McPublic Philosophy.

Recently, I received the following bit of e-propaganda from the APA–

American Philosophical Association
Dear Z,

I am writing today to let you know that the APA board of officers has approved the following statement, which was proposed by the committee on public philosophy and the committee on the status and future of the profession:

The American Philosophical Association values philosophers’ participation in the public arena. This includes work that engages with contemporary issues as well as work that brings traditional philosophies to non-traditional settings. Public philosophy may also bring the discipline into dialogue with other humanities, the arts, natural sciences, social sciences, and interested people outside of academia. Public philosophy is done in a variety of traditional and non-traditional media. Public philosophy can be especially valuable when it reaches populations that tend not to have access to philosophy and philosophers. Further, the APA notes that public philosophy raises the profile of the discipline, the scholar, and the home institution.

The APA encourages departments, colleges, and universities to recognize public philosophy as a growing site of scholarly involvement. To that end, the APA encourages institutions to develop standards for evaluating and practices for rewarding public philosophy in decisions regarding promotion, tenure, and salary, so that faculty members who are interested in this work may, if they choose, pursue it with appropriate recognition and without professional discouragement or penalty. Although peer-reviewed scholarly publications remain central to the profession, the APA applauds philosophers’ contributions to public policy, to consultation with government, medical, business, and civil society institutions, and to public opinion in general. Public philosophy presented or published outside of standard academic venues has evident value as external service to the profession and/or community. But we also urge institutions to consider broadening their standards for evidence of excellence in research and teaching and to consider whether their faculty’s work in public philosophy is more properly counted as contributing to these latter categories of faculty evaluation.

We encourage you to use this statement as a tool in your own institution to advocate for policies and practices that recognize public philosophy and all scholars who do publicly engaged work.

All the best,

Amy E. Ferrer
Executive Director


OK. What the hell is “public philosophy”?

First, we’re told that it’s “philosophers’ participation in the public arena.”

But that’s like explaining how a sleeping pill works in terms of its “dormitive virtue.” Not much help.

Second, it “includes work that engages with contemporary issues as well as work that brings traditional philosophies to non-traditional settings.”

Nice. I like the sound of that. But can you make that a little more explicit and specific, please?

I mean, are you saying that professional philosophers should become political activists?

If so, then precisely which kind of politics are we talking about?

Would the APA be cool with, e.g., mainstream Republican Party politics, say, The Tea Party?

Would the APA be cool with batshit-crazy, neoconservative, Billionaire Boys Club, Donald Trump-style politics?

Would the APA be cool with serious alt-right, neo-fascist politics, say Breitbart-style politics, as per Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopulous, The Devil’s Duo?

Would the APA be cool with serious alt-left politics, say, neo-Marxist or neo-anarchist politics, as per Up Against the Wall, Philosophy-Fucker!?

Nope, nope, nope, nope.

In fact, it’s self-evidently obvious that the APA would be cool only with Clinton(s)-Obama, Social Justice Warrior, “love me I’m a liberal”-style politics.

Therefore, since “public philosophy” isn’t actually philosophical political activism that includes mainstream Republican Party politics, batshit-crazy neocon Trump-style politics, alt-right politics, or alt-left politics, then–

how is “public philosophy” actually different from mainstream applied ethics that’s dumbed-down for public consumption and handed out in media-friendly soundbites, like so many intellectually-eviscerated, politically-correct McDoo’s Philo-Burgers–all cheese and pickles and other soggy veggies and special sauce, but no real philosophical meat?

Nohow.

Third, public philosophy

may also bring the discipline into dialogue with other humanities, the arts, natural sciences, social sciences, and interested people outside of academia. Public philosophy is done in a variety of traditional and non-traditional media. Public philosophy can be especially valuable when it reaches populations that tend not to have access to philosophy and philosophers.

So public philosophy means philosophizing that reaches out to people outside professional academia, aka The Professional Academic State, aka The Ivory Bunker.

Awesomely awesome. I can go with that.

But how will it reach out?

Will it ever reach out in a way that challenges the real world outside The Ivory Bunker, pushes free thinking and free speech to its limits, and risks offending the ever-vigilant guardians of the political status quo–especially including the ever vigilant guardians of Clinton(s)-Obama, Social Justice Warrior, “love me I’m a liberal”-style politics?

Nohow.

Fourth, and finally, “public philosophy raises the profile of the discipline, the scholar, and the home institution” and

the APA encourages institutions to develop standards for evaluating and practices for rewarding public philosophy in decisions regarding promotion, tenure, and salary, so that faculty members who are interested in this work may, if they choose, pursue it with appropriate recognition and without professional discouragement or penalty.

Aha! Now we’ve finally reached the bottom line.

Public philosophy is anything that’s called “public philosophy” and makes professional academic philosophy look good.

And if it does indeed make professional academic philosophy look good, then it can get you tenure and promotion.

So, to summarize, “public philosophy” is:

(i) mainstream applied ethics, dumbed-down for public consumption and handed out in media-friendly soundbites, like so many intellectually-eviscerated, politically-correct McDoo’s Philo-Burgers–all cheese and pickles and other soggy veggies and special sauce, but no real philosophical meat,

(ii) professional academic philosophy that reaches out to people outside The Ivory Bunker, but only in a bland, wholly normalized way that challenges and offends no one,

(iii) anything that’s called “public philosophy” and makes professional academic philosophy look good, and

(iv) if it does indeed make professional academic philosophy look good–if the extra-professional-academic public likes its Philo-Burgers–then it can get you tenure and promotion.

In short, “public philosophy” is nothing but McPublic Philosophy: I’m lovin’ It!


Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

This entry was posted in Essays by Z. Bookmark the permalink.
Z

About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.