Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Online philosophy

If web links are, as I suggest, a tool with (potentially) a genuinely philosophical pertinence, a way of dramatizing the interconnections between one discourse and another, I have to confess a certain reticence about them too. Like any technological convenience, they bear as much chance of being a drag on or distraction from thinking, as they have of being a asset to it. Socrates tells Phaedrus that the Egyptian king greeted the invention of writing with fairly mixed reviews; far from being an aid to memory, he warned, it will cause memory to wither. I don't want to get into the Platonic case against writing in this post--it's the matter for a very complex argument I might make in a series on the reconstruction of the evolution of consciousness; but I think the warnings Plato offers--or rather, that he has Socrates put into the mouth of Thamus the king--are certainly well-taken as regards the web. Whatever their (considerable) upside, weblinks themselves are also all too easily a mere distraction, or a gimmick, and can scatter the reader's attention, or merely spread one's own discourse out into a sort of horizontal pool, without making it any deeper. As you may have noticed, I've included no links at all yet in my posts (though I may go back and add some retroactively); I'm still weighing how to use them. Links can make us more aware of the "unity of knowledge," or they might merely be a game that does not occasion thought.

Another side to the question of the Web is community. The community offered by the Web is a new sort, and woe betide us if we mistake it for the old-fashioned, face-to-face, nextdoor-neighbor kind. Aside from the questions it occasions about privacy, property, and propaganda (if I may be permitted an abuse of p's)--questions philosophers ought to weigh in on precisely as philosophers--it can hardly be denied that entirely different mores of communication have evolved online, from a nigh-Orwellian Textspeak to a virtual epistolary renaissance.

The most visible trend currently in philosophy online is the work of the so-called Speculative Realists and their fellow-travelers. These thinkers have embraced the web as a tool for philosophical trend-making, at least, and (I would argue) for considerably more. I have some points of difference with any of them, naturally, but I'll make some of that the matter for further posts. As for their use of online media, it was probably inevitable that some would see it as a savvy move, while others would dismiss it as careerist maneuvering. Since I have no stake in the matter, I prefer to simply read their work and wrestle with it. But here again Plato's point is worth heeding: the new technology won't do the work for you. It's an opportunity (and a challenge), with nothing magic about it, and the very things you think of as perks might turn out to be the biggest liabilities.

I might add that the Platonic critique of writing is the beginning of the Heideggerian critique of technology, and gives the lie to any construal of Heidegger (including, say, his own) that makes him the arch-opponent of "platonism."

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