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Philosophical Connections

Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet




In 1998 , a team of philosophy graduates from Trinity College Dublin had the idea of compiling a series of Profiles of major Western philosophers. In the words of Dr Anthony Harrison-Barbet — author of Mastering Philosophy (2nd Edition Palgrave 2001) in the Pathways Book List — 'This would be a unique and new venture in that the ideas and themes of each philosopher would be colour-coded and linked so as to show the influences on their thought over the years.'

At the suggestion of Dr Harrison-Barbet, the work was put onto CD-ROM as an e-text so that the connections could be converted into hyperlinks. There are 126 profiles, and some 20,000 links, summaries of the philosophies, individual biographies and book-lists, and a full hyperlinked bibliography at the end. In all the project adds up to nearly 900 A4 pages. The Senior Editorial Advisor is Professor J.C.A. Gaskin.

The project was never published. The unusual format proved difficult to sell to publishers, and the group lacked the resources and marketing expertise to publish the CD-ROM themselves. I first heard about the project in September 2008, when I received an email out of the blue from Dr Harrison-Barbet offering to make the material available to students at the Pathways School of Philosophy as well as visitors to the Pathways websites.

I was intrigued. When I started to explore the CD-ROM, however, it became clear that in terms of quality and coverage of individual philosophers this work ranks alongside the Philosophical Encyclopaedias from Stanford, Routledge, Oxford or Cambridge.

At over 350,000 words, Philosophical Connections is not only a valuable study aid but a significant contribution to the study of the history of philosophy. This work has to my knowledge never before been attempted on such a large and intricate scale.

A beginner's first impressions of the e-text are somewhat daunting. However, with the help of author's How to use the profiles, one soon gets the hang of the unique scheme of interconnecting links. The information is incredibly condensed. One could write a paper about each line on each of the many tables of interconnections, or spend hours searching on the internet to find the same information.

Reading Philosophical Connections is not a substitute for studying the original texts. What it does is stimulate you to ask questions and follow leads which you might otherwise never have considered. I will be making extensive use of this resource in mentoring students taking Pathways programs and the University of London Diploma and BA in Philosophy.

As Dr Harrison-Barbet explains, there is no need to start at the beginning. Pick your favourite philosopher from the Contents page or the Alphabetical list and dive in. You will soon find you are going backwards and forwards through the profiles, criss-crossing at the speed of hypertext 2500 years of human thought.

For the online version, the original 10 Megabyte Word document was converted into HTML, then sliced into separate sections, one for each philosopher. Apart from restoring all the thousands of links, the main problem was the tables of interconnections — originally formatted using spaces and carriage returns — which became hopelessly jumbled when displayed on a web page. Each table has been reconstructed by hand, as close as possible to the format of the original document.

Sadly, Dr Harrison-Barbet died of prostate cancer in May 2009, and did not live to see the completion of the online version of his work, which represents 7-8 years of diligent study and research.

Geoffrey Klempner

October 18 2009