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Philosophy: How to find books

The Philosophy Research Guide provides resources and strategies for all areas and periods in philosophy, including subject headings for searching Orbis and links to online books.

How do Find Philosophy Books

What's Here

Philosophy covers a broad range of subjects, so there's not just one way to find books in Orbis (the Library's online catalog).  This page explains some of the strategies and things to watch out for.

This page only covers subject headings with the word "philosophy" in it.  But there are lots of other philosophy-related subject headings, such as "phenomenology" and "materialism."  You'll find further information and guidance in the Research Topics pages.

There's a lot of information on this page, but as a lover of knowledge (philosophos), I know you want it!

Subjects, Subheadings and Cross-References

Subject headings bring together books on a similar topic under a single term (just as in the Yellow Pages, "Doctors" are listed under "Physicians").  That's the theory, in any case -- in practice it's not quite so simple.

Search for "philosophy" as a subject in Orbis (the link will do that for you in a separate browser window or tab).  You'll see that thousands of titles are listed just for the subject heading of Philosophy.

In addition, underneath Philosophy you'll see numerous subheadings, like:

In general, the titles with these subheadings are not included in the main heading -- cataloging normally includes only the most specific subject(s).

Also, just to the left of "Philosophy" there's a "More Info" button.  If you click that, you'll get a lengthy list of cross-references to narrower terms like:

Other headings might be less intuitive, such as:

The last, incidentally, is a subheading under "Comprehension."


Philosophy's Connections to Other Topics

In the list of cross-references, you'll find subject headings like

These pertain to relationships between the two topics.  It is not an exhaustive list.  For example, here are two real subject headings that aren't on the list:

You can often guess how a subject heading on the relationship between philosophy and another topic should look.

Philosophy can also be a subtopic or aspect of a subject.  Most of the time the subject will have a subject heading in the following format:

Sometimes you can find such entries by browsing a subject heading.

It's not always clear when something is a relationship between philosophy and another subject, and when philosophy is an aspect of a subject.  For example, both of these are subject headings:

The first should be the philosophy of communism, whereas the second should be the relationship between communism and philosophy generally.  In practice there may be some inconsistency.  "Communism," by the way, is the term used in the catalog for marxism, and sometimes "socialism" as well.  However, just to make sure everyone is utterly confused, there's also a heading "Philosophy, Marxist"!


How to Discover Good Subject Headings

Okay, by now I'll bet you're confused.  Don't worry, there are some ways to get leads on the best subject heading.  You can use a basic Keyword search, but that approach will probably lead to too many results.  By using Advanced Search, which is on the tab next to Simple Search in Orbis, you can get some control over the results.

The trick here is to narrow the Orbis search down to specific fields.  Most often this will be the Subject field.  But if you're completely unsure what the possible subject heading might be, you can try using the Title field.  Notice that, unlike what do you in Simple Search, you do not use the words AND or OR, or quotation marks to keep terms together as a phrase.  Instead, you use a dropdown box to implement these options.

For example, there is no subject heading for "analytic philosophy." (There's a cross-reference, but let's ignore that.) However, it's a fairly common term, so let's search for it as a phrase.  Your search should look like this: search for "Analytic philosophy," as a phrase, in the Title field.

When you perform this search, one of the titles you'll find is Analytic philosophy: an anthology, edited by A.P. Martinich and David Sosa. If you look at the full record, you'll discover that it has the subject heading "Analysis (Philosophy)."  You can click the link to get the list of all titles using that subject heading.

Keep in mind that the Advanced Search is a type of keyword search, which searches anywhere within the field.  So you can't make sure that a word is at the beginning of the subject heading or title, or that two words are together in a single subject heading.  So if two of your terms within the subject field are "history" and "philosophy," Orbis will retrieve both "History--Philosophy" (the philosophy of history) and "Philosophy--History" (the history of philosophy), along with hundreds of other headings. The more terms you can enter into your search, the narrower it will be.

Subject Guide

Colin McCaffrey's picture
Colin McCaffrey
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Subjects:Classics, Philosophy