The Public Philosophy Journal opens a public space for a community that promotes and sustains thoughtful and inclusive practices of discourse, deliberation, and action.
In collaboration with Matrix at Michigan State, we are currently developing an innovative, interactive platform for public peer review, curation, and publication.
In the meantime we have created this blog and link aggregation website to begin cultivating a community of people interested in broad connections between philosophy and the public.
You can help in many ways. The simplest is to visit the site, return regularly, read the curated content, and share it more broadly.
If you want to follow our progress, sign up for our mailing list.
And if you want to start contributing to the content, we invite you to use our URL Submission Form, or to tweet us articles you think might be of interest to other readers of the site.
Finally, if you are willing to engage with us at a more substantive level, we are looking for Curators-at-Large.
Our hope is that a community of readers and curators will develop so that when we are ready to go live with our full-featured site, we will have people to help us develop the PPJ community into a wider, mutually supportive community.
Physicist George Ellis Knocks Physicists for Knocking Philosophy, Falsification, Free Will | Cross-Check, Scientific American Blog Network
The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, whom I interviewed in my last post, wasn’t the only fascinating scientist I hung out with recently at Howthelightgetsin, an festival hosted by the Institute of Arts & Ideas. I also befriended George F. R. Ellis, the physicist-mathematician-cosmologist, an authority on the Big Bang and other cosmic mysteries. Ellis and I hit it off initially because we share some—how shall I put it?—concerns about the direction of physics, but I soon discovered that his interests range far beyond physics. He has published papers and books not only on physics and cosmology (including the 1973 classic The Large-Scale Structure of Space-Time, co-authored with Stephen Hawking) but also on philosophy, complexity theory, neuroscience, education and even low-income housing. (See his website, and his terrific 2011 critique of multiverse theories in Scientific American.) A native of South Africa, Ellis is professor emeritus at the University of Cape Town, where he taught for decades, and has also held positions at Cambridge, the University of Texas, the Fermi Institute and other institutions around the globe. I admire Ellis’s social activism as well as his scientific work. He was an early critic of apartheid, and in 1999 Nelson Mandela awarded him the Order of the Star of South Africa. Ellis has a big brain and a big heart.
Something quite extraordinary happened in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries: the diversified intellectual explosion called the Enlightenment. Philosophers, natural scientists (the divide between the two wasn’t that wide then), artists and political scientists created a revolution in thought based on equal rights for men the freedom to reason without constraint.
Admittedly, it was a relative equality, with some Enlightenment philosophers mistakenly placing white men at the apex of society.
But, as a general rule, the core message of the Enlightenment was the need to create a global civilization with shared moral values. This overarching intellectual framework was far removed from traditional religious precepts. In fact, the Enlightenment declared war on the excesses of religion and blind nationalism.
There’s a weekly trial on the Internet about who may be stealing culture from whom. Earlier this week, the defendants were Iggy Azalea and white gay men. A while back, it was Macklemore and the Harlem Shakers.
Now, we have come across a story from the Jim Crow era about cultural mimicry between people of color.
In mid-20th century America, the turban was a tool that people of color used for “confounding the color lines,” writes Manan Desai, board member of the South Asian American Digital Archive.
At the time, ideas of race in America were quite literally black and white. In some places, if you could pass yourself off as something other than black, you could circumvent some amount of discrimination. People of color — both foreigners and African-Americans — employed this to their advantage. Some did it just to get by in a racist society, some to make a political statement, and others — performers and businessmen — to gain access to fame and money they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
But until she was cast as sexy, hard-nosed attorney and law professor Annalise Keating on ABC’s new drama How to Get Away with Murder, Viola Davis had never seen a dark-skinned black woman her age playing the kind of role she will inhabit this fall.
I write a lot about implicit bias, and about how we should all be taking steps to mitigate it. I’m also Head of Department. So when I was placed in the position of hiring for two permanent posts, I decided to take the opportunity to put in place what seemed to me, based on what I know about implicit bias, to be the best practises. It went remarkably well, so I thought I’d report on what we did, and how and why we did it. And also on some of the difficulties, because it wasn’t QUITE as smooth as it could have been.
Teaching college is no longer a middle-class job, and everyone paying tuition should care.
Image by Zeke Berman
When Mary Margaret Vojtko died last September—penniless and virtually homeless and eighty-three years old, having been referred to Adult Protective Services because the effects of living in poverty made it seem to some that she was incapable of caring for herself—it made the news because she was a professor. That a French professor of twenty-five years would be let go from her job without retirement benefits, without even severance, sounded like some tragic mistake. In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed that broke the story, Vojtko’s friend and attorney Daniel Kovalik describes an exchange he had with a caseworker from Adult Protective Services: “The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, ‘She was a professor?’ I said yes.
As Curator-at-Large for the Public Philosophy Journal I chose to highlight a growing area of publicly engaged philosophy, namely, “pre-college philosophy” or “philosophy for/with children.”
While remaining active within the academy many professional philosophers have sought to expand access to philosophy in the US and beyond. In their pioneering works Matthew Lipman and Gareth Matthews offered robust justifications for doing philosophical work with children in K-12 schools, as well as practical guidance on how to do this work effectively. Since Lipman and Matthews a new generation of philosophers have expanded efforts to provide young people with access to philosophical instruction and training. Philosophy graduate students from numerous departments are particularly active in this work, founding philosophy outreach programs that introduce the practice of philosophy to young students. To cite just a few examples, the Philosophical Horizons Program at the University of Memphis, the UNC-Chapel Hill Philosophy Outreach Program , and the Penn State Philosophy Department Outreach Program are all led, in large part (if not completely), by dedicated graduate students. The Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO) boasts philosophy and education faculty, graduate student, and K-12 teachers as members and continues to advance national efforts to broaden access to philosophy in our country. These individuals and programs reveal a different kind of philosophical work and a different role for philosophers, a role that includes engaging with local communities and demonstrating the relevance of philosophy beyond the academy in our lives and education generally.
But why care about this work? There is much that can be (and has been) written in response to this question. For the moment we might consider that introducing philosophy in pre-college classrooms would be beneficial for a number of practical reasons. In an increasingly difficult job market adding philosophy classes and curricula in K-12 schools could provide much needed jobs for professional philosophers (as is already common in numerous countries around the world, such as France, Germany, and Italy, among others). Introducing philosophy to students prior to college can also help generate greater interest in our discipline and a general awareness of philosophical practice that is often lacking given the current isolation of the discipline to institutions of higher education.
But aside from these practical reasons (which are important but secondary in my mind) those of us practicing this work realize that children already do ask philosophical questions and are enthusiastic about philosophical conversations when given the opportunity to engage in them, or when given the space to be/be recognized as philosophers (as opposed to mere recipients of information and lessons). Jana Mohr Lone captures this approach to working with children well in Wondering Aloud: Philosophy with Young People, as does Thomas Wartenberg in his Teaching Children Philosophy.
In practicing philosophy with younger populations we are attempting to extend a form of recognition and communication that is, at times, lacking in adult-child interactions. We work against a historical and contemporary trend in Western philosophy (among other disciplines) that represents the child as a deficient being, lacking the abilities, interests, and concerns of the (often highly idealized) adult. Adults and children are different, to be sure, but the grounds of this difference are often highly exaggerated when it comes to areas such as intelligence, rationality, responsibility, etc. But regardless of these distinctions it seems clear that philosophical ability, wonder, questioning, and investigation is not the sole province of the adult, but is also well within the grasp of children.
Many pre-college philosophers also contend that a philosophical education and related forms of pedagogy would mark a substantial improvement in pre-college education generally, both in terms of the development of important skill sets (higher order thinking, critical questioning, discussion skills, etc.) and in terms of student motivation and interest. The latter would be advanced as students are given the opportunity to engage dialogically with each other in regard to philosophical issues that are of fundamental import in their lives as developing human beings (as all of us are).
I can say from over a decade of experience working with children of just about all ages that they need not be convinced to do philosophy. Children are already interested in philosophy and practice it in their own way(s). Indeed, at some point in our lives all of us ask and seek answers to philosophical questions. Professional philosophers are only different in that they happen to make this process their life’s work. My posts this week have been a very brief introduction to resources and discussions of expanding philosophical work beyond the academy in K-12 schools. If you found these items interesting or intriguing I encourage you to continue exploring this work and join others in advancing these efforts.
But in the midst of crisis can come learning. Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.
In true Rustic style, I have been lucky to spend the past few weeks on a whirlwind adventure. Unlike past summers where my travels were accompanied by shovels and muddy boots slung in the back of a pickup truck, this year I have been tasked with traversing the US to attend some of the biggest education summits in the country.
This is the first of seven summers that I wasn’t, as we say, “on the ground” with Rustic Pathways. I spent the past six years as the Director of USA Programs working with students, teachers, guides, and local communities to create experiences for hundreds of young people and their schools here in the United States. The Rustic experience is a special one for everyone involved: