This is a crazy cool interactive visualization of the relative influence and importance of philosophers. This guy simonraper (that's his handle anyway) did a data pull from Wikipedia determining what philosophers are identified as having influenced other philosophers and used a graphing platform to visually map it.
If you are interested in his methodology, go read the post. I got linked to it from a NY Times article wherein our own Mark Linsenmayer got mentioned for an Open Culture post.
So the usual caveats about the data and methodology apply, but it's an interesting exercise to see how Wikipedia, as a reflection of collective knowledge, represents the relative influence of philosophers. The Times article notes, this isn't necessarily a representation of how important the thinkers were in history of ideas - it's a reflection of how the current Zeitgeist sees their importance. But if there is any merit in the 'scholarship' behind Wikipedia this shouldn't be that much of a bias. Acknowledging the influence of one thinker on another, from the outside, would itself only really be subject to the sin of omission rather than overt misrepresentation. You can't really get away with saying that Spinoza influenced Aristotle.
The Times author asks whether the same exercise for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (or the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy for that matter) would turn out similarly. I think it would. If you read the author of the graph's methodology, he counted all relationships as equal. Nietzsche and Hegel are big because they influenced a lot of people (according to Wikipedia), not because they influenced some people a lot. This graph is a representation of how often thinkers are cited by the authors of Wikipedia as being influencers of others. I suspect the 'scholarly' resources would agree for the most part with these results.
This is circumstantially borne out by the fact that if you look at the large image of the graph, characters such as Eric Voegelin and Joseph de Maistre are influential enough to see not only see their names, but both are bigger than Maimonides and Nicholas of Cusa. If Wikipedia exhibited a non-scholarly bias towards figures perceived as influential today, no way would those guys be so big on the list. By which I mean only Philosophy geeks would be referencing them.
That said, there really aren't all that many big players in the grand scheme of things and any exercise like this should feature the same rogue's gallery: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Mill, Hegel, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Marx. With the exception of Descartes (a notable exception called out by the Times), this does. Now the real question is: who the hell is Murray Rothbard?
Any time you encounter “Murray Rothbard” just substitute in “wanted to say Ayn Rand, but aware enough to know that wouldn’t have gone over well”
It just means there are a lot of Ron Paul fans on wikipedia
Any time you encounter an uncritical equivocation of Rothbard with Rand just substitute in, “Want so badly to dismiss the ideas of a self-proclaimed libertarian, but am too lazy to pursue any actual understanding of his writings.”
It just means there are some people who aren’t fans of libertarianism in philosophy forums. And that some of them simply can’t resist name-dropping. (For shame!)
Although, coincidently, I had to chuckle at Seth’s almost Randian way of asking about Rothbard—“Oh hell! Who is John Galt?”
Seth Paskin says
Here’s my thing about Rothbard. According to the graph, he’s more influential than James, Hume, Mill, Locke, Russell, Chomsky, Whitehead, Aquinas and just about every analytic philosopher and about as influential as Wittgenstein, Descartes, Leibniz and Rousseau.
That smells of some kind of gamesmanship on his behalf. That said, I don’t know enough about him or how Wikipedia works to figure out what’s going on.
I’d definitely agree that there is something very surprising about the size of Rothbard’s influence on this graph. Although I think you’d have a hard time avoiding his ideas if you studied modern-day theories of libertarianism, I am a bit shocked that his apparent influence is larger than Hobbes or Locke considering just political philosophy. However, putting aside the obvious fact that Wikipedia is largely dependent on user submissions of information, the creator of this graph does provide some possible explanations on his post for these kinds of oddities.
First, the size of each philosopher’s dot represents only the quantity of “influenced” and “influenced by.” This method could ignore the qualitative influence of thinkers on the ideas of others in addition to their influence on ideologies that are dominated not merely by those specific thinkers but yet rely heavily on their contributions. For instance, Hume’s theories of perception and judgment had huge ramifications for empiricism but I could see how people would miss citing his specific influence on the empirical methods and ideas of others. This quantitative statistic could also skew the size of a person who was influenced by many even if they were influential only to a few. (I wonder: could this bias those modern thinkers who have more history to build on, or unoriginal thinks who utilized the ideas of so many others? Could more systematic philosophers also benefit from this method of graphing?)
Second, the creator notes the limitation that this graph only takes into account direct influence in determining the size of a philosopher’s dot. He specifically mentions this to explain Descartes’ relatively small size. It seems this graph cannot capture for us the process by which we see ideas rippling outward from a single person’s writings and evolving through the ideas of others who take those ideas in or react against them. Again, looking at the influence of Hume, we find that even later rationalist ideas are hugely indebted to Hume’s theories of perception and judgment albeit indirectly through Kant—with this in mind perhaps it’s unsurprising that many like him are badly misrepresented.
And, lastly, he states that a philosopher’s spatial placement on the graph also indicates the importance of a thinker as well as their relative size. Citing him directly he says, “The algorithm that visualises the graph also tends to put the better connected nodes in the centre of the diagram so we see the most influential philosophers, in large text, clustered in the centre.” Consistent with that statement we see Rothbard sitting well outside on the fringe of this graph in large contrast to the others that Seth mentioned whom everyone would agree possess more connectedness to mainstream philosophical thought. Perhaps, this aspect is the most accurate representation of Rothbard’s fringe status within the history of philosophy as a libertarian thinker.
I can’t help but detect a little bias towards modern thinkers. I would think Plato and Aristotle would take up a whole lot more. The fact that the wiki page for Plato cites influences such as “Most of subsequent western philosophy” and “countless other philosophers and theologians” probably doesn’t help his proportions on this graph.
Phil Getz says
http://drunks-and-lampposts.com/2012/06/13/graphing-the-history-of-philosophy/ refuses to let you see the post without first installing malware on your computer. Is there a safer place to learn about the graph–like, what the colors mean?