Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Daniel Dennett on Philosophy Blogs

Dennett wrote this brief essay as the judge of the 3 quarks daily prize in philosophy. Worth a read.


I wish philosophy blog postings were more like the best science blog postings: short, jargon-free, and lively (if wit is too much to hope for, as apparently it is). Philosophers emerge from a training in which their writing efforts are almost always addressed to a captive audience: the grader is obliged to read the student’s essay, however turgid and ungainly, because that is the student’s right; then later, the others in the field with whom one is engaged in intellectual combat are obliged to read one’s latest sally simply because scholarship demands it. “You don’t know the literature” if you haven’t managed to claw your way through the books and articles of the competition. Moreover, writing something that is somewhat challenging to read, or even unpleasantly difficult to slog through, is seen by some as an enviable sign of depth. It is, I fear, the only way many philosophers can prove to colleagues and students–and to themselves–that they are doing hard work worth a professor’s salary.

Blogs, one might think, would be the ideal antidote, since nobody has to read your blog (not yet–the day will soon come when keeping up with the latest blog debates is the first rule for aspiring philosophical quidnuncs.) Alas, however, it seems that there is a countervailing pressure–or absence of pressure–that dissipates the effect: the blog genre is celebrated as a casual, self-indulgent form of self-expression. Easy to write, but not always delicious reading. (Remember, I tell my students, it is the reader, not the writer, who is supposed to have the fun.)

It is hard to see how blogs could survive without Google. If you are interested in the problem of reference in property dualism, or Buddhist anticipations of virtue ethics, or whatever, you can swiftly find the small gang who share your interest, and join the conversation without having to go through the long initiation process that introduces the outside reader to the terms, the state of the art, the current controversy. That means, however, that those who don’t share that interest will find nothing to appeal to them on those websites.

9 comments:

Hanno said...

You talking to me?

ce said...

If you don't share the interest, why would you bother finding the blog in the first place?

Steve Gimbel said...

I concur with Dennett's contention that philosophy blogs need to be free of technical jargon because the foundational epistemological stance towards distributed knowledge structures in the academy, that discourse communities posses incommensurable language games, leads to nothing but intrinsic coherence at best. This follows primarily from the specialized lexicon. There is no doubt that we need to be rigorous in analysis and must set out necessary and sufficient conditions for explicated terms when required, but that the pragmatic element of the applications of these issues outside of the ivory tower may be largely, if not fully, carried out in ordinary language.

Hanno said...

heh

FJ said...

If you don't share the interest, why would you bother finding the blog in the first place?

You don't.

ce said...

OMG. I had absolutely no problem understanding SteveG at all. That totally made sense. All I did was nod at the end.

Something is seriously wrong with me. I need help.

Isn't there a care center for this sort of thing?

Josh said...

CE-

I think it is called graduate school. However, completion of the 7-step program often ends in poverty.

Krista said...

DD once again asserting that philosophy ought to be more like science. Shock. Surprise.

Anonymous said...

uh... 10x for style