Over on (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!

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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3 Responses to Blogologues

  1. Kleiner says:

    For all of the differences between philosophically inclined people (using that very broadly) and everyone else (I’ll call them the ‘hoi poloi’), this might be it:
    Philosophically inclined people think it is fun to sit around and talk about the nature of things (even if they often do so in a light-hearted “bar-room” way), while the hoi poloi do not. This can limit us. I think I have far fewer friends because of the way my philosophical interests infuse everything I think and do. I find it hard not to talk about the nature of things (recently I spent an hour with a friend trying to sort out the 4 causes of beer, so we could decide if Keystone Light was a “real beer”).

    I would just make this plea to our students – don’t forget that the best times in your life will not be online. My very best memories from college are the long conversations (often very lighthearted, sometimes not) that were infused with ‘intellectuality’ (using that broadly, like Huenemann). So find some philosophically inclined friends (they are out there) and go to a bar, a coffee shop, or just stay up late in a dorm room talking – in person – with each other.


  2. Doug says:

    Well I certainly hope that this comment, “Know-nothing know-it-alls hang out and piss on everybody. Goofs try to derail what was beginning to get interesting”, wasnt meant for me.

    I was not intending to rain on everyone’s parade, I was just concerned that some people that were blogging were becoming frequently upset, to the point that one discussion was closed. Then it seemed there was so much focus on what blogging cannot do, that what blogging can do for philosophy was really by-passed. There was no intention on my part to “piss on” or off anyone. I was simply stating my opinon as to why the forum was not as productive as it could be.


  3. Huenemann says:

    No, I didn’t intend to refer to anyone who’s commented on either usuphilosophy or huenemanniac. Other places!


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