Public Philosophy Network

Encouraging and Supporting Publicly Engaged Philosophical Research and Practices

The Leiter Report features an entry discussing two recently published articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the future of philosophy: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2011/12/che-where-are-your-fa....

I have written a response here: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2011/12/che-where-are-your-fa....

I suggest we use these to frame a discussion of whether public philosophy is philosophy.

I'll up the ante by risking the following proposition: If philosophy is coextensive with the boundaries of the academic discipline of philosophy, then either we expand those boundaries or public philosophy will die.

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I can't say I was impressed by the Leiter Report. I don't think that anyone who sincerely loves wisdom is suggesting that we do a cost benefit analysis on whether to maintain philosophy departments, or ask academic philosophers to go find corporate sponsors.

He sounds incredibly threatened. That's probably because you're onto something. Perhaps "cash value" could be swapped out for "democratic accountability."

I am extremely skeptical of any attempt to draw the boundaries of philosophy at the boundaries of academic philosophy, since it's a rather recent state of affairs (Kant being the first academic philosopher). I like to think the problems of philosophy are common to the human experience, so public philosophy will go on without the help of academia, but academia sure could help. (As I recall enrollment in philosophy was about 20% in 19th century Germany and it was incredibly prestigious. Why settle for less than 1% enrollment. "We are Philosophy, we are the 1%?")

Thanks for the reply, Christopher!

Perhaps we public philosophers are onto something. I note the latest article to appear in the Chronicle here: http://cas-csid.cas.unt.edu/?p=2620&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philosophers-put-their-minds-to-expanding-their-role-in-public-affairs-faculty-the-chronicle-of-higher-education.

Two more questions come to mind:

(1) Is public philosophy philosophy?

(2) What, if anything, distinguishes public philosophy from other sorts of philosophy?

The other thread in the Theoretical Discussions forum has a start on both of these questions that I think is pretty good. I think the first question could be flipped:

(1) Is academic philosophy, philosophy?

The qualifier always indicates there is something more fundamental. I doubt we'll be able to work it out without reference to specific contexts. And the answers will probably be, sometimes yes sometimes no.

For question (2) I guess it's a matter of change in focus from the disciplinary model to an engagement outside of academia. I don't think public philosophy makes any sense without reference to the disciplinary model of philosophy.

Brilliant! I love the idea of flipping the first question -- but such radical suggestions are just the sort of thing that gets some of us branded anti-philosophy and anti-intellectual.

This remains the case, unfortunately, even if we agree with the point you make about the second question. If we suggest a shift in focus to a transdisciplinary model (that is, one that includes engagement outside of academia), we are usually accused of lacking rigor, if it is even admitted that what we are doing is philosophy at all.

So, we need to develop an alternative notion of rigor that doesn't entail the idea that engagement with non-philosophers is equivalent to "dumbing down" our discussion. I heard some promising suggestions from some American philosophers (referencing Dewey) at the Washington, DC meeting.

"Branding." Yikes, one forgets how political academia can be. I imagine you're dealing with legitimate concerns, fear of change, and interests in preserving the status quo. The first can be addressed with new criteria for evaluating research, the second through success, and there's not much you can do about the third. But you definitely don't want to offend people who can be won over, so yeah, gotta balance the risks and rewards of the radical. I imagine if you're thoughtful and sincere in developing the criteria (that will include new notions of rigor but also the elevation of other criteria) and get some good successes under your belt, the hearts and minds will follow.

I largely agree with your suggestions, but I want to suggest it's more a matter of rule-seeking than rule-establishing.

Let me try to explain what I mean by this distinction. You suggest that we can assuage legitimate concerns with new criteria for evaluation. I agree, there is certainly a connection between what count as legitimate concerns for rigor and existing criteria for evaluation. So, it makes sense to establish new criteria, which will in turn redefine what counts as a legitimate concern. But what ought the new criteria to be?

Fear of change, you suggest, can be assuaged through success. But what defines success if not our criteria for evaluation? So, again, I ask, what ought the new criteria to be?

I think it is important that we not predetermine these criteria. I suggest that we ought to be exploring what counts as success. (This is why some of us, at least, are engaged in a critical examination of peer review and other metrics for evaluating not only the impact of research on other research, but also the broader societal impact of research.)

But in doing so, we are taking a huge risk -- why think such an examination counts as philosophy? I admit that it doesn't count only if we've already determined what counts as philosophy. This is why public philosophy is so interesting -- it questions what counts as philosophy.

Here, by the way, is an example of one such experiment (both the specific paper and the PeerEvaluation site): http://www.peerevaluation.org/read/libraryID:28000.

I want to suggest it's more a matter of rule-seeking than rule-establishing.

That's an important distinction that has been bothering me but that I haven't been able to articulate. Do you know of any writing on it?

EPA's research arm has a number of projects under their new trandisciplinary research plan that take the form of "determine criteria most important to watershed integrity" or "determine criteria important to municipal decision makers" and something just didn't seem right the approach of trying find those criteria anteriorly to addressing specific problems.

The Population, Health, and Environment community has reported some successes with their interdisciplinary interventions but the projects aren't often replicable. And they have pretty obvious metrics of concern for program impact evaluation. Also, while it's obviously impossible to control for all external variables, you have a ready comparison to non-integrated programs.

 I can see why philosophy is so tough on this front. You don't have any readily available external or objective metrics beyond rigor. And the rigor is in the peer review. That peer evaluation site and article are really interesting but they're both outside of academic philosophy and yet have philosophical aspects. But the question of what counts as philosophy certainly needs to be raised over and over again. Around here I'm trying to raise the question of "What counts as public environmental work?"

I want to suggest it's more a matter of rule-seeking than rule-establishing.

That's an important distinction that has been bothering me but that I haven't been able to articulate. Do you know of any writing on it?

http://www.peerevaluation.org/read/libraryID:24095

Nice. Thanks.

EPA's research arm has a number of projects under their new trandisciplinary research plan that take the form of "determine criteria most important to watershed integrity" or "determine criteria important to municipal decision makers" and something just didn't seem right the approach of trying find those criteria anteriorly to addressing specific problems.

Do you have any links? Is there a solicitation that philosophers might apply to in order to help think this through?

Here is the memo outlining the effort.

http://www.epa.gov/ord/htm/anastas/path-forward.htm

I'm not aware of any specific opportunities at this time but I'd be happy to talk by phone this week about my perspectives on the process and where opportunities might arise. 

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