I have agreed to be the subject area editor for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online. I’m pretty excited about what Tim Crane and Tony Bruce are up to there, and the other subject area editors they have chosen make me humble to have been invited.
I want to tell you why I agreed, and then do a bit of crowd-sourcing.
First, why I agreed to do it.
I’m a philosopher and a historian of philosophy, but because of the job I have, most of my time is spent teaching or thinking about teaching. That means that most of my time is spent thinking about learning. I have mad respect for the SEP and for OBO and for PhilPapers and for the many Handbooks and Companions. I encourage my students to use them. But let’s face it: they are designed for professional philosophers. And let’s face it: the gap between professional philosophers and would-be philosophers these days is very large. There’s very little out there to bridge that gap. My sense is that Crane and Bruce understand that our profession could be very well-served by accurate, brief, clear entries that help people who are not professional philosophers enter an otherwise forbidding culture.
Our profession has been talking a lot lately about how to open ourselves up. We’re doing that because we think it will make what we all do better. One very simple way to do that is to make some of what we do less arcane. I’m not saying that your latest piece in BJHP should be less arcane. I’m saying that if you are publishing in BJHP, you might consider spending some of your time crafting something that captures your knowledge and communicates it to someone who is not a professional philosopher and who will be able to understand it well enough to be intrigued, excited, or at least equipped to write the paper she is so anxious about.
It’s not easy. The easy thing to do is to acquire special knowledge and dig down into it, and defend it. Now, I think that highly technical and arcane and historical philosophy is worthy and delicious. But I’m a professional philosopher. I’d like there to be more people like me (only in that respect). If that’s what we all want, those of us who do highly technical and arcane and historical philosophy have a positive obligation to make the very work we do accessible to new-comers now and again in some form that they will use. I’m pretty sure we’re smart and talented enough to do it. Some of those folks will use it to become philosophers.
Now the crowd-sourcing.
If any of your are equally interested in this project, I’m asking you to take a look at the current entries and start thinking about where we can take this. If you have suggestions, please email me directly. Don’t respond to this post directly. I especially don’t want anything of the form: “Becko’s entry on Pogo Possum is inaccurate and outdated. It’s a travesty!!!”
You’ll notice that the current entries are almost exclusively figures. That’s a great foundation. However, for students, I think the best way we can improve things is to have entries on key notions and terms (notions and terms, not problems, not puzzles, not subject areas) that undergraduate students will run into in a modern course. As a prime example I give you: the principle of sufficient reason.
Students will run into this. It’s an important notion. Yes, one could spend one’s life in it (some of us have). Yes, one could lose oneself in it. But undergraduates and those who want some entry into what we do could really use a clear, accurate, brief, accounting of how the notion is used quite generally.
So if you teachers of modern can think about other notions and terms that would make useful entries, please help by posting here or sending to me directly. This includes terms that are importantly very changeable in the 17th and 18th centuries (e.g., perception).
Thanks for the help, folks, and I hope to serve us historians of the 17th and 18th centuries well.