When I discuss writing essays with my friends in other majors, one of the things we talk about is the style and conventions expected from our professors and department. This can be something as basic as what sort of citation style we use, such as Turabian (my personal favorite), MLA, APA or ASA to specific grammatical and structural issues we encounter when writing our papers. For example, in music, there is a difference between a piece that is “for oboe and clarinet” and “for clarinet and oboe”; the first instrument plays higher than the second. One of the subjects I really enjoy writing for is my major: philosophy. Part of what I enjoy about writing papers for philosophy is that I’m allowed to write in the first person, which is unusual in academic writing.
Initially, I found that using the pronoun “I” to express myself in a paper was challenging. It felt stigmatizing because of its informality. However, after taking classes in ancient philosophy early in my major, I realized that using first-person pronouns in philosophy essays is really part of the discipline’s tradition that directly connects to the foundational work of Plato and his mentor Socrates.
Plato famously wrote all his works in dialogue form, structuring them as conversations between various characters where they tease out the view he is advocating. I don’t write dialogues since it’s a time consuming and a difficult activity that my professors always seem to discourage for students working on a deadline, but much of what Plato does with dialogue still influences my philosophy. Reading Plato taught me about how it’s acceptable to use self-expression in philosophical writing.
At the end of last semester, I read excerpts from a draft of Professor Derek Turner’s upcoming book as part of his Philosophy of Science class. Reading this book has been a very interesting experience for me. I got to see how Professor Turner expresses himself philosophically, and of course, how he uses the first person in his written work. The draft is complex and challenging to understand, but his lectures in class explain how he thinks of his ideas. Reading professor Turner’s draft has helped me realize that writing philosophical works requires deep personal commitment. I’m glad to have chosen it as my major since I feel it helps me understand how I am committed to any project I take on in my life.