About Open Philosophy

Open Access Text icon
Open Access Text icon

Open Philosophy is a dynamic anthology of “open access texts” you would expect to find assigned in college philosophy courses. The works are curated, edited, and annotated by Brendan Lalor. They vary in length and depth of annotation. Some are short with little commentary; others feature definitions, historical context, conceptual explanations, film clips, provocations, and original and classic art.

It is “free” in Richard Stallman's sense of “free beer” (you pay nothing; there’s no price barrier, so it’s gratis).

Here are some key ideas and features.

Open & free

As an open access text, Open Philosophy is “open” in the sense defined by Peter Suber in his excellent book, Open Access (MIT, 2012):

Open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.

This is why most of the texts that are part of Open Philosophy are in the public domain, or under friendly licenses. But some are here by permission.

Beyond the monetary sense of “free,” this work is “free” in the additional sense of “freedom of speech” (you’re at liberty with it, to share and even adapt it, as long as you do so with attribution and noncommercially; there’s a low permission barrier, so it’s libre).

Open Philosophy is built using WordPress, which is free, “open source” website software.

Show more on 'Open & Free'

GNU icon
GNU icon

"Brave GNU World," by David Batley
“Brave GNU World,” by David Batley

While this phraseology is in harmony with that of many progressive organizations, including the Public Library of Science (PLoS), I remain broadly sympathetic with one noble terminological titan. Richard Stallman – father of free software, copyleft, the GNU operating system (of which Linux is but the “kernel”), and the GNU General Public License (GPL) – remains at battle, a word-warrior, arguing on behalf of such terms as “free software” and “redistributable publication” because – he reasons – they properly solidify the commitment to freedom, in the senses of both price and permission. Stallman not only insists on a distinctively ethical grounding of the understanding of ‘free’ in “free software,” but he believes unambiguous vocabulary to be essential in closing loop-holes that would otherwise be exploited by the powers that be to curtail freedom.

Open Philosophy is built on free software licensed under Stallman’s GPL. The license’s under-read preamble is itself a kind of manifesto:

The GNU General Public License is a free, copyleft license for software and other kinds of works.

The licenses for most software and other practical works are designed to take away your freedom to share and change the works. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change all versions of a program–to make sure it remains free software for all its users. We, the Free Software Foundation, use the GNU General Public License for most of our software; it applies also to any other work released this way by its authors. You can apply it to your programs, too.

When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price….

To protect your rights, we need to prevent others from denying you these rights or asking you to surrender the rights. Therefore, you have certain responsibilities if you distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it: responsibilities to respect the freedom of others.

For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must pass on to the recipients the same freedoms that you received. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights….

Before proceeding to legal terms and conditions, the license articulates protections for authors; denounces device manufacturers who “deny users access to install or run modified versions of the software inside them” (a large class of manufacturers indeed, Microsoft and Apple being the two most obvious targets today); and assures safety for GPL software against threats from patents that might “render the program non-free.”

Stallman’s defense of opening resources in the name of freedoms to study, modify, and share, resonates with me – as does his call for new systems of distribution which transcend commercial publishing toward the values of freedom, creativity, community, and progress. “Open access” is a broader, less radical notion. Open Access may involve fees for authors or institutions, but often not for readers. Read more at MIT Libraries.

Conventions & features

Open Philosophy Menu
Open Philosophy Menu

First, remember that “Open Philosophy” at the top of the page is a drop-down navigational menu, with links to get you anywhere you need to get. If you find yourself at a dead end, though, feel free to drop me a note.

Hit this button to Spritz the text.
Hit this button to Spritz the text.

Second, I’ve implemented speed-reading technology powered by Spritz. I’ve also added a music bar to the top of the site. It plays some of my reading loops: original music, for focus.

Hide in-text annotations.

Third, clicking ‘‘ on content pages will toggle most “text-bookish” features on and off. I love a relatively clean version of the primary source, and the ability to “turn on” annotations for a different read.

Fourth, I’ve added a hovering, collapsable table of contents. Your initial scroll down the page will reveal the button in the top, left corner of the screen. In many browsers, the table of contents is draggable – so you’ll be able to move it where you wish, or drop it off the edge where it cannot be seen at all.

Contents collapsed

The table of contents is “collapsed.”

Contents open

Click to open contents.

Text avatars
Text avatars

Fifth, I indicate the author of each passage using avatar-like icons, mostly created by Open Philosophy artist, Mitch Francis. Although there is sometimes a rapid oscillation between primary text and commentary, who you’re reading should always be clear.

Sixth, I have enclosed elaborative – or in some cases, advanced – text or media inside accordion-style hideouts. Reveal the content by clicking the teaser, or the ‘‘.

What the spoiler looks like closed ... but CLICK it!

What the spoiler looks like closed … but CLICK it!

Opening the spoiler shuffles hidden content into view.

Opening the spoiler shuffles hidden content into view.


“Thank you” to my colleagues at Castleton University for encouraging research and experimentation that promote great teaching; thanks, too, to the deans for supporting the Open Philosophy artist, Mitch Francis, with Faculty-Student Research Grants during the 2013-2014 academic year. It has been great working with Mitch: he’s smart, curious, creative, and he has spirit. Thanks, too, to John Fredrick “Fred” Humphrey – creator of one of the first online, interactive “close reads.” I appreciated conversation about his interactive edition of Plato’s Apology.

I have to acknowledge the great community of support around WordPress. And thank you, Adrian Chum, for the SCM Music Player.

I am especially grateful for the support, slack, and magic of Michelle.