Philosophical Summary

Ron Paul Curriculum, English 1, Lesson 145

Write 500 words on this: “How important is it for a person to summarize his philosophy of life in an early chapter of an autobiography?”

Autobiographies can be greatly improved if the writer summarizes his philosophy of life in an early chapter. Such an addition can help readers understand the rest of the book, as well as feel like they know the author more. The exact amount that it is improved, of course, is dependent on the type of autobiography and how readable the rest of the book is.

First off, the placement of a philosophical summary is very important. Even a well-written summary, if placed poorly, will not help a reader. In fact, it could make the reader less enthusiastic about finishing the book. If the author of an autobiography puts his summary in the very first chapter, it will take away space and time from the hook story, and the reader is more likely to decide that it isn’t interesting, or worth the time. Likewise, if the writer makes the opposite decision and puts the summary in the middle of the book, the reader will find it, and think that it’s a bit late to be talking about life philosophies after half of the book has already gone by. The happy medium is probably, for most autobiographies, around chapters two or three. In these chapters, the reader already knows that they want to keep reading, yet doesn’t feel like they already have a firm understanding about the author’s opinions on various things.

Autobiographies are usually benefited when their authors include clear, concise philosophical summaries of themselves. If someone is beginning to read an autobiography, and the author has included his basic beliefs and opinions early in the book, the reader will feel as if they know or understand the writer more. This is especially important for autobiographies like Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, which makes many claims and attempts to persuade readers to adopt a certain viewpoint. Without a summary, Walden is a confusing, unclear book. With some brief introduction early on, like “Trade is evil because x. Simplicity is the best way to live because y. I believe Nature is conscious because of z. etc,” Thoreau could have made the book considerably easier to read and easier to understand (but there’d still be lots of room for improvement). Walden-type books could also benefit very specifically from the structure provided by the summary. Later chapters could systematically touch on each statement in more detail. On the other hand, there are autobiographies in which it isn’t necessary to make philosophies clear early on. For instance, Jim Lehrer’s autobiography was intended as a collection of stories. It has few, if any, philosophical arguments, and works as intended without a summary.

In conclusion, it’s generally a good idea for people to state their philosophy of life early in their autobiographies. With a well-placed, clear summary, authors can better express to the reader who they are and how they think. This has a variable effect, but the average autobiography will meaningfully benefit from it. I know that if I ever write an autobiography of my own, especially if it tries to persuade people of one thing or another, I will probably do my best to make clear my life philosophy by the second or third chapter.

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