How to Write a Philosophy Summary Paper

Since a summary paper restates your interpretation of a text’s main ideas, without your opinion about the ideas, it tells instructors how much you understand a given work. A summary of a philosophical text might challenge more than other subjects, because philosophers delve into the history of ideas before establishing their unique premises and drawing conclusions. Expect references to other philosophical works along with examples of theories in action. Each student’s summary of the same work will differ because of subjective interpretations of concepts.

Step 1

Read the assigned text straight through without taking notes. This first reading gives a general idea about the entire text. Note any biographical information about the author in the preface or after the conclusion. Knowing the biography of the philosopher, including other titles written, might help put this work in context.

Step 2

Reread the text several times, taking notes each time. What is the central philosophical concept? What premises served as the foundation for the conclusion? Are other philosophies cited? Note examples that support the work’s thesis, and note any counterarguments to other philosophical theories. Create one- or two-sentence summaries of each paragraph.

Step 3

Write the first draft by combining the sentence summaries of each paragraph. Do not worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar or paragraph structure. Focus on the main ideas in the philosophical text.

Step 4

Compare your draft to the original text to check for precision and thoroughness. Do you avoid inserting your opinions about the philosophies into the summary? Do you present the same main ideas in the same order as the original?

Step 5

Revise the draft, preferably a day after composing the first draft. The more you can see the draft anew, the better the revision. Pay attention to paragraph structure, grammar, punctuation and spelling as you revise. Don't try to revise everything at once. Revise paragraphs first, then return and revise individual sentences next and revise individual words last.

Things You'll Need

  • Assignment sheet
  • Philosophical text
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