Online early modern philosophy

I should definitely draw your attention to what Brandon is up to at Houyhnhmn Land, where he’s starting to post useful resources on early modern philosophers (Blogger allowing…). The process, unfortunately, tends to draw attention to just how little there is out there, even allowing for the fact that he’s starting with some relative unknowns. (I’m looking forward to its development, not least since it’ll save me a lot of work hunting down such things at EMR…)

At Siris, Brandon also has a typically thoughtful discussion on the lack of good online philosophy resources.

To be sure, this is not entirely surprising. Philosophy is, after all, the Infinite Field of Study. We scholars of philosophy may build our little villages (schools of thought) and, when doing history of philosophy, turn the dark footpaths (influences, parallels) between the villages into well-lit roads, and even discover new villages; but there are continents upon continents, planets upon planets, galaxies upon galaxies, universes upon universes, of work to be done.

It got me thinking that the internet – for all its potential in many areas – may never be very well suited to the needs of philosophers – apart from the publication of primary texts, not least its potential for making accessible the works of more obscure philosophers whose (known) audience is too small for even academic presses to be interested in making them available in print. That would, of course, be no small thing in itself.

But what I mean is that the medium may be ill-suited to serious, detailed, sustained philosophical analysis and commentary. It’s a physical thing: you can only read so much close-spaced text – and what discipline is more heavily textual than philosophy? – on a computer screen at a time, before your eyes and brain begin to hurt and you end up having to print it off to read it properly. There are many things for which the internet is, I’d argue, better than the printed book: searchable reference works and bibliographies (etc), experiments in multi-media presentations and formats, interaction between writer and readers… But maybe with the discipline of philosophy, much more than history, it’s right up against its limits.

Which is not to say that things couldn’t be better than they are right now (even allowing for my lack of expertise, philosophy links at EMR are not exactly overwhelming). Certainly, things will soon be improving if Brandon has anything to do with it.

On the other hand, it’s not so much depressing and sad as challenging and exciting. It is not the case, after all, that things are much different in Real Life; the serious books and articles written on Campbell would not make a very long bibliography. And quantity of the sort found in, say, Hume or Aquinas studies, isn’t always quality. So perhaps even more importantly than turning up philosophy resources, I am turning up where such resources are needed (even more than I had previously thought); and that’s information worth having.

I’ll also repeat Brandon’s request: if you’re aware of good quality but hard-to-find early modern philosophy resources online, please let him know.

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