University of Kansas, Fall 2004
Philosophy 160: Introduction to Ethics

Stevenson writing assignment

Your assignment is to write a summary, not more than 3 pages long, of section II, section III, section IV, or section V of Stevenson’s paper “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms” (not section I or section VI). What I mean by a summary is a description of the main ideas of the section, conveying its meaning with greater clarity, greater brevity, and more perspicuous organization than is found in Stevenson’s text. To see what makes for a good summary, read my summary of section I of Stevenson’s paper, and then consider the following comments. Be sure to read my summary and the following comments, and to get started on your own paper, prior to your discussion section during the period of September 9–13. Time will be set aside in discussion sections during that period for you to discuss your thoughts, outline, or rough draft with a small group of some of your classmates.

Your paper will be due in class at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 14, and will determine 8 percent, or possibly 12 percent, of your overall course grade. (See the syllabus for a reminder of how assignments’ weights will be determined.)

In terms of formatting, your summary should look pretty much like mine. Here are some specific points to keep in mind.

  1. header information (lines 1–5)
    1. line 1: your name
    2. line 2: the department and number of the course (Philosophy 160)
    3. line 3: your teaching assistant’s first and last name
    4. line 4: when your discussion section meets (Thursday, 11:30; or Friday, 12:30; or Monday, 2:30; or whatever)
    5. line 5: the date when you are turning your paper
    6. All this should be at the top of the first page, indented from the left margin by 4 inches or so.
  2. after the header (line 6 to the end)
    1. line 6: after some blank space (2 lines' worth, or so), the title. The title of your summary should accurately represent what it is, as the title of my summary does. Then there should be another couple of lines’ worth of blank space.
    2. line 7 to the end: the text of your summary. Like my text, your text should be in 12-point type and double-spaced, with left and right margins of about 1.5 inches.
    3. bottom of each page: the page number
  3. footnotes: for citing any assistance you received
    1. Assistance that pertains to your whole summary, rather than to any specific part, should be cited in a footnote attached to your name (as with my footnote 1).
    2. Assistance that pertains to some part of your summary should be cited in a footnote attached to that part of your summary (as with my footnote 3).
  4. citing sources
    1. When referring to a paper published in a journal, provide its bibliographical information in a footnote (as I’ve done in footnote 2).
    2. When referring to or quoting specific things that Stevenson says, give the page number in parentheses. Note that the page number, and the parentheses surrounding it, are to be given before the punctuation at the end of the sentence, but after the quotation mark indicating the end of the material you’re quoting.
  5. So, as I said, your summary should look like mine, with one exception: Don’t number your lines. That’s just something I did to enable me to refer to specific parts of it here in these comments on it.

There are several basic points of style and content that you should keep in mind as you write your summary.

  1. Your summary should be written in a clear, straightforward, grammatically correct style. Don’t try to write in Stevenson’s style; rather, use words, phrases, and sentence structures that ordinary people use today. Notice that my summary is in simple, relatively conversational English, without being excessively casual.
  2. Feel free to use the word ‘I’, as I do in a couple of places in my summary.
  3. Don’t think that your summary must conform the widely taught idea of a five-paragraph paper: introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and conclusion. Even if you think the section you’re summarizing has just one main point, it may or may not be appropriate to present three independent supporting considerations, as the five-paragraph model assumes. It all depends on the material you’re working with.
  4. As the idea of a summary suggests, the content of your summary should accurately represent the content of the original text; it should do so about as thoroughly as the space limits permit. As you can see from my summary, I had to omit lots of minor details of Stevenson’s section in order to keep my summary short enough, but I was careful to omit only dispensable aspects of the section and to cover all the essentials. (Many students approach this assignment under the impression that a summary is to be just one paragraph long. You could, conceivably, summarize anything in a paragraph. But if you are given more space for a summary—say, three pages—then your summary can be more thorough. You should use the space you are allotted to summarize a section of Stevenson’s paper as thoroughly as that space permits.)
  5. Your allocation of space within your summary does not have to be the same as the author’s. If you think that certain paragraphs contain lots of extraneous remarks, then you should summarize them briefly. This is because the assignment is to summarize a whole section, not to summarize each of its paragraphs one by one. Note that none of my paragraphs is a summary of any of Stevenson’s paragraphs, and yet the paragraphs I wrote are, collectively, a good summary of what Stevenson wrote.
  6. Your organization of ideas within your summary does not have to be the same as the Stevenson’s. Note that in the passage I summarized, Stevenson introduces interest theories before specifying the criteria that he says they fail to meet. I thought, however, that it would be clearer to introduce the criteria first. (I also thought that doing so would better represent Stevenson’s priorities, since the three criteria are more important to his project than his rejection of the theories of his subjectivist predecessors.) As you write your summary of section II, section III, section IV, or section V, you may also think that some rearranging of ideas is called for.

Once you’re written your summary, you’ll want to go back through it and revise it in light of the following relatively advanced points of style and content. (You might be able to write it from scratch with these more advanced points in mind, but usually it’s better to develop what you’re writing in stages, rather than trying to make it perfect the first time through.)

  1. Your introductory paragraph should tell the reader what your paper will accomplish. (I state, in lines 11–12, that I will explain how Stevenson attempts to achieve the three objectives mentioned earlier in my introductory paragraph. You may think, in summarizing another section of Stevenson’s paper, that Stevenson has only two objectives worth discussing, or maybe one or four. How many there are depends on the section and, to some extent, your interpretation and judgment.)
  2. Each of your remaining paragraphs should begin with a topic sentence that conveys the gist of what it is about. I did this in my summary:
    1. The beginning of my second paragraph (line 13) signals that I’ll be talking about Stevenson’s attempt to clarify the meaning of the question ‘Is so and so good?’
    2. The beginning of my third paragraph (line 27) signals that I’ll be talking about the way Stevenson deals with the fact that different theories offer different sorts of translations of ethical questions.
    3. The beginning of my fourth paragraph (line 38) signals that I’ll be explaining the three criteria Stevenson specifies for an acceptable definition of the word ‘good’.
    4. (and so on)
  3. One final stylistic comment: don’t be afraid to repeat important words and phrases if that is what it takes to maintain clarity. In my summary, for example, I used the word ‘criteria’ several times. I was tempted to inject some variety by occasionally replacing it with other words such as 'standards', 'principles', and ‘norms', but then I thought, “Well, this might introduce unnecessary confusions. All these words have slightly different meanings, so why muddy the waters by being loose with the language? Better to be strict and keep it simple, even if it’s a bit repetitive.” Clarity is a lot more important than variety.

Finally, I mentioned on the syllabus that I would, when assigning papers, provide clear and specific guidance as to what does and does not constitute academic misconduct. Here are some guidelines for this assignment.

  1. some things that you are not allowed to do:
    1. having someone else write your summary or tell you what to write
    2. copying your summary, in whole or part, from another source
    3. receiving assistance from some person or some other source and failing to cite that assistance
  2. some things that you are allowed to do:
    1. write your summary based on your own reading of what Stevenson wrote and based on what is said in lecture and in your discussion section
    2. getting anyone you want to (1) discuss what Stevenson wrote with you and/or (2) read your summary and give you comments on it—as long as, in either case, you cite that person’s assistance and do not use their words as any of the substance of your summary
    3. reading some of the secondary literature on Stevenson or emotivism generally in order to get a clearer understanding of his views—again, as long as you cite your source(s) and do not end up copying from that source

The idea, then, is that you are free to get all sorts of help on this assignment, as long as you (1) do all the writing yourself and (2) cite whatever help you get.

So those are some comments about what is expected on this assignment. Grading will be based on these considerations; to be more precise, your grade will be determined by the following five criteria (assuming no penalties for lateness, plagiarism, etc.):

  1. (30 percent:) Your summary shows good judgment on your part about what to include or exclude, so that what your summary covers is more important than what it leaves out (see item 9, above). That is, your summary does not devote space to relatively non-essential aspects of the section it discusses while failing to address relatively essential aspects.
  2. (30 percent:) Your summary accurately describes the aspects of the section it discusses (item 9).
  3. (20 percent:) Your summary presents the ideas it discusses in a logical order (items 10 and 11).
  4. (10 percent:) Your summary is written in a clear, straightforward, grammatically correct style (item 6); and it has a clear structure and good organization (items 12 and 13).
  5. (10 percent:) Your summary is properly formatted (items 1–5 on the assignment).