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Jul 29, 2007

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Jeffrey Sykes

"But the arrival of the Web and the tools by which we can so fluently create new ways of categorizing what we know make what philosophy has been struggling towards quite concrete and highly democratic."

Ed:

Good column. I've read the second half of it three times and have a lot to say about it, but no time to do it right now.

However, I don't understand this quote. Could you give some more perspective on what he means. I don't understand how "concrete and highly democratic" fit together.

Ed Cone

Thanks, JS. I enjoyed the book and it was a fun column to write.

As I read it, "concrete" means real and not just theoretical -- rather than discussing taxonomy in the abstract, we're actually pointing and clicking and creating lists of our own, experiencing these different cuts at order at iTunes or Amazon or Google Maps.

"Democratic" means the new ordering potential is available to anyone with web access -- you don't need a Ph d in philosophy or library science or astronomy or whatever to create a meaningful taxonomy that others can then use.

David Wharton

I've been thinking about your column all morning, so thanks for writing the review. It sounds like an interesting book.

Your review reads like Weinberger swims into some pretty deep philosophical waters, but maybe they're waters that have been swum before?

I'm thinking specifically of old ideas of nominalism and wondering whether W. adds anything new to that way of thinking. (In the Wikipedia article, just substitute "category" for "universal" and you'll see where I'm going.)

I love the ad-hoc taxonomies we make every time we do a google search, but the only thing new about that is the ease with which software allows us to do it. And I don't see the logical sequence from saying "I can organize things in many ways" to "there are no natural kinds."

Is his idea that everything is miscellaneous a premise or a conclusion?

David Weinberger

Jeff, Ed answered your question the same way - except better - than I would have.

David, I don't claim to add anything at all to the debate over universals. Instead, I think I'm noticing how technology is making it clear that the ancient belief in essences and natural kinds -- which we still hold to in many aspects of our everyday metaphysics -- is insupportable.

I don't know how to answer your "premise or conclusion" question since the book isn't structured as an argument. For me personally, I came into the book as a Heideggerian , not a nominalist, interested in messy, social and cultural webs of significance, and not a believer in essences or natural kinds. The book tries to show the ways in which important aspects of our connective tech embodies the anti-natural-kinds point of view. (Nominalism is not the only alternative to a belief in natural kinds, of course.)

David Wharton

David, thanks for responding. That's the first time I've ever commented on a book review and got a response from the author!

Since my training is in classics, and I have a special interest in Aristotle and Plato, I tend toward some kind of realism as regards essences and natural kinds.

But I have a beach vacation coming up, and your book is going to be my seaside reading. I look forward to it.

David Weinberger

David, if your training is in classics, you're likely to get fed up with it pretty quickly. So bring a detective novel or two, too :)

I do look forward to your comments, if you do make it through the book. Or even part of the way through.

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