genre, form, method, medium

Soon I will be creating a page on this blog which shall hold a catalogue of digital philosophy software. “What is digital philosophy software?” you may very well ask. Well, let me tell you.

Digital philosophy software is software that goes beyond the normal or mainstream applications of information & communications technology (ICT) in the field of philosophy.

What is a mainstream application? The humble word processor would be one such example. What used to be pen & paper (& white-out) is now key & silicon (& backspace). The thing is, there’s nothing specific to philosophy here. All we’ve done is taken one method of working in medium A and translated it to medium B. In this case people the world over agree that medium B is so much better, hence the digital revolution.

Work-a-day philosophers are in the business of conceptual analysis, the analysis of concepts. There are two parts to this you’ll notice: the verb part and the noun part. This corresponds to reasoning and representation. First concepts must be represented (in the mind or on the page) before we can get around to reasoning about them. (Let’s ignore the learning of concepts for the moment.) Representation involves structure, reasoning involves method. Concepts refer to objects outside themselves, therefore structure bifurcates in twain: content and form. We can’t see or grasp the form of a concept when it is a mental entity but we can communicate it after a fashion and when it is spoken or written we grasp its form more readily. Symbolically as de Saussure observed form is unimportant, it is enough that we can distinguish concept X from concept Y in language L because their forms differ in context. Form is not completely arbitrary though because as Peirce observed signs may mirror or reflect their objects mimetically or point to them indicatively.

What are we left with? Different mediums (mental, oral, written, digital), different forms, different methods, different contents.

When thinking about concepts we can think about them at different levels. At the base level as individual concepts (simplexes) or as clusters of concepts (complexes), at the level of the text in which case we refer to the content of the text itself, and finally at the level of the discipline in which case we refer to the subject matter of the discipline itself. So as a text is divided into sections or chapters, so a discipline is divided into areas or branches or fields or genres. Because we are concerned about philosophy and philosophy is a discipline let us talk about genres.

Thus: genres, forms, methods, mediums (of expression).

It stands to reason that each of these components can be a separate enclosure of study, both pure and applied. Let’s think about where within philosophy each of these components is studied, but also let us keep in mind how the activity of philosophy is shaped by each component. I realise that is all pretty abstract but it’s not really, it only is at first glance.

Genre This is studied under the rubric of rhetoric, and generally with literature or speech-making as its vehicle. Viewed this way philosophy is a genre of literature. Another genre is comedy, another is satire, another, tragedy, and so on. Another name for rhetoric could be the philosophy of genre. And if method can spawn methodology then surely we can analogously spawn genreology, formology, and mediaology. Yuck, double yuck, and thrice yuck. (It is interesting to note – as an aside – how restricted in both genre and form contemporary philosophical works are.) Briefly, the study of form is aesthetics, the study of method is logic. Note that both of these are two of Peirce’s normative sciences, the unity of aesthetics and logic hewing to ancient philosophical tradition is beyond the scope of this essay. Because logic has no truck for genre logic has remained with a few notable exceptions resolutely formal. It would be an error to think that the study of form resides within formal logic. It seems like it should but that cannot be the case using our formulation here. Media studies exists but it is a poor relation to philosophy. Media theorists have never really found a natural home within philosophy. A philosophy of the digital could have been birthed sooner if this wasn’t the case. I’m open to correction on any of these points, I would most welcome it.

This digital transformation society is undergoing is a moment of inflection. Therefore we’ll have inflected genres, forms, and methods. Digital humanities is the application of inflected genres, forms, and methods as they relate to the humanities. Digital philosophy (if there were such a thing) would be the application of inflected genres, forms, and methods as they relate to philosophy. Digital philosophy software is the tangible results of that.

Stay tuned!

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