Philosophometry – writing A Global History of Philosophy, to 1750

Justin E.H. Smith – author of the excellent Divine Machines on Leibniz – has a very interesting post about his being commissioned to write A Global History of Philosophy, to 1750. He discusses the challenges of the project, and illustrious (Bertrand Russell) and less-illustrious alternatives (Wikipedia). Here’s short excerpt from the post:

One possible way I’ve been considering to navigate a path that steers clear of both Russell and Wikipedia is what I’ve started thinking of as ‘philosophometry’ (check Google; you heard it here first!), but which might also perhaps be called ‘quantitative metaphilosophy’.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the revolutionary work, for example, that Franco Moretti has done on the modern novel in books like Graphs, Maps, Trees. More generally, researchers in fields outside philosophy are learning the value of quantitative, digitally based study of the materials they are devoted to illuminating; the other humanities, if not yet philosophy, have come to understand the value of ‘distant readings’ as a complement to the sacred practice of ‘close reading’. The idea, then, is to compile a massive database of texts, titles, key words key arguments from the first few millennia of philosophical activity across Eurasia, and to process these data in order to generate graphs, maps, and trees that could reveal new things about how we came to think about truth, reality, the self, etc., in the way we do.

This could be very interesting, not as a better way of doing the history of philosophy to close reading, but to sit alongside it as a different way of doing things.

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