Philosophy Summaries


Alexander Dietz, a graduate student at the University of Southern California, has been working on a project called Philosophy Summaries. It features “hierarchical summaries” of philosophy texts with an interface that allows you to drill down into the summaries of each section. Here’s how he describes it:

Philosophy books are usually divided into chapters, which are divided into sections. As I read a book, I write a brief summary of what each section is arguing or doing, then use these to summarize each chapter and then the whole book. On the website, these are hierarchically organized – you can “expand” or “zoom into” a book to see its chapters, and so on. That way you can quickly get or recall the general gist of a book, then drill down to find particular parts that might be of interest.

For an example, here’s his entry on Sidgwick’s The Methods of Ethics

Others are welcome to submit their own summaries on the site, and critical feedback on the summaries is welcome. You can follow Philosophy Summaries on Facebook to receive updates about new entries.

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Jean
Jean
6 years ago

Nicely done, but if our students find this, will they ever do the readings again?Report

Drew
Drew
6 years ago

Were they doing the readings before?Report

p
p
6 years ago

It is a real worry. As if SparkNotes were not bad enough. I think we are descending back to Early Middle Ages where various “compendia” were the things to read (and a way in which knowledge got transmitted and lost at the same time). Not a great movement.Report

Becko
Becko
6 years ago

For what it’s worth, I think it is useful to confront the Sparknotes phenomenon up front by incorporating it into class. First, it might be useful to think over whether (if a student is going to do the reading) summaries might actually be helpful, especially for dense and jargon-rich texts. You can talk up the useful purposes of summaries. Second, if your class is small enough, or divided into small sections, you can create an illuminating assignment. Assign a short piece that has an online summary. Ask the students to not look at the summary in advance. Ask the students to create their own summaries of the piece (alone or in groups). The results may vary, but all will be interesting. I find that students have a very difficult time doing a summary. This can lead to a useful conversation about how to read (and might convince you that the summaries have a pedagogical purpose) and to a further assignments that teach reading and note-taking skills, slowly building up to a successful summary assignment. But even then, the result will be that different students emphasize and present different aspects of the reading. This can lead to a good conversation about how reading, summarizing, and writing are all acts of interpretation – and how authorship means being an intentional interpreter.Report

John Schwenkler
6 years ago

In my Intro classes I use a wonderful textbook called READING PHILOSOPHY, edited by Samuel Guttenplan, Jennifer Hornsby, and Christopher Janaway, where each chapter contains two or three paired readings along with an “interactive” commentary on each. (There is a whole series of these published by Wiley, spanning several different areas of philosophy, but the quality is a bit uneven.) Some of the material in RP is very challenging, but in my experience the commentaries do a very effective job of guiding students into it, inviting them to read actively and critically in many of the ways Becko describes above. I’m working with the authors right now on a new edition of the textbook that will contain some new readings, and perhaps an online site to go with it.Report

Drew
Drew
6 years ago

By the way, as an amateur philosophy student who actually would use something like this I have a question for you professionals: are his descriptions more-or-less accurate? Most seem to be (though the Machiavelli section should probably acknowledge in some way the satire theory of The Prince), but once you hit 1900 my knowledge of philosophy dwindles significantly.Report