Everywhere but not at home

If philosophy abounds, then why do academic philosophers play such a marginal role in society?

One reason is that the issues troubling society are not seen as philosophical. Abroad in the world the philosophical dimensions of a problem rarely come in a pure form; instead they lurk within other issues. This makes them easy to ignore. We look for economic and scientific solutions to our problems – answers that do not call upon our inner resources. (It is thus no surprise that spending for humanities research is just 0.55% of the amount dedicated to science and engineering R&D.) Technical experts make judgments about what the ‘facts’ are without anyone noticing the legerdemain whereby ethical, aesthetic, and metaphysical issues have been turned into technical ones. And so the field of economics, once known as political economy, armors itself with equations that obscure the fundamentally philosophical nature of many of the questions it addresses.

People say the most astounding things. “What does philosophy have to do with fracking?” Meanwhile they are wrangling about matters of risks, rights, and responsibilities. “What does philosophy have to do with climate change?” Meanwhile they worry about drought and snowpack and a feeling that something special is being lost from the world. Philosophers are marginal, but not because philosophy isn’t present. It’s because no one sees the philosophy and thus no one thinks to invite a philosopher to the table.