Decoding British Empiricism: A Distant Reading of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume

  • Author / Creator
    Bradshaw, Jason R.
  • In a world inundated with information that is becoming increasingly more digital by the day there is value in unique academic disciplines that can make sense of this new landscape—interdisciplinary fields like the Digital Humanities (DH). DH scholars have the ability to breach the divide between the traditional physical objects of study found within academia and the digital artifacts that are quickly becoming present reality. The field can provide a degree of clarity in these uncertain times and has already given insight into many of the texts that circulate throughout the modern world. Textual analysis techniques have allowed researchers to probe the depths of literature and the masses of user generated content from popular social media sites. Large amounts of text to analyze are by no means a difficult thing to come by in the age of information. However, this interdisciplinary field has often neglected an ancient academic practice with a wealth of textual content and a substantial amount of close reading—Philosophy. This alone is grounds for the following research questions: Why is philosophical source material underrepresented in DH, how can methods be established that yield important results from classical philosophy, and what can textual analysis methods reveal about classical philosophical literature?
    Using established textual analysis techniques, this research introduces a sampling of classical philosophical literature to the 21st century. By analyzing the work of three of the founding philosophers of the school of British empirical thought (John Locke, David Hume, and George Berkeley), it is shown that the addition of a distant reading to the discussion can provide a deeper understanding of this source material than a close reading alone. These quantitative text analysis methods can either prove or disprove some of the assumptions made by academics in the field, as well as open up new avenues of research.
    This has been accomplished by running the texts through the following three techniques: a Lexical Richness Index (LRI), Topic Modelling, and a Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA).
    The results speak to the capabilities of using such techniques on philosophical sources, but the method established herein does much more than just that. It shows that philosophy cannot only be treated as a source for distant reading, but also as a framework. Philosophical concepts readily lend themselves to DH analyses, and this is certainly true of the British empiricists. This school of philosophy helped to form the foundations of rigorous, hard scientific investigation, much like how DH distant readers apply computational analysis to their own source materials. Additionally, the analysis takes the shape of a tool for further research into this area. All of the code has been made available in a GitHub repository for future researchers to download and repurpose for their own projects. The British empiricist corpus, as well as the results, are also freely available for those who would continue to pursue how these two disciplines function together.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
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