• Phil Tanny
    An article with the clever title "Giving The Finger to the Philosophical Finger" was just published on the American Philosophical Association blog by Muhammad Ali Khalidi.

    The article by Khalid explores a particular aspect of philosophy conferences, the method for asking a question, and requesting the floor for a followup question.

    To ask a question you just raise your hand. Hey, I knew that one!

    The tricky bit apparently is the practice of raising a finger to indicate you'd like to have the floor to ask a followup question. Apparently this convention leads to some delicate diplomatic issues as various participants compete to have their voices heard.

    Khalidi's article got me wondering why philosophers use such an inefficient method of public conversation as public talks when online forums would seem to solve all the problems Khalidi is referring to, and so much more.

    So I submitted the following comment to the APA blog editors in the hope of encouraging further discussion of conversation mechanisms for philosophers.

    Comment To APA Blog

    Luckily there is a readily available solution to the conversation complications referred to by Khalidi in his article, online discussion forums.

    Most philosophers are articulate natural writers, or they wouldn't have gotten very far in the field. Also, many philosophers, this one included, are not naturally gifted with real world social skills. A text based environment seems a natural fit for many of us.


    Forums provide an opportunity to think before asking or answering a question. One is not required to engage on the spot in the heat of the moment, one can pause to reflect, think on it, sleep on it, write and rewrite. Generally speaking, on average, this process would seem likely to generate better questions and answers.

    A discussion on a forum can be very democratic and inclusive, as forums can provide unlimited time to everyone who is participating. There's no need to worry about time running out before one has the opportunity to engage. There's no need to raise the finger, and then have a debate about whose finger is legitimate. On a forum, if you want to say something, you just say it. And what you've said does not vanish in a moment, it remains said for years.

    A discussion on a forum can go on for months, instead of just an hour or two at a live event. This unlimited time creates a space for deeper investigations. And, as the discussion unfolds over an extended period it will usually attract new voices who can enrich the conversation with new perspectives.

    Forum discussions can be moderated, just like live events. This can solve the problem of the attendee who thinks every subject is a nail for their pet topic hammer (ok, ok, I plead guilty!) and moderation can pull the plug if personality conflicts start to undermine the conversation.

    Forum users don't even need to lose the face to face contact, as those more comfortable with speaking than writing can simply make their points in video, which is easily inserted in to a forum post.

    And obviously, forums are hyper convenient. If you want to participate during business hours, and I like to write at 3am, not a problem. You don't even have to comb your hair, just show up when you're ready, and engage.

    The primary problem with forums is a branding issue. Almost all the forums on the net use an "almost anybody can say almost anything" publishing model, which is a recipe for lowest common denominator content. Thus, intelligent people like philosophers are understandably wary of engaging in an environment which will almost surely be a waste of their time and talents.


    Luckily this problem has nothing to do with forum software, and is entirely a result of a forum owner's decision to prioritize quantity over quality. If a forum owner is serious enough about intelligent conversations to instead prioritize quality over quantity, forum software then becomes a solution to all the problems described above by Muhammad Ali Khalidi.

    As you can see, I'm quite passionate about online forums. I've been using them almost daily since they first arrived on the net, and even coded my own forum software from scratch awhile back when my nerdy nature became excessively enthusiastic. Readers who share a love of forums can click my name to see my latest forum project, whose goal is to address the only problem forums have ever had, a chronically poor publishing model.


    Thank you for allowing me to raise a finger to provide a followup addition to the article by Khalidi. Although blog software is quite limited in comparison to forum software, if the APA editor allows there's plenty of space on the APA blog for a conversation should that interest any reader.
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