On Originality in Essay Writing
— Peter Sjöstedt-H —
If originality could be taught, it would not be originality.
However, one can consider means by which originality may be induced:
- Consider using a novel metaphor or analogy to elucidate a point.
- If the literature already contains analogies, at least present your own rather than use a ready-made one.
- Avoid common expressions. Use of them indicates that language is guiding your exposition rather than that you are guiding your language for exposition.
- Henri Bergson goes as far to say that if one thinks in terms of commonly used words, one will never attain originality but remain anchored to the status quo.
- A. N. Whitehead had to create a new vocabulary to express his process philosophy because common terms were tied to unwanted connotations (e.g. he amended ‘perception’ to ‘prehension’).
- Use uncommon yet accurate words here and there. Don’t overuse Latin terms, but don’t avoid them where appropriate.
- Apply a method of analysis from another field to the subject of your essay, thereby creating an original critique.
- e. g. when discussing problems of Emergence in the philosophy of mind, bring in a Freudian angle.
- Read more than that on a reading list, and employ that outside knowledge to the essay. Ideally use something of which the marker is unaware.
- Always consider the axioms, presuppositions, used that substantiate a point. Then consider ways of questioning them.
- ‘Paradigm Shifts’ (Kuhn) usually occur in science when someone outside a certain field comes in and overturns an axiom that was never even thought of as such (e.g. Einstein’s overturning Newton’s notion that space was static (inspired by Einstein’s readings of Hume and Mach (Autobio.)))
- Think about whether a term used in the literature surrounding your topic is somewhat vague but taken to be definite. Then try to divide it into a number of different types.
- e. g. the ‘subconscious’, the ‘ego’, a ‘person’, ‘moral’, ‘belief system’, ‘matter’, a ‘culture’, ‘problematic’.
- Reflect on how the English language may be pushing your thoughts into certain directions. Then try to compensate.
- e. g. English as an Indo-European language has an emphasis on nouns (rather than verbs) which can lead to a substance metaphysics (rather than a process philosophy).
- The subject-predicate syntax can also lead to such reification.
- e. g. “x has y properties” (could conduce belief that x can exist separately from y).
- If you speak more than English, think about translation issues and how that may affect thought.
- e. g. the English verb ‘to know’ can in German be divided into ‘kennen’ and ‘wissen’ (to be familiar with, and to know a fact, respectively).
- Never assume any theory, or perspective, is definitely correct. Doing so shows non-independent, unoriginal thinking.
- e. g. Kant’s assumption that Newton’s laws of nature were absolutely correct led to much redundant thought in Kant.
- Beware of ‘scientism’: the view that science is a unified oracle that has proved anything. Science is a method not a dogma.
- ‘By wine or opium we can intensify and considerably heighten our mental powers, but as soon as the right measure of stimulus is exceeded, the effect will be exactly the opposite.’ – Schopenhauer (Essay on the Freedom of the Will)
- ‘For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.’ – Nietzsche (TI, IX:8)
- If you have the prerogative to decide the subject of your essay, combine two or more fields that have never, or rarely, been so combined. For example:
- A panpsychist analysis of the pharmaceutical industry
- Marxism and Swedish grammar
- The impact of tourism on twentieth-century epistemology
- Logic and personal hygiene
- The influence of the diatonic musical scale upon western theology
- If possible, create diagrams to clarify or explain your issue.
- Always read the opposing viewpoint(s) directly rather than rely on its description by opponents. This will ensure a justified description and may offer new points for criticism.
- Though not in itself original, a quotation at the beginning of an essay or chapter (an epigraph) that is little known yet powerful and/or very relevant can show original juxtaposition.
- Ideally retrieve the quotation from a distant field from the subject and immediate literature of your topic.
- Read original writers and reflect upon why they are original and appreciated. Note down your findings.