Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman have written an excellent article for the Chronicle, A New Philosophy for the 21st Century. A stupid subscription is required, frustratingly, so let me excerpt some of the good bits for you here [update: here’s a PDF]:

It is time to reclaim the public role of philosophy. This does not mean rejecting rigor. By venturing into the agora, testing his ideas out in the world, Socrates did not abandon standards. Rather, he embodied a different type of rigor, one sensitive to and partially defined by social context.

Academic philosophizing suffers from what Hegel called a bad infinity–that to every argument there is a counterargument, and a reply to that reply, without end. Of course, a number of philosophic questions are perennial in nature: The philosophizing lies in the asking rather than the answering, an asking that goes on without end. But without the rigors of everyday life, which often demand an answer, the debates of academia lack any governor on them at all.

Near the end of the article, the authors question whether philosophy should even be allowed to be sequestered on its own anymore:

But the crux of the problem is this: Questions concerning the institutional forms that philosophy takes are not considered topics for philosophic reflection. There is little or no research into how our philosophic questions and standards of excellence are shaped by the particular bureaucratic forms that philosophy takes.

Why, for example, are philosophers housed in philosophy departments? Should groups of two or three philosophers be placed in departments across campus, to draw out the philosophic aspects of chemistry, economics, and business? Why is there no “lab” or “field” component for philosophy courses? Given the transformative nature of contemporary science and technology, in areas from synthetic biology to nanotechnology to climate change, are there opportunities for philosophic research–and employment–within the public and private sectors? Why are we not training philosophers to work at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service, and a similar set of places across the private sector?

Finally, the article concludes by proposing three areas of reform: new models of “rigor” that point toward interactions with broader audiences; new philosophies that are built to be coupled to other fields; and a focus on public service (“Rather than philosopher kings, our future is more likely to lie in becoming philosopher bureaucrats.”)

I’m not convinced by all of Briggle and Frodeman’s points, but given my interest in philosophical lab work, creativity, and experimentation, this article offers a lot to think about. I hope you’ll feel the same way.

published December 11, 2011


  1. Ian Bogost

    There must be something in the air, as the Chronicle has run another article on the same subject, Making Philosophy Matter—or Else.