Philosophy and Policy Studies

Disciplinary scholarship must continue to play a central place in philosophy.

But this needs to be complemented by an equal focus on work that is socially engaged. Not commentary about societal problems, but rather present in the field, engaged in an ongoing, day-to-day fashion with non-philosophers. In part this is simply a matter of recognizing a new reality: society is demanding that academics demonstrate their broader relevance.

Still, turning philosophy toward practical relevance will not be easy. It will require some serious philosophical thought – as well as the development of better rhetorical chops. Toward that end, it’s instructive to compare notes with the field of policy studies. Policy studies have been a blind spot for philosophy. Philosophers often do not even know of its existence as a field of study. And when so apprised they often dismiss its concerns as having already been addressed by social and political philosophy, or as merely consisting of ‘activism’. This is a mistake. Policy studies have carved out a crucial niche in the academy, concerned with how decisions are made and how knowledge is taken up (or not) in the making of policy. The success of philosophy at becoming more socially engaged will in part turn on integrating the insights of policy studies into its worldview.

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