Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Pet Peeve: sullen silence

One problem with blogging as a medium for philosophical exchange is that it's so easy to simply ignore your interlocuter -- even when they solidly refute your arguments! Sometimes one might simply tire of the debate, of course, and fair enough. And sometimes one may intend to respond later, but just never get around to it. Such silences are not so bad, though it might be more considerate to inform one's discussion partner of the explanation. But other times it seems like the blogger just doesn't want to acknowledge their mistake. (A few even refuse to acknowledge my emails when I politely inform them of a post of mine which responds to their claims.) And that seems awfully immature.

Anyway, for sake of promoting intellectual honesty, I'd like to invite any miffed readers to remind me -- in comments here or by email -- of any "silences" on my part that they'd like addressed. I do try to acknowledge when readers aptly identify flaws in my posts (which are to be expected fairly often on a blog, after all!), but I may have missed some, in which case I'd like to set that right.

(Note that in some cases I might continue to disagree despite not wishing to continue the debate. I count that as an intellectually honest explanation (assuming I could present adequate reasons for the disagreement if pressed), and you'll have to be satisfied with that.)

As for others, I'm half tempted to write up a short list of "silences" I'd like filled. Would that be insufferably rude of me, do you think? I wouldn't presume that all are of the blameworthy sort, of course. Most would probably be of the "tired of that debate" sort. Still, it'd be nice to know. And if presented in recognition of this, i.e. as a "friendly reminder" rather than an accusation, then I don't imagine that those mentioned should mind too much. If they were to pick up on the practice themselves, it might become a regular feature of the deliberative blogosphere, an accepted and useful way to track the dialectic, provide 'closure' for "tired" exchanges, and promote norms of intellectual honesty. What do you think?


  1. I dunno, I kind of like that ability in the internet. A lot of discussions have a tendency to degenerate into a foot-stomping assertion of fundamental intuitions where, in real life, tempers flare. On the internet, you can just leave.

    Maybe this is another category of acceptable silences. You have just decided that debate is no longer useful.

    Then again, it seems really quite unfair if you get your parting insult in and then throw your hands up, like when you tag someone and call quitsies.

  2. Oh, certainly. I meant to include that under the general "tired of this debate" category.

  3. There is also a qyestin regarding why it degenerates into a foot-stomping assertion of fundamental intuitions.

  4. Timothy J Scriven3:20 am, May 14, 2006

    I've got to say I'm cynical. People are likely to use such an opportunity as just another polemical weapon, in my experience when internet exchanges stop it's often, even usually a blessing even if one party or both don't realise it. And besides they usually start up again on another thread in a couple of days or even less. I’m involved in ( mainly as an observer but sometimes as a participant) debates over literary theory, postmodernism and the comparative worth of analytic and continental philosophy. Any progress in the debate ( and I am pleased to say progress is regularly made even if only incrementally) is usually made near the start or in the middle of the thread. Not that I am suggesting that there are not many discussions prematurely terminated, but on the whole it’s probably best to move on and wait till the next thread.

    One idea I have had for the community carnival is that of suggestion posts. In community carnival suggestion posts people could propose new initiatives ( new carnivals, new blogs, a reading club, whatever).

  5. I wonder if one could develop a system for impartial measurement. For example judging how much of their arguments when unaddressed. Rather like a judge in front of two lawyers.

    Or some sort of a summary of what we have learned from the debate like what I tried to do for the definition of "spam".

    I don’t think that requires expertise as much as impartiality.

    I have noticed in many debates (particularly political ones) one side will refute point after point of the other side and yet the other side will seem to see it as a draw or them winning (and in the worst cases repeat the things that have been disproved!).

  6. I should clarify that the point is not necessarily to restart stopped discussions. Most of the time they will have stopped for a reason. It's simply an invitation to clarify what that reason is. For example, here are a range of responses one might have to a critical comment:

    1) Agree with it / concede the point.
    2) Disagree and explain why, continuing the dialogue.
    3) Disagree with it, but end the dialogue.

    The problem with unexplained silences is that they can be ambiguous between 1 and 3. And if you've gone to the effort of discussing an issue with someone, it'd be nice for them to at least clarify whether they agree with your claims or not, if this isn't clear. (Sometimes it is clear, or unimportant, so - thankfully - a blogger doesn't always need to respond to every single comment.)

    It wouldn't be much of a "weapon", because the target can always simply explain "it's case #3!" (or #1, as the case may be) and thereby remove themselves from your crosshairs.

  7. (I'd also add that most of the cases I have in mind are indeed at the beginning of a discussion, say where another blogger just completely ignores my response to them. So there would seem plenty of room left for progress there!)

  8. G. - I like the idea of trying to offer an impartial summary of the dialectic. This can be achieved informally by the participants themselves, as the "spam" discussion illustrates. But perhaps a more systematic approach could work better. I'll add a comment to the 'deliberative carnival' discussion exploring one possibility for this.

  9. It might be a little petulant to go around pointing out all of the people who have failed to respond to you. I'm highly doubtful that it will bring about your desired results. You might consider that people may not respond because they simply don't like your rhetoric. For example calling the silence sullen casts a pejorative disposition on your would be interlocutors. So far you've accused me of begging the question, being rude, and now sullen. I'm largely unmoved by these accusations, but they aren't the kinds of claims that are likely to engender the good will of your disputants. It might also be the case that some don't feel that your posts or comments merit a response. All this is point out that your post doesn't reflect the possibility that it might not be something about all of us, but something about you.

    For the record I still disagree on our open question, and I still intend to get around to responding. In making your list consider that some of us might have a lot of outside responsibilities that take us away from being able to respond in a fast time frame. For example I have a wife and child, grading and lectures for two courses, a thesis to write, graduation with all the attending family, etc. So, responding to you comes in low on the hierarchy of things that need to be done.

  10. Matthew, there's no question that it could be done in a "petulant" way. But it needn't be so. At least, there doesn't seem anything essentially petulant about the sort of "invitation to dialogue" that I've proposed here. Like I said, I think if universally adopted it could be a useful way to track the dialectic and generally promote the reasoned exchange of ideas. But I don't expect to go ahead with the idea alone, and I was only ever "half tempted" to begin with. Having said that, my offer certainly remains open to any readers who would like to question me here.

    As for the personal issues you raise, I'm puzzled by your perception that I've somehow slurred you.

    1) Back at the Missouri post, I politely explained that your response to me "effectively beg[ged] the question by presupposing Lewis’ indexical analysis of ‘actual’", when Lewis' analysis of our modal concepts was precisely at question. This is a dialectical diagnosis (and a fairly widely accepted one, see e.g. Chihara), not a personal attack. I'm not sure how I can argue with you if I'm not allowed to point out where I think you/Lewis have made a mistake.

    2) In my follow-up post, I mentioned that my quoted explication was in response to your "slightly rude dismissal". Alas, I should've recalled how notoriously difficult it is to communicate tone in this medium. Perhaps my mock indignation would've worked better if it were more over-the-top. In any case, I wasn't entirely serious. (Is there an emoticon for a raised eyebrow and bemused grin?) (Though, for the record, I do in fact think your brisk dismissal of my argument as "very poor" was ill thought out. As I hope my subsequent response made clear, there is a reasonable argument being made here. You might not agree with it, but it's not totally stupid, so there is a sense in which it's "slightly rude" to imply otherwise!)

    Though I must say that both ignoring my polite email, and some aspects of your above comment, strike me as genuine instances of rudeness. It's not the end of the world, of course. But still: rude.

    3) I never accused you of being "sullen". This post was not about anyone in particular (it certainly didn't name any names), and I even suggest that most of the silence-instances I have in mind would not be of the "blameworthy" (i.e. sullen) variety. I had in fact suspended judgment about your particular case, expecting that you were likely busy with other things, though I found it a little suspicious that you wouldn't reply to my email. (A quick "Ta, I hope to respond when I have time" would've done the trick, and cost you a fraction of the time you've just spent publically implying that I'm a terrible person who doesn't even "merit a response"!)

    But oh well. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the modality discussion.


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