I've been studying philosophy as a hobby, for a few months now. I haven't found a helpful source of philosophical summaries.

Some of the problems I've encountered:

  • Endless rabbit-hole technical-terms. For instance, I just read this on Wikipedia, "In metaphysics, Armstrong defends the view that 'universals' exist (although Platonic 'uninstantiated' universals do not exist)." Then when I look-up the terms ('universal' or 'uninstantiated', for examples), I find definitions that point to other technical terms; then when I look-up those technical terms, I find definitions that point to other technical terms; then when...
  • Inconsistent definitions for technical terms. I acquire crumbs of the desired definition, as I progress through the rabbit-hole. Occasionally, I discover a complete definition hidden away in a chamber of that rabbit-hole. It is always an essential property of that discovered definition that it be inconsistent with the definition-crumbs I have collected up to that point.
  • References to debunked theories. I'll admit, a little history can be helpful. I'd also admit that before I begin my own independent contemplation of a topic, I may want to be warned of the bad-ideas that once seduced smart-people into contemplating them. But even given those benefits, is it, really, an efficient use of the hectares of screen-space that are dedicated to explicating theories that we are better off avoiding? Must writers always use defunct theories as stepping stones [read: Saharan-desert marathons] en route to the main point of their essay? Are these debunked theories so dangerous that all must be warned of them before even nearing contemplating them? In history class, we learned a lot about the Nazis. The lesson: Nazis are very very bad - don't be a Nazi. I don't think anyone in our class was considering Nazism - and had we not sat through the classes on Nazi-evilism, it seems pretty unlikely that any student would have independently arrived at the idea of a fascist-fueled genocide, himself. However - Nazism was just that bad, and the school-board decided we ought to be cautioned against it, just on the chance that genocide seemed like a hit to someone. Consequently, our teachers made it clear that Nazism always ends in disgraced Nazis and nuclear cold-war. Are debunked philosophical theories that bad? Really? Isn't it intuitively (danger!) obvious that Plato's conjecture - that 'red' exists in heaven with other descriptors and comes to earth as its divine mandate dictates - is probably not a reliable foundation upon which to build one's world-view?
  • Walks in the park. Along similar lines, does our understanding of a philosophical topic always require that we be dragged through the museum of the author's thought experiments? I see value in critical thought-experimentation. But is it always (or even, usually) necessary for the author to subject us to that before he makes his point? Does the author need to walk us through every thought he thought before arriving at his conclusion? If an author walks us through every thought he had before arriving at his 'ah ha!', then it seems to me that the author presumes himself to be smarter than his readers:

    • Consider that,

      • The reader processes every thought the author processed. That is the nature of the thought-museum: showing the reader every thought the author thought before he reached his conclusion.
      • The reader must possess the author's base of knowledge. A contrarian might ask, 'but what about the author's deeper well of knowledge that allows him to think those deeper thoughts?' It seems to me that that the author requires the reader to build a knowledge base identical to the author's knowledge base, before the reader can understand the author's conclusion. The author may attempt to help the reader build that same knowledge base: usually the author does this through lengthy sessions to his thought-museum - or through brief references to 'isms that require one to visit an entirely different thought-museum. The collective effect of that is akin to having each antecedent thought -used or discarded- narrated to the reader.
    • The corollary: Authors might write philosophy this way because,

      • The reader could not possibly think the thoughts himself.

        If the authors writing suggests that the author believes that the reader knows everything the author knows, except for the conclusion the author will draw in his writing. Then, unless the author assumes some deficiencies in his readers, the author should assume that the reader could think the same thoughts himself, if he chose to try to do so. However, the author writes the book - for some reason, so presumably, the author must think that the reader could not think the thoughts necessary to reach the conclusion the author reached, even if the reader wanted to think them. In short: the author thinks you're stupider than he is.

        However, I presume you agree with me that the author is probably wrong. Of course, to say that he is not is to say that whenever an author drags his reader through his thought-museum, that author is only justified in doing so if his readers are, generally, stupider than he is.

        So then to read the author's essay would be to admit your inherent intellectual inferiority. However, if, anytime after admitting that, you found yourself reading an utterly stupid philosophical argument, you would need to further lower the upper-estimate of your intelligence - or conclude that the author ought to get to the point because you are not so stupid that you need to visit his museum of stupid thoughts. Which would be to say that there ought to be two types of philosophical resources: those for the stupid, and those for the less stupid. The former requires the reader visits the author's thought museum, and the latter does not require that visit. I am looking for the latter.

      • The author is saving us time

        The only other possible benefit to being dragged through the author's thought museum, is that it might be faster than navigating through our own thoughts. I can imagine only two reasons why the author's museum might be faster than our own:

        You are very slow. You might be able to think the thoughts that would lead you to the author's conclusion - but those thoughts will be few and far between. However, it's worth noting that the shorter the gap is between the thoughts one needs to think before reaching the conclusion the author reached, the less value there is in reading the philosophy the author wrote. Therefore, either the author must conclude that his book is very valuable to you, and that you are very stupid; that you are not much stupider than he is, and that his book is of little value to you. If the author believes the former, then we can 'transfer' to the 'two-types-of-essays argument (immediately above), and conclude that there must be essays that do not require being dragged through thought-museums; if the author believes the latter, then there is probably not much value in reading about philosophy. However, we do read about philosophy, presumably because there is value to us in reading about it; therefore, we are still left with only the 'stupider-than-the-author' reason for reading philosophy - which takes us to the 'two-types-of-essays' argument, which concludes that there must be philosophy essays that do not take the reader to the author's thought-museum.

        Alternatively, it might be that being dragged through the thought museum saves us time because the author spares us the 'dead-ends' that we might have explored in an unguided tour. However, it seems to me that authors usually revel in dead-ends, tangents, and detours: none of those are time saving. If you agree, then the only possible justification for reading philosophy is that you are stupider than the author, which, as I've written, takes us back to the existence of two types of books - one of which does not require a visit to the author's thought museum. If the author spares us the dead ends and tangents - then there exists more concise philosophy essays than the ones I've read (and I would very much like to know where I can find them if you would share that with me), which is, in essence, the same conclusion the preceding arguments have reached.

      • The author thinks you're a deaf-mute limbless-toddler

        Authors seem to assume that without being guided hand-in-hand, and without the stupid theories clearly demarcated with multi-page tangents that we would stumble toward Nazi-evilist concepts like uninstantiated universals. Perhaps. But if we assume that could happen; is it really necessary that the author recounts every debunked theory AND spoon-feeds us the thoughts that lead him to his conclusion? That's analogous to holding a child's hand as you walk down a shoulder-width corridor with the only egress clearly ahead of you. Perhaps hand-holding is justified, on occasion; perhaps walls prevent the reader from becoming distracted or from chasing fruitless ideas. However, are both measures really necessary to keep the reader on the path toward the conclusion? As with the preceding arguments, I propose that either a negative or affirmative response to this question inevitably points to the existence of concise philosophical writing.

  • Trivia lust Too frequently authors use obscure trivia to make their point, or assume the scope and content of the reader's knowledge is identical to their own. If that were the case, why would his readers read what he writes? Veneration? Consider these examples, which I came across today,

    • All beings with hearts have kidneys (a classic among the cryptologist, engimaticist, and obscuriticist traditions - as contrasted to the claritist, concisionist, and to-the-point-alreadyist movements, with the intellectual-masturbationist movement taking the middle-ground). When I first read this, I wondered -do all beings with hearts have kidneys. I mean, I'm pretty sure kidneys filter blood... or is that the liver? Does the liver filter urine? No, I'm pretty sure liver and urine go together: you pee when you're drunk, and if you get too drunk you often need a new liver - okay, yeah that makes sense. And so yeah, heart and kidneys - yeah they both have to do with blood - something has to filter your blood, and I don't know what else filters blood - the pancreas maybe? No, probably not, but what does the pancreas do anyway? w-w-w-.-w-i-k-i-p-e-d-i-a-.-c-o-m - enter- ... oh neat... and hearts - well obviously they have to do with blood, everyone knows that. So yeah, if you have blood then you need a heart, and you need a kidney... but, is that in all possible worlds or something? What if your veins just worked like intestines, then you wouldn't really need a heart - what's it called when tubes in the body do that? w-w-w-.-w-i-k-...

    • "Ferge uses... mostly mathematical concepts to give account of properties, which he calls 'concepts'. and how they differ from the particulars that have ('fall under') them. He starts by distinguishing a 'function', like 2x^3+x, from its arguments (e.g. the number 2) and corresponding 'values' (the number 18). The difference, he says, is that a function is 'incomplete' or 'unsaturated'" --- If I took any given professional philosopher's mother hostage and threatened her death (bluffing of course) unless the philosopher reduced that paragraph to two sentences that an elementary-school child could comprehend - I promise said simplification would happen. Maybe my knowledge of anatomy is lacking, but I know math. I also know when math is unnecessary. Math was entirely unnecessary in that paragraph. Even the example of a function ("... a 'function', like 2x^3+x...") is its own special tribute to BDSM: that example suggests the author presumes that the reader does not know what a function is. (After all, why give an example if the reader does not need one?) If the reader does not know what a function is, it seems unlikely that he would be helped by the author's decision to vomit a string of numbers at his face - I mean, imagine how much more math you would have learned through grade-school if you could have learned it by way of numerical vomit. Now, it may be that the reader knows what a function is, and perhaps the word function has multiple precise definitions that might have applied in the context, and the author intended his example, 2x^3+x, to clarify exactly which definition the reader should use. If that were the case, then was it really necessary to use so many elements in the example 2x^3+x. (Hooray! - the author is comfortable with addition, multiplication (and without a multiply sign!), exponentiation, and elementary algebra.) 2x would have sufficed. However, if we're assuming the author is assume the reader knows about functions, and that the author used the example to make it clear that he was referring to mathematical functions, then why did the author just not call it a 'mathematical function' and skip the example. 'Hip-hip-hoorah... you have an arts degree and you remember high-school math. I'll admit it - I'm impressed. Nevermind that I'd be just as impressed by your ability to convey an idea efficiently.'

    • "*The imperfect gerundial nominal * "Most of our designators for states of affairs are derived from assertoric sentences. Take 3B and 3C. Both sentences contain nominalizations derived from the sentence ‘John moves to Liverpool’. (For the following points see Bennett 1988, 5–10.) 3B contains the that-clause ‘that John moved to Liverpool’ and 3C the imperfect gerundial nominal..." Really? I know what a gerund is, I recall learning about imperfect conjugations in Spanish class, as for nominal - the word hints at its own meaning. I can make an educated guess as to what the three of them mean when they compose a phrasal-noun (take that!) - but is it necessary that the reader must rely on his 'best guess' - and that he should accept the risks that come with building understanding on a guess, or that he should have to go read material about a topic outside of the topic he is learning so that he can understand an unnecessary element of that topic?

Is it possible to write a concise philosophy essay?

I believe that, in every possible world, it is possible to concisely summarize an element of philosophy. I justify this belief in the data presented to me by my own senses: I read an excellent summary of Hume's 'An Enquiry'. That summary was concise, and it gave me the knowledge I needed to understand articles that referenced Hume. I take that as evidence that the summary successfully conveyed the elements of the Enquiry that are relevant to the writing of modern philosophy authors, and did so concisely.

I say that I believe that it is logically necessary that in every possible world it is possible to concisely summarize an element of philosophy because the concise summary I read was published, in this world, on SparkNotes.com: A website that calls its teenage audience 'Sparklers', and recommends -for kicks- that Sparklers cover their chins with dog-food and invite the dog to eat the dog food off their chin so that the dog appears as a beard on the Sparkler's face before the Sparkler immortalizes the high-times with her webcam. Evidence of such can be found in this link.

Stated formally: Let, C be a concise summary of any element of philosophy; D be dog-food covered chins; and, be Sparklers.

((∀ : D( )) ∧ ⋄( → C)) ◻(∁ ) → C


In my search for an effective way to learn philosophy, I have not found a source that teaches philosophy in a to-the-point manner. However, as has been proven in this question - we know there must also be concise philosophy summaries written by non-Sparklers because Sparklers write concise philosophy summaries and Sparklers cover themselves with dog food.

So I say all that to say this - there is a source of concise philosophy summaries out there, if you know of it, I would be grateful if you'd share its whereabouts with me.

Thank you.

closed as not a real question by Joseph Weissman Jun 4 '13 at 22:15

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I think that you've only proven the possibility of concise summaries - their existence is a different matter entirely! – commando Jun 4 '13 at 19:01
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    I'm not sure it's wise posting that long of a question. For one, it's less likely people will take time to read it. For another, it's a bit ironic that you post an extremely long question asking for efficient summaries of stuff, when an efficient summary of your question would have easily sufficed. – Alex Kocurek Jun 4 '13 at 20:27
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    Also, I second the SEP recommendation. It is by far the best resource out there that summarizes both beginning and contemporary philosophical topics. More importantly, the bibliography sections for most of their articles is quite comprehensive. – Alex Kocurek Jun 4 '13 at 20:28
  • @AlexKocurek You mean hypocrisy, and it was intentional. – Hal Jun 4 '13 at 21:30
  • Can you specify what exactly you would like someone to explain to you here, maybe tell us a little more about what you've found out already? The question as written also reads somewhat 'broadly' (even perhaps rhetorical to some degree?); perhaps a less ironic presentation might help clarify the issue a bit better! (--Closing for the time being pending a somewhat more focused formulation.) – Joseph Weissman Jun 4 '13 at 22:17

For virtually all of your philosophical needs, I would recommend the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. It has excellent and rather concise summaries of most important topics in philosophy, and if you're looking for a quick intro, it's an excellent source.

Other than that, there may be scattered summaries of various ideas, but to address your main concern: philosophy is often about being as clear as you can be, and generally that requires extensive elaboration. What seems (and usually is) superfluous is also essential to avoiding misinterpretation, since of all the people who read a work it's almost inevitable that one of them will need more than the bare minimum explanation. However, "trivia" as you put it is not universal in philosophy and there are many philosophers who will leave it out. In contemporary writings it's a tad more common to see random facts being used, but in older works that sort of thing is much more rarer. In general I don't think philosophical writings are as unnecessarily long as you say.

For example, Machiavelli's The Prince is a concise (about 80 pages, if memory serves) book on political philosophy, and though it uses many examples these are all essential to his points. Nietzsche's writings are also often presented in concise form, though they do bear literary embellishment, and also Nietzsche is one of the most opaque philosophers around. Wittgenstein's Tractatus is perhaps the most concise work you'll find, but this comes at the price of being very difficult to understand.

So in short, I recommend the SEP for short summaries, and I don't think the situation is quite as bad as you make it out to be since there are a good number of philosophers who do manage to be concise.


It seems to me that you are reading the wrong books, essays, websites, w/e.

For a start, you probably shouldn't read Armstrong et al when you are doing philosophy as a hobby for a few months. I do not mean to be an arse, I just think it is helpful to start exactly where your problems are, at the basic stuff.

Consider me doing a bit physics as a hobby for a few months, now I pick up the latest Journal and naturally I won't understand a bit of it.

Learning philosophy is a quite slow process. And it is not going to be any faster by skipping all the basics. Quite the opposite, you don't understand much and get confused by technical terms.

There are books exactly for this situation, e.g: the Cambrdige Introduction to Philosophy-Series; The Math you need to do philosophy; Philosophical Devices; for logic check out this site: http://www.logicmatters.net/students/tyl/

There are almost for every discipline excellent readers, one being e.g.: The Philosophy of Language, by Martinich. It covers all the things you just mentioned, the most influential essays, good forewords that explain all needed vocabulary.

As to my little example of me jumping into contemporary physics. The language of physics os mostly math. A lot of people, me included, don't understand a word (or number ;)). Think of philosophy as the same: Just because its language is our natural language, doesn't mean it is not as hard to understand as the physics-essay.

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