Friday, January 20, 2012

[Opinion] How to Write a Critical Essay

1. There is method to essays writing.

The best brief statement on how to write a critical essay that I know of is by Joseph Agassi.

Agassi wrote that he learned the method from his thesis advisor Sir Karl Popper and the statement of the method is buried as an aside in a book review by Agassi.

2. Adapted from (Agassi [1974] 1988, 287):

(a) Start with a problem.
  • Explain why the problem is important.
  • Explain what is puzzling about the problem.
  • Explain any relevant background information to the problem.

(b) Present the past solutions to the problem as best as one can, thus paying one's predecessors all the due they deserve.
  • Optional: Try to improve past solutions as best as one can.

(c) Show the fault of past solutions.

(d) Optional: Present one's solution.

(e) Optional: Show that one's solution is immune to the criticism leveled against previous solutions.

(f) Optional: If there are previous solutions not yet validly criticized and one is offering a new solution, then discuss the variance between the solutions and its possible import.

3. "Popper's Hopeful Monsters: A thicket of Misconceptions" is a review of Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, by Karl R. Popper (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972) and first appeared in Philosophia, 4, 1974 under the title, "Postscript: The Futility of Fighting the Philistines".


Agassi, Joseph. [1974] 1988. Popper's Hopeful Monsters: A Thicket of Misconceptions. In The Gentle Art of Philosophical Polemics, 281-313. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company.