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Essays in Philosophy

Volume 15, Issue 1, January 2014
Public Philosophy

Table of Contents

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editor’s introduction
1. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Jack Russell Weinstein Public Philosophy: Introduction
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essays: what is public philosophy
2. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Jeremy Barris The Nature and Possibility of Public Philosophy
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The article argues that there is a central problem with the concept of public philosophy, in that philosophy is partly defined by questioning reflection on its own sense, while public or popular culture characteristically relies unreflectively on its ultimate givens, and these are mutually exclusive modes of thought. The article proposes, however, that because of philosophy’s reflection on and potential questioning of its own sense it has a paradoxical structure of foundational and comprehensive conflict with itself and its own procedure, and that this self-divergence allows a genuinely philosophical role for public philosophy. In the public context, acknowledged failure to understand beyond a certain point makes room for a limitation of sense that incompletely but effectively substitutes for the properly philosophical explicit and questioning reflection on the nature of sense as such and on the possibility that even what we do understand about the relevant issues fails to have sense.
3. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
John Huss Popular Culture and Philosophy: Rules of Engagement
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The exploration of popular culture topics by academic philosophers for non-academic audiences has given rise to a distinctive genre of philosophical writing. Edited volumes with titles such as Black Sabbath and Philosophy or Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy contain chapters by multiple philosophical authors that attempt to bring philosophy to popular audiences. Two dominant models have emerged in the genre. On the pedagogical model, authors use popular culture examples to teach the reader philosophy. The end is to promote philosophical literacy, defined as acquaintance with the key problems, ideas, and figures in the history of philosophy. In contrast, on the applied philosophy model, authors use philosophy to open up new dimensions of the popular culture topic for fans. The end is to illustrate the value of philosophy in understanding the popular culture topic, and ultimately, to demonstrate the value of philosophy in general. Taking stock of the relative strengths and weaknesses of these two models provides an opportunity to reflect more broadly on whether, why, and how philosophers should engage the public.
4. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Jack Russell Weinstein What Does Public Philosophy Do?: (Hint: It Does Not Make Better Citizens)
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In this article, I examine the purpose of public philosophy, challenging the claim that its goal is to create better citizens. I define public philosophy narrowly as the act of professional philosophers engaging with nonprofessionals, in a non-academic setting, with the specific aim of exploring issues philosophically. The paper is divided into three sections. The first contrasts professional and public philosophy with special attention to the assessment mechanism in each. The second examines the relationship between public philosophy and citizenship, calling into question the effect public philosophy has on political reasoning. The third focuses on the practice of public philosophy, describing actual events to investigate the nature and limits of their outcomes. I conclude that public philosophy aims at future philosophical inquiry but is best considered a form of entertainment.
essays: public philosophy and the profession of philosophy
5. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Christopher Meyers Public Philosophy and Tenure/Promotion: Rethinking “Teaching, Scholarship and Service”
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One of the responses to the attacks upon the contemporary university, particularly upon the humanities, has been to encourage faculty to engage in so-called ‘public intellectualism.’ In this paper I urge (some) philosophers to embrace this turn, but only if the academy can effectively address how to credit such work in the tenure and promotion process. Currently, public philosophy is typically placed under ‘service’, even though the work is often more intellectually and philosophically rigorous than committee work, even sometimes more than publications. I address this problem by providing an analysis of what is academically valuable about good scholarship and then showing how much of public philosophy achieves those goods. From this I argue that the academy should abandon the traditional categories of teaching/research/service and replace them with a holistic and qualitative single category of “teacher-scholar.” I then recommend that evaluation criteria should be very inclusive, giving credit to the wide range of activities in which faculty participate and I provide some suggestions for how those criteria should read.
6. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
William Irwin Writing for the Reader: A Defense of Philosophy and Popular Culture Books
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There are some risks in producing public philosophy. We don’t want to misrepresent the work of philosophy or mislead readers into thinking they have learned all they need to know from a single, short book or article. The potential benefits, though, outweigh the risks. Public philosophy can disseminate important ideas and enhance appreciation for the difficult and complex work of philosophers. Popular writing is often less precise, lacking in fine detail and elaboration, but it can still be accurate (in the sense of being “on target”). People often need a simplified account to get an initial understanding. Whatever one thinks of the role of jargon in scholarly writing, its place should be minimal in popular writing. If physicists can write books of popular science with virtually no equations, philosophers can write books for a general audience with limited jargon.
7. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Massimo Pigliucci, Leonard Finkelman The Value of Public Philosophy to Philosophers
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Philosophy has been a public endeavor since its origins in ancient Greece, India, and China. However, recent years have seen the development of a new type of public philosophy conducted by both academics and nonprofessionals. The new public philosophy manifests itself in a range of modalities, from the publication of magazines and books for the general public to a variety of initiatives that exploit the power and flexibility of social networks and new media. In this paper we examine the phenomenon of public philosophy in its several facets, and investigate whether and in what sense it is itself a mix of philosophical practice and teaching. We conclude with a number of suggestions to academic colleagues on why and how to foster further growth of public philosophy for the benefit of society at large and of the discipline itself.
8. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Greg Littmann Writing Philosophy for the Public is a Moral Obligation
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Writing philosophy to be read by people who are not professional philosophers ought to be central to the work of professional philosophers. Writing for the public should be central to their work because their professional end is to produce ideas for use by people who are not professional philosophers. Philosophy is unlike most disciplines in that the ideas produced by professional philosophers generally have to be understood by a person before they can be of any use to them. As a tool for delivering philosophical ideas to the public, writing philosophical works is invaluable. The need to write philosophy directly for the public should be clear regardless of one’s conception of the value of philosophy, since writing directly for the public is in the spirit of all the most popular modern philosophical movements.
essays: public philosophy and the history of philosophy
9. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Mark S. McLeod-Harrison Socrates and St. Paul: Can Christian Apologetics be Public Philosophy?
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Can popular Christian apologetics be public philosophy? This paper argues that it can be partly because the criteria for what counts as public philosophy are so vague but also partly because popular Christian apologetics parallels much that counts as public philosophy both in terms of its historical roots in Socrates but also how public philosophy is practiced now. In particular, there are parallels on the role of amateurs vs. professionals, the sorts of topics, the quality of the discussions, and the passion vs. the neutrality of its practitioners.
10. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Matt Chick, Matthew LaVine The Relevance of Analytic Philosophy to Personal, Public, and Democratic Life
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Increasingly, philosophy is being viewed by the public as a non-essential part of non-academic, political life. Moreover, the converse, that philosophy is viewing itself as non-essential to life, is also becoming true. Both trends are deeply troubling. This essay has two aims, both of which stem from these trends. The first is to show that they can partly be explained by a misunderstanding by philosophers of philosophy’s original goals. In fact, we argue that the goal of philosophy from the very beginning was to improve lives and that this attitude has been present throughout its history. The second is to show that this mistake is pervasive and to try to articulate some of what has been lost as a result. So as to not be entirely negative, we provide brief remarks on what can be done to remedy the situation. We hold that generally, people’s lives and especially people’s political lives are worse than they otherwise might be because of the disconnect between the public and philosophy. Finally, we close with a few practical activities that some philosophers are already engaged in to make work in philosophy more public.
11. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
William Pamerleau Investigating the Nature and Value of Public Philosophy from the Pragmatists’ Perspective
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As a professional philosopher that has participated in public philosophy forums for several years, I attempt to determine the character and value of public philosophy. To do this I adopt the perspective of Deweyan pragmatism, which I argue provides an effective theoretical framework for this purpose. Thinking particularly about relatively small, person-to-person philosophical forums, I argue that they share the main assumptions of the pragmatic method: a prevailing contingency with regard to starting points and conclusions, a willingness to entertain evidence from various sources and disciplines, and a commitment to continuing conversation on a variety of issues for the sake of continued growth and expansion of understanding. I believe it is unlikely that these sorts of conversations will deliver any immediate or obvious results in terms of improved democratic processes at the level of an entire community or nation because of the small scale and relatively narrow appeal. However, as a resource for intellectual growth, public philosophical forums provide an invaluable resource for those individuals willing to participate, professional philosophers included.
book reviews
12. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Theodore Gracyk Review of The Many Faces of Beauty, ed. Vittorio Hösle
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13. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Peter H. Denton Review of The Machine Question: Critical Perspectives on AI, Robots, and Ethics, David J. Gunkel
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14. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
M. Ram Murty Review of Indian Philosophy in English: From Renaissance to Independence, ed. Nalini Bhushan and Jay L. Garfield
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15. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Kenneth Blake Vernon Review of Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards? Philosophical Essays on Darwin’s Theory, Eliot Sober
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16. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Steven Ross Review of Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist, Neo Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, by Thomas Nagel
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17. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Maximiliano E. Korstanje Review of Violencias de Estado, la guerra antiterrorista y la Guerra contra el crimen como medios de control global (Violences of state, the war on terror and the fight against local crime as disciplinary means of global control), by Pilar Calveiro
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18. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Maximiliano E. Korstanje Review of Violencia de Texto, Violencia de Contexto: Historiografía y literatura testimonial, Chile 1973 (Violence of Text, Violence of Context: Historiography and testimonial literatura, Chile 1973), by Freddy Timmermann
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19. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Zachary Thomas Settle Review of Nietzsche, Psychology, & First Philosophy, by Robert B. Pippin
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20. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 15 > Issue: 1
Thomas Jovanovski Review of The Disordered Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind and Mental Illness, by George Graham
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