October 10, 2014

Spectrum of Public Philosophy

What is it for a philosopher to engage with the public? Here are a spectrum of options.

A. Academic philosopher not addressing the public

1. Scholar. Does her research and teaching, meant for fellow academics and students. Effect on the public is downstream and not immediate. Example: most academics.

B. Academic philosopher addressing the public in a way they can't directly speak back

2. Public professor. In addition to her research and teaching meant academics, writes for and engages with the general public in order to introduce them to what is happening in academic philosophy. Examples: Simon Blackburn, Thomas Nagel, Philosophy TV.

3. Public intellectual. In addition to her research and teaching, writes for the public arguing for particular views. Fosters debate among the public by creating public discussion of the view the public intellectual defends. Examples: Peter Singer, Martha Nussbaum, Anthony Appiah, Dan Dennett.

C. Academic philosopher addressing the public in a way they can speak back at least minimally

4. Academic blogger. In addition to her research and teaching, blogs about the philosophy profession, philosophical topics and general culture. Interested public can engage through comments section. Examples: Brian Leiter, Eric Schliesser, NewAPPS, Daily Nous, Feminist Philosophers.

5. Academic radio/podcast host. In addition to her research and teaching, has a radio/tv/podcast/magazine so that the public can listen to philosophical discussion by academic philosophers. The public can participate through calling in, writing comments on blog associated with the show. Examples: Philosophy Talk, Philosophy Bites.

D. Academic philosopher creating public structures for engagement with philosophy
6. Outside-academia academic. Academic philosopher who seeks to integrate engaging with the public as itself a part of the academic's job. Suggests that not only research with fellow academics and teaching students, but doing philosophy with non-academics is a part of the job of an academic philosopher. Example: Jack Weinstein.

E. Non-academic philosopher bringing academic philosophy to the public
7. Journalist of academia. Non-academic who aims to foster philosophy among non-academics by making academic philosophy more accessible to them. Examples: Richard Marshall, Steve Pike, Astra Taylor
8. Still-academic non-academic. Non-academic who finds the academic structures too constraining. Aims to foster public philosophy by enabling for non-academics the kind of conversations which happen inside academia. Examples: Nigel Warburton, Partially Examined Life.

F. Non-academic philosopher helping to create new structures for philosophy
9. Critic of academic philosophy. Non-academic who thinks philosophy is inseparable from questioning the status quo. Believes the public's philosophical ability remains dormant because they assume philosophy is a special skill of academic philosophers and so see philosophy as something beyond their abilities as ordinary people. To waken the public's philosophical ability it is essential to constructively critic academic philosophy from outside academia. When the public sees academic philosophy has blind spots in addressing the problems in current society, they will feel they cannot leave their problems for others (the academic "experts") to solve and will feel motivated to take on those problems themselves. Through such taking of responsibility, their love for philosophy will grow and so public philosophy will blossom. Example: ???
10. Creator of new structures. Non-academic who thinks public philosophy requires cultural structures where all people come together as equals, not where some people come as experts who will teach others. Since philosophy is the skill of the reflecting on one's beliefs without taking anything on authority, including what philosophy is and how to do it, in order for public philosophy to flourish new structures which facilitate such equal interaction are needed. Academics can create some public structures for philosophy, but not this kind of totally egalitarian structures, since implicit in the role of an academic is a claim to expertise unavailable to the non-academic. But non-academics can build such structures without any such implicit claims to expertise. Example: ???


  1. In no. 9 the sentence beginning " When the pubic sees academic philosophy has blind spots..." is missing an important letter.

  2. Michael, I don't see what you mean. Can you say more specifically what is missing? I might just be not picking up on it. Thanks.

  3. Bharath,
    Sorry, my fault for being vague. You wrote "pubic" instead of "public", hence the missing letter comment.