How To Use Philosopher's Index Peter Suber, Philosophy Department, Earlham College
Philosopher's Index is the most thorough index of journal literature in philosophy. It exists in a hardcopy version published by the Philosopher's Information Center, and in an electronic version available from DIALOG.
My notes on the electronic edition of Philosopher's Index have been obsolete ever since PI moved from Dialog to Silver Platter. I hope to update this page soon. (The notes on the hardcopy edition still apply.)
Electronic edition Hardcopy edition
About the electronic edition
- These notes cover the electronic edition of Philosopher's Index available from DIALOG, a commercial online information service providing several hundreds of scholarly and industrial databases.
- There is now a web-based alternative to DIALOG for searching Philosopher's Index electronically. BrainWave Philosophy is also a commercial service and for most students and faculty its prices will be exorbitant. But it is the only service permitting spontaneous electronic searches of Philosopher's Index. To conduct a search, you must register (for free). Then each search costs $0.50. The search will return book or article titles. To see more than 10, you must pay an additional $0.50. To see full citations, you pay $2.00 each. There are free preview searches, but none in philosophy.
- All DIALOG files or databases use the same commands for searching, storing, printing, and so on.
- Philosopher's Index is file number 57 in DIALOG.
- Earlham faculty and students have free use of DIALOG for instructional purposes.
- Earlham students should learn the basic DIALOG commands before using the service. For more information, contact one of your professors or any reference librarian. Or see Earlham's page of DIALOG instructions.
- There are several advantages of the electronic edition over the hardcopy edition. Learning the DIALOG commands is definitely worth the time.
- You can use more than one keyword at a time. In the hardcopy edition, you can look up articles under "Freedom" and articles under "Kant", but you can't see the intersection of those two sets without constructing it yourself. In the electronic version you can combine keywords with boolean operators.
- If you get too many hits with your first search string, you can shrink the set of hits without starting all over. Just conjoin (add with AND) new keywords to the original string to sharpen its focus.
- If you get too few hits with your first search string, you can enlarge the set of hits without starting all over. Just disjoin (add with OR) new keywords to the original string to broaden its focus.
- You can check your set of hits against the periodical holdings in Lilly Library automatically.
- You can search all the years covered by Philosopher's Index (1940 to the present) at once. You needn't conduct separate searches in separate annual indices.
- The commands that you learned to help you navigate Philosopher's Index also work on most of the hundreds of other databases provided by DIALOG.
- You needn't write down citations of promising articles, but can print them or save them to a disk.
- You can conduct a search from home at any hour of the day or night.
- In addition to Philosopher's Index or DIALOG file number 57, also check out the following:
- Arts and Humanities Search, file 439
- Book Review Index, file 137
- Dissertation Abstracts Online, file 35
- I.A.C Business A.R.T.S. (formerly "Academic Index"), or file number 88. (This has a good number of full text articles.)
- Legal Resource Index, file 150
- MathSci, file 239
- Periodical Abstracts Plus Text, file 484
- Social SciSearch, file 7
Using the electronic edition
- Unfortunately, using DIALOG is not easy to encapsulate. At least for the present, I'll assume that readers of this page already know the basic DIALOG commands.
- If you're rusty, see Earlham's own page of instructions.
- Or see DIALOG's tutorial and FAQ. (Some of the questions answered in this FAQ will not apply to the kind of account and connection we have here at Earlham.)
- For details on the commands available within a certain DIALOG file or database, see the "bluesheet" on that database. Use database 415 (command: B 415) to look at all the DIALOG bluesheets. Search for the bluesheet for a particular database by searching for the name or number of that database.
- The Philosopher's Index bluesheet is also available on the web.
- Log on to the VAX. (Earlham users only.)
- At the $ prompt, type dialog, then press RETURN. (Earlham users only.)
- You will need no username or password. These are supplied automatically by a program on the VAX. (Earlham users only.)
- If you choose to forego the DIALOG menus and use the command line (which we recommend), then your first command should be B 57. ("B" is for "begin" and 57 is the database number of Philosopher's Index).
- To reduce a set of hits to those in journals received by Lilly Library, enter this command: exs sbphil/user 016835 (Earlham users only.)
- This command tells Dialog to execute the steps in file sbphil in user account #016835.
- A successful search will give you a citation to a book or article, and possibly an abstract. There is no full text in Philosopher's Index. To find the full text, print your citations and take them to the stacks.
- It's possible that the journals you need are among the growing number that have web sites with archived past issues. Check our list of philosophy journals with a web presence.
About the hardcopy edition
- Philosopher's Index is a quarterly journal. At the end of each year, the four issues from the previous year are reissued in a single, cumulative volume.
- There are annual cumulative volumes for every year from 1967 to the present.
- An additional series of retrospective volumes covers the period from 1940 to 1968.
- The cumulative volumes are organized as follows:
- Abbreviations. Mostly abbreviations of journal titles.
- Periodicals indexed. This list not only gives you the scope of the index, but the ISSN and editorial address for each journal.
- Subject index. This alphabetical list of names and terms.is by far the largest section of each volume. Listed under each term are all the books and journal articles from that year which bear on that topic, along with the authors' names.
- Author index. Alphabetical by author's surname. All authors of indexed articles are listed here. If the author wrote an abstract of his/her article, it will appear here.
- Book review index. Alphabetical by book author's surname. Listed under each author and book are the book's full citation and full citations of all the reviews of that book published that year. (The book review section does not appear in the retrospective volumes.)
- Because book and journal titles can be misleading, human beings read every book and article indexed in order to assign keywords to them accurately.
- The volumes may be found on the index shelves in Lilly Library's Reference area, call number Ref / B / 1 / P5.
Using the hardcopy edition
- To find articles on a particular topic:
- Go to the Subject Index of any volume and look up keywords which bear on your topic. Under each keyword you'll find the author and titles of articles on that topic.
- To find citations to those articles (publication name, year, volume, number, and pages), go to the Author Index. Find the author in the alphabetical list. There you'll find full citations to that author's articles for that year, and any abstracts the author was able to write on those articles before the publication deadline imposed by Philosopher's Index. Write down the citations of the books and articles that look promising.
- You could go directly to the stacks to look for the promising titles, or you could take a few labor-saving steps first.
- For books, check our holdings using PALNI.
- For articles, check the list of abbreviations at the front of the volume. Journals held by Lilly Library will have small check marks next to their names. Whether Lilly has the journal or not, you might want to check the internet to see whether the journal you need is one of the increasing number of journals with a web site which archives past issues. See our list of philosophy journals with a web presence.
- For most searches the two steps above are all you'll need. These searches are fun and easy. Don't underestimate the pleasure of browsing through the keywords to see what people have written about. A little pleasurable browsing can also give you the skills and confidence to find what you need when you mean business.
- Browsing the keywords can also generate rich and rapid serendipity. Don't underestimate the joy of finding what you didn't expect or weren't looking for. If you can, give yourself more time than you need for each search so that you can follow up interesting leads.
- The process is easy enough that you may not need any further advice than this. But if you find too many hits, or too few, then use some strategy. They keywords in the Subejct Index include topical terms (like Causation, Death, Freedom, and Induction), names of philosophers (like Plato, Leibniz, Kant, and Nietzsche), names of nationalities (like Greek, German, English, and American), names of periods (like Ancient, Medieval, Modern, and Nineteenth Century), and names of branches of philosophy (like Aesthetics, Epistemology, Ethics, and Metaphysics).
- Commonly used terms (like Ethics, God, Logic, and Truth) will bring a huge number of hits, including a large number of false positives. Narrower or rarer terms (like Diagonalization, Emanation, Haecceity, and Paralogism) will bring a very small number .
- Note that you must repeat your search in different volumes in order to find literature published in different years. This is the chief drawback of using the hardcopy edition of Philosopher's Index. If you care about articles from a certain year, then start with that year's volume. If you don't care, then pick a volume at random and keep picking until you find enough good hits. If you want all the (indexed) journal literature on a certain topic, you must either search through every volume or move to the electronic version, which searches all years at once.
- To find articles by a particular author:
- Go to the Author Index of any volume and find the author's name in the alphabetical list. All that author's published philosophy for that year will be listed there.
- To find work by that author published in other years, you must search other volumes.
- To find reviews of a certain book:
- Go to the Book Review Index of any volume and find the book author's name in the alphabetical list. All the reviews published that year of that author's philosophical books (regardless of the books' publication dates) will be listed there.
- To find reviews published in other years, you must search other volumes. It helps to know the publication year of the book in question, so you can start with that year's volume and work forwards.
Department of Philosophy,
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374, U.S.A.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 1997-1999, Peter Suber.