The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy
OUP, $185 hb, 916 pp
Handbooks are not new to philosophy, but the twentieth century’s final decade witnessed the start of a publication flood. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks and companions began to appear in unprecedented quantities. It is tempting to attribute this phenomenon to some fin-de-siècle anxiety – Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? – but the principal explanatory factor is probably more mundane: in the face of an increasingly unsurveyable range of journal articles, collections and books, there was a correspondingly burgeoning need among students for guidance, and among professionals to share the labour of keeping up. The appearance in 1998 of the ten-volume Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a model of inclusivity, seems only to have provoked more specialist works: name an area of philosophy, and some enterprising combination of editor and publisher is trying to corner the handbook market. An initially astounding, but not untypical, example under way at the moment is Elsevier’s production of a sixteen-volume Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, individual volumes ofwhich may be up to 1200 pages. Most alarmingly, the encyclopedias themselves are online and growing simply because the medium allows them to do so: the open-access Stanford is expanding grindingly (and unevenly) to infinity, while, because it is conceived as a ‘dynamic’ reference work which never goes out of date, its unfortunate contributors have found themselves obliged to provide four-yearly major revisions, which may involve nearly as much labour as the original; the subscription-only online version of the Routledge is expanding and revising, too. Keeping up, as well as keeping up with, just the reference literature is starting to loom large among academic tasks: The Blackwell/Cambridge/Oxford/Routledge Companion to Philosophy Handbooks may not be far off.