What if academic Philosophy really invested in making itself understood to the general public?
Over the last few years, I've seen the emergence of a number of initiatives aimed at cultivating what is now called "public philosophy." The discipline of Philosophy's largest professional organization constituted a committee dedicated to it (the APA Committee on Public Philosophy). There's also now the Public Philosophy Network, which organizes conferences showcasing and discussing it. An award has been established for those who excel at it (The Marc Sanders Award for Public Philosophy). There's even a (sort-of) journal for it, the Public Philosophy Journal. All of these seem to be loosely committed to some broad idea of "public philosophy"-- its practice, its cultivation, its uptake, its development and legitimization-- but there doesn't appear to be a common sense of what each of them takes to be "public philosophy," what problem "public philosophy" is meant to address or ameliorate, how "public philosophy" is done, or done well.
If we tried to identify some common argument for public philosophy running through the several public-philosophy-related initiatives floating around these days-- and that's harder than you think-- it might go something like this:
- The professional, academic work of researchers in Philosophy can (ought to?) make real contributions to so-called "real world" problems, conversations, ideas, etc..
- Because of the abstract, sometimes esoteric,sometimes technical nature of professional, academic research in Philosophy-- or, less generously, because of the poor writing style and/or intentionally inside-baseball disposition of its authors--much of the work produced by professional philosophers is inaccessible/unintelligible to the general public.
- ERGO, there is a mutually-beneficial value to be found in diminishing the gap between professional philosophical research and the public's understanding of it.