The Most Reliable and Beautiful of Online Encyclopedias
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has achieved what no one else has until now: reliable and free information.
Hidden amongst a sea of opinions, speculations and bad information, most human knowledge can still be found on the web. But why do we rely more on books than on what we can find online? One of the main problems we face when surfing the internet is in discerning between information that’s reliable, trustworthy, and that which is not. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) is a compilation of entries on philosophy and related disciplines. It’s also, perhaps, one of the most valuable and interesting sites out there not only because of the huge variety of topics it explores but also because of its history and its unique nature.
Begun in 1995, the site was created by experts from the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University. Started with just two entries, today the site offers about 1,500, and 20 years on, SEP has managed to solve one of the most essential problems of the internet: the ability to provide rigorous, reliable information, free of charge.
Compared with the academics and publishers at some of the most important printed encyclopedias (or any books), Stanford has an advantage: the SEP can be constantly updated. And those maintaining the information base try to keep the language simple so that anyone can understand it, and not only a few experts on the topics.
While other online encyclopedias, (i.e., Wikipedia) offer an impressive amount of information, because the data is provided by users, it’s impossible to verify its accuracy and truthfulness. SEP has found a way to ensure that the information it provides is reliable through a broad group of academics and editors who invite experts in each topic to write the entries. Each one of these entries is periodically revised by its author and updated when necessary. Finally, a significant part of the site’s users are students of philosophy, who often give notice to editors and authors when they find errors or incomplete information. Other users are invited to do the same even if they’re not academics or students.
One of the most admirable details from this compendium of knowledge is that none of the editors or writers charges a fee. It’s something which makes the site (which is maintained by the University of Stanford with contributions from its associated academic libraries) an unprecedented example of the very essence of philosophy in its most literal meaning: a love of wisdom. The site also allows academics (whose research is otherwise read only by a small group of experts on each subject) to reach a much wider audience.
From entries on zombies, through feminism, and Dante Alighieri, to an article on intuition, the existence of this unique project is also deeply hopeful. Perhaps the maturation of a system as young as the internet will eventually take the same direction, to end up fulfilling that dream (that which the spirit of the encyclopedia once incarnated) in compiling all of humanity’s knowledge in one place.
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