Nick Byrd’s Blog

How To Write A Philosophy Paper: 4 Criteria, 9 Tips

When my students ask about how to write a philosophy paper, I tell them to aim for three or four criteria. And if they want more guidance, I give them writing tips. Below are the criteria — in order of importance — and the tips.†

1.  Clarity

What this means: It should be difficult for me to misunderstand you.††

So don’t waste time crafting long sentences with big words. Instead, aim for a 6th to 9th grade reading level. Yes, I know: that’s not how many academics write.††† But many academics do not write well.

1st Writing Tip: Continue reading How To Write A Philosophy Paper: 4 Criteria, 9 Tips

What Is Reflective Reasoning?

Last week I was talking about intuition. I think of intuition as — among other things — unconscious and automatic reasoning. The opposite of that would be conscious and deliberative reasoning. We might call that reflective reasoning.† In this post I want to talk about reflective reasoning. How does it work? And why does it work? And — spoiler alert — why does it sometimes not work?

1.  An Example

Do some math for me, will you? Multiply 13 x 16. And try doing it in your head. Don’t use scrap paper or a calculator or anything like that.

Take all the time you need. I’ll be here.

Got it? Check your work with Google.

Question: what were you doing when you reasoned your way to the answer?

You were — among other things — reasoning reflectively. That is, you thought about some stuff — like ’16’ and ’13’ — but you also had some thoughts about thoughts about stuff — like “How might I multiply ’16’ by ’13’?”. These thoughts were both deliberate and conscious.

And that is a classic case of reflective reasoning: consciously and deliberately thinking about thought(s).

2.  Reflective Reasoning Works

We can do great stuff with reflective reasoning. Thanks to reflective reasoning, we can retrace our mental steps, spot errors, and fix those errors. We can even construct a narrative of each step in this process.

And these tasks are pretty important — and not just for doing spontaneous multiplication tasks. These tasks help us plan for the future, learn from our past, and explain our reasoning (to ourselves and to others). So if reflective reasoning is responsible for carrying out these tasks, then it is a good thing …when it works, that is.

What about when it doesn’t work? Continue reading What Is Reflective Reasoning?

The Appeal to Intuition: A Fallacy?

You might be familiar with what philosophers call an “appeal to nature“. It is a claim that something is good or right because it’s natural. Sometimes an appeal to nature is a fallacy. In this post, I discuss the possibility that an appeal to intuition is that kind of fallacy.

1.  Different Brain, Different Intuition

First, imagine that your brain and my brain are radically different from one another. If this were the case, then it would be unsurprising to find that your intuitions were different than mine. Indeed, evidence suggests that even minor differences between brains are linked to differences in intuition (Amodio et al 2007Kanai et al 2011).

This implies that our appeals to intuition (etc.) might be contingent upon brains being a certain way. In other words, differences in intuitions seem to be the result of differences in natural properties.†

Continue reading The Appeal to Intuition: A Fallacy?

Experimental Philosophy 2.0: The Neuroscience of Philosophy

If our judgments are dependent on the brain, then maybe we can understand our judgments by studying our brains. Further, maybe we can understand our philosophical judgments by studying our brains. What do you think? Can neuroscience help us understand philosophy? Here are some studies which suggest that it can.

1.  Two Opposing Neural Networks/Judgments

Consider two different networks in the brain: the Default Mode Network (DMN) and the Task Positive Network (TPN). These networks are mutually inhibitory. When one network’s activity increases, the other network’s activity decreases. It’s a bit like a seesaw (Jack et al 2013).

Continue reading Experimental Philosophy 2.0: The Neuroscience of Philosophy

3 Tips For Your First Philosophy Class

You enrolled in a philosophy class? Cool! You might have heard a few things about philosophy. But — on average — few people know much about academic philosophy. So here’s a quick introduction to your first philosophy class. It’ll cover the basics of what your philosophy teacher cares about and what they probably expect from you.

1.  Reason Well

The quality of our judgment matters in many contexts. It matters when we’re voting, when we’re raising children, and when deciding how to spend our time, etc. In each of these cases, we need to be able to

  • find information.
  • understand information.
  • explain information.
  • evaluate information.

And this is similar to what we will do in a philosophy class. So your grade in a philosophy class is a matter of how well you understand, explain, and evaluate information — where “information” is just the stuff you read and discuss for class.

But that’s not very specific. You probably want to know how to evaluate and explain the information we come across in a philosophy course. For instance, is it enough to say, “I disagree with So-and-so because I believe that _______”? The short answer: no.

In a philosophy class, it doesn’t really matter what we believe. Academic philosophers care more about Continue reading 3 Tips For Your First Philosophy Class

You Should Have A Profile on an Academic Social Network Profile (and Maybe a Website): Here’s why and how

Reality check: if I am not automatically notified of your research, I’ll almost certainly never know about it. And if I can’t find you online, you might as well not exist beyond your classroom, office, or lab. So if you’re an academic who wants people to actually read your work or even know that you exist, then read the following 250 words. They explain how to make your research followable and visible. It’s really, really easy. Don’t believe me? Check out the video below where I make a website in less than 10 minutes. So stop making excuses. In the words of the great philosopher, Shia Lebouf:


Continue reading You Should Have A Profile on an Academic Social Network Profile (and Maybe a Website): Here’s why and how

Classroom Poster Sessions: A win for you and your students

Last week, the Free Will & Science course finished up their poster sessions. It was one of the most enriching classroom experiences I’ve ever witnessed.† In case you’re interested, here’s a post about the why and how of classroom poster sessions — including templates for your own classroom. Continue reading Classroom Poster Sessions: A win for you and your students