Open Philosophy Textbooks

Since it’s open access week, and since I’ve been thinking about Open Educational Resources a fair bit lately, I thought I’d post briefly about the state of OER in philosophy.  First, what’s an OER?  It’s any kind of material that you can use in teaching and learning that is openly available.  Examples are syllabi, handouts, PowerPoint slides, videos, but especially, textbooks.  ‘Open’ in this context means: available under a license which allows the ‘five Rs of openness‘:

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content
  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Open textbooks are especially important, since textbooks are very costly.  That’s especially true of textbooks for first-year courses in large lecture courses in economics, psychology, etc., where textbooks often cost $200 or more.  In philosophy we (or better: our students) are better off, since people typically teach from primary sources, many of which are available in inexpensive editions (cf. especially Hackett) and even anthologies of ancient or modern philosophy are affordable by comparison. Logic and critical thinking are notable exceptions; here, too, the popular textbooks set students back $150 or more.

The Open Textbook movement is an important countervailing trend.  There are now high-quality, refereed textbooks for many subjects which are not only free to students but open in the sense of the 5Rs above. (See e.g., OpenStax, BCCampus Open, and the Open Textbook Library). This makes it possible to expand the range of offerings without having to write completely new texts. E.g., if an open text is missing coverage of a subject dear to your heart (or required by department policy, say), you can add material on that to an open textbook.

In philosophy, there isn’t much (yet).  But there isn’t nothing.

Modern Philosophy is an anthology of readings in modern philosophy, from Descartes to Kant. It was originally compiled by Walter Ott (University of Virginia) from texts in the public domain made available by Project Gutenberg. Alex Dunn (UCSB) has converted the textbook to Markdown, which makes it easily convertible to various formats.  It seems that following Ott’s move from Virginia Tech to UVA the original website disappeared, but (thank’s to the open license!) you can still read it online here and here, and download in various formats as well as buy a nice print copy on BC Campus Open. The source code to Dunn’s version is available on GitHub.

forall x: An Introduction to Formal Logic is a textbook by P. D. Magnus (SUNY Albany), written in LaTeX. The book’s available a PDF and LaTeX source from its homepage, but it’s also available on the BC Campus Open site for download and print. Like Modern Logic, BC Campus has faculty reviews for forall x.

An Introduction to Reasoning is a critical thinking textbook by Cathal Woods (Virginia Wesleyan College). It’s written in Google Docs, and so can be downloaded in Word, RTF, etc. formats. Additional exercises and answers are available to instructors by request.

forall x: The Lorain County Remix is a critical thinking and logic textbook by Rob “Helpy-Chalk” Loftis (Lorain County Community College). As the title indicates, it is a ‘remix’: a new book, which includes material from Wood’s critical reasoning text, material from Magnus’s formal logic text, plus the material from forall x has been rearranged, and exercises added. All this was possible because the other two texts were available under an open license. [Update: as Rob mentions in a comment below, he also added two entire chapters on categorical reasoning.]

Elements of Deductive Logic by Antony Eagle (Adelaide) is a complete textbook on intermediate logic, since recently available under an open license and with source code on GitHub!

That’s all I know of, as far as complete, open, textbooks of interest to philosophers is concerned.  There is the Open Logic Project, familiar to readers of this blog, but it’s not really a stand-alone textbook yet. There are also a few more free logic books, and Bryan Roberts (LSE) is working on an almost open textbook on the philosophy of science. (It’s only almost open because the license does not allow Revise and Remix.)  Let me know if you know of anything else.

PS: One way of getting more open philosophy textbooks would be for authors of existing textbooks to reclaim their copyright. This is possible for works for which copyright was transferred to a publisher in 1978 or later, and 35 after the rights were transferred.  If your textbook is out of print, the publisher may relinquish the rights if you ask.  Once you have your rights back, you can license your book under a Creative Commons license, and voilà, open textbook!

4 thoughts on “Open Philosophy Textbooks

  1. Hey, thanks for the shout out. People should also know that the Lorain County Remix contains two new chapters on categorical reasoning. They were my sabbatical project for the Fall of 14, and coverage of these topics is as complete as you find in Hurley, Baronett, or Copi et al.

  2. You may already have seen this, but the list at College Open Textbooks offers up a few additional titles (many web-based “textbooks”):

    For another near-text, I am a fan of the Critical Thinking Web, openly-licensed material maintained by Joe Lau at the University of Hong Kong.

    Last but not least, this document is close to four years old at this point and was created for particular use cases (building open online courses from OER but ALSO free-of-cost materials), but may have a few gems:

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