Philosophy and the New Technology:

a Beginner's Guide!!

"Be not the first by whom the new are tried,

Nor yet the last to lay the old aside."

Alexander Pope


"Your way of doing Philosophy is not unlike sorting mail."

Haywood R. Shuford, Jr.

Elmer H. Duncan

Department of Philosophy

Baylor University

(For all that went into this paper, I am grateful to my chairman, Prof. Robert M. Baird, to Ms. Glenda McClellan of Baylor's Information Technology Center, and to Ms. Billie Peterson-Lugo, Baylor's Head Outreach Librarian. Their patience, and kindness, has been above and beyond the call of duty).

For easy reference, this paper is divided into sections, as follows:


II--General Sources.


IV--Journal Articles!!

V--Special Interests.

VI--Concluding Quasi-(or Pseudo?)-Philosophical Remarks.




I begin with a clarification. This paper is both a guide for beginners, and written by a beginner. For a more advanced sort of beginning, see a paper by my colleagues Anne-Marie Bowery and Scott Moore, "Multimedia Instructional Technology in the Philosophy Classroom, a Brief Primer." See also the more recent paper by J. Lenore Wright and Anne-Marie Bowery, "Socrates at the Cinema: Using Film in the Philosophy Classroom," Teaching Philosophy, Volume 26, Number 1, March, 2003.

Though I know it is bad form, I need to burden the reader with two personal notes. First, I came late to the new technology. For years, while my colleagues in Philosophy were happily on-line, I kept clear of "those new-fangled contraptions." Finally, my chairman had a computer-a used one-put in my office. For years, again, it was not even turned on; I would not have known how to turn it on. And I had no plans to learn. I sometimes say that I'm so old that my university doesn't care what I do, so long as I show vital signs from time to time. Of course, that isn't true. What is true is that I could have retired without bothering to learn much about the new technology. For some time, I had this cartoon on my office door. Ofcourse, now I no longer have an office,as of Fall, 2007.

Yes, there is a great deal I still need to learn, but I decided to do what I could, for essentially three reasons:

That's half of this overly personal story. Now I get too personal for one last time. Since 1992, my wife and I have taken four study tours-on church history, not philosophy-with a group from the Westminster Theological Seminary. The tour visits various places in Scotland and England, and features lectures on the places visited and important figures in British and American church history. I thought it might be fun, perhaps even useful, to do some sort of itinerary for the tour on-line. My wife and I subscribe to a number of British magazines-In Britain, Realm, British Heritage, etc. These had stories on the places we visited, and often listed URLs ( Uniform Resource Locators, or web addresses) for relevant web sites. Early on, I was so naive that my thought was that I would just make a list of these HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) things. But my younger colleague Scott Moore (a true computer pro!!) showed me we could do much more than that. He set up a web site for me, and I composed a narrative for the tour. He put in links to all those URLs , and sent me over to the Baylor Computer Center to have photos scanned to add to the site.The Seminary was kind enough to put my tour package on their web site for 1999 and 2001, and an updated version is there for 2003!! I should add that I appreciated Scott's work very much, but I hated to impose on him. And I wanted to make changes and additions. So I took computer classes to learn enough to do some of this for myself. I even persuaded the philosophy department to have a scanner placed in my office.

What has all this got to do with teaching philosophy? The thought dawned on me that a course syllabus could be done this way, too. There is a sense in which doing a philosophy course-in the history of Moral Philosophy, for example- is rather like taking a study tour. Now all of my courses have syllabi on-line. And the attempt is made, not just to give the name of the teacher and identify the textbook for the course, and to list assignments, but to make the syllabus an interesting "journey" through the relevant material. Some of these syllabi are more successful than others. I have added more than that, but the syllabi for my seminars on Hume and Kant are obviously converted Word documents, actually extended bibliographical essays. I think the syllabus for my Aesthetics course is better, and the one for the Moral Philosophy course is my best. I try to take the student through the course, with photographs, links to relevant primary and secondary sources, works of art, and more. I first tried to do the required HTML things "from scratch" {Many thanks to Ms. Billie Peterson-Lugo for all her help!!}, and then learned (somewhat) how to work with a text editor, first Claris Home Page and now Dreamweaver. It takes a bit of getting used to, but Dreamweaver can be easy, even fun, to use. There is no substitute for a good teacher, but there is a book I can say is an excellent reference for this material, Macromedia Dreamweaver 4 for Windows and Macintosh, by J. Tarin Towers (Berkeley, California: Peachpit Press, 2001).

In addition, my course syllabi, and various other materials, can now be accessed by my students through a "Course Management System" called Blackboard, a really interesting service. My Chairman says this is where students tend to look first. Another colleague says it is easy to use, but boring. Perhaps so, but it is good to be able to post a number of materials my students may find useful. Students can just go to the Baylor website, look under "Current Students," and then under "Student Services" to find "Blackboard." It is easy, but it need not be boring.

But this paper is about beginnings, and what is available out there, on the Internet. So where does a student, perhaps one who wants to study, or do a paper on, say, the philosophy of Hume or Kant, begin, and where do we go from there? Why not just punch in the name, 'David Hume', and do a search? You could do that. I would recommend using "Google" as your search engine; I think it's best for most academic purposes. But there are problems with this approach. First, if you do that, you can call up what they say is "about 128,000 listings!!" The sheer volume can be overwhelming. Also, it is notorious that the Internet is not refereed. As a foolish example, my colleagues would complain, but there is, in theory, no reason I could not set up "Duncan's Own Einstein-Heisenberg Web Site"...despite my total ignorance of the topic. We need to be selective when we "surf the net."

General Sources

So where do we start? In philosophy, I would suggest the inquiring student begin with the Philosophical Dictionary. The Dictionary has rather short entries on most major-and many minor- philosophers, philosophical movements, and philosophical problems. But its real value is that it also lists the better related materials-both primary and secondary- available on the Internet. It will tell you where to look next. As of July or so, 2003, our best general source may be the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Baylor has had a print version of this valuable resource for some time, but it now is to be available online!! Two other good sources are the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Stanford Encyclopedia has a number of really good entries, including a recent treatment of the Scottish philosopher (and one of my favorite philosophers) Thomas Reid. The Internet Encyclopedia has five entries on Hume, to continue that example. And it has two on Kant. The second Kant entry, on Kant's aesthetics, is by Douglas Burnham, author of a recent book, An Introduction to Kant's Critique of Judgement (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000). My point is these are highly competent entries, frequently written by recognized authorities.

Beyond the general encyclopedias available on-line, there are also many useful web sites devoted to individual philosophers and philosophical movements. For example, for Kant, there is Kant on the Web. It has primary sources, including most of Kant's major works in the German originals, plus all sorts of helpful secondary material. Actually, most of the "name" philosophers have sites. See, for example, Kierkegaard on the Internet ( I am having trouble with this one, so try another on Kierkegaard Resources World Wide), plus the International Kierkegaard Information site (largely the work of Julia Watkin). Or check out an excellent William James site, and even an Alvin Plantinga site, etc.

One more "general" site that deserves mention here is the Dictionary of the History of Ideas. This valuable resource was first published, in a multi-volume print edition, in 1973-74. But it has some really valuable entries, written by many of the best minds of the day: Stephen Pepper, William Frankena, Monroe Beardsley, John Passmore, etc.

{I hope Ms. Watkin does not mind my using this wonderful gif. from her Kierkegaard site.}

At this point, I should note that the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary I carried to college, many years ago, defined 'philosophy' as ..."a discipline comprising"...and my favorite areas of philosophy have always been ethics and aesthetics (the philosophy of art). Seekers on the web will find sites devoted to areas of philosophy, too. For aesthetics, we need to consult Aesthetics On-line, the official web site of the American Society for Aesthetics. Here we can find essays, bibliographies, and course syllabi (even a couple of my things!!). For ethics, consult Ethics Updates, edited by Lawrence Hinman. It has sections devoted to Applied Ethics, as well as Ethical Theory (including parts devoted to Aristotle and Virtue Ethics, Kant and Deontology, Utilitarianism, etc.). My favorite section is called "The Reference Room: Classic Works in Moral Philosophy," listing many original sources available on-line, by the major historical figures in moral philosophy. Under the topic, other areas of philosophy, I hope it will not be considered improper to spend so much time praising a colleague, but some of the very best sources on the Web today were prepared by Scott Moore. See, as examples, his Notebook for Contemporary Contintental Philosophy, and his page of Philosophy of Religion resources--really superbly done, and extremely useful!!


Speaking of original sources and useful resources, it is easy to find long lists of books that are available on the Internet, and you can narrow this down to more specific areas of interest, just by doing a "subjects" check. This is not, I know, the best way to read a book, but sometimes we have no alternatives. Also, books on-line are rather like books off line in that some editions are better, more readable, or generally more useful, than others.These major sources deserve special emphasis:

Journal Articles!!

I am excited about all of these developments, but doing significant philosophical work, as students or as research professors, also requires knowing what has been done, and what is being done in the "learned journals." There are hundreds of these in philosophy. One of my professors used to say the periodical literature constituted a "vast repository" of philosophical material.This vastness can be intimidating. Further, the journals can be difficult to use. Libraries usually do not check out journals, i.e., journals are normally non-circulating materials. And professors-much less students-cannot subscribe to all of them. Further, libraries may not have all the back issues, or, if they have them, they may have "closed stacks." Or, worse yet, the back issues of less frequently used periodicals may, for lack of space, be in "deep storage"...somewhere. The good news is that databases are available, for a price, to subscribing libraries. Once again, there are a number of these that deserve special mention:

Special Interests

A final section of this paper could be called "special interests and fortunate discoveries."

I have, in recent years, developed an interest in 19th Century American Philosophy. So I was delighted to find the Edinburgh Review in the PCI database {My reasoning here may not be entirely clear. In the 18th and19th centuries, the Scottish philosophy was very influential in America; a favorite source was the Edinburgh Review}. But perhaps my favorite stop on the Internet is the MOA (Making of America). Actually, there are two MOAs, one at the University of Michigan, and one at Cornell. Both databases have a number of 19th century books on-line (the University of Michigan site seems to have more), as well as several on-line journals from that century. The Michigan site has the Princeton Review from about 1831-1882---the old Princeton theology! The Cornell site has the North American Review from 1815-1900. Wonderful!! A fault of both databases (for my purposes) is that they are set up to be read-or printed-one page at a time.

Another recent discovery that promises to be useful-to me, at least- is the Penn State Electronic Classics Site. This site features some very nicely done pdf. files you can download to your own computer of all sorts of classical works ranging from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, to Aristotle's Poetics and Rousseau's Confessions, to Locke's Second Treatise of Government, to several works by Spinoza, to the King James version of the Holy Bible! As just one example, check out this splendid edition of Plato's Apology. You can also find a number of good pdf. files in McMaster University's Archive for the History of Economic Thought, including Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and James McCosh's very useful book on The Scottish Philosophy. I think I see a pattern here...I see fewer classics on the web as html. files, and more as pdf. files...obvious advantages-download that pdf. file to your computer, and it's yours!!

I have also developed an unfashionable interest in a group of 17th century philosophers known as the Cambridge Platonists-Ralph Cudworth, Henry More, etc.-and have found a gold mine in a source called Early English Books Online. This database is made up of many, many (thousands!) of works published between 1475 and 1700. Amazing!! There is another database, called "Renascence Editions, An Online Repository of Works Printed in English Between the Years 1477 and 1799," that covers much the same period, and has a few works in Philosophy, notably Francis Bacon's The Advancement of Learning of 1605, Berkeley's Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, from 1710, and Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, from 1776---all in very handsome editions. I am interested in 17th-18th century Philosophy. Obviously, this is a case of "different strokes for different folks:" not everyone will share my interests--but almost everyone can find web sites that support their interests. Also of interest, especially to those of a more religious bent, is the Digital Library of Classic Protestant Texts. Philosophers will want to check our a work by Peter Ramus, The Art of Logick.

A new favorite for me is Eighteenth Century Collections Online! This database has virtually everything from the eighteenth century in easy to use, and searchable, editions. Try it!!

Also must note, under "fortunate discoveries" how often looking for sources on the net leads to other valuable sources that could not have been expected. For my work in aesthetics, one such is the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. The Guide has entries on a number of figures also involved in the philosophy of art, from Aristotle to Croce, Dewey, Nietzsche, Santayana, etc. And the entries are quite good. Other valuable sources keep turning up. One such is the Gale Literary Databases, which has marvelous entries on philosophers and literary figures such as John Dewey, David Hume, Joseph Butler, Stephen C. Pepper, George Santayana, A. J. Ayer, G. E. Moore--and many, many, more.

Since I teach at a church-related school, my students usually have an interest in religion, and the philosophy of religion. In looking for items for that section of my Introduction to Philosophy course, I ran across something called "Leadership U," which has a number of papers in a "Liberal Arts" section, including Alvin Plantinga's "Advice to Christian Philosophers" and "The Mystery of Persons and Belief in God," by C. Stephen Evans. For most of these, you need to scroll to the end of the paper, and find there instructions for saving the materials as electronic files. And did you know that the journal, First Things, is available on-line? And there is an "Archive" for Theology Today; find a paper by Robert C. Roberts, "The Logic and Lyric of Contrition," in Vol. 50, Number 2, July, 1993, pp. 193-207.

I could go on, because of course there is more.. If your tastes are insatiable, try Suber's Guide to Philosophy on the Internet...endless!...and also Blackwell Publishers' Philosophy Resources . Another "user-friendly" general site is "" And I'm sure there are valuable sources I know not of, but I close this tiresome treatise with a couple of quasi-philosophical reflections. A few years ago, some of us had lunch with the university's Vice President for Academic Affairs. We discussed the fact that some schools now have something called the "ubiquitous computer"-every student has a computer, all the same type. Perhaps one day we will have that at Baylor (so many of our students have their own computers now, not to mention those in our libraries, the Student Union, and the various "computer rooms" across campus). And the Vice President commented that if this is to happen...."we will need to use them." I may have been mistaken, but I did not understand this as some sort of thinly veiled threat that old fogies such as I would be required to get with the program or get out of the way. Instead, I took his remark as a way of saying that our students, who grew up playing with computers (as I did not), would expect the new technology to be a part of their classroom experience at Baylor (or wherever). But should they expect this of us? Why should we use these things in our teaching? Perhaps some such answer as the following will suffice. At a religious school, this is to be understood as, "Now we turn to preaching!!," but I shall be brief.

Concluding Quasi-(or Pseudo)-Philosophical Remarks

All that has been said above about resources available on-line may call to mind a passage from David Hume, first used in quite a different context:

"When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make?" (1)

I certainly have no plans to participate in book-burnings, or in plots to destroy our libraries. Indeed, I cannot tell you how much I love my books. I confess I relish those moments when freshmen come to my office, blink in amazement, and ask, "Have you read all these books?" For the record, I have not read them all; I should live so long. So who needs the new technology? After all, I have my books.

And next door to my Baylor office is the Philosophy department's well-stocked Periodical Room, cited above, with long runs (40 years or so in several cases) of some of our best journals. So who needs more?? Again, some such answer as this... I know that we rarely live up to our highest ideals, but ideally, a university is supposed to be a community of scholars, and of scholarship. I cannot expect a student to have the sort of library that I have taken more than half a century to put together. But the computer in my office at Baylor has on its "desktop" a shortcut to the Baylor University Libraries Electronic Resources {As of Jan. 12, 2005, this link has a new interface, which has certain advantages, but will take a bit of adjusting}. Any student at Baylor can have that same shortcut. Any student, freshman or Ph.D. candidate, can access and use all the resources I have described in this paper--and many could do it better than I can. Scholarship, based on such shared resources, need not be the sort of thing done, on special occasions, by an elite group of distinguished professors, hired for that unique purpose.The new technology, and the resources it can make available to all of us, holds the promise of helping us to become-in the best sense- a community of scholars. So should we use them? I would say that if we are to live up to our high calling as faculty and students at a major university, we must use them.


End Note.

1. Hume, David, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, edited by Tom L. Beauchamp. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 211.