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Writing a clear summary

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As we have said, summaries of philosophical arguments need to be clear, so that they can be understood by someone not familiar with the original text.

Refer to the student's summary of Judith Jarvis Thomsons argument.

Would you say this is a clear summary?

Check your answers

Sample summary from student essay

In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens to her body. She believes that choosing abortion, or the death of the foetus, is justifiable. In arguing for this position, she begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - to find yourself plugged into another person. The Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you after discovering that you are the only medically compatible person available to save their best violinist. They connected his circulatory system to your kidneys to extract poison form his system, and if you unplug him he will die.

The point of Thomson's example is to show that if you voluntarily find yourself in a position where someone's survival depends on your continuing to support them for an extended period, you are not morally obliged to continue unless you implicitly or explicitly agree. In relation to pregnancy, she likens this idea to being pregnant through coercion or even failed contraception. If the pregnancy was not actively sought or wanted, the mother should be under no obligation to continue because, although she may not accept that the foetus is a person like the violinist, its right to life should not be at the expense of the rights of an unwilling 'body donor'. In attempting to explain the similarities of a situation of dependence, Thomson aims to establish that a person's right to life is not necessarily strong enough to override someone's right over their own body.

The summary is very clear and understandable to someone unfamiliar with the text. Notice how in the summary, the student first provides an OVERVIEW of Thomson's position:

Sample summary from student essay

In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens to her body. She believes that choosing abortion, or the death of the foetus, is justifiable.....

In arguing for this position, Thomson begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - etc...

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