A Data Visualization of Modern Philosophy, 1950–2018

Those of us who think of our­selves as phi­los­o­phy enthu­si­asts remain free to read and think about what­ev­er we like, no mat­ter how obscure, mar­gin­al, or out-of-fash­ion the ideas. But the acad­e­my presents a dif­fer­ent pic­ture, one fraught with polit­i­cal maneu­ver­ing, fund­ing issues, and fret­ting about tenure. Does pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion do phi­los­o­phy a dis­ser­vice by cod­i­fy­ing the kinds of prob­lems we should be think­ing and writ­ing about? Or do we need pro­fes­sion­al phi­los­o­phy for exact­ly this rea­son? It depends on who you ask.

One argu­ment against the acad­e­my con­sists in point­ing out that many, if not most, of history’s influ­en­tial philoso­phers have been ama­teurs in one sense or anoth­er: grind­ing away at day jobs, for exam­ple, like Baruch Spin­oza, or liv­ing on fam­i­ly mon­ey, like Lud­wig Wittgen­stein, two rad­i­cal philo­soph­i­cal out­siders whose Ethics and Trac­ta­tus, respec­tive­ly, have been turned into data visu­al­iza­tions by Max­i­m­il­ian Noichl. It’s inter­est­ing to spec­u­late about how these thinkers, both so visu­al­ly-inclined, would respond to the treat­ment.

Noichl’s lat­est project, now in its third and, so far, final iter­a­tion, involves trac­ing “The Struc­ture of Recent Phi­los­o­phy from the 1950s to this day.” Clear­ly implied, but unstat­ed in his descrip­tion is that these maps chart only the spe­cial­ized inter­ests of aca­d­e­m­ic phi­los­o­phy, but the omis­sion high­lights the fact that con­tem­po­rary philo­soph­i­cal work out­side the acad­e­my receives no recog­ni­tion in the lit­er­a­ture and, there­fore, hard­ly qual­i­fies as phi­los­o­phy at all under cur­rent stric­tures.

To con­struct the map at the top (click here to see the full info­graph­ic, then click it again for a high res­o­lu­tion ver­sion), Noichl aggre­gat­ed over 50,000 arti­cles “from var­i­ous phi­los­o­phy jour­nals.” The jour­nals all come from Clar­i­vate Ana­lyt­ics Web of Sci­ence col­lec­tion, which skews the selec­tion. Noichl began with a “snow-ball-sam­pling (a few thou­sand papers),” then extend­ed his sam­ple by “repeat­ed­ly look­ing at the most cit­ed pub­li­ca­tions.” The result­ing papers were then “spa­tial­ly dis­trib­uted accord­ing to their cita­tion-pat­terns.”

Every point on the graph­ic rep­re­sents one arti­cle. Noichl used two dif­fer­ent algo­rithms to sort and group the data, and his explana­to­ry text on the orig­i­nal graph­ic at his site explains the tech­ni­cal details. The clus­ters are “a bit het­ero­genic in their nature,” he writes.

While some are the­mat­ic, oth­ers are deter­mined strong­ly by spe­cif­ic per­sons or eras, which seems in itself to be an inter­est­ing obser­va­tion about the struc­ture of the lit­er­a­ture….. [T]here is… a remark­able cleft between the­o­ry of sci­ence and epis­te­mol­o­gy. And the ways var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal clus­ters group them­selves around moral phi­los­o­phy sug­gests an inter­nal rela­tion. We can also observe that con­ti­nen­tal phi­los­o­phy seems to split into two halves…

The exer­cise presents us with a sum­ma­ry image of some of the field’s most per­sis­tent con­cerns for the past 60 years or so. I can imag­ine his­to­ri­ans of philosophy—and maybe crit­ics of aca­d­e­m­ic philosophy—making excel­lent use of this col­or­ful­ly orga­nized data. Noichl vague­ly men­tions a pos­si­ble use of the map as a “real­i­ty check for some debates.” The ques­tion of what it con­tributes to philo­soph­i­cal think­ing remains open. And we might ask whether big data does phi­los­o­phy a dis­ser­vice by algo­rith­mi­cal­ly repro­duc­ing cer­tain exist­ing con­di­tions, rather than crit­i­cal­ly inter­ro­gat­ing them as philoso­phers have always done.

Yet it’s clear that data visu­al­iza­tions are now stan­dard tools for teach­ing and learn­ing any num­ber of sub­jects, and in many cas­es, they offer help­ful short­hand, as does anoth­er of Noichl’s inter­ac­tive graph­ics, “Rela­tion­ships Between Philoso­phers, 600 B.C.-160 B.C.,” a “delight­ful depic­tion,” writes Justin Wein­berg at Dai­ly Nous, “of the inter­re­la­tion of the ideas of ancient philoso­phers over time.” See Noichl’s site for the three ver­sions of “The Struc­ture of Recent Phi­los­o­phy” and oth­er phi­los­o­phy data visu­al­iza­tions.

And at the links below, see how oth­ers have used data visu­al­iza­tion tools to orga­nize the his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy in dif­fer­ent ways.

via Dai­ly Nous

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“The Philosopher’s Web,” an Inter­ac­tive Data Visu­al­iza­tion Shows the Web of Influ­ences Con­nect­ing Ancient & Mod­ern Philoso­phers

The Entire Dis­ci­pline of Phi­los­o­phy Visu­al­ized with Map­ping Soft­ware: See All of the Com­plex Net­works

The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy Visu­al­ized in an Inter­ac­tive Time­line

The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy Visu­al­ized

Niet­zsche Lays Out His Phi­los­o­phy of Edu­ca­tion and a Still-Time­ly Cri­tique of the Mod­ern Uni­ver­si­ty (1872)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Richard Benoit says:

    I teach human com­mu­ni­ca­tion the­o­ry as an adjunct. Inter­est­ed in exam­ples of how sig­nif­i­cant thought moves from philoso­phers through pop­u­lar cul­ture i.e. music, art, etc to the massess. Are there case stud­ies, or oth­er forms of exam­ples in open cul­ture archives?

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