3.500 e-texts in philosophy (121)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 26 Sep 89 21:12:33 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 500. Tuesday, 26 Sep 1989.

Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 01:00:00 EDT
From: "David Owen, Philosophy, University of Arizona" <OWEN@rvax.ccit.arizona.
Subject: Electronic Texts in Philosophy

Electronic Texts and the History of Early Modern Philosophy
David Owen, University of Arizona

In the summer of 1989, Oxford Electronic Publishing, a division of
Oxford University Press, announced as forthcoming in the spring of
1990, the publication in machine-readable form of the revised
Selby-Bigge editions of Hume's <Treatise> and <Enquiries>. The price
will be around 100 pounds sterling, though discounts will be available for
members of some organizations, as will site licenses. The texts will
be available in both IBM and Mac formats, and will be held in plain
ASCII with minimal markup. The project was initiated by Geoffrey
Sayre-McCord, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who
also did the scanning. The release of these texts is most welcome,
and comes after some years of uncertainty among those scholars in the
history of early modern philosophy about the status of proposed (and
perhaps actual) electronic versions of the Selby-Bigge Hume. If I
scanned a copy of the Selby-Bigge <Treatise>, or even a portion of
it, for my own use, would I be in any copyright violation? Would it
differ from making a photocopy so that I could use the wider margins
for textual notes? Could I pass a copy of the resultant electronic
text on to friends for no charge, or perhaps charging only for the
"added value"? With the release of these texts by OUP, all these
issues become moot, at least insofar as the Selby-Bigge Hume is

There is some possibility that OUP may release as well a straight
ASCII version of the fourth edition of Locke's <Essay Concerning
Human Understanding>, edited by Nidditch. This project was initiated
by Richard Malpas, of Oxford University, who wanted the text
available online for study by Oxford philosophy undergraduates. The
text was scanned by the Oxford University Computing Services. The
release of this text is much desired by Locke scholars, and is likely
to whet their appetite for something more substantial. The printed
Nidditch edition, though using the fourth edition as the base text,
contains all the variants from the first through the fifth edition,
and is thus an invaluable tool for Locke scholars. The possible
release of the straight fourth edition raises the question, when can
we have an electronic version that contains all the variants in
Nidditch? The problems here transcend the technical problems of
scanning and the legal problems of copyright. It is a comparatively
simple matter to create a straight ASCII text of a single edition.
But how to encode the variants from five editions? Not only is there
little agreement on how to flag the variants, there is the thorny
conceptual problem of how to structure the electronic text so as to
include all the variants. The result will not be a simple text, but a
complex textual database. The Text Encoding Initiative, sponsored by
the Association for Computing and the Humanities and the National
Endowment for the Humanities is addressing these issues, but it will
be sometime before they are resolved.

Similar issues arise with respect to Hume. Under the editorship of
David Norton, Tom Beauchamp and Sandy Stewart, Princeton University
Press will publish the first critical edition of Hume's works. The
<Treatise>, the two <Enquiries> and the <Dialogues Concerning Natural
Religion> are well under way. Naturally enough, those working on
these editions are using computer tools. So by the time Princeton
publishes the printed critical editions, electronic versions of those
texts will already be in existence. One can only hope that the
electronic versions will be released at the same time as the printed
versions, but such a move would be unprecedented and publishers are
understandably nervous about its effect on book sales. In my opinion,
the co-release of electronic and printed versions would enhance
rather than detract from book sales. Anyone who has spent any time in
front of a computer screen will agree that that is not the way one
reads a book! Princeton will need encouragement from all scholars in
the area.

In another development, Mark Rooks, of Context Editions, Route 2, Box
383, Pittsboro, NC 27312 (919-542-4411) has announced the release on
November 1, 1989, of electronic versions of the works of Locke,
Berkeley and Hume, with those of Hobbes and Mill following within the
month. Context is using public domain texts to avoid copyright
problems, and is bundling the texts with Folio Views text searching
software. The price is astonishing. Context plans to charge $39.95
for the works of the first philosopher ordered, and $29.95 for
subsequent philosophers. The works of Hume, for instance, will
include the <Treatise>, the <Enquiries>, the <Dialogues>, the
<Essays> and the <Natural History of Religion>. And the package of
disks received will include the software to search those texts once
installed on a hard disk. Context has done their own scanning and
proof reading, and all the texts are already indexed for use with the
searching software. The minimum configuration required is an IBM PC
compatible with 512K RAM and a hard disk. For $100, one could have
electronic access to all the main texts of Locke, Berkeley and Hume.

A year or two ago, I would have disapproved of Context's effort. Why
use antiquated and possibly corrupt texts when the REAL thing will
soon be available? On reflection, the answer is obvious. Context's
texts are available now, and they are affordable. An antiquated text
on one's computer and a copy of Selby-Bigge in hand is a better
alternative to Selby-Bigge in hand on its own. Scholars will probably
buy Context's offering now, Oxford's Selby-Bigge next spring, and
Princeton's critical edition as soon as it is available. Others will
buy nothing but Context, or just Selby-Bigge. The point is that three
different electronic versions of Hume or Locke, with wide price
differentials, will appeal to different markets with different
purposes. Perhaps teachers will use the Context editions for
classroom use. There are many who will buy the Context editions at
$39.95 who would think twice about paying 100 pounds sterling for OUP's
Selby-Bigge edition. But having bought it, perhaps they will become
convinced of the value of text processing and go on to buy the
Selby-Bigge version, or even the Princeton one when, and if, it
appears. One thing is sure; the availability of electronic texts in
philosophy is likely to change the habits of philosophers in the
1990's as much as the availability of word processing did in the

David Owen, September, 1989