Research on Public Attitudes Towards Philosophy & Philosophers


“Science communication is a profession in its own right with journals, higher degrees and careers paths,” notes philosopher Brendan Larvor (Hertfordshire). Yet there does not appear to be much of a “philosophy communication” analog. He notes, “so far as I know there is no research on public attitudes towards philosophy and philosophers.”

These remarks appear in a brief post at Professor Larvor’s blog in which he discusses, among other things, some ideas of Gail Cardew (Royal Institution) regarding the public understanding of science. He describes some of Cardew’s thoughts on the matter:

Can the public be expected to understand science, in any meaningful sense? Perhaps not, so replace ‘understanding of’ by ‘engagement with’. But engagement is a rather undemanding term that sets low and vague success-criteria. It was evident that she regards this as an unsolved problem.

She said two things that stuck with me:

  1. Science communicators are trying to move away from a deficit model in which the public are taken to be in a defective condition of ignorance and unrigour, and the role of the science communicator is to repair this deficiency. This model fails because many of the public are experts and in any case no-one likes to be patronised.
  2. Science communication bodies such as the Royal Institution do research into public attitudes towards science and scientists. For example, there is research on the extent to which the public trusts scientists.

So what is the public thinking when they think about philosophy and philosophers? How would we classify the methods that philosopher-communicators tend to use while engaging with the public? Are such methods supported by any research about their efficacy? And what are the goals of such engagement, anyway? Should we encourage the development of “philosophy communication” as a field of study?

Comments welcome, especially from those familiar with the field of science communication and those who know of any research on public attitudes about philosophers and philosophy.

from Alan Stamaty, “Who Needs Donuts?”

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