I'm looking for an encyclopaedic overview, which can be used as a study resource. By this, I mean a book in which all important philosophers are explained very concisely (2-3 pages per philosopher on average; someone like Kant more, of course). The closest thing I can think of (in style) is a university syllabus or a powerpoint presentation, in which subjects are explained very briefly, usually in lists with bullet points.

What I am not looking for:

  • Introductions to philosophy (e.g. The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell)
  • Encyclopaedias that give an overview from A-Z or dictionaries of philosophy

This book should be useful to gain encyclopaedic knowledge on philosophy; to memorise. Yes, I know insight is crucially important, especially in philosophy, but there are simply things that you have to know by heart and I'd like to have a resource in which this absolutely necessary knowledge can be found. This book should be intended for students who were already introduced to philosophy and already have a notion of the basic terms, concepts and evolutions.

I have included an example of an article on Locke's Ideas that shows exactly what I'm looking for. A book with this kind of article on each philosopher, in chronological order, is exactly what I'm looking for.

This is also a good example of an article on a particular subject (Idealism). If this were formatted a little bit better (i.e. in bullet-point lists), it would be almost perfect

  • 5
    Would the introduction paragraphs to SEP articles be what you're after? Check out the Bertrand Russell entry and tell me what you do and don't like about it. I'm not sure what you're after, exactly, so this should help clarify.
    – Dennis
    Jan 28, 2013 at 20:22
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    @Dennis I edited my question and have now included an example article that resembles the style of what I'm looking for.
    – Ben
    Jan 28, 2013 at 20:51
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    SEP probably wouldn't cut it, in terms of what the OP seems to be looking for. It's excellent as a resource, no doubt, but tends to focus on narrow issues rather than broad overviews. It'd be like a dictionary with only the hard words...
    – stoicfury
    Jan 29, 2013 at 3:16
  • The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy hosted by the university of Tennessee is pretty good. Its not as comprehensive nor as academic as the SEP. Jan 31, 2013 at 12:13
  • @MoziburUllah While what you say is mostly true, I wouldn't be so quick to write off the IEP. It is certainly in a more infantile state than the SEP but I know many experts who have been commissioned to write IEP articles (including one of my professors). Thus, I think the description of the IEP as "less academic" might be misleading. Perhaps, though, this is true of individual articles. The SEP, however, is guilty of this as well. There was a rather big controversy surrounding its entry on Ayn Rand earlier this year.
    – Dennis
    Feb 2, 2013 at 5:26

1 Answer 1


I assume you know this, but I would recommend using much caution when reading any "encyclopaedic overviews" of philosophers or their ideas.(In reading Russell's History of Western Philosophy, you'll find many mischaracterizations of philosophers and their ideas; and, Russell has little concern for showing his distaste for many of them.) Not only that, but it is quite easy to think that, well, "even if this thinker didn't use 'this word, etc.,' he still meant the same thing."

The last link you provided is an example of the sort of problem I'm talking about: it uses interpretative, modern phrases and notions--many of which were written hundreds to thousands of years before the characterizations had sense.

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