Pathways to Philosophy
student peer review
The best way to learn a subject is to teach it. Giving a class presentation is a much more satisfying challenge than writing an essay and getting a few scribbled remarks and a grade from your teacher or professor.
At Pathways, we have developed a simple but effective system. Pathways essays and essay reviews are posted in the Pathways essay cabinet. To submit an essay, or an essay review, you use the Essay submission form. To keep up quality standards and prevent abuse, this process is fully moderated.
The Pathways essay cabinet provides a valuable resource for learning about different ways of approaching an essay topic. However, you should use this resource with care. If you are writing an essay — say, on scepticism or the free will problem — your primary effort should be in thinking about the problem for yourself rather than just reading what other students have written about it.
It goes without saying that to write an effective essay review, you need to have sufficient knowledge of the topic. However, in the process of evaluating another student's work, you will gain an added perspective. So you both benefit.
Writing an essay review is every bit as challenging as writing an essay. However, you are not in a competition, or out to prove how clever you are. We have sought to gain refreshment at the ancient well of philosophy. Who would measure that?
If an argument fails to convince — a logical gap, or unsupported premisses — then it's only fair to point this out. But remember to mention the positive aspects too. Has the author succeeded in getting you gripped by the problem? As a result of reading the essay, can you see something that you could not see before?
Be constructive. Suggest ways in which the essay could be improved. (You might be wrong, of course. Your 'improvements' might actually make the essay worse!)
Philosophy is about the pursuit of truth. Admit when you don't have an answer. Admit that you're struggling. Above all else, be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Socrates thought that was an important thing to do. 'I only know that I know nothing.'
Socrates knew a thing or two. If you want to learn how to take an argument apart, read some of Plato's earlier dialogues. And once you start gaining confidence in your critical skills, don't neglect to apply them to your own writing!