History and Philosophy of Economics Phil 362/Econ318 (Fall 2020)

Research Essay (6 pages) Professor M. Schabas

Essay Outline Due: November 5 (3:00 PM on-line)

Research Essay Due: December 3 (3:00 PMon-line)

Late essays are penalized at 5% per day


Your outline for the essay should be very short, basically providing me with a complete bibliographical reference for your three articles, the fruits of your research efforts. You may provide a working title, and at most, one descriptive sentence. There is no need to list the primary source (i.e. Adam Smith). Your reference details need to provide the following: author, title, journal, year, volume, issue, and pagination. Please do not give the URL. Be sure to consult a style guide on references, or follow the format in one of the journals you use. Do not make up a format of your own. Three journal articles (not books, book reviews or encyclopedia entries), by three different contemporary scholars, are required. In the case of joint authorship overlapping with another article, you will need to find a fourth article by a different scholar (in other words, the same name on two articles counts as one scholar even if there are different co-authors). The outline will be graded within a few days and if it is unsatisfactory, you will need to resubmit. Your outline will be graded out of 5, and count for 5% of the total grade for the essay. If it is done correctly and on time, you can receive 5/5. I will only grade your essay if and when the outline is approved.

You are strongly advised to write your essay on Adam Smith, if only to deepen your understanding of Smith who will be covered by most of the questions on the final exam. However, you have the option to write on one of the following: Aristotle, Quesnay, or Hume. Once you have decided on the philosopher-economist (e.g. Smith), you will need to find relevant articles in one or more of the following four journals: History of Political Economy (HOPE)The European Journal of the History of Economic ThoughtEconomics and Philosophy, and the Journal of the History of Economic Thought. Do not go to other journals until you have found at least two suitable articles from this set of four journals. I will allow one additional source to be a chapter from a recent book (monograph or edited collection) or research annual (e.g. the Adam Smith Review). Any exceptions to the list of four journals, however, must be approved. More often than not, they turn out to be unsuitable so you are strongly advised to stick to the set of four given above. These journals are in the UBC library holdings; when you search from home, be sure to log in first. It is advisable to keep a record of your findings at each step in your research.

You are not expected in such a short time, and with no previous background to the subject, to arrive at an original piece of work. Your primary task is to sort out a debate in the secondary literature. Rather than write a paper from scratch, aim to find three articles by scholars (experts) who have different interpretations of Smith on a specific question. The more specific and the more recent the articles you select, the better. All of your articles ought to have been published since 1990. Try to find articles that overlap substantially; one article might directly oppose the other, and this will make the task that much the easier.

Your paper must develop an argument as to which interpretation is the most compelling; you need to give reasons that support your judgments. Avoid mere description of the contents of each article. Try to adjudicate its merits. Even if you find yourself in almost complete agreement with one article, try with as much integrity as possible to sound out the alternative points of view. You may find, in the process, that they also have some merit. You will be graded on the clarity and soundness of your argument as well as your comprehension of the material.

Your essay should be well written; this usually requires several drafts. A short title for the paper will suffice and there is no need for footnotes or endnotes. Because you are writing the paper for me, get right to the main argument; you can skip any general introduction. Please do not divide your paper up into sections. Your essay should flow well from start to finish; strive for one long argument. Be sure to number the pages and to proofread the text. Plagiarism is taken very seriously at UBC; be sure that all of your work is your own and that your sources are fully acknowledged.


Writing Skills Tips from Professor Schabas


1. Writing is about persuasion, but you are most likely to succeed if you establish an objective voice. On rare occasions, you may need to use the first person pronoun to suggest to your reader that you are asserting a more idiosyncratic position.


2. Writing can always improve, no matter how prolific and successful one becomes at the craft. Reading is a great resource; pay attention to the form as well as the content of good prose. The use of rhythm is very important, so read good prose aloud to see how the writer varies the length of sentences. Subordinate clauses serve this end as well, by implicitly ranking the ideas.


3. Every sentence is precious, so avoid repetition or trivial generalizations. Start with a sentence that piques the reader’s curiosity and sets the paper in motion.


4. Verbs are the seat of motion. Most of us tend to overuse the verbs to be and to have, but they do not impart momentum to our prose. So my first sentence here would improve if I had written: verbs provide momentum to a given sentence; they link properties in the world by introducing additional patterns. As a result, try for greater variety in your choice of verbs, but refrain from using one that you do not fully understand. Also, it can also prove more effective to use the present tense whenever possible.


5. Aim for clear, concise and precise prose. Ask yourself the following as you edit each draft: could this sentence be more precise (capture the ideas better), more concise (fewer words), and clearer (less ambiguous)? Also, check that each sentence in your essay is grammatically correct.


6. Review the use of punctuation. Avoid using colons and semi-colons and dashes. Commas, for example, usually come in pairs. It is often better to imbed adverbs or qualifiers within the sentence.


7. No colloquialisms or contractions please. “It’s” is short for “it is” and therefore should not appear in your essay. Also, it is better not to assign possession to objects or institutions. If you are tempted to write “society’s problems”, then it is better to change it to “the problems of society”.


8. Quotations are best kept to a minimum. Why quote at all? Because the passage has poetic flair or because it gives evidential support to a claim you think is in doubt. It is far better to keep the prose style in your own voice throughout, since moving back and forth can disrupt the train of thought. Also, long quotes are usually skimmed and not read in full. Avoid them altogether. Use ellipses only within, not at the start or end of a quote. You are free to adjust the punctuation at the end and to introduce an upper/lower case letter at the start for fluency, but must otherwise remain faithful to the original source. Identify that source at the end of the quote, in parentheses, in the main text (author, date, page number) and provide the full reference in your bibliography. Do not use footnotes. Endnotes are for points tangential to the main argument and are best kept to a minimum.

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