Never touching ground

In the introduction to the 2009 special issue of the Journal of Applied Philosophy Archard and Mendus speak of the recent expansion of applied philosophy:

in 2009 the philosophical lens has widened somewhat and all our contributors are concerned not simply with the application of philosophy to practical problems (though they are of course concerned with that), but also with the prior question of what it means to apply philosophy to practical problems.

But somehow the discussion never touches ground. Authors skirt the edges of the problem – e.g., Buchanan raises questions about what he calls the ‘Commission Paradigm’ of applied philosophy, and Archard speaks of his “attachment to a version of what is known as ‘bottom up’ applied philosophy, one that starts from the facts of the real world.” But this turns out to be a very abstract form of real world. The articles lack any account of anyone’s actual engagement in the particular problems of people in real time. Nor is there any reflection on how or to what degree the profession’s standards of rigor would need to adapt to practical exigencies, or how actual engagement would affect academic standards for tenure and promotion.

Instead of talking about abstract notions of free will in peer-reviewed journals, applied philosophers talk about concrete problems of, say, euthanasia or endangered species. But they still talk in the pages of peer-reviewed journals, and without including an account of how these insights are supposed to be taken up by people outside the academy. Absent is any reflection about how to actually get involved with the stakeholders in particular policy processes, how to effectively interject insights into conversations, or how to track the impacts of one’s efforts.

People can cavil with the numbers from our survey, and certainly another reckoning could find a higher (or lower) percentage of essays that report some type of interaction with non-disciplinary audiences. But double or triple the number and you still have a shocking lack of reflexivity about broader impacts. Where are the stories about how philosophy must change when its audience changes – about how to do philosophy when you leave the armchair and enter the fray?