Over at the Blog of the American Philosophical Association, Muhammad Ali Khalidi (CUNY) raises objections to “the finger,” that is, the convention at philosophy talks “whereby a member of the audience, instead of raising a hand to ask a question, raises a finger to indicate that they have a follow-up question to the one that’s just been asked.”
Among other things, Professor Khalidi says, the practice is easily abused. And further, it’s unclear that it serves much of a valuable function:
Fans of the finger might protest at this point that the practice serves an important purpose. It enables questions along thematic lines to be grouped together and lets us avoid circling back to something that’s been covered before. But what’s wrong with shifting gears to a different question then coming back to some earlier issue later in the Q&A session? Maybe by then, the speaker has had time to think a little more about it and can come up with new things to say, and maybe it’ll retain the audience’s interest to mix it up a little.
Is Professor Khalidi right? More generally, what’s your preferred way of running a Q&A at a philosophy talk?
The finger is an “optional” suggestion on a list of “Guidelines for Respectful, Constructive, and Inclusive Philosophical Discussion” compiled by David Chalmers (NYU). It’s in the “Procedural Norms” section. Wisely, that’s just one of several sections of the guidelines, as the quality of a Q&A depends not just on the rules in place but on how people act within them and how they’re enforced. If you’re going to be at a philosophy Q&A anytime soon, I’d recommend looking at the other sections. Also, check out this now classic post on how to ask questions at conferences and colloquia.
Image: Mahaly Funerary Sculpture