University of Kansas, Fall 2003
Philosophy 160: Introduction to Ethics
Hume writing assignment
Your assignment is to write a paraphrase, not more than 3 pages long, of Hume’s four paragraphs on
deriving ’ought’ from ’is’ (the ones to which the syllabus refers). What I mean by a
paraphrase is a restatement or a rewriting of a passage, conveying its meaning with greater clarity and more
perspicuous organization. To see what makes for a good paraphrase, read
paraphrase of Hume’s four paragraphs on deriving morality from nature, and then
consider the following comments.
In terms of formatting, your paraphrase should look pretty much like
mine. Here are some specific points to keep in mind.
- header information (lines 1–4)
- line 1: your name
- line 2: the department and number of the class (Philosophy 160)
- line 3: when your discussion section meets (so that your teaching
assistant can group your paper with those of the other people in your
- line 4: the due date of the assignment (September 8, 2003)
- All this should be at the top of the first page, indented from the
left margin by 4 inches or so.
- after the header (line 5 to the end)
- line 5: after some blank space (2 lines' worth, or so), the title. The
title of your paraphrase should accurately represent what it is, as the
title of my paraphrase does. Then there should be another couple of blank
- line 6 to the end: the text of your paraphrase. Like my text, your text
should be in 12-point type and double-spaced, with left and right margins
of about 1.5 inches.
- bottom of each page: the page number
- footnotes: for citing any assistance you received
- Assistance that pertains to your whole paraphrase, rather than any
specific part, should be cited in a footnote attached to your name.
- Assistance that pertains to some part of your paraphrase should be cited
in a footnote attached to that part of your paraphrase.
- So, as I said, your paraphrase should look like mine. But there are two
exceptions to this rule.
- 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.
- You may have separately indented statements within some of your
paragraphs, as I do in my first and second paragraphs, or you may not.
There are several basic points of style and content that you should
keep in mind as you write your paraphrase.
- Your paraphrase should be written in a clear, straightforward style.
Don’t try to write in Hume’s style; rather, use words, phrases, and sentence
structures that ordinary people use today. Notice that my paraphrase is in
simple, relatively conversational English, without being overly casual.
- Feel free to use the word ’I’, as I do in several places in my
- Don’t think that your paraphrase must conform the widely taught idea of
a five-paragraph paper: introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and
conclusion. (My paraphrase has five paragraphs, but that is just a
coincidence. And my three middle paragraphs don’t offer three independent
arguments for a single conclusion (or thesis statement); rather, my second
and third paragraphs prove my first conclusion, and my second and fourth
paragraphs prove my second conclusion. So although my paraphrase has five
paragraphs, it’s not mean to suggest conformity to the five-paragraph
model.) Even if you think the passage you’re paraphrasing has just one
conclusion, 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.
- It is implicit in the idea of a paraphrase that the content of your
paraphrase 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 paraphrase, I had to omit lots of minor details of
Hume’s passage in order to keep my paraphrase short enough, but I was
careful to omit only dispensable aspects of Hume’s passage and to cover all the
essentials. I also didn’t push my paraphrase all the way to the limit of 3
pages; I didn’t think I had room to add more in a way that would be clear
instead of just crammed in.
- Your allocation of space within your paraphrase 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 shorten them accordingly. This is
because the assignment is to paraphrase a four-paragraph passage, not to
paraphrase each of the four paragraphs one by one. Note that none of my
paragraphs is a paraphrase of any of Hume’s paragraphs, and yet the
paragraphs I wrote are, collectively, a good paraphrase of what Hume wrote.
- Your organization of ideas within your paraphrase does not have to be
the same as the author’s. Note that in the passage I paraphrased, Hume
introduced his three interpretations of the concept nature in the
course of arguing for the first of his two conclusions. I thought, however,
that since he uses these interpretations again, in his argument for his
second conclusion, it made sense to present them separately at first, rather
than to embed them (as Hume did) in the argument for one conclusion or the
other. As you write your paraphrase, you may also think that some
rearranging of ideas is called for.
Once you’re written your paraphrase, you’ll want to go back through it and
revise it in light of these 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.)
- Your introductory paragraph should do two things.
- It should tell the reader what conclusion(s) you are trying to prove.
(I state, in lines 6–11, that I am trying to prove two conclusions,
because that is how many conclusions I find in the corresponding passage
by Hume. You may, in paraphrasing Hume’s four paragraphs on deriving
‘ought’ from ‘is’, think that there is just one conclusion he is trying to
prove, with everything else being subsidiary to this; or you may think there are three, or whatever. How many conclusions
there are depends on the passage.)
- It should give the reader some idea of the strategy you will be
employing—a little bit of information about the argument(s) you’ll be
offering in support of your conclusion(s). I do this in lines 12–14.
- 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 paraphrase:
- The beginning of my second paragraph (line 15) signals that I’ll be
talking about three interpretations of the concept nature.
- The beginning of my third paragraph (line 26) restates the first of
the two conclusions I said I’d be proving, thereby indicating the content
of that paragraph.
- The beginning of my fourth paragraph (line 41) reminds the reader of
the second of the two conclusions I said I’d be proving, thereby
indicating the content of that paragraph. Note that the way I put it conveys
that I am about to prove it, not that I think I’ve already proved it.
- Two final stylistic comments, both having to do with repetition.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat important claims. In my paraphrase, I state
each of my conclusions four times: once at the beginning of the passage,
once at the beginning of the paragraph in which I argue for it, once at
the end of the paragraph in which I argue for it, and once at the end of
the passage. This may be a bit much for your taste—that’s fine. But it is
definitely better to err on the side of repeating yourself too much
than to err on the side of leaving any doubt about what it is that you
think you’re accomplishing.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat important words and phrases if that is what
it takes to maintain clarity. In my paraphrase, for example, I used the
phrase ‘the concept nature’ over and over again. I was tempted to
inject some variety by sometimes using this phrase, sometimes using the
phrase ‘the idea of nature’, and sometimes using the phrase ‘the word
‘nature’’. But then I thought, “Well, this might introduce unnecessary
confusions. The concept nature is not the same as the word
‘nature’, after all, so why muddy the waters by being loose with the
language? Better to keep it strict and simple, even if it’s a bit
repetitive.” In your paraphrase, too, you should prize clarity more highly
Finally, I mentioned on the syllabus that I would, when assigning writing
assignments, provide clear and specific guidance as to what does and does not
constitute academic misconduct. Here are some guidelines for this assignment.
- some things that you are not allowed to do:
- having someone else write your paraphrase or tell you what to write
- copying your paraphrase, in whole or part, from another source
- receiving assistance from some person or some other source and failing
to cite that assistance
- some things that you are allowed to do:
- write your paraphrase based on your own reading of what Hume wrote and
based on what is said in lecture and in your discussion section
- getting anyone you want to (1) discuss what Hume wrote with you and/or
(2) read your paraphrase 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 paraphrase
- reading some of the secondary literature on Hume 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, with priority given to the accuracy of
your paraphrase (see item 8) and how clearly your paraphrase is organized (see
especially items 11 and 12, as well as 5 and 13). Your paper will be due in
class on Monday, September 8, and will determine 7 percent of your overall