Right now, the main page has things organized by discipline. Now, a discipline is an area of study, and since humans study most everything, it makes sense that a list of disciplines would result in a list of starting-pages to most everything.
By contrast, on the Wikipedia arranged by topic, we will have listed such general subjects as beauty (philosophy) and landform (geology). So, rather than just sticking with Philosophy, we will have being, goodness, knowledge, and a number of other basic topics studied by philosophy.
The purpose of this classification scheme
Sometimes, people want to go straight to the content.
Sometimes, we (educated human beings) have trouble understanding what a topic is even about, and instead of reading about a discipline (i.e., a practice of studying a subject), we would rather read about the subjects that the discipline studies. If I'm a high school student, I might, for example, look at "physics" and have no idea of what physics is, and be turned off to the whole idea of clicking on physics. But if I look at mass, motion, relativity, etc., I might be more inclined to click through to one of those topics, and find out more about physics.
Human thought nearly always benefits from having vivid, clear examples. So this is a way of giving vivid, clear examples of what each subject studies.
How you can help: what to list among the subjects
Here are a few rules for selecting subjects (which I, Larry Sanger, hereby decree we follow, by the power vested in me as creator of this page :-) ):
- Select topics that are as general as possible. We don't want a long list of very specific topics (or a short list of completely arbitrarily-chosen topics). We want a relatively short list of the most general topics that are studied by the discipline in question.
- Do not list subject areas or subdisciplines. List what the subject areas or disciplines study. Don't list "ontology"; list "existence." Don't list "social psychology"; list "social behavior." Don't list "information theory"; list "information."
- In some disciplines, including history and literature, the above is going to be difficult, because names of disciplines are also subjects of disciplines ("British literature" is also used as the name of the academic discipline, the study of British literature). But try, anyway. For literature, you can always list novel, short story, and perhaps some of the most famous authors, like Shakespeare. For history, you could list World War II and other important wars, personages, and events.
- Under any given discipline, don't list more than, say, twenty topics.
- Don't try to be exhaustive. You can't be exhaustive within the constraints of this exercise. These are just starting-points. So if you have to be selective, try to choose topics that most experts would agree are either most important or (better) most general (without being names of subdisciplines!).
Philosophical and motivating considerations
One interesting consideration about this idea is that, as in the case of philosophy, very many (perhaps all) disciplines cannot really be regarded as the study of just one thing--i.e., probably, for no discipline there is no one general category, C, such that the subject studied by that discipline is accurate and exhaustively described as 'the study of C'. Therefore, Wikipedia arranged by topic would have to include many more entry points than the present HomePage does, in order to be (more or less directly) connected to the same material that the top-level discipline articles connect to.
This consideration was inspired in part by an article Nupedia's Zoology editor wrote about Zoology. I replied that it seemed to be a really wonderful article about animals, and that we ought to rename the article "Animal." She agreed. A different article, about the study of animals, will be written about Zoology. This then raised the question as to what the top-level article should be for Nupedia: "Animal" or "Zoology" (or even "Animalia")?
Of course, the issue arises here on Wikipedia as well.
[Any discussion? Replace this line with your discussion...]