Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Public Philosophy’ Category

What is Public Philosophy?

Yesterday, Leigh Johnson posted at The Philosophers’ Cocoon in their “Real Jobs in Philosophy” series.  She says something in the piece that brought me up short (honestly, she often does that).  You should go read the whole thing; I want to focus on this one passage, the one under the heading “Research”:

I don’t get much time to do extended, concentrated, article-generating research—see above—though I am slowly realizing that I have exponentially more time for research, broadly-speaking, than I did at my previous position. That’s partly a consequence of not being buried in departmental business and new preps and the TT grind, but more so because I’m older now and I think about research much differently. I read a lot more and write (mostly digitally) a lot more than I used to, I do a lot of collaborative work, and I have more time to engage interests and concerns that are not primarily aimed at turning out peer-reviewed publications. I do some sort of research every day.

Johnson says she does some form of research everyday, but this research is not focused on peer-reviewed publications and it’s mostly digital.  I’m going to go out on a limb and speak for the philosophical community when I say that philosophers generally don’t think that our digital work is research.  Further on the limb, we don’t think this work is research, not only because we tend to think that whatever is meant for public consumption can’t be that good, but also because we tend to think public philosophy is either popularizing philosophical concepts developed in the quiet corners of the ivory tower or applying these same concepts same to some relevant area of public life.  Both popularizing and applying tend to be viewed as not as rigorous philosophy, not really philosophy itself but a possible use for philosophy.*  When Johnson says she does some sort of research every day and that this research is not aiming toward peer-review academic publication, she seems to be saying that her public philosophy is itself the production of philosophical ideas, not just the application of those ideas to contemporary issues. Read more

Day 9: Reflections on the Public Philosophy Panel at the APA

The APA Committee on Public Philosophy hosted a panel yesterday entitled, “Navigating the Perils of Public Cyberspace: Toward New Norms of Public Engagement.”   Read more

Teaching Dialogue(s): A Digital Engagement with Plato, Socrates and Chris Long

At HASTAC2015 at Michigan State in May, then-soon-to-be-new Dean of College of Arts and Letters at MSU, Chris Long, and I hatched a plan to have my students engage his book, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy (Cambridge 2014).  Students would read the book online and engage the digital platform Cambridge set up to encourage a living relationship to the text. As a follow up and to enhance the dialogical engagement, Long agreed to videoconference into class.  This week, we did it.   Read more

Not Being Able to Make What is Just, Strong, One Made what is Strong, Just.

In Pensees, Blaise Pascal writes:

Justice, Force.—It is just that what is just be followed; it is necessary that what is strongest be followed. Justice without force is impotent; force without justice is tyrannical. Justice without force is contradicted, because there are always bad people; force without justice stands accused. So justice and force must be put together; and to do so make what is just, strong and what is strong, just. 

Justice is subject to dispute; force is easy to recognize and is indisputable.  And so one could not give force to justice, because force contradicted justice, and said that it is was unjust, and said that it was force that was just. And thus, not being able to make what is just, strong, one made what is strong, just.

The week that Sandra Bland died in police custody, I was working through this passage that Derrida quotes in The Beast and the Sovereign with friends, colleagues and students in Italy.  Today, two days after another young black man was shot in Ferguson, MO, I have been recalling this passage.  Pascal recognizes our problem: we need justice to have force, but if all we have is force, there will be no justice.  What is the just way of giving force to justice? Read more

Treading on Ourselves? Government in Aristotle and Contemporary Political Life

Since Rousseau expressed his concern that government, established to carry out the general will of the people, might become a separate body with its own distinct general will, members of the polity have worried from one end of the political spectrum to the other, that government is imposing its will on the people, rather than executing the people’s will.  It’s not even correct to date this concern to Rousseau, since we could argue that such a concern is encapsulated in Thrasymachus’ realpolitik definition of justice — we all know, let’s be honest Socrates, that the laws serve the powerful and not those who are supposed to follow them.  In these cases, government is understood to be against us, treading on us with its laws and impositions, limiting our freedom rather than protecting it.

Government and Constitution in Aristotle

Eric Schwitzgebel refers to Aristotle to talk about blameworthiness for implicit biases in his talk at the Pacific APA next week.  I’m pleased to join in the appeal to Aristotle to think about contemporary political and ethical problems.  My argument is that Aristotle addresses this problem of thinking the government as an imposition by arguing for an account that drives politeuma, or government, closer to an identity with the politeia, constitution or regime.   Read more

Wendy Brown, Neoliberalism, and Why Taking Your Work Email Off Your Phone Will Not Save Democracy

Neoliberalism: What is it?

I’m currently teaching a course on the Philosophy of Commerce.  I think of this course as an effort to get students to challenge the notion that everything could be economized.  Following Arendt, I’m trying to get students to see what is lost when pursuits of living or living large (when the pursuit of living becomes excessive) crowd out any consideration for living well, which is to say, for organizing and determining how life ought to be in conversation and contestation with others.  This determining how life ought to be is in contrast to just determining what to do in order to live.  This concern has been with us for some time, but in the last several decades a new and even more far-reaching economization of life has occurred, wherein individuals have come to think of themselves as entrepeneurial capital projects.

This development is neoliberalism, which is the subject of Wendy Brown’s new book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution.  Read more

Curating for the Public Philosophy Journal

This week I was the guest curator-at-large for the Public Philosophy Journal.  The Public Philosophy Journal is a website and blog that aims to facilitate public philosophy in the many ways that term could be understood.  One way we understand public philosophy is that public issues and concerns can be served by philosophy’s input and analysis.  Part of that work is bringing content of note to the attention of both philosophers and public servants or others who are working on these issues. I understood such content to concern public issues that philosophy can and does address such as an article in The Globe and Mail about a new study that locates the causes of anorexia nervosa in the passions and suggests a passion-based cure.  The Greeks were themselves very interested in how the care of self was a matter of fostering the passions in the right way, so this convergence of old philosophical ideas and health seemed a good example of public philosophy.  This content also includes references to issues or events that have had influence on philosophy, like Alison Bechdel winning a MacArthur genius award for the Bechdel Test  she invented as a standard to expose how films rarely depict women as characters in themselves unrelated to the men their roles support.  Not only was that important in its own right as a provocative strategy for raising feminist concerns, but Bechdel also influenced the field of philosophy itself, prompting Helen de Cruz to suggest a Bechdel test for philosophy papers.  Another kind of notable content includes philosophers and theorists discussing public issues, such as Avi Alpert’s interview with Gabe Rockhill and Nato Thompson about art and politics and Lisa Guenther on television discussing protests against prisons and the death penalty in Tennessee.  Finally, there is the discussion of public issues within the field of philosophy, issues like being differently-abled in the field or the persistence of rape culture in philosophy departments.  Sometimes public philosophy can even be philosophers taking their work to more public arenas or philosophers being discussed in those arenas, as when Gregory Fried wrote about Heidegger’s Black Notebooks in the LA Times.  I wasn’t focusing on any one of these in particular, but all of them together. Read more

Metablogging: Blogging about Academic Blogging

Why I started blogging and how its been more of a benefit that I expected.

Read more

“It’s the Thought that Counts”: Part II, Truth, its Consequences and the Good

Since I last posted on the question of whether what we think makes us good or bad people, my thoughts keep returning to how difficult this question is.  To reiterate, when I say, what we think might make us good or bad people, I don’t mean whether we think about doing what we might  generally acknowledge to be bad things — that you think about how to hurt someone might set you on the path to being a bad person, or that you think hateful thoughts toward someone is likely to make you hurt them, or you think it is good to get ahead by taking advantage of other people.  I think the value of those kinds of thoughts is less controversial.  What I am considering is whether the ways you think about what is–what we call ontological claims–makes you a good or bad person. Read more

The Banality of Evil: Anti-feminism and the Left

Last week, I finally sat down with some friends and watched the 2012 film, “Hannah Arendt,” by Margarethe von Trotta.  The film focuses on Arendt’s trip to Israel to watch the Eichmann trial and the writing of her article for The New Yorker on the trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem.  With nice timing, The New Yorker is making its archives including this article available for a limited time on its website so check it out here.  Arendt argues in that essay that what was most appalling about the trial and about Eichmann and most frightening for a political environment tending more and more to totalitarianism was that Eichmann did not claim to think.   Read more