I can never post at the same blog twice

Fri 11 Jan 2008 05:12 PM

In the comments at Brian Leiter's blog, several of us have been discussing what it means for the profession that so many philosophy papers are available for download. David Velleman writes:

The recent trend toward conducting philosophy in ephemeral venues such as blogs and online postings, without entering it into the permanent published record, will have the result that future ages will view us the way we view some of the Presocratics. To the twenty-second century, twenty-first century philosophers will appear the way Heraclitus does to us -- as only barely accessible, through fragments gleaned from secondary sources.

This seems overblown to me.

We still publish. There are some exchanges that occur just in online fora, but anything of substance eventually surfaces in a published paper or a book eventually. Conversely, it is not as if philosophers before the internet published everything they ever said or thought. A great deal of philosophy got done face-to-face. In "Three Indeterminacies", for example, Quine discusses and responds to arguments raised by various critics at an invitation-only, closed-door conference on his philosophy.

Also, a great deal of philosophy has occurred as correspondence. Some important letters are eventually published, but others exist only in archives. Arguably, blog postings will survive about as well as letters have. Some important posts will be lost, but there will be a great deal of documentation available for future historians to reckon with.

I guess this might make some posts analogous to the ancient sources that we only know about because they are mentioned in some text that survives. Imagine that in 2108 there are no longer any surviving copies of comment threads at the Leiter Reports, but that copies of Footnotes on Epicycles survive on a server at the Vatican. I quoted a single paragraph of Velleman's comments, and so 22nd-century philosophers know something of his argument. They are unable to recover the context, however, and can only guess as to whether I have situated his remarks fairly or not.