This is my summary of the history of (Western) philosophy showing the positive/negative connections between some of the key ideas/arguments of the philosophers. It’s a never-ending work-in-progress and the current version is mainly based on Bryan Magee’s The Story of Philosophy and Thomas Baldwin’s Contemporary Philosophy, with many other references for specific philosophers/arguments. (The source is noted with the book icon that appears when you click on an argument.)
First off, let me announce that though I read my share of philosophy and have a good grasp of the fields/philosophers I’m interested in, I’m not a historian of philosophy. This is a purely personal project that I’m doing in my own time, with my limited knowledge, for myself; and I’m sharing it to get feedback and to make it accessible to those who are interested. Baldwin writes, “Ryle and Austin (…) often give the impression of being motivated at least as much by a wish to correct the mistakes of other philosophers as by a concern to resolve the problems they are discussing.” As much as I find this way of looking at philosophy quite productive (and fun) for many reasons, I’m not proposing that this is the right way to look at it; it is just one version that I like to see – an organized collection of notes, reminding the key arguments and letting me see how they developed, from a distance.
When I’m reading the books, I’m summarizing argumentations with isolated sentences; I may be paraphrasing the sentence if it’s coming from a secondary source like a book of history of philosophy, but I try to quote it as it is – as long as it’s not too long – if it’s from the philosopher. Then I’m noting the positive/negative connections to other arguments, putting all this information in a spreadsheet in a machine-readable format, going through everything to look for further possible connections, and finally feeding it to the visualization. If an argument agrees with or expands on an old one, they’re connected with a green line. If it disagrees with or refutes an old argument, they’re connected with a red line. Some of these connections are explicitly described by the philosophers or the historians, some of them are drawn by me.
Maybe you can complain that I have low standards for a connection in general. The question always arises: “Clearly these two arguments are talking about the same thing, but did he really read that old guy, or did he come up with it all by himself?” Except for a few specific cases, I ignored this question for two reasons. First, most philosophers read most people before him/herself and they don’t always add extensive lists of names/references for every argument they produce; so I usually assume there may be a direct connection even though it’s not written somewhere. (You could make a version with only the connections confirmed by the philosophers/historians, but that would be too boring for my taste.) Secondly, and more importantly, the fact that there may not be a direct reference (written or not) doesn’t spoil my concept of connection here: when I’m drawing a line I’m not always claiming that the philosopher directly took the idea from the connected philosopher. The lines here do not always depict a direct transfer between two people; I think of them as tracing the development of an idea throughout time within our collective conception. This choice is also evident in the non-directionality of the connection lines: the direction of a possible direct transfer is obvious when there are dozens of years between two philosophers, but for those who live and write during the same years, it is quite possible that they take ideas from each other, get in conversations, etc. In that broad sense I’m confident that these connections make sense but I may of course be mistaken with some of them; please warn me if you think so.
I am of course aware that not everybody is here and the listed arguments-connections of the included philosophers aren’t exhaustive. Most of these people have generated dozens of arguments worthy of including here. I don’t think this project can ever be complete in that sense, but I will be expanding it by adding information from everything I read – maybe until I die – in the hope of making it as complete as I can. And yes, I may be prioritizing philosophers/schools/subjects I like in the process. I know that Continental philosophy is underrepresented right now because of my past prioritizations and I started working on that. I’ll also be adding more thinkers who aren’t strictly “philosophers” but had considerable effect on philosophy (like Darwin, Freud, Turing, etc.) and philosophers from other traditions, meanwhile continuously improving the arguments-connections for the included philosophers. You can see the list of updates on the Updates page where you can also subscribe to get notification emails when I add new content or make interface upgrades. (Some people propose that I switch to a collaborative content creation model – I have no intention of doing that, although I’m fully open to corrections and suggestions from philosophers or historians of philosophy.)
One warning: Browsing this visual summary cannot substitute reading a good book of history of philosophy, let alone reading the original texts by the philosophers. These sentences are dry summaries of long, intricate argumentations and some of them are not even comprehensible if you’re not already familiar with the subject/philosopher. Some of these ideas are best understood within the historical/political context, as they are presented in books of history of philosophy. So no, you shouldn’t expect to learn philosophy by just using this summary. As I wrote in the beginning, this is an organized collection of notes to myself, and I believe it can have this function for other people who have read some history of philosophy as well. (I also believe it can function as a teaser for people who aren’t familiar with the field, making them feel curious about an idea/discussion and start reading about that.) As Baldwin reminds,
“[C]ontemporary philosophy is dialectical in its method: new arguments necessarily make reference back to earlier positions which provide the background for understanding the commitments which the arguments seek to challenge. (…) The relation of present arguments to past debate provides by itself good enough reasons for regarding the continuation of such debates as the only way of improving our understanding.”
I conceived this project in February 2012 while organizing my notes and started working on it in February 2014.
I also thank my friend Eser Aygün for writing the program that automatized to a great degree the transition between the spreadsheet that I fill in and the visual end-product for the static version in the beginning of this project.
And here’s a list of the nice people who offered useful corrections or improvements for the content so far: Jakub Rudnicki, Matheus Schneider, César Tomé López, Sylvia Wenmackers, Miguel Mateo La Salle.
Note: This print is from an old version; it had a lot less content than the current one which is beyond being printable and hangable on a wall.