7.2 Categories and Eras

Let’s turn from the 90 topics to the 12 more familiar categories. I’ll start by ranking the categories by how many articles are in each category.

Table 7.6: Most popular categories in each era
1876-1945 1946-1965 1966-1981 1982-1998 1999-2013
Philosophy of Mind Logic and Mathematics Ethics Philosophy of Science Philosophy of Science
Idealism Philosophy of Science Philosophy of Science Ethics Ethics
Logic and Mathematics Philosophy of Mind Logic and Mathematics Philosophy of Mind Philosophy of Mind
History of Philosophy Ethics Philosophy of Mind Logic and Mathematics Metaphysics
Philosophy of Science History of Philosophy Social and Political Metaphysics Logic and Mathematics
Social and Political Social and Political Philosophy of Language Philosophy of Language Epistemology
Ethics Philosophy of Language Metaphysics Social and Political Philosophy of Language
Metaphysics Metaphysics History of Philosophy Epistemology Social and Political
Philosophy of Language Idealism Epistemology History of Philosophy History of Philosophy
Philosophy of Religion Epistemology Aesthetics Philosophy of Religion Aesthetics
Aesthetics Aesthetics Philosophy of Religion Aesthetics Philosophy of Religion
Epistemology Philosophy of Religion Idealism Idealism Idealism

The first thing that jumps out is how prominent Idealism is in pre-1945 philosophy. Even though it is only one topic, and I could easily have included a couple of other prominent early topics in the category, it is pretty much above all the topics studied in contemporary philosophy. Philosophy of Mind is first, to be sure, but only because of all the psychology articles that Mind and then Philosophical Review published in their early years. It just can’t be stressed enough how big Idealism was in Anglophone philosophy for so long.

It’s easy from a current perspective to think of Ethics as being central to philosophy, but before 1945 it just wasn’t. Now this is somewhat an issue of classification. There is some Hegelian work that the model counts as Idealism but which we could call Ethics. It wouldn’t be implausible to classify a lot of the papers that the model classified as Life and Value as in Ethics rather than Social and Political. But still, Ethics in anything like the sense we understand it in contemporary philosophy was something of a niche topic before 1945.

But none of that compares to how little attention there was to Epistemology. Now again, you can argue that some of the Idealism had to do with epistemology. Certainly a lot of it had epistemological motivations. But work that looks at all like contemporary epistemology virtually doesn’t exist before 1945. (As I noted in the discussion of the Knowledge topic, the one exception is a paper from Calcutta.)

At the other end of the timeline, I was surprised that Epistemology wasn’t higher in 1999-2013. I certainly didn’t remember that time period as being one in which Logic and Mathematics was a bigger presence in the journal than Epistemology. So I went back and looked to see if the model was making a mistake here, or I had misremembered. And the mistake was mostly on my part.

The Logic and Mathematics category, at least in 1999-2013, is largely driven by two debates.

One is vagueness, and I’ve talked a bit back in Chapter 5 about why that is included in Logic and Mathematics. I think I was thinking of that as part of Philosophy of Language back when I was part of that debate, but the case for classifying it as Logic is reasonably strong.

But the other debate, and numerically the larger one, is about Truth. And a lot of that debate takes place in Analysis. If you look into why the model puts the category Logic and Mathematics so high up the ranks in 1999-2013, it’s driven in very large part by there being so many articles about the theory of truth in Analysis in those years. And if you look back at those years, the model seems pretty plausible. Indeed, the model sometimes understates things, only assigning 40-50% probability to an article being about the theory of truth when it quite clearly is about the theory of truth.

And I’d just misremembered how big that debate was. Now partially that’s because I wasn’t involved with it, and we have better memories for debates that we’re involved with. But in part it’s because while there were a lot of articles, they weren’t very long. If we sorted the categories by pages, rather than by articles, the order here may have been different. And there is a case for doing that too. But there’s also a case for doing things this way. If any quarterly journal publishes 10 articles in a year on a particular topic, that tells you something about the importance of that topic to philosophical debates at the time. And that’s true even if the articles are 6-8 page Analysis notes.

So while this ranking was a surprise to me, after looking at the underlying data I don’t think it was a mistake. It turned out to be one of the advantages of having an analysis of the trends in philosophy that starts by looking at all the data.

The categories are different sizes, and the middle of the previous list doesn’t tell us a lot that we couldn’t see just by looking at the category graphs back in chapter 4. It’s perhaps more interesting to rank the categories by which percentage of their works are in a given era.

Table 7.7: Most distinctive categories in each era
1876-1945 1946-1965 1966-1981 1982-1998 1999-2013
Idealism Philosophy of Religion Philosophy of Language Epistemology Epistemology
History of Philosophy Aesthetics Ethics Metaphysics Metaphysics
Philosophy of Religion History of Philosophy Logic and Mathematics Ethics Philosophy of Science
Philosophy of Mind Logic and Mathematics Social and Political Philosophy of Science Ethics
Social and Political Philosophy of Language Aesthetics Philosophy of Language Philosophy of Language
Aesthetics Social and Political Epistemology Philosophy of Mind Philosophy of Mind
Logic and Mathematics Ethics Metaphysics Social and Political Logic and Mathematics
Metaphysics Philosophy of Mind Philosophy of Science Philosophy of Religion Social and Political
Philosophy of Science Philosophy of Science Philosophy of Religion Logic and Mathematics Aesthetics
Ethics Idealism Philosophy of Mind Aesthetics Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of Language Metaphysics History of Philosophy History of Philosophy History of Philosophy
Epistemology Epistemology Idealism Idealism Idealism

The journals have never paid a ton of attention to Aesthetics or Philosophy of Religion. But in the post-war years, especially in America, they paid more attention to them than they otherwise did.

History of Philosophy looks quite strong during the second era, then falls away in the third era. This might make you sceptical of my story that its is largely Ryle’s fault. But note that a huge proportion of the History papers in this era are in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. At that time PPR was taking the third word in its name really seriously, and I’m classifying phenomenology papers as part of History. This table shouldn’t change your view on the impact Ryle had on History in the philosophy journals.

I’ve been suspicious of the idea that there was a positivism-driven drop in metaphysics. So it is only fair to note that by this measure (though seemingly no other) there really is a drop in Metaphysics in the post-war era.

On the other hand, the prominence of Ethics during the critical period from 1966-1981 is consistent with something I’ve been stressing a lot. Part of what made that era so distinctive is that so many topics in Ethics were either created or renewed.