THE RELEVANCE OF PHILOSOPHY
Have you ever wondered what’s the use of philosophy in our society today? One of the most repeated complaints about the current academic discipline of philosophy is that for the most part, and so far as many outside observers can tell, the bulk of the scholarly work contemporary analytic philosophers produce is useless to the everyday practical concerns or purposes of the general non-academic public. As the Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting characterizes this grievance in a New York Times column on the use of philosophy: “philosophy is an irrelevant “ivory-tower” exercise, useless to any except those interested in logic-chopping for its own sake”.
Yet if we look closely at our daily news we will find that journalists are constantly reporting on and analyzing innumerable topics that philosophers are already working on. From abortion, to immigration, to terrorism and health care, journalists are not only raising typically philosophical questions but very often attempting to answer them without the help of those who have years of scholarly expertise on the subject and who make a living wrestling with these difficult problems. If there is indeed a strong connection between what philosophers talk about in the halls of our universities and what the rest of us talk about at our favorite coffee bars or in the comfort of our homes, then perhaps the problem is not the societal irrelevance of the sort of topics and issues philosophers work on but rather an unfortunate lack of public involvement on the part of academic philosophers in the daily affairs that concern the vast majority of people in this world. As one professor of philosophy remarked in an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “even when there are opportunities for public comment on philosophical topics, we tend to get passed over. How many newsworthy issues, which should have been the rightful domain of philosophy, have been usurped in recent years by religion, law, and psychology?”
As a result of this neglect a valuable opportunity is lost for both the public and the philosophical community. On the one hand, the public misses out on the unique and well-thought-out contribution of experts to a discussion that might have needed more careful, logically rigorous and evidentially based analysis infused into it, and on the other, academic philosophers lose out on an opportunity to impress upon the world the value and practical import of not only their area of research but of philosophy in general. It is in large part because of this minimal interaction between philosophy and ‘the world’ that some people still believe that philosophy is a waste of time for those who truly desire to get things done in the world of flesh and blood. So long as philosophers (and their work) remain invisible to the public eye, the cultural myth about the irrelevance of philosophy will continue to thrive and the degree of serious interest and investment in the subject beyond leisurely purposes will continue to dwindle.
It is principally in response to this problem that The Critique was launched in the summer of 2014. The Critique is a bi-montly review of select news topics by academic philosophers. At The Critique we believe that when used properly, the skills and knowledge of philosophers can make a positive difference in the world. We exist to make this change a reality.
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