Answered By: Suzanne Schriefer, Education & General Education Librarian
Last Updated: Feb 01, 2019     Views: 2

The Thinker, by August Rodin

Philosophy is the study of the meaning of knowledge, truth, nature, and human existence.  Ethics examines what is right and wrong, and how people should conduct themselves in society.  

Comprehending reading assignments in philosophy and ethics can be challenging.  The following tips and techniques may aid your understanding of complex text.

  • Approach the reading with the right attitude.
    • Be prepared to read with an open mind
    • Philosophical ideas are often abstract and require reflection and critical thinking.
      • Relax!  Know that you may have to look at an issue from a new perspective and be open to new approaches.
      • Be prepared to question and challenge what you are reading.
      • Try to find real-life experiences that may relate to concepts and ideas expressed to deepen your understanding.
  • Plan ahead and allow for extra time to review and reflect on your reading.
    • Ideas expressed in philosophical works can be complex. Be patient. Know that you may have to read passages slowly and may have to re-read them a few times before you can grasp their meaning.
    • Write down words that you do not understand and look them up in a dictionary.
    • Keep a pencil handy!  
      • Highlight key passages and mark those that you do not understand.
      • Take notes on both the content as well as your thoughts about the reading.
      • Try to write a summary of the passage.
  • Consider drawing a "picture."
    • There is often a structure to a philosophical argument; try to create a diagram using the following formulas:
      • Essentially, X says that C.
      • Essentially, X says C, because R.
      • (X=Author, C=thesis or main idea/concept, R=Reason for it)
    • Look at the headings and subheadings in the passage to gather clues about the main points of the philosophical argument.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help
    • Contact your instructor with specific questions about the reading.
    • Schedule an appointment with a peer tutor in Tutor Match.
    • Search the online library for articles or eBooks that provide an explanation of philosophers and their writings.

Supplemental Resources from the Online Library:


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