Public philosophy

Public philosophy is the practice of bringing the ideas and practices of philosophy to non-academic public forums and issues, especially in the areas of public policy, morality and social issues. Some public philosophers are academic professionals, but others may work outside of the usual academic contexts of teaching and writing for peer-reviewed journals.


The Essays in Philosophy special issue on public philosophy (Vol 15, issue 1, 2014) defined public philosophy as "doing philosophy with general audiences in a non-academic setting".[1] Public philosophy, in this conception, is a matter of style not content. It must be undertaken in a public venue but might deal with any philosophical issue. Conversely, Philosopher Michael J. Sandel describes public philosophy as having two aspects. The first is to "find in the political and legal controversies of our day an occasion for philosophy". The second is "to bring moral and political philosophy to bear on contemporary public discourse."[2] James Tully says, "The role of a public philosophy is to address public affairs", but this "can be done in many different ways."[3] Tully's approach emphasizes practice through the contestable concepts of citizenship, civic freedom, and nonviolence.[4] Public philosophy, in some conceptions, is a matter of content rather than style. Public philosophy, in this sense, need not be undertaken in a public venue but must deal with a particular subset of philosophical problems.

In 1955 Walter Lippmann wrote about the need to raise up philosophy in the public arena in his book Essays in the Public Philosophy. He described a fundamental problem with popular government:[5]

It is easier to obtain votes for appropriations than for taxes, to facilitate consumption than to stimulate production, to protect a market than to open it, to inflate than deflate, to borrow than to save, to demand than to compromise, to be intransigent than to negotiate, to threaten war than to prepare for it. … That is why governments are unable to cope with reality when elected assemblies and mass opinions become decisive in the state, when there are no statesmen to resist the inclinations of voters and there are only politicians to excite and exploit them.

Public philosophers

A variety of individuals have been identified, either by themselves or others, as public philosophers. These include academics such as Jürgen Habermas, Martha Nussbaum Richard Rorty,[6] and James Tully, and non-academics such as social activist Jane Addams[7] and novelist Ayn Rand.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Weinstein, Jack Russell (2014) "Public Philosophy: Introduction", Essays in Philosophy Vol. 15: Iss. 1, Article 1. 10.7710/1526-0569.1485
  2. ^ Sandel, Michael J. (2005). Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 5. ISBN . OCLC 60321410. 
  3. ^ Tully, James. Public Philosophy in a New Key: Volume 1, Democracy and Civic Freedom. Ideas in Context series. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 3. ISBN . OCLC 316855971. 
  4. ^ James Tully, especially Chapter 9 "On local and global citizenship: an apprenticeship manual," Public Philosophy in a New Key, Volume II: Imperialism and Civic Freedom. Ideas in Context series. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 243-309.
  5. ^ Walter Lippmann (1955) Essays in the Public Philosophy, pp45,6, Little Brown & Company
  6. ^ Posner, Richard A. (2003). Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (paperback ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 320–321. ISBN . OCLC 491547976. 
  7. ^ Hamington, Maurice (June 15, 2010). Zalta, Edward N. (ed), ed. "Jane Addams". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  8. ^ Sciabarra, Chris Matthew (1995). Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 97. ISBN . OCLC 31133644. 

External links

  • , special issue on public philosophyEssays in Philosophy
  • Committee on Public Philosophy of the American Philosophical Association
  • Public Philosophy Journal
  • Public Philosophy Network
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