(Click on the image above for a way bigger and more interactive version!)
Simon Raper of Drunks&Lampposts has created this amazing visualization “Graphing the History of Philosophy“, derived from the Influenced By section for every philosopher on Wikipedia. Some detail on his methodology:
“Each philosopher is a node in the network and the lines between them (or edges in the terminology of graph theory) represents lines of influence. The node and text are sized according to the number of connections (both in and out). 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. It all seems about right with the major figures in the western philosophical tradition taking the centre stage.”
The whole thing really is worth a close look (and there’s even a helpful download link of the 8MB complete file).
io9 (“The complete history of philosophy visualized in one graph”) has a good breakdown of this massive philosophy cluster:
“Conspicuous by his absence is Descartes, but Raper offers a possible explanation: The chart only measures direct influences, and it’s likely that Descartes’s tremendous contribution has trickled through second and third degree associations. Alternately, it could also be the fault of strictly using associations established by Wikipedia editors.
Other highly influential philosophers (rightly) include Kierkegaard, Husserl, Heidegger, Leibniz, Rousseau, Hume, Wittgenstein, and even Noam Chomsky.
The graph also shows a certain amount of “clumping” that one would expect — a logical grouping of philosophers within their respective traditions, and in close relation to their precursors and eventual offshoots.”
Humanities in a Digital Age (“Visualizing the History of Philosophy?“) also offers a thoughtful counterpoint about the vagueness of influence involved, along with a more exact description of what we are looking at: “If we are after a graphic representation of what late-twentieth- and early twenty-first-century contributors to Wikipedia would have been likely to say about the relations of influence between figures in the Western tradition, this likely does a very good job of delivering us that.”
It’s a very cool visualization. And there’s always the old-fashioned way, like one of my favorites: Russell’s The History of Western Philosophy.