Stanford Philosophy

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Brief Description

[The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy] was designed so that each entry is maintained and kept up to date by an expert or group of experts in the field. All entries and substantive updates are refereed by the members of a distinguished Editorial Board before they are made public. Consequently, our dynamic reference work maintains academic standards while evolving and adapting in response to new research. You can cite fixed editions that are created on a quarterly basis and stored in our Archives (every entry contains a link to its complete archival history, identifying the fixed edition the reader should cite). The Table of Contents lists entries that are published or assigned. The Projected Table of Contents also lists entries which are currently unassigned but nevertheless projected.

The SEP’s Publishing Model

The combination of features exhibited by the SEP publishing model distinguishes it from other attempts to build scholarly resources on the web. Our open access model has the following features: (1) a password-protected web interface for authors, which allows them to download entry templates, submit private drafts for review, and remotely edit/update their entries; (2) a password-protected web interface for the subject editors, which allows them to add new topics, commission new entries, referee unpublished entries and updates (updates can be displayed with the original and updated versions side-by-side with the differences highlighted) and accept/reject entries and revisions; (3) a secure web server for the principal editor, by which the entire collaborative process can be managed with a very small staff (the principal editor can add people, add entries, assign entries to editors, issue invitations, track deadlines, publish entries and updates, etc.); (4) a tracking system which logs the actions taken at the web interfaces, monitors the state of every entry, determines who owes work and when, automatically sends occasional, friendly email reminders, and provides a summary to the principal editor; (5) software which dynamically cross-references the SEP when new entries are published, and which periodically checks for broken links throughout the content; (6) software which automatically creates an archive every quarter, providing the proper basis for scholarly citation; and (7) mirror sites at universities in other parts of the world, which provide faster access to readers worldwide, provide access when the Stanford server is down for maintenance, and safeguard the digital content as extra backups. The SEP’s publishing model therefore has the ability to deliver, with very low administrative and production costs, quality content meeting the highest of academic standards via a medium that is universally accessible.

Few dynamic reference works have been built to the specifications described in the previous paragraph. Most of the other encyclopedia projects available on the web lack some of the dynamic and scholarly features of the SEP. Either they (a) are costly and behind a subscription wall, invisible to search engines and so not as useful to academics and the general public; or (b) don’t have an administrative system capable of screening new entries and updates prior to publication and ensuring that entries are responsive to new research, or (c) don’t allow the authors/editors to directly contact the server to update/referee the content of the entries; or (d) lack a system of archives for stable, scholarly citation (thus, when entries change, the old content is just lost, and any citations to, or quotations from, prior content become impossible to verify), or (e) lack a university-based Advisory Board to vet the members of its Editorial Board.

The SEP’s model may therefore represent a unique digital library concept: a scholarly dynamic reference work. A scholarly dynamic reference work differs from an academic journal, for academic journals (1) do not typically update the articles they publish, (2) do not aim to publish articles on a comprehensive set of topics, but rather, for the most part, publish articles that are randomly submitted by the members of the profession, (3) do not aim to cross-reference and create links among the concepts used in the articles they publish, (4) typically serve a narrow audience of specialists, and (5) do not have to deal with the asynchronous activity of updating, refereeing, and tracking separate deadlines for entries, since they are published on a synchronized schedule. Moreover, our reference work differs from preprint exchanges, for the latter not only exhibit features (1), (2), (3), and (4) just mentioned, but also do not referee their publications and so need not incorporate a work-flow system that handles the asynchronous refereeing process that occurs between upload and publication in a dynamic reference work. None of this is to say that electronic journals and preprint exchanges have a faulty design, but rather that a scholarly dynamic reference work is a distinctive new kind of publication that represents a unique digital library concept.


The SEP project began in September 1995 when John Perry was the Director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI). Perry’s suggestion that CSLI enhance its web presence by creating a (static) online dictionary of philosophy was taken up by Edward N. Zalta, who developed the idea into that of a dynamic reference work.  Zalta then started designing the SEP to be an online encyclopedia that would satisfy the highest academic standards. After two years of support from CSLI, our prototype became a proof of concept that earned the first of a series of successful grant applications. (See [History of Grants]) The addition of Colin Allen and Uri Nodelman to the project in 1998 resulted in significant enhancements to the design and implementation of our new academic publishing model. They introduced browser-based file-upload, workflow principles that categorized the state of every entry and possible state transitions, remote HTML editing, an engine which compares an original and revised entry side-by-side in the browser with the differences highlighted, etc. Paul Daniell programmed/developed the new search engine that the SEP brought online in September 2006.

 See The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, About.

(Emphasis added)