Summary of the Inquiry
Reading Summary Instructions
One of the essential features of doing philosophy is recognizing and reproducing arguments. Of course, this
isn’t a skill specific to philosophy—the ability to identify an argument, including its conclusion and
supporting reasons (premises), is a vital part of thinking critically about the ideas around you. These Reading
Summaries will give you practice at reproducing arguments without the pressure of an in-class time limit or
without having to just pull the thesis and supporting premises out of your memory alone.
argument – a position taken that includes both a conclusion and one or more premises.
conclusion – a claim being argued, like “Avengers: Endgame was a good movie”.
premise – reasons that support a claim, like “Avengers: Endgame effectively concluded the arcs and resolved
the motivations of many different characters”
thesis – a main conclusion of a given text or part of a text; there may be multiple “main” conclusions
Write a brief philosophical summary of the assigned reading, describing what appears to you to be the
author’s primary argument or arguments. Your response should meet a minimum of 200 words. Responses
that fail to meet this length will not receive credit. Further, your response should be in complete sentences
and in paragraph form. Please do not use bullet points, as you will not receive credit. Bullet points are
often disconnected from one another and interrupt the continuous flow of ideas. Likewise, do not quote
from the text or simply copy your notes. These summaries are too short to waste space with direct
quotations, and copying notes from class will have the same short, discontinuous feel as bullet points.
In writing your summary, you should first identify what you believe to be the author’s thesis, or the main
conclusion the author wishes to make. (Sometimes, there may not be a single clear main conclusion. In such
cases, feel free to include multiple theses or main ideas that you think the author advances.) Then, discuss the
smaller arguments or reasons the author advances to support this thesis. These are called the premises.
Remember that summaries in philosophy are not quite the same as in other disciplines. Instead of just saying
“Plato said x, then Plato said y,” you need to reconstruct the arguments your author makes. That is, you need
to specify that “Plato says x because y”.
3. Grading and Rubric
Graded summaries have three possible grades: full credit (10 pts), partial credit with some problems (7.5 pts),
and partial credit with many problems (5 pts). Summaries that are late, that do not meet length requirements, or
that fail to follow directions in other important ways will not be graded and will thus receive no credit (0 pts).
Full Credit – full credit responses demonstrate strong engagement with the text and good understanding of
how to connect premises to conclusions. Summaries include both a clear thesis and link that thesis to specific
reasons and examples the author uses to make her argument.
Partial Credit with Some Problems – partial credit responses demonstrate some engagement with the text.
Summaries may include irrelevant information and the reasons provided to support a given conclusion may
be slightly vague or may not link-up with the author’s main ideas (i.e. the reasons may appear somewhat
random or scattered). Partial credit grades indicate to the student that she is “on the right track” but that her
response does not entirely demonstrate to the grader that the student understands the arguments the author is
making or how to connect the author’s conclusions to his premises.
Partial Credit with Many Problems – these responses fail to fulfill significant grading criteria in meaningful
ways. Summaries are almost completely irrelevant, are extremely vague and include few to no specific
reasons or examples from the text, and do not demonstrate that the student understands the arguments the
author is making or how to connect conclusions and premises at all.
4. Summary Sample
Here’s an example of what a 200+ word summary of Plato’s Apology might look like. I’ve highlighted the
thesis, or the main conclusion, in blue. (You do not need to do this in your own summaries). Everything after
the thesis is a premise, or reason, that supports and links back to the thesis. Notice that the summary ends by
reiterating the thesis from the first line. This isn’t at all a requirement of a good philosophical summary, but it
does help tie the premises back to the conclusion:
In Apology, one of Plato’s main arguments is that Socrates’s accusers—Meletus and Anytus—cannot harm
him, even if they succeed in condemning him to death. This is because Plato (speaking through Socrates)
thinks that physical harm isn’t really harmful. Socrates claims that many of the people in Athens, including
his accusers, are deeply concerned with things like honor, power, and wealth; however, they don’t pay much
attention to the state of their souls in the process. Indeed, when Socrates says that the greater harm is that
which his accusers do to themselves by unjustly condemning an innocent man, he gestures to this disregard for
the condition of the soul. Unlike his accusers, Socrates lives a life of questioning: he constantly asks whether
what he does is the right thing or not. By speaking to the various important individuals in the Athenian
community—specifically, the politicians, the poets, and the artisans—Socrates learns that few others actually
reflect on themselves in the same way he does, though. Since they aren’t reflecting on what’s right or wrong,
they risk acting unjustly and thus harming their souls. Socrates’s point here is that harm to the soul—which is
more important than harm to the body—only comes from the unjust actions an individual does herself. So,
Socrates’s accusers can certainly kill him, but they can’t cause him to do something unjust. In other words,
they can’t harm his soul.
5. Tips for Reading, Retaining, and Summarizing
Avoid responding with your personal feelings on the text. Your responses here are not the place for
comments like “I really enjoyed this reading” or “I agree with this author”. Moreover, do not include
personal anecdotes or stories that you think may relate to the reading.
Carefully read the entirety of the assigned text. Do not skim or seek out secondhand summaries
instead of reading, as you are almost guaranteed to leave out important information this way.
If you find that you are having difficulty remembering the text after reading it, it is likely you did not
read it carefully enough—that is, you rushed through the reading just to ‘get it over with’.
As a way of gauging your retention while reading, ‘chunk’ the text into smaller and more easily
digestible parts. So, if the author includes discrete sections in the text, you might stop after each one
and see if you can summarize the main argument of the section for yourself. If you have continued
trouble remembering, you could mentally summarize each page as you read along.
Take notes as you read or annotate the texts—that is, highlight, comment in the margins, or
otherwise mark the page to denote parts that you think are important.
Write mini-summaries of the readings. This can be done in ‘chunks’, as recommended above, or just
once you have finished the reading. Smaller, shorter summaries as you go along will be more helpful
the more difficult you find remembering what you have read.
Reread sections that you find hard to understand. Being confused by philosophy texts is not just okay,
it is expected. At the same time, this does not mean that you should not try to understand. If all you
can say about something that you have read is that it confused you, then you have not read carefully
enough and could benefit from one or more of the tips above.
In the “Inquiry,” David Hume precedes his arguments in a series of incremental sections, which demonstrates how one can apply knowledge. He begins in the first section by noting the distinctions between thoughts or ideas and impressions. Ideas are the simple constructions that people make from memories and beliefs, while impressions are emotional and vivid pictures that people form through their senses. Hume argues that all ideas that people have are copies of their impressions because when one analyzes a thought, they can reduce them to ideas that they have encountered before and formed in their minds………….
APA 302 words