Over on usuphilosophy.com (another blog I manage), an interesting discussion came up over whether blogs are useful for philosophical discussions. One contributor doesn’t think so, for the following line of reasoning (in my words, not his):
A philosophical discussion requires (1) a large overlap of agreement, (2) a focus on a particular unresolved question, with that agreement in the background, and (3) time and patience to hear out the arguments and respond intelligently. But blogs usually fail at all three. People from all perspectives often dive in, challenging the background assumptions, softening the focus, and responding quickly with their first thoughts. Hence, though “blogologues” might be good at stirring up initial interest, they really are no substitute for a genuine philosophical dialogue.
I think there is something to this. (And, first off, let’s set aside how funny it might seem to be discussing this very topic in a blog. Just raising an issue does not count as genuine philosophical discussion of it.) Blogs really don’t have the weight or value of more carefully prepared essays or lectures, combined with carefully prepared rebuttals or replies.
But I think of blogologues as coming to take the place of a venue that is fast disappearing: intellectual discussions once found in bars, coffee houses, or (a long time ago) salons or (even longer) agoras. I’m not putting a lot of weight on “intellectual”; basically, I just mean anything more than the weather, sports, celebrities, or events in personal lives. It’s pretty hard nowadays to get into a discussion of the nature of democracy, or whether art has a social responsibility, or if humans ever really know anything, etc. I find that if I do manage to introduce such a question, the discussion quickly veers to where we can find good sales on shoes or some other damn thing.
Blogs can at least provide a venue for people who want some level of discussion of interesting things. Granted, the discussions are often aimless and free of any resolution. Hell, that’s okay; that’s more or less what I expect from a conversation in a bar. The talking just stirs up the head, and might free up an idea or two that is worth pursuing, for a bit. And it is entertaining.
A couple of sites I’ve visited sometimes resemble the worst part of bar conversations. Know-nothing know-it-alls hang out and piss on everybody. Goofs try to derail what was beginning to get interesting. Drunks get nasty. But, really, all of that is a price to pay when strangers strike up a conversation in a public place. We all have to just put up with it.
So there’s nothing wrong with blogologuing, so long as no one treats it as a substitute for more constructive philosophical dialogue, or for reading/writing works of philosophy. I need to heed my own advice here!