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Philosophical Dialogues

Under construction

Below you will find extracts from email discussions that I have participated in. These dialogues took place in 1996 to 1998 on different email discussion lists of a philosophical character. I was mainly involved in Peirce-L, a list on the philosophy of Charles S. Peirce, and the Lila Squad, a list on Robert M. Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality. The archives of Lila Squad have, to some part, been compiled into a book called Lila’s Child, which is available in print, so the dialogues shown here are mainly from other lists. The dialogues are slightly edited for readability (the original contributions are often available in on-line archives).

The conversation on email discussion lists is, more or less, an on-going process where one topic glides into another, and the dialogues may for that reason start somewhat abruptly with much of the prehistory untold. Furthermore, some of them are quite long and winding. Each is therefore introduced below with a short description.

I have chosen extracts that I find still have some philosophical or pedagogical value. The other participants in the discussions come from all sorts of backgrounds, some of which I know and some I don’t. Some are philosophers by profession, and they all share an urge and a talent for philosophical dialogue. As a fitting beginning, the first dialogue concerns the nature of dialogue.

Dialogue, indexicality and dead authors

Peirce-L thread 22 - 27 Feb. 1998

This piece of dialogue has an obscure subject line: "A new liberation movement?" (something that often happens in the spur-of-the-moment discussions on email lists). The subject line alludes to the liberation of the dead in written communication. “Can the dead still converse?” was the subject of an earlier discussion on peirce-l, and, yes, we can still engage in discussions with long dead, or newly dead, authors.

The sad occasion for the reopening of this philosophical discussion was the death of Tom Anderson. Tom was a highly appreciated list member (yes, email discussion lists can, and do, harbour personal relations), who suddenly passed away.


The probability of a randomly drawn chord

Peirce-L thread 30 Jun. - 20. Jul. 1997

Bertrand's three drawer problem and the Bayesian approach to probability
Peirce-L thread 2. Dec. 1997 - 20. Dec. 1996
Tom Anderson started this thread when he alerted the list to Deborah Mayo’s book “Error and the growth of experimental knowledge” (1996: Un. of Chicago Press). After a short discussion of Mayo’s book, Bertrand’s three drawer problem came up as an aside. The rest of the thread focused on the interpretation of this problem in relation to a comparison of the Bayesian and the frequentist approach to probability. The dialogue links back to the earlier thread on the probability of a random chord being longer than the radius (link). This thread showed a nice example of the contextuality of probabilities. As I wrote to another list-member off-list:
> My point in the
> random chord example was that a theory or a hypothesis is not some kind of
> 'picture' of the world - how could it be? - There would have to be some
> connection between picture and reality ('correspondence'), some
> 'transforming rule' from picture to reality, and once we include this
> transforming rule in the theory, the 'picture' analogy is gone. Yet we do
> take theories as 'pictures' in the sense that we think there can only be
> one true picture of the world, that there must be one true probability of
> chords 'being' longer than the radius of the circle, for instance. This
> example is especially fruitful because it is so very evident that a chord
> is something which we make, the probability in question is of actions or
> events, not of 'states'. And in this form the question is quite easily
> answered: if we construct the chord in this way, the probability of making
> a certain kind of chord is so and so, and so forth. What I find really
> interesting is that this path seems to open up a new angle on a host of
> difficult questions in the philosophy of science.

(edited for clarity, a full version is available at

Mathematics, Nominalism and Realism

Peirce-L thread 6 - 10 Dec. 1996

This dialogue starts with my take on what mathematics is. It also relates to the question of nominalism and realism, a subject that keeps coming up on peirce-l.

Philosophical Aspects

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