Return Home         Archive          Distinctions  

In The Beginning

Philosophical came online in the spring of 2001 -- long before Reddit, Facebook, YouTube, and other well-known sites were born, and long before blogs became a fashion. It arrived in the later innings of Web 1.0 when cyber life was far less centralized and interactivized than it is now, when surfers could derive a certain joy from discovering something little known and new.

The site attempted to fill a void left by the growth of two discrete realms of contemporary life: specialist academic scholarship on the one hand and commercial media on the other. With the eclipse of public intellectualism in the last quarter century, with the emergence of a mass electronic culture, and with the division of people into so many demographic groupings, so many commercial pigeonholes, the space for collective reflection dwindled. The idea that a literate public could still be fascinated by the wisdom of the ages in a tele-visual universe – an entertainment universe teeming with adverts and imagery, governed by the infallible logic of the marketplace – came to be seen as quaint even back in 2001. In the preceding decades, in fact, books had been written on the “fall of public man” and on “the death of meaning.”

Yet the reception Philosophical received exceeded anything that could’ve been imagined in the beginning: mentions in over a dozen books, references to the site at such prestigious institutions as Cambridge, the European Graduate School, and Notre Dame, and placement at one point on Wired Magazine’s “Hottest Web Links” list. In an age of social diffusion and fragmentation, an age of a million distractions, there were still people interested in the musings of Plato, Russell, and Baudrillard.

The interest of the philosopher – “to seize the value and perspective of passing things” (Durant)