A Philosopher Runs for City Council

Matt Johnson is finishing up his dissertation in philosophy at Temple University, is teaching several courses as an adjunct professor, and is now running for city council in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Johnson announced his candidacy earlier this year, and discusses his candidacy in an interview with C. Thi Nguyen, a professor of philosophy at Utah Valley University. About entering the race, he says:

I think it was this last election that pushed me over the edge, like: “Hey, we’re losing our minds. Everybody is losing their minds. And, if there’s anybody that should jump into this whole post-truth, epistemic bubble world, it should be a philosopher — who deals with this stuff all the time.”

And that’s basically my pitch. I was calling local committee people trying to get their endorsement, and the first thing they say is, “Why should I vote for you?” And most people would shy away from being an academic philosopher, but that’s the first thing I say. “I have this background that helps me cut through bullshit. And I care about, you know, the facts.” And that seems to help.

He also discusses how he began hosting logic and debate courses at a local bar after the presidential election, pretty much “training activists to argue more clearly.”

He shares his thoughts on why academics tend not to enter politics:

I think that the rigors of academia… are such that they’re isolating from the local community. I know a lot of younger professors that are getting tenure, and I see them going from these chipper and excited people… but once there’s this pressure to publish and to get tenure, their lives become very insular. Their whole lives are revolving around this institutional structure. It’s almost impossible to divide your consciousness [so as to also ask], “Hey how are we going to solve this water problem?” 

And there are limits to what philosophy can do in politics:

My general philosophical answers to things don’t cut it… I can say, “Here are my philosophical beliefs, here are my justifications for these beliefs,” and people go, “Yeah, but what about implementation? What about how you going to balance this faction with that faction.” And then it’s like: oh. Philosophy is kind of like a one-dimensional world, and this adds new and interesting dimensions to problems that normally I’d just sit on my ass and armchair it…

When I go to a community meeting, I’m the… the one in there like a student, like “Oohh, I have an idea”… and then I get schooled. They have a much more systematic understanding of what’s going on in their neighborhood. So, it’s humbled me quite a bit.

There’s much more in the whole interview.

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7 years ago

FYI this philosophy professor is also a state representative:
I wonder how many other philosophy teachers and/or PhDs are in some sort of elected office in the US?