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Franklin on Why Public Philosophy is Good


A. Todd Franklin.
A. Todd Franklin.  Photo: Nancy L. Ford

Todd Franklin, the Christian A. Johnson Excellence in Teaching Professor of Philosophy, co-authored an article posted recently on The American Philosophical Association blog. “Public Philosophy Is Good—For Philosophy and For the Public” was written in response to a discussion of a column appearing on the philosophy news website Daily Nous that questioned whether public philosophy is good.

The blog post elaborates on a point made in the discussion: “There is more—and more varied—public philosophy today than ever before.”

Franklin, along with his co-authors, professors Nancy McHugh of Wittenberg University and Evelyn Brister of Rochester Institute of Technology, and CUNY graduate student Ian Olasov, say that “clearly and definitively, public philosophy is good.”

They say “it’s straightforwardly false that philosophy and philosophical thinking live solely inside academia,” as was stated in Agnes Callard’s original column “Is Public Philosophy Good?”

Franklin and his co-authors argue that “people do philosophy whenever they reason about whether god exists, whether there is life after death, whom we should trust, how society ought to be organized, how you know what other people are thinking, what to do in a morally challenging situation, what the purpose of punishment is, whether art can be objectively good or bad, and so on.”

They point to the reach and impact of public philosophy, noting — with examples — that it goes far beyond just pieces of writing for a general audience to include work philosophers do with policymakers and NGOs, professional consulting, teaching disadvantaged groups, and more.

“We should be careful not to erase or ignore the full range of good and influential public work philosophers and their collaborators are doing,” they said.

The article goes on to explore other arguments against the idea that public policy is not good. Franklin and his co-authors conclude by answering the question, “Why do public philosophy, then?”

The answers they give —again with examples — include because “philosophers have useful skills,” they “are trained to communicate meaningfully across deep disagreement,” and they “do interesting and sometimes life-changing work.”

They also contend that public philosophy is a critical good for academic philosophy. “Part of the ‘good’ of public philosophy is that it might just be what saves philosophy from extinction,” they conclude.

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