Winter is a good time for a bit of navel-gazing.  Blogging is an interesting medium of philosophical discourse; its virtues and vices, it seems to me at any rate, are considerably different from those of the more standard, tenure-relevant sorts of philosophical work.  Posts and comments have to be relatively short, making their points quickly and clearly, even vividly.  The medium doesn’t sustain narrow specialists very well.  It doesn’t allow the intense, in-depth kinds of argument that so many articles and book chapters engage in.  However, it also prevents the exploration of grand sweeping metaphysical worldviews.  All of which prompts the question, which great philosophers of the past would have made good bloggers?

My take, in rough historical order:

Socrates would have been a good blogger.  He might not have made any positive contributions, but he could raise a lot of interesting questions.  Plato would not have liked blogging, because he would have had to speak in his own voice. 

Aristotle would have been a great blogger.  Here’s a guy with opinions on everything under the sun and the ability to argue for them in a short space.  For the same reasons, Aquinas would have been a great blogger. 

It would have been fun to read Descartes’ blog—he’s a master at dealing with philosophical topics in a first-person voice—but Locke and Hume are too long-winded for the blogging medium. 

Kant, Hegel, and the other German idealists would have been abysmal bloggers. 

Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, with their acid wit and fondness for aphorism, would have made good bloggers.  Kierkegaard would not have made a good blogger unless he chose to run a one-man group blog, hosting debates between his different pseudonyms.  That might have been fun.

A group of erudite, literary early-20th-century British philosophers could have written a fabulous blog:  I have in mind Russell, Ayer, Austin, Ryle, and certain others.  They benefited from a style of education which is largely now extinct.  Peter Geach, Stuart Hampshire, and Alasdair MacIntyre are the last of that breed, and it is too bad they missed the chance to blog.  Of course, they might have thought it not worth their time.

In many ways, Wittgenstein’s work reads like a series of blog posts, but it would have been too puzzling to read.

Additions and corrections are invited.

3 Replies to “Philosopher Bloggers of the Past

  1. Having just re-read parts of Moore’s Ethics, I am strongly inclined to believe that, despite all his other fine qualities, he would have been a terrible blogger.

  2. In the style of the standard blog-comment: I totally agree, Sven.
    The MO of “ethics”, never to use a single poignant formulation of a thesis where a dozen will do, would indeed be badly suited for a blog. But then again, perhaps most bloggers are terrible bloggers and Moore would have fitted in just fine.

  3. My two cents, many times over:
    J.S. Mill perhaps could have a good blogger, since he wrote many short pieces, though by blog conventions they are too long.
    J.J. Rousseau would have been a poor blogger: long-winded and doesn’t often stay on topic.
    C.D. Broad would have made an good blogger: he keeps to the point and uses un-opulent language.
    A. Smith would also have been a good blogger, since he could be clear and terse.
    I think most of well-known (in the west) ancient Chinese philosophers would have been good bloggers, though many modern readers of blogs may not have had the patience for them. The Analects reads like a collection of blog posts.
    Helenistic stoics would have been good bloggers too.
    Cicero would have been an aweful blogger: way too many long sentences.
    Leibniz would have been a great blogger, though his posts would have been long-ish for blogs.
    Sidgwick would have been OK: he could deliver short crisp arguments.
    Heidegger would have been an atrocious blogger.
    Likewise for Fichte.
    Likewise for Merleau-Ponty.
    Likewise for Husserl.
    Berkeley would have been a good blogger: used plain english and could give short arguments.
    Likewise for Dewey.
    Alright, I can’t think of any others I’ve read enough of to comment on.

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