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Essays in Philosophy

Volume 15, Issue 1, January 2014

Public Philosophy

John Huss
Pages 19-32

Popular Culture and Philosophy: Rules of Engagement

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.

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