Driven by user input and discipline-specific aims, PhilPapers combines access with engagement.


JustinBzovyEmma Ryman

Having begun as an online categorisation service for philosophy students and teachers, PhilPapers has grown to be an established open access archive and active forum for research engagement. Justin Bzovy and Emma Ryman show that PhilPapers is a vibrant example of how humanities researchers can build open online platforms suitable for discipline-specific aims. 

PhilPapers is a comprehensive index of the literature in philosophy. It uses both large-scale crowd-sourcing and advanced trawling techniques to monitor all sources of research content in philosophy. This includes journals, books, reviews, personal pages, and open access archives. The PhilPapers index currently includes 582,500 entries.

One of the most important aspects of PhilPapers is its categorization system, overseen by David Chalmers, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University. There are currently 4,758 topics at different levels of generality into which a given entry can fall. For example, works in the history of philosophy may belong both to a category pertaining to a specific author and to a particular field, like philosophy of mind. As more specialists join the PhilPapers categorization project, each category becomes further developed.  The categorization scheme is of great value for instructors designing philosophy courses, or for students and researchers selecting material for a reading group or research project. Along with the categorization project and integrated with the citation index, PhilPapers includes an open access archive, currently including over 75,000 entries.

Image credit: BiOBER [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

PhilPapers now has 54,852 registered users, which include the majority of professional philosophers and graduate students. Approximately 400 of these users are themselves category editors. Registration on PhilPapers is free and provides its registered members with valuable services. For example, using the registry, one may create reading lists or exportable bibliographies for research projects. One may also set email alerts for new material on most pages on PhilPapers.  Should users find citations missing from the site, or want to make their own work accessible to the philosophical community, PhilPapers has several different tools for uploading individual works, or entire bibliographies in a variety of different formats.

The forums on PhilPapers are also a place to engage with professional philosophers in active discussions on recent publications, and on current issues in all areas of philosophy. The forums provide an important place to get preliminary public feedback on current research. Areas of interest in the forums can be monitored from one’s profile. Forums are also a place to note problems with the site, and suggest improvements. Other discussion topics on the forums include issues in the philosophic profession and graduate philosophy programs.

PhilPapers was initially developed (2006-2009) by David Bourget and David Chalmers at the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University. The project first started off as MindPapers (2006-2007), which focused on philosophy of mind. Following this Bourget and Chalmers developed PhilPapers (2009), which covers all areas of philosophy. The original software architecture and programming are mainly Bourget’s work. The categorization structure is mainly the work of Chalmers.

As of mid-2013, PhilPapers has moved to the new Centre for Digital Philosophy at Western University in London, Ontario. The Centre for Digital Philosophy is directed by David Bourget, assistant professor of philosophy at Western. David Chalmers is associate director. The Centre’s staff includes Western graduate students, postdocs, and professional programmers.

Since March 2013, PhilPapers has been accepting submissions in any language. This significantly increases the breadth of philosophical traditions that can be encompassed on the site, and provides individuals doing philosophical research in other languages the tools to make their work accessible to a much wider audience. PhilPapers is always looking for more members of the philosophical community to help with its database and other projects. Since the site is driven by user input, the more philosophers that get involved with PhilPapers, the better it becomes.

Although PhilPapers focuses mainly on philosophy, it is also valuable for related disciplines. Apart from indexing literature that pertains both to philosophy and other disciplines, PhilPapers itself is an example of how one may conduct online research in general.

This post is part of a wider collection on Open Access Perspectives in the Humanities and Social Sciences (#HSSOA) and is cross-posted at SAGE Connection. We will be featuring new posts from the collection each day leading up to the Open Access Futures in the Humanities and Social Sciences conference on the 24th October, with a full electronic version to be made openly available then.

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About the Authors

Justin Bzovy is a PhD student in the Philosophy Department at Western University. He works in ancient philosophy, philosophy of biology, Ukrainian philosophy, and philosophy of music.

Emma Ryman is a PhD student in philosophy at Western University, where she is a member of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from McGill University and an M.A. in Philosophy from Western. She is primarily interested in ethics and political philosophy, and she is the assistant editor for those PhilPapers categories in addition to her administrative duties at PhilPapers.