Thursday, January 19, 2012

Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman - A New Philosophy for the 21st Century

The Chronicle Review posted this article a while back by Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman on the need for a new philosophy for the 21st century - and they offers a series of reasons for this. They also offer three broad suggestions for reform and a new model for philosophy in the future, a return to a public role that philosophers once held:
By the beginning of the 20th century, we had abandoned the public role. Like biologists or economists, we embraced expertise. We burrowed down into ever-smaller niches, coming to know more and more about less and less.

It was a model that became self-justifying, by defining its own goals and standards and creating a closed market for the supply and demand for philosophy. Decrying this development in his 1906 presidential address to the American Philosophical Association, William James argued for the recognition of both technical and general roles for philosophers. James lost that battle. Yes, 20th-century philosophy dealt with issues of perennial importance. But this work came at the cost of increasing cultural insignificance. The specialist's task was not counterbalanced by an equal emphasis on the public role of the philosopher.

It is time to reclaim the public role of philosophy.

I think they would like to see a more interdisciplinarity model for philosophy, although they do not spell that out very well.

Here is an excerpt from the much longer article, A New Philosophy for the 21st Century, by Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman.

Areas of reform: We see three broad, interrelated areas in need of reform.

First, we need to reconsider what counts as expertise, rigor, and excellence—the single-minded model of specialization that keeps us writing philosophy papers for each other. We should develop new, more interactive models of rigor that take account of the need for timeliness, sensitivity to context, and rhetorical skill in communicating with multiple audiences. And we should rank philosophy departments on measures other than publication counts in philosophy journals; other factors would include grants, for instance, or mentions in the press.

Second, a new philosophy calls for new types of philosophers trained with the skills necessary for being successful "interactional" experts. Interactional expertise means knowing enough about another field so that one can engage others in conversation and raise penetrat­ing questions. The pedagogical challenge before us consists in educating students so that philosophy is understood not as an isolated body of ideas, but as indistinguishable from human existence and interwoven throughout contemporary social issues.

Students need to learn how to identify and create opportunities for integrating philosophy outside of the discipline. Undergraduate students need courses that draw out the philosophical dimensions of everyday life—what a colleague of ours has called "found philosophy." Graduate students need training in grant writing and multimedia communication; policy and budgets; and rhetorical skills in how to make ethical theory relevant to different audiences within severe budgetary, time, or political constraints.

Third, the case for reform made here involves an appeal to prudential self-interest—devising ways to survive in a harried, impatient, and increasingly market-driven age. Philosophers have broad social responsibilities that require directly engaging social problems. This can mean activism, but in a bureaucratic age it is more likely to mean working at the project level with scientists, engineers, and policy makers. Rather than philosopher kings, our future is more likely to lie in becoming philosopher bureaucrats.

Of course, everyone hates bureaucrats. But they serve us well in keeping the trucks and trains and planes running on time and our food and medicine safe. As philosopher bureaucrats the two of us have helped the U.S. Geological Survey think about acid mine drainage; the city of Denton, Tex., rewrite its ordinance governing natural-gas drilling and production; and the European Commission devise better criteria for peer review of research grants.

Such work raises the worry that philosophy may compromise its essential function as social critique and become captured by powerful interests. In seeking to adapt, might philosophy risk selling its soul? Or, in speaking truth to power, might we be forced to drink hemlock?

These are real concerns. But such concerns simply highlight the need and opportunity for serious philosophic work. We must recognize that clinging to the status quo in the name of academic freedom is not just unsustainable but also irresponsible. Philosophers, like any professional group, have a moral responsibility to serve the community. We need to embody our own professional code of ethics.

New models: What new approaches to philosophy should we develop? Fortunately, we need not start from scratch, as alternative models are springing up daily. Individual philosophers, and occasionally whole departments, are striking out in new directions. The recent launch of the Public Philosophy Network is one indication of the growing interest in bucking the status quo. This past October, PPN hosted a conference on "Advancing Publicly Engaged Philosophy" in Washington.
Read the whole article.

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