Textbooks in philosophy

At Daily Nous, Curtis Franks provides a summary of OER and free logic textbooks and courseware. On Mastodon, Anthony Eagle comments: “It is so great that there is so much effort by philosophers on this part of the textbook market; maybe we should now turn to other areas.” I sympathize.

I’ve written OER notes on scientific inference, which cover the difference between deduction and induction, problem of inductions, and underdetermination. I’ve often thought I should extend it out to be a whole textbook. There are several reasons that I haven’t.1

  1. Outside of formal philosophy, the history matters. I can pick an edition and a translation of Descartes’ Meditations when teaching modern philosophy, but I can’t switch to a contemporary book that covers the same material. Even for more recent topics, there’s value for students to read the classic papers rather than just a summary of them.
  2. One thing I want to teach students is how to read a philosophical text. This means struggling with the actual thing, rather than just getting the gist of it from a secondary or tertiary source— even if the secondary or tertiary source is me.
  3. If I were to use a textbook I had written, then students would get the same take on the material both from the reading and me in class. If my way of putting things isn’t clear to them, getting it twice isn’t likely to help.
  1. When I wrote forall x back in 2005, I was motivated by the high and rising prices of logic textbooks. Moreover, logic textbooks are commodified. There are lots of different books which cover more or less the same stuff. Logic is really the only course that I teach with a textbook, rather than with primary texts.

2 thoughts on “Textbooks in philosophy”

  1. I like the idea that logic textbooks are “commodified”, but that still cries out for explanation. People seem inclined to roll their own textbooks for logic to a far greater degree than for any other subject, in philosophy or elsewhere. And creating all those examples and exercises is a lot of work! Why are so many people motivated enough to do that rather than using something off-the-shelf?

  2. As you point out, there are two things that require explanation: Why logic textbooks are commodified and why people make their own anyway.
    I think publishers make interchangeable logic books because logic courses use textbooks in a way that few other philosophy courses do. It’s more like the market for (say) math books.
    Folks often make their own textbooks because they end up preparing notes and problem sets for their classes anyway. The first draft of my book was a fleshed out version of the lecture notes I had prepared over the years.

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