Over at Daily Nous a conversation is ongoing about public philosophy — who is doing it and what the public might want from it. This seems a good time to link to a document that Sharon Meagher wrote for the Kettering Foundation a few years ago, especially to make the point that the public-philosopher relationship should be something much better than a masses-expert relationship. Community organizers have a nice model, summed up in the slogan that experts should be on tap, not on top. So what drives the relationship would be whatever it is that is of concern to the public in its effort to ameliorate problems. (Okay, that’s my inner Dewey channelling.)
Here’s an excerpt from Meagher’s executive summary:
Philosophy has followed most other academic disciplines in seeking to make both its public voice and public value clearer and more explicit. Arguably philosophy has greater resources to draw on, given the deep civic roots of the discipline. In recent years, the American Philosophical Association formed a committee on public philosophy, following most other U.S. professional disciplinary associations in forming a committee intended to support and develop the public dimensions of the respective discipline. More recently, a group of philosophers founded the Public Philosophy Network (PPN), an association dedicated to the promotion of publicly engaged philosophical research, social action projects, and teaching….
As part of our role in fostering discussion and reflection on public philosophy, we focus on the following three questions:
- How has the discipline of philosophy experienced a disconnection from public life and narrowing of its public role? How does public philosophy fit into the larger emergence of public forms of scholarship across disciplines?
- What are the core characteristics of public philosophy? How does public philosophy differ from applied philosophy, scholar-activism, and other more familiar approaches?
- What does publicly engaged philosophy have to contribute to addressing the public dimensions of complex public issues?
[Meagher proposes] five theses intended to provoke further reflection and discussion….
Thesis 1: Public philosophy should be transformative
Thesis 2: Public Philosophers should not be understood as “experts”
Thesis 3: Public Philosophy demands collaborative and interdisciplinary work
Thesis 4: Public Philosophers must be committed to assessing their work and being accountable to their public partners
Thesis 5: Public philosophy demands that we work to make philosophy more inclusive and representative of various publics
I think the hardest part of this for many philosophers, along with other academics, to get are theses one and two, namely that engaging the public may call on us to change how we do our work and that the relationship should be mutual, not hierarchical.
However slowly, this is beginning to change, especially as more philosophers enter unfamiliar territory, from teaching in prisons to working with NGOs on issues of climate, poverty, race, and gender.
Dear Noelle – I would love to hear your opinion on this document: http://juxta.com/wp-content/uploads/minimalism_2.0.pdf which I believe you might find interesting! Some excerpts:
PHILOSOPHY AS THE PURSUIT OF TRUTH
“What is minimally clear is that philosophy is an enterprise which
pursues knowledge of reality. Such a pursuit involves at least three things:
the pursuer (in this case human beings), the thing pursued, and the
method of pursuit. The distinguishing feature of philosophical inquiry
is its openness and universality: it has neither a privileged subject matter
nor a privileged method. Philosophy is therefore different from
religion, which does have a privileged subject matter, and from science,
which has a distinctive method.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá says that “Philosophy consists in comprehending the
reality of things as they exist, according to the capacity and the power of
Here again, philosophy is different from science, which is quite
happy to study things as they appear, and from religion, which invokes
revelation and divine assistance, thereby going beyond the capacities
and powers of natural man.”
PHILOSOPHY AS REFLECTION
Philosophical knowledge is a kind of second-order knowledge born out
of reflection (i.e., the capacity of the human mind to make its current
activity into its future object of inquiry). Each time we execute such a
reflexive act, we take one step upward in the infinite “ladder of abstraction.”
This process has a beginning—in the form of our immediate
consciousness (awareness) of spontaneous sensory impressions and the
subjective inner states they provoke—but no end, since nothing can
prevent the reflexive inner move to a higher level of abstraction.
Of course, at any stage of this process,
we are free to choose just what part of our experience we reflect
upon and just how we go about reflecting upon it. Hence, philosophy
has both content and method, just no privileged content or method.
A BRIDGE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION
Thus conceived, philosophy is a bridge between the minimalism of science,
which tends, whenever a choice appears necessary, to prefer local
exactness over global adequacy, and the maximalism of religion, which,
if necessary, may sacrifice a certain degree of local precision to obtain
what it judges to be a more globally adequate view of reality. At its most
general level, philosophy includes all of science but only part of religion,
since the irreducibly mystical dimension of religion seeks experience of
and communion with the Divine and not just human knowledge about
the Divine. Thus, doing philosophy carefully and well is an effective
means of understanding the relationship between and interpenetration
of science and religion.
INTERFERENCES BETWEEN THE KNOWER AND REALITY
Our analysis has shown that the pursuit of absolute certainty is an
unrealistic philosophical ideal. However, the process of convergence
means that the admitted relativity of our knowledge can imply relative
certainty rather than relative ignorance. To say that our knowledge is
relative means that there is always a logical possibility of error, but not
always a reasonable plausibility of error. There is an immense difference
between a simple possibility and a high degree of probability. This difference
has often been ignored or discarded by subjectivist critics of science,
and especially by those who are inclined to make the leap from any
relativity to total relativity.
Lisa New https://about.me/lisanew
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