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Social preamble (unphilosophical, but relevant)

1. Philosophy has for hundreds of years been pursued as a relatively solitary occupation. This has been augmented to a certain extent by the ability to discuss issues with colleagues who are geographically close, but for most philosophers, the number of immediate colleagues with similar interests is very small.

2. Communication by mail has been possible for many, but this is a slow and inefficient way to exchange ideas. The principal mode of exchange for many was to send out more-or-less finished papers, hoping for some comments.

3. Conferences were a way of meeting with larger numbers of people with similar ideas, but these are short-lived and more suitable for short-term exchanges about largely completed work.

4. Electronic communications have the advantage over all of these in that a) the number of colleagues is potentially equal to the number of people working in a field, b) they are essentially instantaneously, c) they can thus be used to collaboratively develop ideas and papers in a manner close to that possible in a face-to-face discussion, allowing input well before a penultimate draft, d) such exchanges can take place over a long period of time between large numbers of people.

5. These facts in turn have the following consequences:

(i) It is no longer particularly important where a philosopher is physically located. There are still significant differences in the areas of teaching loads, financial support, and the quality of students taught, but electronic communication is and will result in a democratisation of philosophy in that, coupled with the flow of talented people into less prestigious institutions because of the chronically depressed job market, the quality of philosophy will be less well correlated with the quality of the academic institution within which it is done, as will the evaluation of it by others.

(ii) Philosophy is likely to become more like many of the sciences, with more collaborative projects and papers. This will in turn require a re-evaluation of processes such as tenure and promotion, a fact that is already problematical in some of the sciences with large research teams. However, a countervailing influence is the enormously long tradition of a philosophy being a personal commitment that is rarely shared in toto by anyone else. This is surely not a necessary feature of philosophy. If viewed as the search for philosophical truths, this goal can be achieved more efficiently via collaboration, especially in technical areas. Moreover, almost every publication now acknowledges contributions of various kinds from others. In other fields, such contributors are accorded co-authorship, a policy not without its perils, but one that might serve as a guide for the future of philosophy.

(iii) Collaborative ventures need not give rise to a less critical examination of those ventures. With the way that philosophy is currently pursued, it is hard for many philosophers to separate their work from themselves, and attacks on their work are repulsed as though they are attacks on the philosopher. This has led to an unhealthy lack of constructive work in philosophy, with too many papers consisting in mere criticism of another philosopher's work, and dogged attempts by the attacked to preserve the entire content of the original work. At least within research teams, a common goal can result in a much higher degree of constructive endeavour, without losing the critical attitude that is essential to genuine progress.

(iv) National styles in philosophising may well be diminished and possibly erased by the free flow of ideas across borders. This will not be inevitable, because philosophers can always refuse to read writings from particular traditions, as they do now, but deviants from the national tradition will feel less isolated and better able to develop alternatives.

next up previous
Next: The Effects on Philosophy Up: Starter Paper Previous: Starter Paper

Fri Jul 25 22:00:35 MEST 1997