February 20, 2000
Misnomer: Plato would dig the web

[idea] Rebirth of the dialogue online

Reading this discussion, I was reminded of Platonic dialogues. Plato refused to write essays or books in the narrative sense, because he (more or less) believed that the process of arriving at an intellectual conclusion should be apparent in the communication of such a conclusion (e.g. justice is...). I find that to understand something online, it is often beneficial to read a discussion that takes place between informed individuals. In this sense, the web could represent a return of the dialogue as a a mode of intellectual documentation - as contrasted to the present, where discourse happens, but the results are communicated in essay format.

This has everything to do with the mediums used. It is cumbersome to hold a discussion via letters, so a good deal of discourse takes place orally, which does not transfer readily to paper. Furthermore, lengthy discussions take up a lot of printed space (in journals), so single-writer essay format usually is chosen over a verbatim transcript of a particular debate.

By contrast, email is effective in itself as a medium for discussion, and debates conducted via email lend themselves well to being published verbatim, since no transcription is required. Furthermore, the space limits of print media are nonexistant online, so the richness and sumblimity of discourse can be preserved.

Email discussion does differ from Socratic dialogues in that it isn't as structured or questioning of fundamental assumptions, but in the right conditions, it does lend itself to the critical advantage of the dialogue: it can guide the reader through all the steps taken to reach a conclusion; it lets everyone see (and question) the process.

Aaron Olson responds to the above piece. Looks like misnomer is getting more readers who aren't necessarily part of the weblog 'community'. This is cool.

Today's entry on Kottke.org inspired my new tagline. Not trying to mock anyone, "thinking about the box" just best describes what I do.

The search feature doesn't seem to be picking up misnomer yet. Question: will it automatically read all of my archives?

posted by dru in blog