I've developed some of my notes from the conference into a blog post, available here.
Here's the summary:
I plan to derive a few more posts from my conference notes over the next few days. In the mean time, I'm curious to know what others came away with.Finally, from a workshop session on philosophers in the city, I distilled the following three activities I consider legitimate and appropriate for publicly engaged philosophers:
- Facilitation. Philosophical training leaves us uniquely qualified to identify assumptions, worldviews, values held by participants in a discussion. From this, we can identify with precision points of convergence and divergence. We can elucidate assumptions, help to clarify values; we can aid translation across divergent worldviews; we can inform and enrich moral imagination.
- Critique. Philosophical training also leaves us uniquely qualified to identify contradictions and tensions in prevailing views, ways in which current systems and institutions and ways of living rest on faulty assumptions and fall short of their own ideals. This critique can be subtle or radical but, in either case, it behooves philosophers to become skilled in communication, so even radical critique can go down more easily.
- Vision. Philosophers are not uniquely qualified to contribute to creative problem solving, but we do have resources for synthesis, for putting together alternative possibilities for systems and institutions that are more coherent, that live up to their own ideals. In the pragmatic spirit of open deliberation, it seems to me especially important that such visions not be offered as take-it-or-leave-it dogma, but as hypotheses for consideration and experimentation.
Bob -- Thanks for starting this thread. Let me add a bit more and encourage others to do the same.
We had roughly 150 people registered and, in the midst of the conference, reached a milestone of having 500 members in the network.
The most exciting thing about the conference was its participatory nature, with one full day of collaborative workshops followed by another day of interactive panel sessions. On the workshop day, I attended Vance Rick's and Mark Fisher's workshop on social media and ethics. It was lively, especially with lots of great provocations from participants about the need for both walls and bridges in cyberspace and how to maintain both at the same time. In the afternoon I attended Chris Long and Cori Wong's session on philosophy and the digital public. This session was a little more formal, with both organizers giving short presentations. Both were followed with great conversation. And in the end we tried to create a social media product and learned a lot about the fruits of collaboration.
Altogether there were 15 workshops the first day, and I heard great reports all over. The next morning I facilitated a plenary on the outcomes of that workshop and pushed my own pet concern to interrogate the meaning of "public philosophy." We heard from people who took part in lots of workshops, including philosophy in the city; collaborative research; academics stand against poverty; and feminist bioethics.
The rest of that second full day was taken up with panels, which, at their best were highly participatory. I really enjoyed the session on "eating in public" put on by an interdisciplinary team at Michigan State University. Actually, this was a presentation of a paper written by four authors. Each took five minutes to explain his or her own aspect, then for the Q&A they turned the table and asked the audience questions. At the end of the day I attended a session organized by Elizabeth Minnich that asked wonderful big questions about what we have all learned from doing this kind of work. The panelists started but then the question went all the way around the room.
In short, this conference modeled a new way of thinking about philosophy. It was not at all an exercise in "applied philosophy." It was an exploration of engaged philosophy where we could all think about what is public in our work and what being public means for doing philosophy.
The next morning I facilitated a plenary on the outcomes of that workshop and pushed my own pet concern to interrogate the meaning of "public philosophy."One side note: It was interesting how unsettled (and unsettling?) the idea of public philosophy remained right through to the end of the conference. After some papers on Saturday, someone would ask: "I can see how that's philosophy, but is it public?" After other papers, someone would ask: "I can see how that's public, but is it philosophy?"