A definition essay is a challenging type of essay, for most students who are just beginning to study philosophy. Why? Because a definition essay sets out to define difficult, abstract, ineffable, and somewhat nebulous topics (nebulous and ineffable call to mind terms that are hazy and difficult to put into words by nature) – the student’s job is to define what these terms mean to them, but to back up your assertions with evidence from life, the world, your reading, researchers, philosophers, or interviews with philosophy experts – the possibilities are endless. For example, a teacher might ask you to define a term such as “honor.” This is one of those words that is difficult to explain. For, what is honor? Does it mean something different to everyone or is there a definitive definition --one definition that reigns supreme?
Some of the many abstract topics you could define in a definition essay include, as discussed above, honor, but also goodness, respectability, or you could debate if anyone can be completely good or is there bad/evil in all of us. Conversely, you could discuss if some people, say Hitler for example, are/were inherently evil.
You can find whole lists of possible definition topics on the web, if your teacher did not already assign you a particular one. The next challenge is how to organize and lay out your essay.
You want to pick a term that another individual might have completely different views upon. In fact, in an essay or research paper where your teacher is requiring you to work in the opinions of other philosophers, you will want to try to present your definition of the terms, provide evidence, possibly through fictional examples or real life situations to back up your reasoning. Then, near the closing of your essay, you’ll want to acknowledge the other sides major reasons for defining the concept differently than you. Then, in the second to last paragraph, you can tell your reader why they are wrong. This is called overcoming objections or refuting the opposition.
Many students are intimidated by closing paragraphs—but I have a trick that helps them to write them quickly. Bring the essay into the present moment.
For example, “In today’s violent times, the concept of honor becomes even harder to define.” That could be your first sentence, one that moves into a discussion of honor in our time.