Politically, What Should Philosophers, Qua Philosophers, Do?


A pair of philosophy graduate students write in with a topic for discussion:

Dear Philosophical Community,

Like many of our graduate student and faculty colleagues in philosophy, we are becoming increasingly alarmed by our political situation as the Trump administration has made good on reprehensible campaign promises.

Given that both of us primarily work in ethics, we feel a great responsibility to do something to combat the grave injustices that we are currently seeing, and which we expect to continue to see in the near future. Yet, at the same time we feel rather powerless—we are, after all, graduate students with limited time, energy, and resources, at very early stages in our academic careers, taking on a formidable opponent. We understand that despite this we can take steps as individual citizens to attend protests, call our senators, and donate our pay to select causes and organizations. We are doing as much so far.

However, we know that our greatest strengths lie in our philosophical training and want to take advantage of this. Are we wrong to think so? If not, what should we do qua philosophers to be politically effective? (We respectfully disagree with the view that philosophers, qua philosophers, should steer clear of politics.)

Should we be structuring our courses differently? Should we be organizing events on campus, and if so, of what nature? Should we be doing more public outreach (e.g. to schools and prisons) with the long game in view? Or is our best means of resistance to write long articles to one another?

Thanks for your time.
Concerned and Distressed

There has been some discussion of this on Daily Nous. On the day after the election, I posted about “three contributions to Trump’s success that philosophers and other academics can address in their courses and engagement with the public in a largely nonpartisan way.” I also ran several posts about election-inspired changes to courses in various subfields of philosophy, suggested we emphasize the unpresidential characteristics of Trump and his staff, reported on one collective repudiation of a Trump policy by philosophers, and published Rachel Barney’s anti-authoritarian academic code of conduct, among other things.

But a lot has happened in the opening weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, so I’m open to further discussion with a focus on what, if anything, philosophers, qua philosophers, can and should do.

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