What Does The Public Call What We Call “Public Philosophy”?


We are accumulating a large list of philosophers who do public philosophy in the comments to “Who Does Public Philosophy?” It is great to see that so many academics are involved in bringing philosophy to people outside their classrooms and peer groups, and especially heartening to see so many names on that list of people who haven’t been much mentioned before in the philosophy blogosphere. Perhaps even more people will be encouraged by this showing to engage in public philosophy themselves (see work on descriptive norms).

I wanted to draw attention to one comment to that post that raises an interesting topic. It’s from Nathan Nobis (Morehouse):

I’ve been wondering this about public philosophy. On the “supply” side, it’s called Public Philosophy. Has anyone though tried to figure out what the “demand” side might call it? I.e., for people who are seeking public philosophy, how do they seek it? I doubt they go out looking for something called “Public Philosophy”! So how do they seek what we hope they will find, or do we just put stuff out there and hope it is found, even though people aren’t really looking for it?

Patrick Lin (CalPoly) replied:

They most certainly do not call it “public philosophy” outside the discipline. In ethics at least, ethics is sometimes subsumed under “law and policy” or “societal impact”; but it’s hardly ever called “philosophy” unless it’s an academic meeting. “Philosophy” is not a selling point but a negative indicator for many, i.e., “ethicist” is more credible than “philosopher.”

Professor Nobis provided a link to a Google Trends search he did using the terms “public philosophy,” “philosophy,” “introductory philosophy,” and others. As you can see, “public philosophy” barely registered, in comparison with “philosophy.”

public philosophy google trend

Here are the graph for “public philosophy” on its own:

public philosophy alone google trend 2

These are trend lines, with “100” representing peak popularity of the search term relative to other times. So there appears to have been a decrease in searches for “public philosophy” over the past 12 years.

We might be led to ask: when the public is searching for what we are calling “public philosophy,” what do they call it? Knowing that, or what terms resonate with people in their search for public philosophy, might aid in the success of public philosophy initiatives. Comments on these matters welcome.

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