Philosophy Discussion

[Usenet Newsgroups] [E-mail Discussion Lists]
[E-mail Abuse] [On-line Discussion]

Nobody talks much that doesn't say unwise things, -- things he did not mean to say; as no person plays much without striking a false note sometimes. Talk, to me, is only spading up the ground for crops of thought. I can't answer for what will turn up. If I could, it wouldn't be talking, but "speaking my piece." Better, I think, the hearty abandonment of one's self to the suggestions of the moment, at the risk of an occasional slip of the tongue, perceived the instant it escapes, but just one syllable too late, than the royal reputation of never saying a foolish thing.
(Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Professor at the Breakfast Table

Some relevant Usenet newsgroups

(For religion groups see here.)

I make no promises about the quality of discussion on these newsgroups; still, although at first it might seem as though there's nothing but the usual Usenet ranting, raving, and preaching, perseverance can sometimes pay off. I've had interesting discussions on some of these groups — but they've been few and far between, and it's important to know when to bail out (before you've been sucked into the inevitable ranting, raving, etc.). On the whole, though, to be honest they're waste of time. Join a local philosophy evening class or philosophy cafe or something — you're much more likely to get something intersting and valuable out of it.

A couple of tips:

  • unless it's a religion newsgroup, never get involved in any discussion that touches, however obliquely, on religion (Usenet contains far more than its fair share of religious and anti-religious obsessive loonies);
  • avoid any message whose title or content is capitalised (in Usenet, and other e-mail, capitalisation is the equivalent of shouting, and those who write in capitals are usually the Usenet equivalent of shabby people carrying carrier bags, shouting on street corners).

Note that there's no discernible difference in quality or nature of discussion between the "sci.*", "talk.*", "alt.*", and (for those with access to them) "uk.*" groups. If you wonder how non-"alt.*" Usenet groups come to be formed, and why their names and hierarchical structure are often puzzling, try lurking in the groups dedicated to their formation; the people primarily responsible know little or nothing about philosophy, but that makes little or no difference to their preparedness to pontificate on the subject. In other words, the groups are created by the same sort of people who tend to inhabit them. (See, for example, — the ludicrous fiasco surrounding the attempt to set up a "uk.philosophy.*" hierarchy is almost beyond belief.)

Tools for searching Usenet can be found at DejaNews and Alta Vista. For advice on copyright and Usenet groups, see here.

Non-Usenet Discussion

The main alternatives to Usenet groups are Listserv-type mailing-list discussion groups. Such lists are almost always more sensible and serious than their Usenet counterparts. Their membership is limited to those who have made the (admittedly small) effort to join, which also means that the audience offered to preachers and other irritants is comparatively small.

You can find out more about them from Polyhymnia's List of Philosophy Mailing Lists. Other sources of information are DialogNet, Liverpool University List of Lists, and Union College's list of Philosophy mailing lists. There's a list of French-language philosophy mailing lists at the University of Rennes. For some Spanish-language lists, try El Proyecto Filosofia.

The following lists have Web pages:

Analytic Philosophy
Bibliographies and information about joining the list.
The oldest of the philosophy lists.
Archives of Liverpool's Listserv Lists (including PHILOS-L, the U.K.-based equivalent of PHILOSOP, and SOPHIA, the ancient-philosophy list).
Philosophy News Service
Much of the site is frames-crippled, but just about usable. It offers a news service (by e-mail or on the Web), and the opportunity to set up your own e-mail list.
Other resources include:
The All-in-One Reference Guide to Email Discussion Lists
Pointers to software, commands to use for the most common mailing list manager software, and links to websites where you can search for and subscribe to discussion lists on virtually any topic. Maintained by Bob and Varda Novick.
Gunars Tomsons
Thoughts on mailing lists.

You might also try the University of Chicago Philosophy Project, which offers electronically mediated philosophy discussions.

Dealing with e-mail abuse

If you post to Usenet groups or even e-mail lists, you'll almost certainly suffer from unwanted e-mails. These take the form of unsolicited commercial messages, abusive, especially racist, messages, and all sorts of scams and con tricks. You can simply delete and ignore these, but if you want to try to do something about them (and my own view is that you should), the following sites should be of use.

Note: Don't reply to such messages; that's likely only to make things worse -- as is using the "unsubscribe" address that many of them provide. You need to find their Service Providers and complain.

  1. Information on deciphering the origins of unwanted e-mail: The Spam FAQ - Figuring Out Fake E-mail & News Posts
  2. How to complain about Spam
  3. Where to complain about frauds & scams
  4. Viewing and interpreting e-mail headers and extended headers (courtesy of Mindspring)
  5. Join CAUCE: The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email.

The Real Thing

Live discussions are possible, and you can find information on and links to various `virtual reality' philosophy forums at Yahoo!'s Philosophy Chat & Forums section.


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