Comment Key

Key to Comments

It is important that you receive feedback about what you write.  Below are abbreviations for comments I will use frequently, spelled out at some length so that, if you find them on your paper, you will be certain what they mean.  Comments marked below with an asterisk (*) usually reflect both philosophical and writing problems.

AB      Abbreviations that may be used in assignments follow.  Avoid others.

Ap.                            Apology                                  cf.                              compare

e.g.                            for example                             i.e.                             that is

BCE                          before the common era               ch./chs.                       chapter/s

                    etc.                            and the rest                              p./pp.                         page/s

CE                             in the common era                    Cri.                           Crito

et al.                          and others                               Rep.                           Republic


AC      Avoid contractions in formal philosophical writing, except in direct quotations.

ACÉ  Avoid cliché in philosophical writing.

C?*     Citation missing.  If you use someone else’s ideas—even if not his or her words—you must give a citation of the source. Important points drawn from the text, whether derived directly from a passage or representing your interpretation of the passage, require a text citation, even if you are not quoting the text. See CFX  and Q below for examples.

CFX    Citation format incorrect.  The first time you use or mention a text, you need to give its title.  Afterwards, so long as no different text intervenes, you should not keep repeating the title in citations (see sample thesis statements below).  When a secondary source is one assigned in the course, only an author’s surname and page numbers should be used (see samples below); otherwise, provide complete bibliographical information in a footnote:  author, title, place, publisher, year.

  • Socrates obeys the city’s laws unless they conflict with his fundamental moral principle (Crito 49b–d).
  • Socrates is right to describe children as “young and tender…easily shaped” (Republic 377b), and Mill (p. 10) is right to agree with him, especially about truthfulness (Rep. 389b–d) and temperance (389d–392a).
  • Although Socrates is right to describe children as “young and tender…easily shaped” (Republic 377b), I will show that he carries censorship too far when he discusses style (392c–394e).
  • Socrates’ injunction, do no harm (Crito 49d), is incompatible with his principle of one-person-one-task (Republic 414b–415d et al.) because the latter is itself harmful.

CON* Confused.  You have (a) conflated distinctions made by the author, (b) introduced dis­tinctions that mislead, or (c) introduced inconsistencies.

CU*    Connection unclear between the points you are making.

CX      Citation incorrect.  I cannot find the text in the place you have indicated.

DP*     Diction.  Imprecise or incorrect philosophical term.  Some of the most common mistakes are in the use of ‘assume’, ‘because’, ‘imply’, ‘infer’, ‘(in)valid’, ‘(un)sound’, ‘true’, ‘false’, ‘contradiction’, ‘argument’, ‘inconsistency’ and terms used technically in the text (of which there are many).  Cf.  The appendix in Martinich on philosophical terms.

DS       Diction.  The most common error of this sort—given the philosophical meanings of such words as ‘believe’, ‘think’ and ‘know’ is to say, “Socrates believes…”, or worse, “Socrates feels …” instead of the more accurate phrase, “Socrates says…”.  Remember:  Socrates is a character in a dialogue by Plato; one can report what he says, and even what he implies, but not what he thinks or believes or feels.

DW       Diction.  Imprecise or incorrect term for the context.  (I sometimes circle the word and suggest a more appropriate term.)  Common mistakes and confusions:  if/whether, that/who, then/than, who/whom, realistic/real, life/lifestyle, and implicates/implies/infers.  Mary Washington College epidemic errors from previous semesters:

incorrect                                     correct

in regards to                                in regard to

different than                              different from

it’s                                           it is or its (possessive)

point in time                                point or time

base off of                                     base on

DD       Dictionary Definition. Do not use dictionary definitions in philosophy papers.  Often the concept that is at issue in a philosophical argument is not captured by the everyday definitions given in the dictionary.

DG*    Dogma.  An unsupported claim, usually one that seems to be imported wholesale into the assignment from some other field (religion, personal prejudice, et al.).  In the same category are phrases such as ‘Scientists have proved’ and ‘It has been shown that’ for controversial positions; give complete citations for such claims.

DNF*  Does not follow refers to your reasoning: premises do not establish the conclusion.

ECO   Ecologize.  Nice fancy binder or cover page.  But next time just save some natural resources.

EG*    Example.   An example used appropriately either disproves a general claim, or clarifies a point that one has already stated in a more general way and that requires clarification (do not use examples merely to illustrate your points in written work).  Examples do not argue for themselves, and cannot stand alone in a paper.  Rarely is an example from personal life and experience appropriate, given philosophy’s universal, fundamental, timeless character.

EL*     Elaborate.  Your point needs to be spelled out at greater length for clarity and precision.

EQ*    Equivocation.  Do not use a word in more than one sense.

EV*    Evidence should be provided here.

EX*    Explain.  The point needs justification and/or explicit connection(s) to other points.

F          Fonts.  Use underlining or italics, not both, for titles and foreign words.  Use italics sparingly for emphasis.  Boldface and novelty fonts are inappropriate in formal philosophical writing.  Do not italicize numerals, if used, or numbers following titles (e.g., Republic III 395a–b).

G         Glib.  Treat your opponent’s position with respect:  do not dismiss an argument as ‘ridiculous’ or ‘nonsense’ or caricature it.  Rather, say explicitly what you think is wrong with it.

GWW#.#  Guidelines for Weekly Work—Checklist is not being followed.  Look again at the items cited here.

HP       Honor pledge.  An unpledged assignment receives no credit, even though a grade may appear on the returned paper.  If you forget to pledge, pledge the assignment and show me your pledge so I can give you credit.  The phrase “I pledge…” plus your signature is adequate.

IQ       Inaccurate quotation.  It is your scholarly responsibility to quote accurately.

LA      Arcane Language. This language appear rather arcane.  Nothing is said better for being said longer or being made more complicated.  Try to find a simpler way to make the same point.

LF       Flowery Language. Avoid fancy words and phrases throughout your paper.  Do not use flowery, inflated, or hollow introductions and conclusions.  This only detracts from a paper’s philosophical rigor. Be clear and concise.

LL*     Loaded language. Avoid language that serves just to sway the emotions of the audience.

M*      Misleading.  A judgment too narrow or broad for accuracy; exactness is required.

NN      Not needed. Nothing wrong as such, but this is not needed and just adds extra words.

NO      Something false, misread, or made up.  This comment would never be used on a matter of philosophical dispute, but on some matter of fact you have introduced.

OO*    Objection omitted.  Whatever position you defend, it is important to demonstrate that you understand what objections might be raised against that position.  Avoid straw men.

ORG*  Organization.  The order in which you have arranged your ideas is not as effective as it could be.

OS*     Over-simplification.  Your claim, explanation or description should be more nuanced.

PAR    Paragraphs.   Your paper would be clearer if you used paragraphs effectively.

PP*     Petitio Principii. This begs the question.  That means, it implicitly uses your conclusion as a premise.

PS       Parallel structure.  Elements in a list should be grammatically similar.

PU       Punctuation.  The Writing Center has helpful information in leaflet form.  Some of the more common misunderstandings are about:

—AP  apostrophe                        —E  ellipsis                      —UP  upper-case letters used ad hoc

           —COL  colon                            —SB   square brackets

           —COM comma                          —SC   semi-colon

Q         Quotation.  Quotations, like examples, cannot stand alone.  It is important to make clear what you think the quotation establishes or implies.  Do not waste words quoting.  In your written arguments, abbreviate the quotation with an interior ellipsis (so I can tell where the quotation stops and starts; I will read the whole quotation when I read your paper).  You may also paraphrase, but still you must cite the text exactly (so I can find it to see if your paraphrase is a good one).  For example:

  • Socrates makes this clear:  “Yes, but each . . . added here” (338e–339a).
  • Socrates argues that a ruler is sometimes mistaken about what is genuinely advan­tageous (339b–341c).

Q1       Single quotation marks have a special use in philosophy.  Not only do they indicate a quotation-within-a-quotation, as they do elsewhere, they also indicate a term rather than that to which the term refers. For example:

  • ‘Socrates’ has three syllables but Socrates has three sons.
  • Socrates makes a number of different but consistent points about justice, but he uses the term ‘justice’ ambiguously here.

When the context allows, you will save yourself headaches over single and double quotation marks if you will make an effort to address how authors understand concepts (justice, knowledge) instead of how authors define terms (‘justice’, ‘knowledge’); the latter is more narrow and usually less useful than the former.

REA* Reasons.  Your statement is unsupported.  Premises are needed for your conclusion(s).

RED* Red Herring.  Nice, but this is irrelevant or secondary and only diverts attention from the main argument.

RD   Redundant word or phrase.

REL* Relevance.  Your point seems unrelated to proving or challenging your thesis.  The onus is on you to demonstrate relevance when appropriate, not on the reader to figure it out.

REP    Repetitious.  You are wasting the small space available to you for argument.  I use this abbreviation when you repeat yourself, when you repeat the topic in unnecessary detail, and when you parrot something said in class without independently backing up what you say.

RH1    Rhetoric.  The most common example of this error is for students to ask questions, assuming that the reader can intuit how the question ought to be answered.  But what is usually at issue in a philosophy assignment is how such a question should be answered.  Do not assume your reader would answer your questions the same way you would.  Answer, don’t ask, questions in your paper.

RH2    Rhetoric.  The second most common example of rhetoric is for students to use flowery, inflated, or hollow introductions and conclusions that detract from a paper’s philosophical rigor.

RH3    Rhetoric.  Avoid fancy words and phrases throughout your paper.  Be clear and concise.

S          Self.  Such expressions as ‘I feel’, ‘I think’, and ‘in my opinion’ are inappropriate and a waste of words.  (It is your paper, after all, so I assume that you are speaking for yourself when you are not citing someone else.)  Similarly, it is a mistake to narrate the history of your own thinking about something (“At first I found this unconvincing, but now . . .”).  Your argument must stand or fall on its own merits; the fact that you believe something adds nothing to its plausibility.  It is fine, and in fact common in philosophy, to write in the first person.

SFO    Save for Oral.  Remember that I am the audience for your paper.  What you write should be much leaner than what you say to your colleagues.

SL       Sexist (Gender-specific) language.

SP       Spelling.  You are expected to run your software’s spelling checker, but you are responsible for spelling all words correctly.  Typographical errors may count as spelling errors.

SQ       Scare quotes.  Do not overuse quotation marks to indicate irony or that you are using a phrase in a special way.

SS*     Secondary source.  It is a mistake to quote or use a secondary source for a point that is made in the original text; to do so indicates that you are not sufficiently familiar with the primary source.  Be careful not to adopt the expressions or stylistic conventions of the secondary sources you consult.

SU*     Summary.  Summarizing cannot replace critical exposition, and may blur distinctions that you are expected to be able to make.  Remember that your reader has read the same text you have, so there is no need to do more than refer to (cite) the passage you intend to critique.

SY       Syntax.  A phrase or sentence is ungrammatical or so poorly stated as to require rewriting.  Clarity is crucial.  A few common problems follow, and the Writing Center has printed information available about most of them:

—AWK  Awkward construction.                                                         —RO  Run-on sentence.

—DAU  Demonstrative’s antecedent is unclear.                              —S     Sloppy error.

—PAD  Pronoun antecedent differs in number from pronoun.           —SF   Sentence fragment.

.—SI    Split infinitive.                                                                 —SU Subjunctive needed or misused

—PAU  Pronoun antecedent is unclear.

—PR   Incorrect preposition                                                               —SVA Subject-verb agreement

—PX    Pronouns mixed.                                                                       —T         Typographical error.

—Q      Quoted material should fit the surrounding grammatical context.

—VTI  Verb tense inconsistent.                                                         —VTX     Verb tense incorrect.

TE*     Text.  You have not demonstrated familiarity with the assigned text, a requirement of all the assignments.  You must neither neglect parts of the text that have a bearing on your argument, nor introduce parts of the text that are inappropriate to your point.

TH      Thin.  You appear not to have thought deeply (perhaps not long enough) about the issue you address.  When this appears at the end of an assignment (as a comment on all of it), I am saying that you have approached the topic as a whole too superficially.

ThS*   Thesis statement.  At or very near the beginning of a philosophical argument, it is crucial to state what will be argued (or demonstrated or proved or disproved).  See samples at CFX.

TL       Too long.  If your paper exceeds the maximum number of words allowed, I cut from the end.  You must show that you know the relative value of the points you make.  Comments made in footnotes are not a part of your word count, so feel free to use footnotes to add additional material that you would like me to comment on without its being counted for or against your grade.

TS       Too strong.  Your statement is broader (covers more examples or claims more) than is required for your argument to be valid and (sometimes) broader than can be defended adequately in so short a paper.  An example:  saying that something is always or never the case, or is true of all or no people, when your argument covers only a limited number of instances.  Expressions like ‘clearly’, ‘obviously’ (and the use of italics) are so rarely appropriate in philosophy, that you should count them as signals that you need to examine your reasons further.

U*       Unclear.  Clarify.  I do not understand what you have written.

UT      Underline titles (or italicize them).  However, do not underline (or italicize) the page or Stephanus numbers that follow the title.

V         Vague.  What you have written is open to more than one interpretation.  Be precise.

W?*    Why?  The claim you are making requires supporting evidence or reasons.

WC     Word count.  Use your software’s word counter, or count manually.  Count all words—including short ones and ones appearing in quotations—but not citations in footnotes or parenthe­ses, and not numerals. Write or type the word count on your paper.

WO     Wordy.  Too many words for the idea being expressed.  Write clear, succinct sentences.  Some examples of wordy constructions (and what they ought to be) are:  In order to… (To…); Due to the fact that… (Because…); and Whether or not… (Whether…).

! Good. You are on the right track.  Keep this up and you will earn at least a B.

!!! Excellent.

Two useful websites: 

The Philosophical Writing Manual by Martin Young:

The Fallacy Files by Gary Curtis: