Bibliometric analysis of two subdomains in philosophy: free will and sorites


In this study we tested the fruitfulness of advanced bibliometric methods for mapping subdomains in philosophy. The development of the number of publications on free will and sorites, the two subdomains treated in the study, over time was studied. We applied the cocitation approach to map the most cited publications, authors and journals, and we mapped frequently occurring terms, using a term co-occurrence approach. Both subdomains show a strong increase of publications in Web of Science. When we decomposed the publications by faculty, we could see an increase of free will publications also in social sciences, medicine and natural sciences. The multidisciplinary character of free will research was reflected in the cocitation analysis and in the term co-occurrence analysis: we found clusters/groups of cocited publications, authors and journals, and of co-occurring terms, representing philosophy as well as non-philosophical fields, such as neuroscience and physics. The corresponding analyses of sorites publications displayed a structure consisting of research themes rather than fields. All in all, both philosophers involved in this study acknowledge the validity of the various networks presented. Bibliometric mapping appears to provide an interesting tool for describing the cognitive orientation of a research field, not only in the natural and life sciences but also in philosophy, which this study shows.

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  1. 1.

    The two bibliometricians of the study did some preliminary analyses of FW publications, and they decided to ask a philosopher with expertise in FW to participate in the study as a domain expert. For SOR, one of the bibliometricians informed a university colleague and philosopher about the study, and this philosopher was asked to select a theme within the philosophy of language, the main interest of the philosopher, and to participate in the study as a domain expert.

  2. 2.

    See, for instance, Hoefer (2010, Section 4.4).

  3. 3.

    SOR is basically discussed within one faculty, namely Humanities.

  4. 4.

    We underline that the citing publications in this study (the publications in PFW and PSOR) exclusively are publications that occur as source items in Web of Science.

  5. 5.

    For author names and journal names, we intended to select the 50 most cited names. Due to ties, however, the number of selected author names is greater than 50.

  6. 6.

    To our knowledge, PPC was first applied, with respect to research publications, by Persson (1994).

  7. 7.

    For both PFW and PSOR, all records of the publications have a title. However, there are records that lack either an abstract or author keywords, or both.

  8. 8.

    Svedberg, however, requested information on which publications the small clusters of Fig. 3 contain. This information was given to her.


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We would like to thank an anonymous referee for various useful comments.

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Correspondence to Per Ahlgren.

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Ahlgren, P., Pagin, P., Persson, O. et al. Bibliometric analysis of two subdomains in philosophy: free will and sorites. Scientometrics 103, 47–73 (2015).

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  • Bibliometrics
  • Cocitation analysis
  • Free will
  • Mapping
  • Philosophy
  • Sorites