I kind of think my own entry (which didn't make it into the finalists) was the right kind of thing (short, topical, etc), but probably needed a few more paragraphs to be really interesting.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. Tastes in philosophy are deeply idiosyncratic, of course, and one conviction driven home to me by reading through the finalists is that my own taste in philosophy marks me as an outlier, far from the mean, if these nine entries represent the cream of the crop as determined by some suitably diverse judges. Most of them did not draw me in—but then they were not meant for my eyes. So one must bear in mind that my choices may well tell much more about the vector of my eccentricity than about the relative merits of the candidates. Still, I’ve agreed to judge the finalists, and here are my decisions.
All three winners exhibit the sort of calm clarity that philosophers pride themselves in providing and so seldom do. They are well-organized, explicit and–unlike most of the also-rans–efficient in the use of language. (My estimate is that a good editor could compress each of the others by close to 50 percent without any loss of content, and a considerable gain in memorability.)
Philosophers as Writers and Bloggers
Announcing his selection of the three top blog entries in a "3 Quarks Daily" competition, Dennett adds this comment about philosophers as writers and bloggers. I couldn't agree more--