Philosophers Helping Society

Whatever the cause of philosophy becoming sidetracked, over the course of the twentieth century philosophers increasingly followed W. V. O. Quine’s path in treating philosophy as a technical exercise of no particular interest to the public.

While it is possible to point to philosophers who work with (rather than merely talk about) non-academics, among the mass of philosophers a lack of societal engagement is treated as a sign of intellectual seriousness. As Quine put it in a 1979 Newsday piece, the student who “majors in philosophy primarily for spiritual consolation is misguided and is probably not a very good student.” For him, philosophy does not offer wisdom, nor do philosophers “have any peculiar fitness for helping… society.”

We think philosophers do have a peculiar fitness for helping society.