What is Public Philosophy?

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Roman Forum
Originally uploaded by MarcelGermain
As we begin to articulate the contours of the Public Philosophy Journal, some account of the meaning of the public philosophy the journal intends to practice may help us continue to cultivate the community on which success depends. 

Generally speaking, when Philosophy tries to go public, it takes one of two approaches. Either it seeks to articulate philosophical ideas in popular terms and through popular media - an approach adopted by the Stone in the New York Times, or it seeks to orient itself toward the "practical" by engaging in a variety of "applied" studies: business ethics, environmental philosophy, etc. 

While these two strategies have value and merit, the practice of public philosophy the Public Philosophy Journal (PPJ) seeks to embody involves more than addressing the public or pursuing the practical implications of philosophical theories. 

Rather, the sort of public philosophy the PPJ will seek to practice is a collaborative activity in which philosophers engage dialogically with activists, professionals, scientists, policy-makers, and affected parties whose work and lives are bound up with issues of public concern. Public philosophy is thus not limited to questions concerning the practical applicability of theoretical problems, rather it is informed by the recognition that all theoretical problems are ultimately rooted in questions of wide public interest. 

Philosophy has, from its earliest beginnings, always been publicly engaged. Drawing on this long tradition, the PPJ will facilitate the ability for philosophers to play a role as actual agents of change, and not only as commentators or critics.

This conception of public philosophy certainly includes many practitioners in diverse areas of applied philosophy. But there are also many practitioners in these areas who do not see themselves as engaging directly with issues of public concern or who are not interested in trying to make their work matter to wider audiences. So public philosophy, as practiced by the PPJ, includes the interests and work of a large and diverse group of philosophers, some of whom may be associated with various practical areas of philosophy.

Conceived of in this way, the vision of public philosophy the PPJ will champion is not so much a subfield of the discipline as it is a way of putting the discipline into practice. 

The PPJ is informed by a commitment to the idea that philosophically trained thinkers have an important role to play in addressing issues that concern all members of the general public. We believe our discourse is most responsive to the needs of that public when it is inclusive of a variety of disciplinary perspectives and when it is not subordinated to ends that are shared by only a particular segment of the population.

Accordingly, there is an important connection between the way we conceive of the practice of public philosophy and our choice of technological means for curating, reviving, cultivating, and publishing content for the PPJ. This is part of what sets the PPJ apart from other academic journals more generally, and it is what makes it unique in the discipline of philosophy.

[Practicing the art of collaborative writing, this post is the result of the combined efforts of Mark Fisher (@mdfphilpsu), Kyle Whyte (@Whyte_KP) and Christopher Long (@cplong).]

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Because the Public Philosophy Journal depends for its success on a community of collaborators, we embed the form below for those interested in helping curate content for the journal.




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