Escape Velocity 2

Philosophers have believed they were trying to break free from the chains of an abstract discourse and that talking about real-world issues through applied philosophy would be enough fuel to achieve escape velocity. But the gravitational pull holding them back was institutional rather than discursive in nature. Hale has a point about the lack of tools; but the problem hasn’t been with the content of philosophical thought or its lack of a toolish nature. It wasn’t about what has been said, but to whom they have been speaking.

The institution holding them back was the discipline-based university. Disciplines do a great job of developing new knowledge. But they do a poor job at transmitting that knowledge to society. Indeed, the word ‘applied’ forms part of the problem, because it indicates that the philosopher first does the intellectual work in specialized journals for one’s disciplinary peers. Afterward that work is supposedly ‘applied’ to society as a finished product. The passive voice is intentional here, because there is no account of who does the applying or how. The approach is, as the phrase goes, top-down. Theory is spread over a case like veneer over a surface.

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