Philosophy with the Public


The widespread perception is that most faculty members do not engage with the public—either because they don’t want to or because they know they won’t be rewarded for it.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, historian David M. Perry (Dominican University) discusses obstacles to public engagement by academics. This is something that should be of concern to philosophers, especially. After all, we know that a lot of the public has no clear understanding (and often instead serious misconceptions) about what philosophers do. Scientists and politicians have very publicly expressed doubts about the value of philosophy. There have been discussions about how philosophers fare worse than other humanities in winning interdisciplinary grant competitions. In the United States, very few students are exposed to philosophy at the pre-college level. And so on.

The APA’s Committee on Public Philosophy has some programs geared to public outreach, including an op-ed contest and various panels. The Public Philosophy Network also hosts conferences and discussions. Let’s get some more ideas. I think it would be helpful for philosophers to share their thoughts about what to do to help bring philosophy to the public. What kinds of “public engagement” would be worthwhile? What have you tried? How did it go? How have your efforts been received by your colleagues and institutions?

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Carlos Mariscal
7 years ago

For the past two presidential cycles, I’ve organized a “Spot the Fallacy” event during the first presidential debates with the local community. That always seems to go well and show the value of some philosophy. I have materials for it if anybody is interested.Report

Kristopher Phillips
Kristopher Phillips
7 years ago

As a grad student at the University of Iowa, a colleague of mine and I put together what we call the “Iowa Lyceum.” I read about a program based out of Illinois (the “Illinois Lyceum”) that offers a free summer-camp for area high-schoolers that introduces them to philosophical issues. We contacted the Illinois group, and have been working with the University and the Illinois group to put our program together.

So far, we have had two years, and it’s been really successful! We’ve had a lot of support from faculty and administration at Iowa, and it provides high-school students in the area the opportunity to learn what philosophy is. We’re funded for another two years, and will likely continue to be funded beyond that.

Here is our website: https://sites.google.com/site/lyceumiowa/home/about-us

The page likely needs to be updated, as we’ve just finished our second year, but you’ll get the gist. It’s an awesome program, and we’ve seen the effects already.Report

John Schwenkler
7 years ago

It’s not much, but one thing I do is review philosophical books for non-academic outlets, in my case usually Commonweal magazine — I’ve reviewed books by McDowell, Plantinga, and others, and now am working on a review of the new Bernard Williams collection. Among other things, doing this with the help of a good editor is a really good way to learn how to frame philosophical ideas for a public audience, and also to unlearn some of the worst tics of scholarly prose. It pays a little, too.Report

Piers Turner
Piers Turner
7 years ago

While a grad student, I was lucky to be part of UNC’s great outreach program. Check it out: http://philosophy.unc.edu/outreach/current-initiatives . Imagine if every department had something similar. At Ohio State I am part of an effort to get an ethics center started with ambitious aims to engage the Central Ohio community. But we’re just getting started.Report

Daniel Brunson
Daniel Brunson
7 years ago

Another developing venue for public engagement: http://publicphilosophyjournal.org/Report

Mike Austin
7 years ago

I did some speaking for the Kentucky Humanities Council a few years back. Any state with a humanities council like this might have opportunities. I volunteered to be a part of the Speakers Bureau, and had a couple of good experiences talking and interacting with people about issues in philosophy of sport. The discussion was good. We have more to offer to the public than we realize. The trick is learning how to communicate it well.Report

Chris Long (@cplong)
7 years ago

What I like in particular about the title of this post is that is suggests that philosophy is a collaborative activity to be taken up with the public, as opposed to an activity done by academics for the good of the public. Cultivating opportunities for collaborative work between academic philosophers and non-academics engaged in public philosophical activity animates the spirit of the Public Philosophy Journal: http://publicphilosophyjournal.org/

We intentionally put the word “Public” first in the title of this emerging journal because we want to give priority to the public and shared public concerns. Right now we are inviting those interested in issues at the intersection of philosophy and the public to visit the site and consider becoming guest curators until we have our platform in place to begin accepting, and curating, submissions.Report