Graphing the History of Philosophy

Have you ever wondered what it would look like if you created a graph showing the relationship between all of the various figures in the history of philosophy? Me neither. But fortunately for us, someone else did.

You’ll need to read the whole article to get the details, but the chart was developed by “extracting the influenced by section for every philosopher on Wikipedia” and then running that information through an algorithm. Each philosopher shows up as a particular “node” in the chart, with the size indicating the level of influence that philosopher exerts on the rest of the web. And the colors depict different communities and sub-communities that the algorithm picked out by analyzing the patterns of influence (e.g. the “continental” tradition in green and the “analytic” tradition in purple).

One important caveat: “A shortcoming however is that this evaluation only takes into account direct lines of influence. Indirect influence via another person in the network does not enter into it. This probably explains why Descartes is smaller than you’d think.” And the same could probably be said for Augustine’s relatively small footprint.

With that in mind, this is a very helpful and interesting graphic. I spent some time looking at the larger nodes and noting which influential philosophers I might need to spend a little more time on (e.g. Schopenhauer is much larger than I’d expected).  It gets even more interesting when you examine the web in more detail. For instance, it was interesting to see the reformed tradition (Calvin, Kuyper, Van Til) isolated way off on the left edge.

So click through to explore the graph in more detail.



5 Responses to “Graphing the History of Philosophy”

  1. Rick July 5, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    Marc– I think the graph is somewhat lacking. I couldn’t find your name anywhere on the chart.

    • Marc Cortez July 5, 2012 at 8:10 am #

      That’s because there’s a global conspiracy to keep me from getting the philosophical credit I deserve. I know, it’s shocking but true.

  2. Bryce Walker July 5, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    This is great. Thanks for posting.

    Besides Augustine and Descartes, I also would have expected Hobbes, Rousseau, and Origen to have larger footprints. Also, I found it humorous that Cornelius Van Til is placed so close to Pseudio-Dionysius (even if there is no line connecting them).

    • Marc Cortez July 5, 2012 at 10:35 am #

      Yes, I actually did a double-take on the Van Til/Dionysius placement.


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