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05/06/2022

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Ian Olasov

This is really interesting. I shared it in the Public Philosophy Network FB group with the following comment. I'm not sure we disagree, except perhaps in emphasis.

My $.02: public philosophy is an oligopoly in some ways. Public praise, money, and access to prestigious platforms (big national newspapers, big TV and radio shows, etc.) is overwhelmingly granted to a small handful of people. It is practically impossible for more than a handful of philosophers to become "public intellectuals," if by that we mean the sorts of general-purpose geniuses that are called on by the mainstream media to comment on the news of the day (Russell, Sartre, West, Singer, whoever).

Public philosophy is not an oligopoly in other ways. If you want to publish an op-ed in a local newspaper, do some P4C or prison education, do some community-engaged teaching or scholarship, give a talk for a general audience, do an Ask a Philosopher booth, start a podcast or blog, start a philosophical counseling or consulting business, etc., you really don't have to get past too many gatekeepers. You can even get some material support from the Berry Fund pretty easily.

We shouldn’t shame academic philosophers for not doing public philosophy, but the institutional incentives in academic philosophy are *overwhelmingly* weighted towards the production of scholarly work for a hyperspecialist audience, and the results are disastrous. We need to do everything we can to change that. The small handful of public philosophers who are in a position to signal boost or platform their less-recognized colleagues should do so. But the main thing we need to change is the culture and incentive structure of the discipline, which is on all of us, not just the big shots.

Chris Stephens

Thanks for this. If you don't already know Robert Frank and Philip Cook's book, The Winner Take All Society, you will likely find it of interest:
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/329317/the-winner-take-all-society-by-robert-frank/


Tom Morris

This is an excellent and truly wise post. Thanks for it. I agree that our cultural problem is not supply side paucity. Young philosophers approach me all the time about how I made a transition 26 years ago from the university and the scholarly academic world that brought me joy into a broader service to the culture, through the business world initially, but going far beyond it. And I encourage them to do what I did: Start on a local level, and offer all sorts of groups short, engaging, fun talks on philosophical issues that impinge on their daily lives. When this is done, the demand side is cultivated. I left academia with a mistaken confidence that people will pay for what they want and what they need. Everyone needs wisdom, so I reasoned there will always be a flourishing public market for the available philosopher. I was wrong. Everyone buys what they want and not what they need but what they THINK they need. We have a preliminary task of whetting the appetite, sparking the interest, rustling up the demand. Few seem to have the patience for that, but it works, when done with good energy, a keen sense of people's lives, and an ability to cut to the core of philosophical solutions to people's problems, as well as to ways of philosophical thinking that don't provide easy solutions but deeper living through the problems.

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