Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Online Encyclopedia of the Good

This is an experiment. One I would like you, the reader, to participate in.

I love philosophy, and have been participating in real life philosophy groups for the past serveral years but I recently quit. Perhaps here on the internet there will be a chance to discuss the things that really matter, and bring into our discussion the thoughts and writings of the famous thinkers that have gone before us. Actually, I would like to figure out what really matters. For me, that means figuring out how to live, or what is good.

This experiment was inspired by reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, written by Robert Pirsig and published in 1974. When I first read it, 10 years later, I had a computer but there was no internet to speak of, and the anti-technological views of the couple Sylvia and John described in the book as proto-hippies were laughable to me. These days I am increasingly resistant to the flood of information and technologically assisted connection with others via the internet. I'm not sure what it is I'm afraid of, but I sense that something important, perhaps meaning or caring or the "Quality" that Pirsig describes in his book, is rapidly dissipating in this virtual or semi-virtual world that we have created. It's definitely not all bad. The philosophy group in which I passionately participated for all those years could not have existed without the internet, and there was a constant flux of members finding us online and taking part in our discussions sometimes once, sometimes more regularly. Wikipedia is a great example of human minds coming together collaboratively online to create a repository of common knowledge that we all draw on to inform decisions from politics and investments to our personal health. But then, there are also the hours spent on Facebook, the emails to people who are perhaps not even really my friends, the fruitless exchanges of 20 text messages leading up to a brief encounter, getting caught in a tide of meaningless banter on forums, the endless discussion of gossip and ephemera which is really only shortchanging a desire to express oneself and be heard. Where and when in the world of all this clutter and clamor is there a time and a place to think and make meaningful choices?

One statement in particular stood out to me from Pirsig's book. "Phaedrus [the narrator's philosophical protagonist] comes to the view that Plato's hatred of the rhetoricians was part of a much larger struggle in which the reality of the Good, represented by the Sophists, and the reality of the True, represented by the dialecticians, were engaged in a huge struggle for the future mind of man. Truth won, the Good lost, and that is why today we have so little difficulty accepting the reality of truth and so much difficulty accepting the reality of Quality, even though there is no more agreement in one area than the other." This phrase was the inspiration for the Online Encyclopedia of the Good. What if we put this statement to the test, to see whether and how collectively we might come up with a Wikipedia whose enterprise is to hone in on what we know to be Good, rather than True? It would look very different from Wikipedia. The Ancient Greek philosophers went on to discuss The Good in the context of knowledge, virtue, and happiness. What I'm talking about would not be anchored by logical construction and valid references. It would be anchored by its tug on the heartstrings, like the myths that preceded Western philosophy, or like certain works of Eastern philosophy. I envision it practically as characterized by rich narrative, moving personal stories, multiple readings of the stories and ideas of others (with hyperlinks, if possible) and how they influenced our choices.

So, if you have read this far, here is what I would like from you, if you are willing to contribute. One or more of the following contributions are welcome:
  1. What is your philosophy of life, and how did you arrive at it? (I'll add mine somewhere). More than a couple of sentences, please... With links, if possible.
  2. Discussion of the Online Encyclopedia of the Good, or other ideas expressed here. No ranting and raving attacks, and no cheerleading either.
  3. Suggestions as to the form of this encyclopedia and the modes of discussion or storytelling. Eventually I might move things off the Google blogger to a dedicated website. Perhaps a wiki format? Or some other format?
  4. Volunteer as a writer or an editor.
  5. Suggest topics for discussion. Back this up with your own thoughts and views.
  6. Stories and examples of people who in your view led a good life, including a discussion of what made it good, and links to more detailed text, movies, artworks, etc.
  7. Examples of the Good, whatever that means to you.


  1. I love this idea! I'd like to see it developed and would be happy to participate in the untutored and time-constrained ways that are available to me right now. But from the posting dates I think you've abandoned the project? I think a blog format makes sense. My thoughts on how to get the ball rolling:

    Start with a monologue, and wait til it develops into a dialogue (and then multilogue...). Okay, you've done that, but keep going. It takes time for like minds to stumbled across these things. The way of the blogosphere is the old snowball metaphor: links (to and from) generate more visits-->comments-->yet more links-->etc.

    Ask for less ambitious chunks from viewers. A series of shortish comments (much easier to make than essays) can still generate interesting conversations in aggregate. I'm sure you have a favorite example out there.

    As for my thoughts on the Good, I'll let that wait until I know if this blog is dead or alive...!

  2. Thank you for your comment, I think you're absolutely right about the questions being too demanding. I encourage you to be the first. Start the monologue, in whatever format feels right. What are your thoughts on The Good?