Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New Guest: Introduction

Hello all. I am Michael Bycroft and I am lucky enough to be a guest poster on Philosophy Etcetera. In this post I want first to introduce myself and then to say what I intend to do in my short time on this blog. If I can do the first without boring anyone, and the second without sounding too much like a schooolteacher, I’ll consider it a job well done.

In the world of blog comments, I am Mike B. In the world of blog authorship I am the person who maintains New Leaves, a young blog with haphazard ambitions. For information about my blogging in general, here is a good place to go. For information about what sort of philosophy I intend to put on my blog, and why I bother with philosophy at all, follow the links.

In my guest posts I want to make the most of the features of blogging in general, and philosophy blogging in particular, that make those activities distinctive and worthwhile (and which I think make this particular blog especially distinctive and worthwhile). I refer especially to three such features (Other people will have other ideas. Here are some of Richard’s thoughts on the matter, for example). First, the interconnectedness that blogging facilitates. A link is easy to create and even easier to follow: it lends itself to a network of references that has all the advantages of traditional referencing and few of the traditional hassles. This system connects different writers, but it also connects the various elements in the writings of any particular author; and the latter is especially useful for a discipline like Philosophy, were any one post is likely to rely on other posts for the soundness and intelligibility of its reasoning.

By encouraging the habit of linking with other writers, I do not mean just to discourage plagiarism. Intellectual honesty obliges us to avoid the unacknowledged duplication of other people’s work. Intellectual ambitiousness, however, obliges us to go further than just avoiding redundancy in a writing community: it also obliges us to avoid the fragmentation of that community, the disorder and stagnation that would occur if everyone wrote honestly but in isolation from one another. So blogging resists fragmentation by making linking easy: I want to take advantage of this feature of blogging, mainly by referring back to posts that have appeared previously on this blog.

I also hope to take advantage of the communal discussions that are facilitated by this medium. Other people have said a lot about how useful this facility is, in intellectual activity in general and in philosophical activity in particular. Here I just want to underline this usefulness by pointing out some of the advantages of the written medium over the verbal medium: the former is not as susceptible to the latter to being handicapped by unhelpful interruptions, whether those interruptions be too long, too peripheral in their subject matter, or too rude in their tone; the former is more permanent, meaning that past contributions can be easily returned to for the sake of further scrutiny or clarification; and the former lends itself to less hasty, more carefully worded contributions than the latter does. I will try to make the most of this feature of blogging by writing some “discussion questions” at the end of each post (I think that this practice is in danger of being patronising and school-teacherish, suggesting as it does that readers cannot ask questions for themselves. But I think it could also be a helpful practice, so I’ll try it out and see how it goes.)

The third feature of blogging that I want to highlight here is its openness; I mean its openness to contributions from anyone who has a bit of spare time and internet access. This openness means that by commenting on this blog, or on a number of other blogs, I immediately gain the attention of a wide range of different people, from those who have devoted their working lives to the discipline of philosophy, and who can answer hard questions (or at least can eliminate bad answers); to those who are merely curious. This strikes me as a wonderfully civilised state of affairs. (This is not an original thought, of course. Hopefully the Carnival of Citizens or something like it has a long and busy life, along with the ideal of open, intelligent inquiry upon which it is based.) And this state of affairs is especially appealing to people such as myself, people who do not have the time or the ability to live a life of philosophy, but who nevertheless wish to live a philosophical life (more about this approach to philosophy over here).

So much for my thoughts on blogging in general. This is probably also a good place to say something more specific about the content of my guest posts. Those posts will all deal with Educational themes, though not necessarily with themes from the Philosophy of Education. I can see two problems with this choice of content. First, that it may not be sufficiently philosophical for this blog. I take it that the Philosophy of Education has at the best of times an awkward relation to the rest of Philosophy: it is like the Philosophy of History, a discipline of dubious parentage, an intellectual half-caste that is either ignored by pure-bred Metaphysics and sturdy Epistemology and the good son Ethics, or lightly humoured by them. My defense is that Education is a highly valuable discipline, even if it is unclear were it stands with Philosophy; and also that Education has been discussed quite earnestly on this blog before (all such discussions on the topic can be found here. I will refer to particular discussions from that set as I go along.)

The second problem is that I am not, and never have been, a schoolteacher. My hope is that I have a reasonable idea of which educational questions can and cannot be competently asked and answered by a person who does not have such experience. But I will no doubt slip up in some places, partly because the distinction between the two is in fact fuzzy, and partly because I don’t have a very clear view of it. I apologize in advance to any schoolteachers out there who are more well-equipped than I to answer some of the questions I will put forward; and invite them to take advantage of the second of the three qualities of blogging mentioned above, and set me right.

That should do by way of an introduction, except to say that my next three posts will be a series entitled “Teaching as an Ideal.” The first of these three posts will be pretty ponderous, but the posts should get shorter as I go on. Thanks for reading.


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