The history of thought is the history of its models.  (Frederic Jameson, The Prison-House of Language)

PhilWeb is devoted to exploring the many, varied and often opposed attempts by human beings to conceptualise the nature of 'things.'  It is concerned, as such, with nothing less than the history of as well as the cultural and topical diversity of 'thought.'  That there has been much disagreement among those who have offered such 'truth-claims' is, of course, something of an understatement: intellectuals are deeply divided by fundamentally very different assumptions concerning the nature of reality, the nature of thought (to wit, the precise way in which knowledge about the world is produced) and, ultimately, the nature of the being responsible for such thoughts.  Many, perhaps most, of us are convinced of the exclusive rightness of our own and dismissive of others' points of view.  PhilWeb is an effort to draw attention to the variety of cogent and compelling perspectives that exist on almost any single issue and the difficulty in weaving our way between the various claims upon our assent.

What is 'Philosophy'?  What is Theory?  Please click here to reach Metaphilosophy / Metatheory.  For my attempt to distinguish between these and related terms, please go here.

Richard Rorty's claim that contemporary philosophy is divided into three major, competing paradigms -- the "Husserlian (or ‘scientistic’) answer, the Heideggerian (or ‘poetic’) answer and the pragmatist (or ‘political’) answer" ("Philosophy as Science, as Metaphor and as Politics" 9) -- offers a persuasive explanation of the existence of such disagreements.  For positivists (whether in the natural or social sciences), Rorty argues, thought is synonymous with a universal reason which functions ideally according to certain logical principles irrespective of the thinker in question and his / her socio-historical location.  On this view, accurate knowledge of the world is produced through the careful application of the scientific method (in a manner paradigmatic of the production of objective knowledge in all spheres) and communicated via the more or less transparent medium of language.  For others, however, thought is unable to resist the impress of social and political forces and inevitably shaped by the very rhetoric, necessitated by this context, in which it is couched.  The result is that truth-claims are always already relative to the person making the claim, the communicative medium employed, and the context in which it is articulated.  It is this fracture between the scientistic, on the one hand, and the discursive, on the other, which constitutes, in my view, the fundamental intellectual fault-line. 

Distinguishing between philosophy (the general philosophical quest to grasp how we make sense of reality) and Philosophy (the scientistic conception of the field which currently prevails especially in Anglo-American philosophical circles), Rorty uses the term 'Theory' to designate an approach to philosophy that acknowledges the historicist and rhetorical dimensions of thought (emphases which are in some quarters today subsumed under the rubric 'discursive'):

I shall use the word ‘theorist’ rather than ‘philosopher’ because the etymology of ‘theory’ gives me the connotation I want, and avoids some I do not want.  The people I shall be discussing do not think that there is something called ‘wisdom’ in any sense of the term which Plato would have recognised.  So the term ‘lover of wisdom’ seems inappropriate.  But theoria suggests taking a view of a large stretch of territory from a considerable distance, and this is just what the people I shall be discussing do.  They all specialise in standing back from, and taking a large view of, what Heidegger called the ‘tradition of Western metaphysics’ – what I have been calling the ‘Plato-Kant canon.’  (Contingency, Irony, Solidarity 96)

I have accordingly reserved the term philosophy for the general philosophical quest to grasp how we make sense of reality (hence the name of this website, namely PhilWeb), the term Philosophy to denote the dominant logico-scientistic approach, and the term Theory (or sometimes 'literary' or 'critical' or 'cultural' or 'social theory'), to denote the discursive dimensions of thought and, thus, of the production of knowledge in a variety of spheres (e.g. the social 'sciences,' the natural sciences, etc.). 

To these ends, PhilWeb aims to make available to researchers a variety of resources, both 'off-line' (in the form, for example, of detailled bibliographies, definitions and surveys of particular theorists, movements, periods, regions and topics) and 'on-line' (in the form of links to relevant URLs on the world wide web). 

Of course, PhilWeb is a massive undertaking and, as such, will always be a work in progress.  For this reason, individual pages will necessarily be found at varying stages of completion.  Needless to say, moreover, it is due to the always changing nature of the internet that users may find that some links go 'dead.'  Please report any such links which you may find to the email address given at the foot of this page and we will do our best at this end to keep the site up to date. 


This contents of this website (listed to the left) is divided into three broad sections.  The first section seeks to trace the History of philosophy and is divided into several periods (e.g. the Early Modern); the second section seeks to explore the various forms which philosophy take in different Regions (e.g. the Caribbean); and the third section addresses the main topics, problems or issues (e.g. the self) which thinkers have addressed.

For insights into the structure and nomenclature of particular pages, please click here.


PHILWEB was last updated:
October 10, 2011

PHILWEB is edited by
Richard L. W. Clarke

Please direct all queries HERE

This site will always be a work in progress as a result of which pages will be found at various stages of completion.

Philosophy's Other: Theory on the Web

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial No Derivative Works 3.0 License.