PhilPapers is an online directory of academic philosophy, which aggregates books, articles and papers from newly published journals, web archives, personal pages, and user submissions. There are currently 204,423 entries in the PhilPapers' database, most of which are protected by copyright, and so only available through subscription, but many which appear nowhere else on the Web (dissertations, unpublished papers, etc.). In addition to gathering all of these resources together in one place, PhilPapers also provides tools for their categorization and organization and facilitates discussion and communication between philosophers.
Although anyone can browse through the database and search, PhilPapers requires that you create an account to access the more advanced features. Accounts, which are completely free, allow you to create a to-read list, add items that you find to a bibliography, save searches, and request to have e-mail alerts sent automatically anytime new items are added to searches or listings. They also provide you with a profile and a screen name, so that you can participate in forum discussions and exchange private messages with other members.
If you are trying to explore a new topic, doing preliminary research, or want to stay up-to-date, PhilPapers can be a great resource, for both undergraduate and graduate students. It is not, however, a replacement for searching individual databases or the catalog. While PhilPapers may have a lot of material, there is much that it does not have and much that may be unavailable to UIUC students. You will find many links, for example, to GoogleBooks, which help to give you a sense of what books might be useful, but won't give you full access to the books themselves. Instead of treating it as the only place to look, then, think of it as a useful tool and a great place to start.
One of the advantages of searching PhilPapers over other databases is its hierarchical system of categorization, created by philosophers and for philosophers. It currently has over 3,000 categories, providing a much more precise method for categorizing a particular item. This system includes five levels, representing a taxonomy of philosophy:
The site creators and editors make several disclaimers about this system: 1) the taxonomy is much better developed in some areas than in others; 2) it is created with the user in mind, and not as a definitive taxonomy of philosophy; and 3) it was (and is being) created by analytic philosophers, who acknowledge their bias in some areas. The work of fine-tuning this system and suggesting new or different categories is an on-going project, and one which users are encouraged to contribute to through their suggestions. You can also contribute by adding new categories to papers, but should only do so if they have relevant expertise in the area.
How to Use Categories to Your Advantage
Although PhilPapers is targeted at graduate students and professionals, it can also prove useful to the undergraduate. Say, for example, you have a vague idea about what you're interested in researching or writing about. Because of PhilPaper's hierarchical system of categorization, you can start with a very general area -- Value Theory -- and narrow it down until you have a single subject -- Ethical Egoism. Even after you have narrowed your category down to the fifth level, the database suggests "siblings," which have been identified by users and editors as related subjects. Once you have a precisely defined subject (or several subjects), you can then collocate all of the items in the PhilPapers database related to that subject. Alternatively, if you have already found an item that is of interest to you, you can click on the categories which have been assigned to the item to find others like it. Even browsing through these results can be much easier, since users can choose to display abstracts, if abstracts are available.
If you've found an article or a book on PhilPapers, but you don't seem to have full-text access, then try searching for it in the databases recommended under "Finding an Article" or in the catalog. If we don't have access to it anywhere, then you can likely request the article or book through Interlibrary Loan.