viceversa.
Nobody expects original contributions from undergraduate students, but neither you should repeat pedantically what others have said. Signs of understanding are the ability to summarise a long argument, to analyse, clarify, and simplify complicated passages making them intelligible, to present an argument from a new perspective, to compare the views of different authors pointing to similarities and differences. Pointing to a conceptual problem is often enough you are not expected to solve old and difficult philosophical puzzles.
Criticism is a major aspect of philosophy. You are not asked to endorse any point of view uncritically. Avoid especially to endorse enthusiastically points of view that are mutually incompatible this is a sign of not having understood well. Remember that no philosophical doctrine is unequivocally right. This, however, does not mean that you should criticise randomly and without good reasons. A good way is to start by presenting some critiques of a certain position that you have found in the secondary literature. Then if you have some remarks of your own, remember what said above under plagiarism. Finally, criticism must be exercised with method. There are roughly three ways of criticising: (1) by finding a logical mistake in an argument; (2) by showing that some of the explicit or implicit premises of the argument are wrong, false, or implausible; (3) by showing that the conclusions are implausible or absurd; another strategy often followed in philosophy of science is to show that some philosophical doctrine does not account for some important aspects of scientific practice. You might, for example, take an exemplar of scientific practice (a theory, a model, or a piece of empirical research) and see whether it fits a given philosophical thesis. Remember that criticism requires always arguments: if you claim that a point of view is implausible or wrong, you have to show why.
There is no particular rule, but it is a good idea to try to be simple. Do not imitate the style of some great philosopher. Try to keep expressions like I think, I have demonstrated, I believe, etc., at a minimum. Philosophers sometimes use a lot of technical terminology and tight reasoning, but you have to show that you have understood the terminology and the intricate reasoning by explaining the same concepts in a different (and possibly simpler) way. Professional philosophers sometimes seem obscure, whereas you have to be clear. Before he started to paint funny pictures featuring human beings with both eyes on the same cheek, Pablo Picasso had to prove his teachers that he could paint classical portraits. The same applies to philosophy.

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