Dialogue and Writing Philosophy

  • Marc Bobro


Introduction: Dialogue combines the Greek dia (“across”) with logos (“word” or “speech”) to mean a mutual exchange of meaning across space and time. A dialogue involves two or more entities in communication with each other, taking turns in some physical or conceptual space that separates and distinguishes these entities. The discipline of philosophy is no stranger to the dialogue form. Philosophers certainly read many dialogues in their training and still assign them for students to read, including: Plato’s dialogues, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, George Berkeley’s Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, and John Perry’s recent A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality. However, philosophers today rarely write dialogues themselves or ask students to write them. Philosophy has veered away from the form. Straight, expository prose is now the standard for philosophical writing in and out of the classroom.1 Here I argue for its return, especially when it comes to student papers in philosophy.2 To be clear, this is not an argument that dialogues should outright replace other forms of philosophical writing, but rather for their inclusion. Then I talk about how to write a dialogue. Finally, I give an example of a student-written dialogue and offer some commentary. But first let us begin with the varieties of dialogues, because, while all have their place in philosophical writing, it is important to keep them distinct when crafting a writing assignment that incorporates dialogue.