This article is an account of an electronic discussion which took place between November 1995 and June 1996. A number of specialists in relevant research areas had been invited to take part in the discussion from the very beginning, and some were added later. Altogether 30 individuals subscribed to the list. The ``target paper,'' written by Allen Renear, was sent to the list on November 27, 1995. The target paper alone comprised 8,500 words. The ensuing discussion, to which 9 of the members on the list made one or more individual contributions, comprises 30 entries of altogether 37,000 words. It is the function of this printed article to provide a brief summary and a key to the full electronic discussion which accompanies it.
There are quite a number of things that might be discussed under the heading ``Philosophy and Electronic Publishing.'' For instance there are issues related to how computers, networks, and software can support scholarly collaboration and publishing within the philosophical community. However, this discussion does not take up these topics but focuses on a topic in the philosophy of electronic publishing, pursuing a particular set of philosophical issues that have emerged from within the electronic publishing community.
The issues in question concern the nature of text and those parts of texts, or features of texts, which are identified as important by the designers of text processing systems and other practitioners concerned with the representation of text on the computer, such as scholarly editors and systems analysts. The natural history of these discussions is a case study in theory construction and reveals engineers, systems analysts and scholarly editors to be concerned with practical problems which raise philosophical issues. The course of this theory construction is a familiar philosophical dialectic from a kind of Platonism, through a more pluralistic Realism, to pragmatic Constructivism. The philosophical topics raised include the boundary between philosophical and scientific ontology, the nature of classification and natural kind terms, and Realism and Antirealism. The ensuing discussion in the electronic discussion group continued to evolve these arguments, mostly commenting directly on the target paper, but also commenting on an alternative theory introduced by Selmer Bringsjord, the so-called ``JoPP'' proposal.